NEW DELHI, March 13 -- In March 2018, Nature magazine published a groundbreaking 10-year study by China Agriculture University involvingmillionsofsmallholderfarmers adopting enhanced practices. Through a scaled, countrywide effort, farm productivity rose by 11% while the use of nitrogen fertilisers - critical to increasing crop productivity, but also harmful to the environment when overused - declined by 14-18%. The profitability of the intervention, even before monetising the positive environmental impacts, was $12.2 billion.

The programme was an impressive marriage of knowledge workers, researchers, farmers, new technology, and businesses - all supported by a committed government that stayed the course. The result stunned the scientific ...