Saturday, 15 August 2020

Farmer-Agro Policy & Food Security

Updated: September 14, 2013 1:51 pm

From ancient days the Indian society is rooted in agro-economy. Since time immemorial, Agriculture & Animal Husbandry was considered to be one’s dharma (pious duty) in the society. Country’s ancient culture emphasised and glorified farming. Dharmaraj Nachiketa eisode tells that Dharmaraj considered to Nachiketa’s argument that agriculture is inclusive of land and cattle farming in which one cannot survive without the other. This means cattle and agriculture farming are complementary to each other which remained heritage occupation and source of economic emancipation since time immemorial. Agriculture moulded citizen’s way of life, living and tradition which have declined in course of time because of state’s negligence to the basics of the livelihood inclusive of agriculture, dairy farming, goatery, fishing, plantation. Nation’s social condition and existence is agro-based. According to 2001 Census Report, agriculture employees are 58 per cent of the population and according to Economic Survey [2012-13] agriculture employs 58.2 per cent of the population.

Agriculture and food security are co-related. Better agriculture results in more production which automatically strengthens food security of the society. More production results in less inflation helpful to consumers. Seventy per cent of Indian population live in rural India, 55-60 per cent of whom live on direct or indirect income from agriculture. Half of such population is marginal and small farmers. In order to promote the economic interest of small and marginal farmers, as their number is substantial, the subsidy in agro sector should be increased for enabling this class of farmers irrespective of caste and category to promote integrated agro-production. The government has been neglecting this sector and promoting industry, mines, and housing sector as the government’s policies are census-centric. Over last 65 years, it announced more than a dozen landing schemes and policy strategies whimsically with the sole aim of building vote bank. Starting from “garib hatao” slogan of late Mrs. Indira Gandhi to the present day, agro-credit schemes have failed like house of cards. The dug well programs in 1980’s did not succeed in many parts of the country because of politicisation of cooperatives. Similarly, Kisan Card schemes, micro and self-help financing strategies are failing due to charging of abnormal interest and frauds in certain pockets. Till now, the formal credit delivery system has not percolated to village level. Even today, 25 per cent of the villages have no proper banking and landing infrastructure forcing small farmers to invoke the brutal mercy of money-lenders, while the RBI, NABARD, and the banks look helpless. Compared to credit provided in other sector(s), credit in farming sector is negligible, for example, industrial sector and housing sector though together do not represent five per cent of the total population, enjoyed credit flow Rs. 1,07,386 crore and 16, 195 crore respectively, while the agricultural sector got rupees 13,481 crore which is confirmed in the RBI report of Nov, 2010, showing the apathy of the banking sector to agrosector, though agro sector provides vital input to national economy.

Agriculture in India is mostly dependant on rainfall which of late is found erratic, undependable. Most of the farmer’s suicide is in areas where cultivation is not possible because of short fall in rainfall or lack of assured irrigation for at least 2 seasonal crops. Barring states like Punjab, Haryana, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh most of the states do not have more than 30 per cent irrigation. Thus, India is described as rain-fed agricultural country. Compared to USA, China, and Japan. India is much behind in irrigation. In the field of average production Indian farmers produce 3.2 tons food grains per hectare while world aggregate is 4.3 tons per hectare. Due to faulty agro policy and indiscriminate acquisition of agro-lands, and conversation of land for non-agricultural purposes, cultivable areas are declining year by year in many states. This trend needs to be arrested.

Oilseed sector

Similarly, India is far behind oilseeds production. 50 per cent domestic requirements of oilseeds are imported. The amount the state looses by way of import duty exemption could be utilised to encourage farmers to produce oilseeds based on agro-climatic studies. Faulty and inconsistent policy of the government adopted over the years is attributed to less production of oilseeds, pulses compelling the nation to import, creating a burden on foreign exchange reserve. The state should subsidise oilseed cultivation and other cash crops to improve the lots of the farmers which eventually reduce burden on foreign exchange.

Dairy sector

Agriculture and dairy development are complementing to each other. Animal Husbandry employs about 30 million Indians. However, the country is far behind the requirement in dairy sector and milk processing. Barring Gujarat state which is synonymous with dairy farming which has established an exclusive state corporation for development and protection of cattle and buffalo population, most of the states are lagging behind. Dairy development should be given importance to provide complementing income to small and marginal farmers as well as agricultural laborers. Subsidy should be raised to 70 per cent of the project cost instead of lump sum given presently for establishment of dairy farms, fishery farms and other allied activities. This will also encourage organic farming which would be beneficial to ecology. To put development of animal husbandry above red-tap, an exclusive development board should be set up to promote the sector as a mission. Government should reserve lands in GPs for developing cattle feed, grazing ground, gosalas for overall promotion of the dairy sector. Besides for success of dairy farming, government should create conducive milk routes and ensure procurement as well as value addition. This would develop every village self sufficient in production of food, vegetables and milk to achieve inclusive economic growth and nutritious diet for all. This would also help engaging rural labor in productive activities to improve their economic status and purchase power eventually reducing migration. Presently, most of crops are chemically oriented, which disturbs ecological balance by destroying nature, flora and fauna. Agricultural policies are conducive to big farmers in which the interest of small and marginal farmers is hardly taken care of. For example, for a dairy/goatery, poultry project or to set up an agro-service centre, the government norms can be met only by big farmers.

Decentralisation of services

Even after 65 years of Independence, infrastructure and service relating to agriculture is not decentralised. Half of the states have no sufficient storage facilities, leading to damage, deficit and distress sale of food products harming interest of producers as well as consumers. The storage and ware housing is very centralised which are not cost effective as well. The management and control of ware housing and cold storage should be free from government control and left under professional regulators by making suitable enactment. While nationalised banks pump huge amount in industry and building sector which is beneficial to rich. The policy of the banks hitherto in agro sector is discouraging as mentioned earlier. By 2013, public sector banks have lost Rs 1,42,000 crore as bad loan. If this huge fund could have been used to develop/preserve irrigation, linking water sources, at least 1/4th of the Indian villages could have turn into heavens in self-sufficiency in food, milk and forestry. Therefore, banking policy should be moulded to meet agro oriented infrastructure such as ware-housing and cold storage as per need at the field level. Due to lack of cold storages, 20 per cent of the vegetables get perished and another 30 per cent is sold at throw away price. Is destruction of food articles not an impediment to food security?

As per the views of the renowned agro-scientist Mr. Swaminathan, food security requires adequate production to eliminate gap between demand and supply. Economic liberalisation has not brought faster and inclusive growth in agro sector as private players apprehensive of quick result and profit mind-set are not bringing investment. India being a welfare State, government of India should have a major role to promote agro sector. British government, to avoid responsibility, had transferred both agriculture and water resources to States which continued even after independence carrying forward the same scheme to country’s Constitution. However, for overall development of agro sector, Mr. Swaminathan’s suggestion to include agro sector in the concurrent list is most wise. Though the country takes solace in rise of food production, but compared to population growth and per hector production, it is far behind the actual need. Hence, it is still looked as a hungry nation and farmers are suffering from poverty and backwardness which can be redeemed by improving productivity. The farmers naturally will go for production, if they get inputs in right time and remunerative price for the produce and assured procurement at their doorsteps. To make the food security meaningful, there must be a decentralised agro-assistance network, procurement and storage network. Hence, assigning the primary cooperative societies with such responsibilities with accountability, supported by the government to procure various food grains directly from the producer has become imminent. To make it success, a revolving fund must be created and left at the disposal of primary societies.


 Timeline of Food Security Bill


“Everything else can wait, but not agriculture”– Jawaharlal Nehru (1947)

After having its image badly dented by the humongous scams and declining growth rates, Congress led UPA has successfuly pushed through the Food Security Bill in Lok Sabha.

 

May 2004: UPA wins 2004 elections.

 

Nov 2004: PM forms National Commission for Farmers(NCF) under MS Swaminathan. The very first point in the terms of reference of NCF said: “To work out a comprehensive medium-term strategy for food and nutrition security in the country in order to move towards the goal of universal food security over time.”

 

Oct 2006: NCF submits five reports between 2004 and Oct 2006. It makes several recommendations, some of the those are mentioned below:

Lack of soil testing facilities is a major handicap. National Network of Advanced Soil Testing Laboratories is recommended.

Highest priority should be given to augmenting water availability by vigorously promoting rainwater harvesting; restoring water bodies and a million wells recharge programs.

Fifty thousand farm schools should be established in the fields of farmer-achievers.

No action is taken by UPA on the recommendations.

 

Feb 2008: Congress brings out farm loan waiver with an eye on 2009 elections.

 

2009: On the eve of elections, Congress promises Food Security Act in its manifesto.

 

July 2013: After 9 years of stating its goal, after 7 years of the NCF report, after 4 years of promising it in its manifesto, and after misruling India for nearly 60 of the 65 years, Congress has pushed Food Security as an ordinance.

In the last 7 years, Congress has not done anything towards implementing the recommendations of the Commission led by MS Swaminathan.

Costs of agriculture during the same period has gone enormously thanks to NREGA, increase in diesel and fertilizer prices. Correspondingly MSP has not been increased directly affecting the margins of the farmer. The number of farmer suicides during the same period has grown immensely.

MS Swaminathan had recommended: “Minimum Support Price should ‘Costs plus minimum of 50 per cent profit’.

During the same period, agriculture has prospered in some states:

Gujarat has seen an agricultural growth rate of 10 per cent while MP has seen a growth rate of 18 per cent.

The annual Krishi Mahotsava in Gujarat has played a major role in achieving this. Farmers have been given Soil Health cards and also imparted modern farming techniques

Farmers in the state are actively using drip irrigation.

Agricultural Universities have also been opened.

Since 2001, more than 600,000 water structures have been created, which included 100,000 check dams (each cost nearly Rs 15 lakh). Rainwater harvesting and recharging of water sources have also helped improve the levels of ground water.

Madhya Pradesh has also followed similar route and is witnessed an 18 per cent agricultural growth in 2011-12 and 13 per cent in 2012-13.

Interlinking of rivers project initially announced by Former PM Vajpayee has been actively pursued by MP Chief Minister.

Over a period of only six years, the irrigation facility had been increased from 7 lakh hectares to 26 lakh hectares which is a record in the country.

Madhya Pradesh has now surpassed Haryana in grain production and is now third after UP and Punjab.

Unanswered Questions

Can Congress’s Food Security Act really work or is it just another hollow promise just like NREGA which has not been able to provide 100 days of employment.

Common sense says Food Security can happen only when we have adequate food production. Has even a single newspaper or channel tried to assess the progress of UPA on the implementation of the recommendations of MS Swaminathan?

BJP leader Yashwant Sinha pointed out, “Once implemented, FSB will require a total procurement of 76.3 million tonnes of foodgrains every year. You should not forget that the average annual procurement of wheat and rice during 2000-01 to 2010-11 has been 45.05 million tonnes, with the highest procurement of 73 million tonnes in 2011-12. So, the requirement is much more than our best procurement. This is when agriculture production is rising year after year. This clearly indicates India will become a perennial food importer.“

Impact on Farmers

MS Swaminathan had recommended MSP should “Cost plus 50 per cent profit”. This is something that the UPA has not implemented. The current state of the economy doesn’t permits it either. So how will the government procures these gigantic amounts of foodgrains?

The likely answer is by doing what they have been doing in the last 9 years, by interfering the markets. Government has regularly banned exports of various agricultural commodities. Since agriculture commodities are perishable and most producers are small with lower working capitals, farmers are forced to settle for a lower price. Exports could have otherwise fetched higher prices.

These bans are anti-farmer. For instance, in 2012, Cane growersheld a rally against the ban on sugar export.

Sonia Gandhi’s Food Security Bill will most likely be over the graves of the millions of hard-working farmers of this country.

“Jai jawaan, Jai Kisaan” – Lal Bahadur Shastri (1965)

(Centre Right India)


Professionalisation af agro sector

The farmers are most disorganised class unable to raise their voice. They have no say in country’s agro policy though they are main pillar of country’s economic structure. The government does not maintain transparency in deciding support price. Its role in the subject is unilateral which does not take into account inflation, cost escalation, and other project cost affecting the overall well being of the small and marginal farmers who account 70 per cent of the farming community. Two decades back, farmers possessing and cultivating ten acres of land (in those days when monsoon were normally conducive) were considered as upper-middle class and well to do families, but today such group of farmers have slipped into the BPL category because of the cost of erratic monsoon, cost of production, and effect of inflation,etc.

The agriculture policy should be social centric, free from bureaucratic hassles. Right from secretariat down the line, the administrative infrastructure on agriculture should be handled by professional experts. The farmer’s bodies should have a say in country’s farm policy. Representative of farmers should be included in the policy making bodies along with agricultural scientists for formulating inclusive agro-policy. Institutions like, NABARD dealing with the farm sector should be rural centric instead of urban centric. Divergent layers in procurement and distribution networks has led to emergence of intermediaries who have profit motive eventually contributing low dividend to producers and high cost to the consumers which needs to be arrested. Farmers should be enlightened on the continuous danger to the community because of threat to the basic tenants of country’s economic heritage. Since fast agricultural growth is the foundation of a sound economy, employment and food security, a Kissan Charter covering the problems and needs in agro sector should be framed to make the farmers confident of their livelihood security.

Kissan Charter

a]   The farmers should be assured of living with dignity and must have a say in country’s agro policy. Farmer’s representatives should be nominated to Agriculture Commission and other related policy-making bodies by rotation so that their voices are heard in the formulating appropriate agro-policy to ensure sustainable employment to small and marginal farmers round the year. Minimum support price should not be decided unilaterally but taking into account the cost of production, effect of inflation of the relevant period of the season as well as with the consultation of the farmers committee through their duly recognised representatives.

b]      The government should formulate national water policy to ensure right of farmers over water. Irrigation for two seasonal crops must be guaranteed to the farmers so as to make cultivation viable. Irrigation being most important input for cultivation of crops, the government should promote a sustainable agricultural strategy for developing irrigation through viable schemes and executing time bound projects for river links to transfer water from surplus basins to deficit basins. The farmer should be involved in water preservation and water governance. The state should undertake localised water conservation, projects to save runoff water for utilisation in agriculture.

Food Security Act

The state cannot eliminate hunger and poverty by pious declarations or by enacting law. Its needs inclusive and consistent approach in both in agro and social sector.

i] The adequacy in food supply is not assured in the food security bill since the procurement, and production of food grains and process of storage and remunerative price has not been spelt out in the same. The bill does not take care of these basics.

ii] The food security is only possible, if the individual consumer gets the thing of his choice at his doorstep at the time of need which the present bill cannot achieve.

iii] The purchasing power of the individual consumer being the foremost requirement, to get the food grains as and when he needs while the bill does not conceive any thing about that.

iv]     The procurement and distribution system must be handled by separate wings and properly regulated with accountability. The mandate of the constitution for decentralisation of powers and vesting PDS with Grampanchayats / local bodies must be implemented effectively. New legal measures for decentralisation of procurement, ware-housing, storage and distribution by fixing rigid accountability which will provide a number of advantages such as:

[a]     The farmer would be encouraged to go for more production for getting agro and allied services at his doorstep;

[b]     Consumer meeting their needs at door steps without waiting for supply from distance go- downs;

[c]     Cost of transportation would be minimized, if storage and preservation facilities are created at production point. The centralised storing system is not cost effective, remunerative and un-conducive for preserving food products.

[d]     The decentralisation of warehousing, cold storage, and marketing channels would reduce chance of pilferage as well as diminish corruption, besides reducing transport cost.

May I, therefore, mention that the National Institute of Public Finance and Polices (NIPFP) and others say that for each kg of BPL rice, government provides Rs.15.00-Rs.20.00 subsidy in different forms. In addition to this, different state governments also subsidise by way of budget support. (For example, Odisha government has announced a budget of Rs.1,362 crore for food subsidy). The above proposition will reduce such burden on public exchequer and money thus saved could be better used for pursuing overall growth in agro sector inclusive of food grain, dairy, fish, goatery, etc. My firm believes is that Food Security Act of Chhatisgarh covers many of the problems narrated above and comparatively a better measure which ensures various food requirements as defined in Schedule I of the Act. However, inclusive agro policy narrated above can more efficiently achieve food security, nutrition and prosperity.

By Rama Chandra Panda

 

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