..We have been repeating almost ad nausea that agricultural production, and especially production of cereals, is the very basis and foundation of our plans and of our progress….The recent drought has made this matter of extreme importance. But, then, can we treat this matter so lightly and change our opinions and estimates within a few months? ..I have drawn your attention to Working Committee resolution which you must have seen. In this, both the short-term and the long-term aspects have been considered. In the long-term aspect, attention is drawn to the progressive spread of what might be called desert conditions in some parts of the country. ..In fact , while we talk about planting trees and Van Mahotsava, actually we treat this rather causally and as some kind of an annual event. Our forests disappear , leading to disastrous results. We must have an extensive and clearly defined plan of afforestation on a large scale…A great deal can be done by small schemes or in a small way. Everything now is made to depend on large sums o money as grants from somewhere. The local area asks for a grant from the State Government ; the State Government looks for credits or grants from other countries. This is not the right approach, and if we depend on everybody but ourselves, we shall sink more and more in this morass.
For the short-term, it is essential that:
(1) All waste of foodstuffs must be avoided. Restaurants, hotels and like institutions must be asked to avoid waste, more particularly in regard to food grains. We must give up feasts and banquets. We must limit people invited to functions where meals are served. In fact, we should do all this on an austerity scale.
(2) The consumption of rice should be limited everywhere, and , to some extent, replaced by wheat or other grains. In the wheat-eating areas, more particularly, rice should be strictly limited, so that it may be available to other parts of India. It should be remembered that it is very difficult to get rice from abroad. There is scarcity of it the world over. We hope to get some from Burma, but that will not be much. Wheat, at least, we can get, though every import is a heavy burden on us.
(3) Organised attempts should be made to introduce substitute foods and to encourage a balanced diet, even though this involves change in the pattern of food consumption. It has often been stated that the present food habits in the country are not conducive to health, and recognized authorities in medicine and nutrition are of opinion that even from this point of view there should be a change in favour of a more balanced diet. Production and consumption of vegetables should be increased.
(4) More fish should be produced and consumed by those who have no objection to such diet.
(5) Production of short-term crops should be taken up systematically and immediately. This will depend on the area as to what crops can be grown there. In some places, maize or some of the coarser grains can be cultivated. Potatoes and bananas should be encouraged. For these short -term crops, Kutcha wells should be sunk to supply water. Wherever this is feasible. Kutcha water channels can also me made.
(6) Every available small piece of lad should be used for growing some foodstuff. More particularly, this should be done near villages. It is possible to make even usar or saline land cultivable with a little treatment.
(7) Relief work hold be specially related to agricultural production. Small schemes should be encouraged and village panchayats should be put in charge of these schemes. The community development blocks should particularly interest themselves in these small schemes. Doles must be avoided except in the case of the infirm. Every attempt should be made to fill the deficit by short term production. It should be realized that the present crisis can only be met by the fullest coordination between official and non official agencies. Targets should be set for the short-term as well as long-term production , and each village, and wherever possible, each family should be set a target.
It has sometimes been said that the agricultural departments of state governments are considered not too important. This is obviously not right. They have to deal with the most important sector of our economy. They should therefore, be activised and take up their work as one of top priority and extreme national urgency.
I have repeated here some of the suggestions that have been made. No doubt, others will suggest themselves to you. The point is that all of us should realise the vital necessity of attaching this food position from all fronts and not wait for some miracles to happen from the Centre or from overseas. Our attention must be diverted more and more to self help
(Letter by Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister of India to State Chief Ministers. 20/11/1957)