Bharti Mittal and Reliance entry in agri trade: blessing or a curse?

The wheat import seems to have gone unnoticed! But for the wisdom of the Rajya Sabha Chairman, Bhairon Singh Shekhavat (who only converted a Rajya Sabha question into a debate) India would have simply surrendered to foreign traps. Yes, Cargill and Wal Mart are also into the wheat procurement business, along with our own biggues, ITC and others have only played havoc with India’s time-honoured faith in food self-sufficiency as our only food security and national honour. There is every reason to suspect the villain in the piece is the recent Indo-American agriculture agreement for research strategy. Like the wheat import this highly secretive India-American partnership is suspect.

The point is that there is no public debate and the public is not taken into confidence.

Let us be clear. India for the foreseeable future would remain an agriculture country of small and medium farmers. India will also be basically an agriculture power, in the sense we see European countries, and America and other nations in South America and Asia are agricultural powers.

This should give us the perspective.
We really don’t have the fuller information and the many dimensions of the wheat trade and from what we read from the mainstream media we get the impression that wheat production had remained at the same levels: 72 million tonnes. And yet the procurement during the current ongoing rabi season, the official procurement target had not been reached, the procurement came only to 14.8 million tonnes, just some 2.2 million tonnes below the required minimum levels. Then, why this sudden panic and the resort to imports, to the extent of 3 million tonnes and causing so much anxieties about our wheat production potential and the future prospects.

Surely, India can’t be tied to any American dependence for food or for trade ties and trade twists. India’s geo-strategic perspectives are different from other countries, big or small. Right?

The targeted public distribution system (PDS) the villain? Or, the fears of uncertain monsoons that could also trigger further panic? Or, the employment guarantee schemes would demand for wheat and other foods goods? Or, is the purchase price of Rs.650 is the real cause for this development? Yes, one guess seems to be the low price and hence the sudden panic reaction to give Rs.50 as bonus.

Surely, the PDS could be saved from reckless populism as indulged by the ruling ally, the DMK. There has to be a national debate on the PDS and the subsidised rice. We have to provide the poor with subsidised rice but not play havoc with PDS with bogus ration cards, large scale diversion and corruption.

There must be a minimum national level policy for this. The Communists are not advancing their genuine causes by restraining the fuel price rises while keeping mum on the reckless populism indulged by the states. The Communists have no tears to shed for the farmer’s suicides or the mulnourished children’s plight. This is the tragedy and why we, politicians, perpetuate poverty and deprivation by our own petty egos!

Any serious-minded government, with such a long history of food self-sufficiency as our basic food security would have at least led to some alarm bells. But not in the present case.

The Prime Minister and his advisers had not shown or seem not to have very much bothered about this import, resorted to India after 1998-99.Also,just three years ago, under the NDA India was a wheat exporter! Surely, such fluctuations in foodgrains production should be seen as a normal or we have to have been reassured by the confident government not to panic. But even here there was no such reassurance. This is only worrying. Worrying when you see a rather, far-from his dynamic self, we mean the otherwise redoubtable Sharad Pawar. He had not somehow risen up to the widespread concerns in the agri policy circles, he had not come out with some radical solutions to the on-going farmers suicides, neither he had spoken about need for preventing  the children malnutrition, again in Thane, in his home state.

Nor, the very key figures in the M.S.Swaminathan Commission on Farmers are speaking out. We are in the dark as to the sort of recommendations the Commission made, especially in the context of the current wheat import. Why the otherwise forthcoming Dr.Swaminathan, who is so seasoned an expert, he doesn’t choose to enlighten the anxious public? Dr.Swaminathan just said the import is a wakeup call. But then what we should be doing? In the government or in other levels? Should we extend the acreage further under wheat? More irrigation to be provided? More quality wheat seeds? Biotech seeds? In the agri research front? Dr.Swaminathan is no help here.

It is pointed out that the imported wheat when it comes and stored a quintal would cost Rs.1308! This is the real irony. The money that would have otherwise gone to the farmers is now sought to be wasted on other activities! Surely, the time is right now for the government to come out and reassure the public.

There are views and views. Whether self-sufficiency in food grains can support a high growth rate in agri sector? Views can differ. World Bank is not our sole adviser. There is a study that agro-industrial units, micro and small agro-enterprises increased by 4.5 million between 1994-95 and 2000-01.Budget allocations for subsidies have to be shifted to investments in agri sector. But the point is that we have to improve productivity of the food-grains sector as well as cash crops like cotton and many others that can also find a lucrative export market.

Rajya Sabha should debate and senior leaders- A.B. Vajpayee, V.P.Singh, Deve Gowda Ajit Singh, Balram Jhakhar, and others like Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee must be consulted.

Let us have a new agri vision 2020!

The Government must go for a new national consensus on agriculture development priorities. As far as we are concerned we can only share our concerns as we see it from a distance. There is no sharing of the public anxiety on the part of the leaders whom the public expect to respond and participate in the public debate.  We are often told of the advances China had made. Hybrid rice, golden rice, miracle rice etc.  What is the state of our wheat and rice research? Our agri universities, our ICAR need to be alerted.

We find the advertisements on the Food processing Ministry asking for investors. We are also in this magazine involved with promoting agro entrepreneurs. We have been writing on the problems faced. Banks/Nabard is no help. Nor the various Centre-funded research bodies like CFTRI and many in Hyderabad They all seem to be stuck in bureaucratic claptrap! They have become in fact obstacles in innovations. Innovative crops, innovative products development and innovative agri enterprises! The concept of Public-Private Partnership is a crying need in agri research, extension, entrepreneurial training, revamping the many courses in the agri universities and training bodies. Hands-on training courses, to find solutions to practical problems for the new entrepreneurs are totally neglected.

SMEs, we talk off and on. SMEs in agro sector are the future potential.

Enhancing productivity in agriculture on par with China is the top priority what are the concerns? There is an unsaid fear and even censorship on agri scientists and VCs. The media doesn’t get the latest news and information. There is an unsaid domination of individuals in agri research and information dissemination.

Time for an honest soul search for the entire nation.

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