‘India Today’ has an article on the outstanding performance of Indian agriculture in 2007-08. Sarad Pawar has tried to take its credit. This year’ record output has found a place in one full- page ad in all national newspapers too. It aims at perhaps telling the traders about the abundance to avoid creating artificial price rise. It might also win back some disenchanted voters to Congress or NCP. Unfortunately, there is no mention of sustained endeavours of millions of small and medium farmers. With the growth in economy and rising living standard in urban areas becoming known to the rural population through better digital connectivity, even the rural landholders are trying to come out of rut using various means- better practices and inputs. For instance, when the government fails to execute many irrigation projects such as river interlinking and canals that it plans and promises, the farmers go to deep boring and pump for irrigation. When it fails to supply electricity, the farmers switch over to diesel pumps. Should the country not be ashamed of its governments, as even after 60 plus years of independence also, 60% of the farmers still look towards sky and pray for rain for irrigation? This deprived community is expected to support and feed 620 million of the population.
All-time high food grain output
In 2007-08, India produced rice 95.68 million tonne (93.35), wheat 76.78 million tonne (75.81), coarse cereals 39.67 million tonne (33.5), pulses 18.54 million tones (17.5), oilseeds 28.21 million tonne (24.2), Soyabean 9.43million tonne (8.85). Figures in bracket show the production in 2006-07. Even cotton production increased to 23.19 million bales (170 kg a bale) this year from 22.63 million bales in 2006-07.
Some questions need to be answered.
The government has provided some assistance to the farmers, but as usual in every case it is very and very late. Its measures are short-term ones and short living too with one-point objective of getting votes. And that is the reason for the shrinking of the share of agriculture in GDP from 61 per cent in 1951 to 19 percent or less in 2008. The government doesn’t have a timeframe to cover 100 % of the cultivable land with means of irrigation or its alternatives.
The bureaucrats don’t mange by objective, but mismanage by inventing patent-able new excuses for not getting the projects executed in time. And the inaction results in situation such as the contribution of agriculture in GDP slipping to 2.5 per cent for a full 10 years. And the annual growth in food grain production at 1.2 per cent was lower than the 1.9-per cent growth in population.
Unfortunately, the farming in the country is mostly in hand of people with very little or no knowledge or formal training about the modern farming practices. No agency has made any effort to train the people involved in the task of farming. They have been expected to learn it from their elders. The farmers hardly appreciate the commercial aspect of the farming. To make the farming viable, it must give sufficient profit, the difference between costs in the farming and earnings from the produce. Should the farmers live the viability of his occupation to the almighty and keep on subsidizing the produce for influential consuming populace including the policy makers and resort to suicide himself?
Fortunately, in last few years some steps taken by the government have brought some hope and relief.
·Agricultural credit has more than trebled from Rs 86,981 crore in 2003-04 to Rs 2,80,000 crore for 2008-09.
·Interest rates on farm loans of less than Rs 3 lakh were cut from 9 per cent in July 2003 to 7 per cent in February 2006.
·Funding of seed production through universities helped enhance yield.
·The minimum support price (MSP) has gone from Rs 550 per quintal of paddy in 2004 to Rs 1,000 now and from Rs 630 to Rs 1,000 for wheat that fetched better returns for farmers. Farmers were paid Rs 2,800 per cotton bale and Rs 1,800 per quintal for soya.
Why should the Indian farmers get content with so low a price?
A price of Rs 1,000 per quintal for paddy of average quality translates into Rs 16.66 per kg for rice. With addition freight and other costs, the price for rice could touch Rs 20, post procurement. In comparison Thai rice is priced at Rs 52 per kg. With levies, the actual price comes to Rs 70.
In the PDS the government supplies grains to the very poor under the Antyodaya Anna Yojana at Rs 2 per kg and for BPL (Below Poverty Line) families at Rs 4 per kg. Those above the poverty line get grains at Rs 7 per kg.
The pricing of the food grains is certainly political and the voters oriented. Does it reach the actual beneficiaries? Is this not the reason for the massive theft and the leakage? Why can’t the beneficiaries with smart cards be given vouchers to permit them to buy it from any shop instead of the unscrupulous fair price shops? Against the coupons submitted, the shop can be paid the difference.
Should those above the poverty line not pay at least the cost price, if not the market price? Why should a consumer above the poverty line get rice at Rs 7 per kg when it costs the Food Ministry around Rs 20 and when the market price could be between Rs 18 and Rs 20?
Let the political parties agree to solve the food problem rationally using technology that can make its a transparent business. That will be in the interest of the nation.