Confesses India would lose self-sufficiency in food!

The Government must make a strong commitment to make India self-sufficient in food!

Sharad Pawar, the agri minister, is in the news lately for all the wrong news! Poor man, he should be worried about India’s growing food deficit. Yes, he seems to be worried. Not so overtly. For all his attention for the last one year and more is on the status of the Indian cricket game which is almost as good as gone for ever! So, one would not have imagined that the minister is to face all the negative criticism. We don’t care for cricket. But can we say the same thing about the state of our agricultural decline?

When politicians capture power and learn to hold on for a long time, he or she changes their own attitudes towards a number of their priorities. Politicians might come from rural India or urban India; they all start as champions of the poor and the farmers. Then, they themselves change, they become rich and now all our Central Ministers and States Chief Ministers seem to have become millionaires and in effect billionaires. What they have declared as their assets is just only the tip of the iceberg!

So too corruption. Now we are told by no less than the premier anti-corruption agency, the CVC, that in two months we have had something like 350 odd corruption cases against officials even from such ministries like home and defense, in fact the depts. covered almost all the major ones. So, the point is that the policy makers and their implementers all become divorced from the ground level realities. Farmers lives are all tied up with the grassroots and so the New Delhi level policies don’t operate at the village levels. So, a new phenomenon is the growing gap between the New Delhi authority and the aspirations of the farmers. There is a steady decline in farm output and India looks like becoming a permanent food importer.
 
Sharad Pawar, the agri minister, is no more the man who was projected in the media and the public eye so far. We all imagined that he is a man who could turn around things. This reputation he earned by his rural constituency of Baramati where a clutch of institutions, from schools, colleges to sugar co-ops had transformed the rural economy. He and his family are also into many entrepreneurial ventures and thanks to them, he is not only a rich man himself and he enjoys a knack for networking among the politicians cutting across party loyalties.

Lately, his image took a beating when he, as president of the cricket board which unfortunately for him, the country lost its status as a leading player of the game and in fact, the reactions had driven the game underground, so to say. Everyone knows why Pawar was so keen to head this body, there is so much money, so much media hype and everyone also imagined that Pawar as also bidding himself for the top political job. He might still land it, given the clout he is said to enjoy and also the very momentum such stakes create and the impossible situations in which political leaders find them. Given the current pattern of the coalition partners, every one of them is thoroughly neutral to any great or small principles and all that matters is sheer audacious ambitions to survive and prosper.

So, in this dismal scenario comes his performance track record as the country’s agriculture minister with so many other equally critical portfolios.
 
So, now comes his dire warnings.

Now all this is true. But we like to ask Mr.Pawar: is this a big discovery? Or, the latest discovery?

What was he doing all these years as minister? What were his goals as a minister? What policies he initiated? What obstacles he faced? No, the minister is not given to open-minded approach to nay national problem, more so the problem of Indian farming, as it is passing through its one of the most critical phases. Surely, there is no dearth to new ideas and new initiatives.

In a different context, even the latest controversies surrounding the Special Economic Zones (SEZs) have relevance to the agricultural sector. As for agriculture, we have drawn up agri export zones (AEZs) and this was a good concept as far as focusing on specific areas and specific crops.

As Pawar himself has well said the irrigation potential in the country is not exploited to the maximum. Also, there is a great deal of waste in the utilization of the existing irrigation facilities. Take the sugarcane crop itself, in Western Maharashtra, the irrigation is almost fully exploited and sugarcane yields in this geography have come down drastically when compared with what we get in the UP and the Southern sugar belt.

In fact, even in TN, there is a sugar glut and the sugarcane crop cultivation has led to over-exploitation of the irrigation potential, the groundwater potential in the  Coimbatore and Erode belt is badly exploited, given the free power supply and also no zoning of certain crops, the area under the paddy cultivation has come down drastically in these districts, the sugarcane crop is a water guzzler and there is certainly a need to limit the starting of more sugar mills, even this year there are recurring  cases  of sugar mills not lifting the crops in time and that had led to certain disaster results.

A highly publicized farmer’s suicide in Bidar where the farmer, otherwise a progressive farmer who was to win the Krishi Pandit award in the district ended his life tragically for the simple reason the sugar mill dint lift his crop and threw him into debts!

So, an effective and well-conceived agri export zones for sugarcane crop could be mapped out with a proper perspective planning approach. Likewise, we need to have special agri crops zones, to mention a few, for such crops like maize(for poultry industry)for horticulture crops, in North East to other zones and also for fruits  and vegetables.

We can them by any name; even we need clusters for specific vegetables like tomatoes in tomato growing areas, likewise for onions, potatoes and mangoes and other fruits. The irony is that Maharashtra itself is a model state where such specific crops have been promoted and well-developed to reach well-demanding markets in India and abroad. The Central Government is now already started planning for the coming kharif season. The Union agri ministry is identifying the special areas for special attention. This is as good as it goes.

The major areas are: Food security, yes, this is the most critical of the priorities. It should be addressed with all seriousness and speed. Can’t the farmers’ representative be heard in such a deliberation?

Second, production of pulses and oil seeds. This is also a tough job, considering the persistent resistance of the Indian situation to raise our pulse area or production and productivity. But it needs some radical priority. As for oilseeds much could be here. The mission on oilseeds? Yes, where it stands now? Disbanded? Or, simply lost in the din and buzz of nothings?

Third, ensuring availability of quality seeds. Here again, more of the same routine consultations and dispersal of the meeting wont address the problem. We need radical new look. Why don’t the issues be spelt out by the secretary for the more serious debate by all concerned? Seeds have so many aspects. Spurious seeds, the private trade and the greedy MNCs out to exploit the gullible farmers mindset with BT seeds and other untested seeds. The private trade needs to be tamed a bit more aggressively. The on-going debate in AP on the BT seeds controversy. The recent attack of stem rot in 45,000 hectares in AP paddy fields is now seen as a new pest, so virulent in just three days indicates some serious problems. So too the BT cotton seeds and the recurrence of bool worms in Khammam and Nalgonda districts.

So, a routine review of the kharif season prospects won’t do. The subject needs a more open debate and an honest appraisal of how to ensure quality seeds in adequate quantity.

Fourth and last item on the Krishi Bhavan agenda is extension system. This also acquires critical attention. Our agri universities all have extension systems. What limitations they exhibit and what needs to be done? There is a massive need for more qualified technical personnel at the union/block levels if we are to ensure area of coverage of specified crops and also the production targets.

Yes, Indian agriculture is changing. It is becoming an economic activity driven by market forces rather than controlled by the government machinery. Keeping this spirit in mind we have to introduce, at the cost of reputation, the PPP concept. Public-private partnership, also engage the rural employment guarantee act to ensure adequate farm labor which has become scarce and agriculture is losing its economic attractions.

To turn around our agri sector is possible. This can be achieved, given the economy’s many changes and the vast market demand for quality agri produce, with the retail revolution driving the private companies to the rural produce markets.

So, we urge the Central government to make a bold commitment to turnaround Indian agriculture competitive and strong enough to ensure self-sufficiency in food.

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