India would turn into a food importer?
Yes, says our Agriculture Minister!
Our policy makers have become smug about agriculture! They don’t in fact know what to do to turn agriculture as India’s strength. That is the current tragedy of policy making. All our top ministers are able men. They are widely seen as the most competent in the team. Yet, what is happening in the agri sector. India is desperate to save the food self-sufficiency status. We are fast moving forward, it seems towards turning India into a food importing country.
Even the otherwise strong Asian economies like Japan, South Korea are battling bravely to save their food market from becoming dependent upon the outside market, more so on the US agriculture and food market. Rice in these countries is more symbolic of their survival as independent economies. The world knows how Japan and South Korea are dictated by America. Yet they fight on to keep their food self-sufficiency goals as national honour.
But in India what we see? An apathy, a total apathy towards revitalising our agri sector which is witnessing daily rounds of farmers suicicdes. It has now become endemic; it looks, even in otherwise enlightened Karnataka. Where sugarcane farmers are resorting to suicides.
So, it does not look our top policy makers are sensitive to human tragedies nor they have a magic formula to save agriculture. While we always see our politicians, from the PM to FM to Agri Minister talks of saving the sugar producers lobby, giving a range of subsidies to save the surplus sugar stock. While no one thinks of ensuring the sugarcane farmers lives.
Do we know that in the USA, the world’s powerful economy, agriculture is sacred? It enjoys a central place in the economic strategy. As per the Farm Bill 2007 of the US, the number of farming families is less than 1 million in 2005.Much of the support for US farming goes under different names, not as subsidies but they are subsidies for your convenience! Do you know the dimension of the US farm subsidies?
It is a staggering 618 billion US dollars! This is just for 1 million farmers! In India we have nearly some 60 crores people dependent upon the agri sector and yet our farm subsidies are peanut! Yet, there is an industry lobby, there is the urban middle class lobby, the media and the intelligentsia that are decrying farm subsidies and yet they want rice and other food items cheap! There is such huge powerful sugarcane and cotton lobby that always pleads for this or that support and yet no one talks of ensuring a support price for sugarcane or cotton!
That is the mindset of the Indian public opinion. We don’t have a rational mind when it comes to discussing agriculture issues.
So, there is always some sort of plea about agriculture! No one stands up and speaks for agriculture without any hang-ups!
The world cereal production, says an FAO review, is comfortable enough. It is not clear whether the world food production and supplies, that is the supplies of food that are traded or otherwise made available for distribution is enough to take care of feeding the hungry worldwide. FAO has several programmes to ensure world food security but still what we read is the hunger issue is at the forefront in many countries, more so in Africa and even in other countries where the poor are left out of the food distribution channels. Even inside the USA, there is hunger and so much of economic and social inequities that vast segments in the poor neighbourhoods are left for almost begging for their day to day survival.
So, the role of agriculture in ensuring a world free of hunger is far from centre stage. That much is understood and takes note of policy makers everywhere.
Inside India, we have the curious phenomenon of the Indian economy growing fast, at 9.2 per cent and yet the most unsaid part of the growth story is the agricultural stagnation, or you can take your own take, call it agricultural decline or poor growth at 2 per cent. So, the economic and business newspapers that were once effusive in their throw of choicest phrases and praise slangs now turned to using some sort of irony-cum-name-calling twist to describing the Prime Minister the “Sardar” of Reforms and the Finance Minister as a “Dream merchant”. These phrases are not far from being inaccurate, in fact more accurate both literally and metaphorically!
It would be unwise to doubt the capacity of the individuals in question. But what can be not doubted is their stark failure to perform. This now there for all to see.
What they have got to offer in the fourth year entry of their office and when the country is faced with a series of political questions, after the drubbing the Congress party received in the UP elections?
The PM again talks of a charter for reforms; a programme for farming, the FM also harps on his own favorite theme of high growth rate.
Unfortunately, not many take the government’s new programmes for agriculture very seriously.
Simple because the new programmes are not new. They are not even inspiring. For the simple reason they are the rather tired themes.
It is important the country knows that the present leadership of Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi haven’t managed to put in place the required talents to think in a radical way. There is no clear vision as to what the country needs by way of a broad based economic growth strategy. Simply because we have Dr.Singh in the PM’s chair, we cant imagine, as the people are made to imagine by a set of forces, from the media to the lethargy in the ruling circles, with the Left with its own flawed strategy, that the economic growth in itself is a justification to leave the most critical sectors like agriculture to its own fate!
The farmers suicides continue, as these lines are written, there have been something like 12 suicides in Maharashtra, one or two in Karnataka, all in a never ending trend! The PM does speak out; Sonia Gandhi doesn’t take note of, the FM and the Agri Minister busy with their own priorities.
It is a great pity such a depressing scenario persists in the agri sector when Shared Pawar presides over the ministry. Everyone thought here was minister who knows the field well and yet his mind seems to be not there. Cricket paranoia apart, there must be reason why he is not able to take any initiatives or air his own views in a more clear manner.
All he is saying is that India faces the danger or clear prospect of becoming a food importing nation, India is sure to lose its status as a food self-sufficiency if immediate steps are not taken. He fears that India might turn into a major importer of food by 2011.Is this for; we have made Pawar the agriculture minister?
Of course, he knows the problems in agriculture.
Agriculture production patterns are changing. The market realities are such that traditional food baskets like Punjab, Haryana and Western UP are taking to cash crops, sugarcane is the preferred crop and as such the food basket is getting shrunken, wheat is not grown to the new requirements. The three states once produced to feed the entire nation. Not any more.
Also, there is an excess sugar production; the excess sugarcane cultivation has led to a crisis in the sugar belts. New suicides are from these belts, when the mills don’t lift the cane in time leading to huge losses to farmers.
So, what to do?
Pawar says the time has come to limit the sugarcane cultivation area so that mills don’t get burdened with excess stocks and prices fall and also ask for help from the government.
There is subsidy for every agri sector companies, fertilisers to now sugar mills! Even cotton mills get concessions. But farmers, be they sugarcane farmers, cotton farmers they are not assured of any minimum price guarantee or some subsidy funds to ensure a stable prices for their produce!
That is the irony of Indian agriculture.
Now, the sugar mills ask for further subsidies for their ethanol production. Ethnol if the flavour of the season. Energy is the current buzzword. So, every other major agri issues are sidestepped.
There is also the media buzz about the agri lands diverted to ethanol production crops, so the food production would fall.
These are all misplaced priorities.
Cultivate sugarcane or Jatropha or go for leasing out lands in Brazil as the oil companies are contemplating. But the agricultural priorities are food self-sufficiency. For this end we have to create the following three immediate steps:
One, go for a one-time heavy full farm debt wipe off. There is no other way; you can pull back the debt ridden community into productive forces.
Second, ensure a steady ringing MSP for wheat and paddy crops. Let the private traders operate in procurement under some well-defined conditions and let there be freedom for farmers to sell in the open market. This is keeping with the current emerging agri market realities. But there must be some market price support for official procurement to replenish the food stock in FCI.
Third, there has to be a massive rise in agricultural subsidy fund. Let us not confuse the agri price support price subsidy fund with the food subsidy.
Farmers must get always a remunerative price support, plus all the new policies like insurance, pension and other medical and social security insurance cum other innovative schemes. Some states like Karnataka and AP are introducing some really innovative rural support policies. IT enabled services are another innovation in these states.
The economic growth rate must always must take note of the various components of a broad based economic package. It is where the farm debt, co-op credit reforms, bank credit to priority sectors where the Finance Minister has failed in a demonstrable manner. He is a smart platform speaker. To attribute to him other qualities like an understanding of the Indian economic realities is sure foolhardiness.
Unfortunately, there is not much interaction between the government leaders and the aam aadmi. The PM or the FM don’t travel to small towns or rural areas. Even Sonia Gandhi stops with cosmetic visits. That has had a telling effect on their capacity to gather votes for the party.
Yes, agricultural development is both economics and politics combined together. Just to take credit for the new corporate India’s performance is not a great thing.
One hopes wisdom descends on New Delhi!