Maharashtra Agriculture Minister speaks
Use technology to modernise rural/agri market information for farmers.

The Maharashtra agriculture minister Mr.Balasaheb Thorat must be congratulated for speaking about the agri sector’s current issues. In Ahmedabad the other day the minister had said that free power will hold on in the state. Much more seriously he saw the drought in 11 districts of Vidarbha, one of the most neglected parts of Maharashtra, about which this magazine has first hand information, having spent a week of travel in the interiors of this part, the minister gives his experience of what is the main challenge for agriculture.
He said lacunae in crop insurance scheme will be removed and for Rabi crop a new scheme will be jointly launched by the Centre and the State. The Minister said that the Government was purchasing cotton from farmers at a higher rate even though there was no demand in the international market to protect their interest. The total purchase earlier expected to be around 1.5 lakh bales now will go up to 2 lakh bales, he added.

There was this news. The Madhya Pradesh soyabean traders went on an indefinite strike to protest against farmers transacting through electronic market. MP is the hub of soyabean cultivation and trade and also the centre of soyabean processing industry.

This news is both exciting as well as a sign of the rapidly changing India’s farming scenario. One agribusiness company had introduced the latest IT for creating an electronic information market for farmers are now able to get the latest information at their own villages on crops prices going market rates etc. So that farmers now have first the prices and other market information before they transport their produce to the mandis. The mandis, though a recent creation, had been caught in the time-tested Indian trading cunningness. Instead of the so-called market committees acting as the guardians of the traders who influence the market committees. So, in the process, the so-called regulated markets have become regulated and regimented instruments of the local traders. So, regulated or unregulated farmers continue to lose money whenever they try to dispose of their produce.

One of the handicaps, among the several handicaps for farmers, is the transportation of their produce to the mandis. Once they transport at their own costs, they are caught in a vice-like grip, the produce has to be disposed off quickly and hence they are at the mercy of the traders’ whims. Thus, we see at every mandi or market town or market yard, the traders are often outsiders, mostly marwaris or banias, from Gujarat or Rajasthan or far off States, even in some remote South Indian towns like Erode, the very hub of the turmeric trade. Luckily, the Centre is also thinking on the same lines. Ms.Radha Singh, the only secretary of the ministry so far to catch our attention, said in a CII sponsored session on agriculture:

The Centre has asked states to bring reforms in the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act to provide institutional support to direct marketing and contract farming arrangements and comply within three months.

“States have assured that they will bring necessary legislative changes in APMC Act within three months. Even they have expressed preparedness to go for an ordinance in case of a delay in amendments to the act.” The model APMC Act also provides an institutional framework to support contract farming and direct marketing as this would link small farmers to agro-processing industry, which would provide them an opportunity for advice, seeds, credit and market linkages. “The reforms in APMC Act in respective states would allow competitive agricultural markets in private and cooperative sectors,. The government is working out integrated food law framework to bring convergence of several laws including the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act for accelerated growth of agro-processing industry, she said. The government would enact Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001 to protect varieties, rights of farmers and plant breeders. It is also planning to liberalise the Essential Commodities Act to remove controls on commodity movement, storage and marketing. Asked about the total agriculture credit disbursed by the commercial banks. The total lending would touch Rs.1,17,000 crore this fiscal as against Rs.87,000 crore last financial year.

Large-scale investment in agriculture infrastructure projects is necessary for development of post-harvest and cold chain infrastructure near to the farmers’ fields. This was recently assessed by an expert committee set up by the ministry of agriculture which estimates that an investment requirement of Rs.11,172 crore in next 10 years would be necessary for agri marketing infrastructure development.” A major portion of this investment is expected from private sector, with due support from the government. The centre would be facilitating full negotiability of warehousing receipts. “It is proposing to promote commodity exchanges for price discovery and risk management in agriculture,” Ms Singh added.

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