Krishi Vasant And Asia-Africa Agribusiness Summit
There has indeed been an inordinate delay in resuming the column after a gap of nearly five months. There are of course several justifications on why this happened—but the counter factual is equally true. That one was busy with restructuring of Nafed, procurement operations, launch of the (new) Mission for Integrated Development of Horticulture, the flagship events of the Ministry—the Africa Asia Agriculture Summit, Krishi Vasant and work related litigation are matters of fact, but as I look back and reflect, I do not find any one these convincing enough. The more I cogitate on this issue, the more I realize that I have missed writing this column, for it gave me a chance to reflect on what was happening in the agricultural space, as well as document some of the key factors shaping India’s agricultural policy and practice. Another ‘side effect’ is that several interventions and interactions which merited a column by themselves will have to be clubbed together. Thus, this column is going to focus on Africa-Asia Agribusiness Summit (Feb 4-6) at New Delhi and Krishi Vasant (Feb 9-13) at Nagpur.
The Africa-Asia Agribusiness Summit was sponsored and supported by the Ministries of Agriculture, Food Processing, Commerce and External Affairs, with FICCI as the lead organizer. The response from Africa was very good—Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Sudan, Seychelles, Egypt, Uganda, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa—while Asia was represented by Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Bhutan and Cambodia, among others. UN bodies like FAO, WFP and IFAD were also present as also Asia-Africa Rural Development Organisation which is trying to ensure the replication of best practices among the world’s most populous continents.
In his keynote address, Agriculture Minister, Sharad Pawar spoke about the complementarities between Asia and Africa, and the great potential for mutual co-operation. While Asia was running out of land and natural resources, and finding it difficult to sustain the current levels of agricultural production on account of increasing pressure on land, Africa still had large areas which could be brought under plough. However it was made abundantly clear that India’s intervention strategy would be in absolute accord with the FAO approved norms on Responsible Investments in Agriculture. Thus, there was no question of agricultural exports from a country which was not in a position to meet its own food security requirements. India acknowledged, recognized and strongly supported the view the view that each country (save and except high income island countries like Singapore or Panama) should be able to meet their requirement of staples and traditional foods before land and resources are deployed for export oriented plantations or commercial crops (sugar, coffee, cashew, cocoa, tea etc). Only after the domestic requirements and strategic reserve stocks have been assured, should a country open its doors to foreign investment to grow crops and commodities which are ecologically sustainable. Pulses, oilseeds and horticultural crops are good examples of what can be grown in large tracts in Africa in a partnership farming mode. In fact given the deficit India has in pulses and oilseeds it made a lot of sense to grow pulses and oilseeds to meet India’s requirements. Indian investors could provide technology, resources and managerial expertise to organize the production system.
There were interesting panel discussions, including one on contract farming which was chaired by yours truly. Puneet Singh, a young Punjabi farmer and his friends had taken up over two thousand hectares of virgin land and brought it under cultivation. There was enthusiasm, shared joy and general cheer in the panel discussion which featured Indian entrepreneurs and ministers from Sudan, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia and Kenya.
If Asia-Africa Summit saw the coming together of ministers, diplomats and agribusiness professionals, Krishi Vasant at Nagpur was a farmers’ affair. Over six lakh visitors over five days in came and participated in India’s largest ever agricultural expo, which showcased the best technologies from ICAR, state governments, agribusiness entrepreneurs and technology providers. Maharashtra had set up a theme pavilion to commemorate the centenary of late Govind Rao Naik, the legendary Chief Minister of Maharashtra who was responsible for ushering green revolution in Maharashtra, besides laying the foundations of a strong co-operative movement, especially in the sugar and credit sectors. Maharashtra had been transformed from a sate with rugged, barren terrain to the leading state with micro irrigation, protected cultivation, horticulture and sugarcane thereby transforming the agrarian landscape in the state. Speaking on the occasion President Pranab Mukherjee complimented the farmers for achieving record production in almost everything—from wheat to rice to milk to sugar to fruits, vegetables and plantation crops. The challenge, as he put it, was in ensuring that the gains for higher production and productivity were translated into improved earnings for the farmer- and that is where institutional strengthening was required—from financial inclusion to terminal markets, soil sampling techniques and better accuracy in prediction of crops! Then there were ten technical sessions on a range of subjects from best poultry practices to protected cultivation, hi-tech horticulture and cold chain logistics’. These technical sessions were highly interactive and also webcast to all the agriculture development blocks in the country!
Before I close, I have a confession to make. I was hoping that at least someone other than yours truly should miss this column. I am glad that this has happened. Readers, I have never met, have pointed out that the column was indeed serving a useful purpose. My editor has of course been extremely kind in reminding me that it was high time I resumed my muse. And so I promise myself and my readers that I will be as regular as I can!
By Sanjeev Chopra
(An IAS Officer, the author is Joint Secretary & Mission Director, National Horticulture Mission, Government of India. The views expressed are personal.)