The farm Bills may claim to open up the agricultural sector but the implied corporatisation may engulf farming communities
Corporatisation of agriculture in the US, where factory farming birthed an uninterrupted chain of “farm to fork,” has wiped out rural communities, their organic methods, their unique produce, their relevance and independent existence. It all began in the 1970s to realise a dream of becoming big enough to command the world’s food market with industrialised processes, merging of lands and shifting priorities to commodity crops. But in no time there was a glut due to over-production, farmers could never get the commensurate prices and were driven to debts. They had no option but to foreclose and sell out. Now farmers do not even make up a quarter of the total US agricultural production. Buying into the promise of “making it big,” they stretched their resources and were subsumed by food giants. This is exactly the scenario that our farmers fear following the passage of farm Bills, which began as ordinances during the lockdown, in the Lok Sabha. Yes, structurally, they may seem to streamline the agricultural processes but the farmer is not willing to give up his right to exist on his terms. Worse, he fears that these could ultimately reduce the current system of open-ended FCI procurement by the State. Little wonder then that farmers have taken to the streets across North India despite the Prime Minister’s assurance that the new Bills would “empower” them by giving them direct linkages to the market and that their minimum support price (MSP) would still be guaranteed. Such has been the cascading effect of their anxieties that regional parties that sustain on the rural votebank, namely the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Jannayak Janata Party (JJP), are under pressure to withdraw support to the ruling BJP as allies. The farmers have made it very clear that there would be no political future for parties and MPs that voted with the Government. So the lone SAD Minister, Harsimrat Singh Badal, resigned as Union Minister of Food Processing Industries while in Parliament Sukhbir Singh Badal warned that the proposed laws would “destroy” the 50 years of hard work done by successive Punjab governments to build the farm sector. While the Government insists that the new laws will help create “one nation, one market” and remove trader barriers so that farmers can sell their produce outside notified grain markets, the latter fear that in an open, competitive market, they would not get the minimum support price that the Government has promised to continue. Besides, they feel that entering into contracts with corporations would willy-nilly give the latter negotiating rights and greater control that would impinge on their autonomy and decision-making. And that although the older system would continue, as a weakened parallel mechanism, it would ultimately crumble before emerging monopolies. It is the implication behind the grandiloquence of a prosperous countryside and the devil in the detail that have our farming community up in arms. For example, the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill 2020, allows buys and sales outside the notified Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) mandis, thereby limiting their cartelisation tendencies. It also prohibits State Governments from collecting the fee, cess or levy for trade outside the APMC markets. A licence won’t be required to trade in farm produce and anyone with a PAN card can now buy directly from growers. Hence they want clarity on what “outside” means and contrary to perception that they want middlemen out, they actually have a trusted bond with their existing commission agents, as their licence is proof enough of their credibility and delivery abilities, and would not want to experiment with an untested model. With most of them not literate enough about exercising their rights, dispute resolution could also end up being loaded against them. Besides, they would want direct payment as banks could deduct amounts as loan recovery. State Governments like Punjab are obviously upset that access to another market would dry up their own revenue from APMC mandis and are seeing this as an affront to federal controls. The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, seeks to bring uniformity in contractual farming rules and State APMC acts. So the farmer can now enter into a contract with a corporate entity at a mutually agreed price. The problem here is that the mechanism for price fixation is not codified and farmers fear that corporations could use their institutional heft to manipulate or browbeat them into accepting their terms. Finally, the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020, aims to remove cereals, pulses, oilseeds, edible oils, onion and potatoes from a regulated list, which is being seen as a major threat to the food security of the poor. The Government argues that as a food-surplus nation, we don’t need it anymore but the pandemic-induced crisis has shown us how supply chain disruptions and local level hoarding can lead to a price spiral.
Farmers are not entirely without reason, battling as they are bad loans and non-payment of sugarcane dues in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. They do not want to be swamped. Many experts would argue that it is easy enough to push reforms in a sector that anyway makes a very small portion of our GDP. But farmers make up 60 per cent of the country’s population, a voter base that no political party can ignore. Both the SAD and JJP owe their political legitimacy to farmers and have no option but to advocate their rights. Besides, both represent States that are heavily dependent on procurement at MSP. The Bills may well turn out to be the BJP’s Achilles’ heel provided the Opposition is quick enough to mount a united campaign.
(Courtesy: The Pioneer)
Certain provisions of both the draft seeds Bill as well as the Pesticide Management Bill need to be amended to prevent MNCs from swamping farmers
Farmers’ bodies are concerned that the proposed draft Seeds Bill, 2019, and the Pesticide Management Bill could weaken farmers’ rights and increase corporate control over seed, as the definition of “farmer” has been tweaked to include traders and corporations. The original definition of “farmer” excluded any individual, company, trader or dealer, who engages in procurement and sale on commercial basis (non-farmers); Bharatiya Krishak Samaj president Krishan Bir Chaudhary insists this should be retained.
The draft states, “Farmer means any person who owns cultivable land or any other category of farmers who are doing the agricultural work as may be notified by the Central/State Governments.” It identifies “farmer” as anyone owning cultivable land under Clause 11, which makes all corporations, who own land, eligible to be classified as “farmer”, while the new exemptions of Clause 47 spare multinationals from any regulation under the seed law.
The draft Bill introduces new commercial definitions of seed, which facilitate easy market access to multinational corporations rather than conserve our rich biodiversity and guarantee farmers the freedom to save and exchange seeds they have evolved and, thus, ensure availability of high quality, reliable, affordable and ecologically adapted seed for their ecosystem and agro-climatic zone.
The Bill introduces unscientific definitions like “national seed variety” and “state seed variety” in Clauses 17 (“national seed varieties” means those varieties which are cultivated in more than one State) and 31 (“State seed varieties” mean those which are cultivated in one State only).
Seed is the expression of diversity of traits and agroclimatic zones, where varieties are bred by farmers and to which they are adapted. To describe seeds, not according to traits and agroclimatic zones but as “national seed” if grown in more than one state and “state seed” if grown in one state, has no scientific basis. This is a commercial description to facilitate the marketing and the spread of unreliable and costly seeds from MNCs.
Under the 1966 Seed Act, new seeds were evaluated in 22 agroclimatic zones to ensure farmers get quality inputs. Strangely, the 2019 Seed Bill makes evaluation optional: “The Committee may, for conducting trials to assess the performance, accredit centres of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, State Agricultural Universities and such other organisations fulfilling the eligibility requirements as may be prescribed to conduct trials to evaluate the performance of any kind or variety of seeds.”
The seed Bill should ensure compensation to farmers in case of seed failure. Instead, it leaves farmers to seek compensation for seed failure under the Consumer Act. Liability clauses are meaningless if there is no liability for seed failure. The Consumer Protection Act, 1986, stated that the producer, distributor or vendor of seed of the registered kind or variety “shall disclose the expected performance of such kind or variety to the farmer under given conditions” and if such seed fails to perform as expected, the farmer could claim compensation from the producer, dealer, distributor or vendor.
The 2019 draft Bill is a Compulsory Seed Certification Bill under which seed producers and seed processing units must be registered [247, 22(1) and (2)]. Article 12 states that farmers “shall not be required to register the farmers’ varieties of seeds in the said register” but the deletion of farmers’ rights in exemption Clause 47 dilutes farmers’ rights.
Significantly, “transgenic seeds” are introduced. A new category of “synthetic seeds” enters the definition of “seed” in Article 24. Section 44 opens the door for introduction of transgenic varieties cleared by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC). Under “special provision for registration of transgenic varieties”, it states, “notwithstanding anything contained in Section 14, no seed of any transgenic variety shall be registered unless the applicant has obtained a clearance in respect of the same as required by or under the provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986: (29 of 1986).”
But the biosafety regulatory agency is a failure. It approved Bt cotton which is failing; it approved Bt brinjal which the Minister overruled; it approved GM mustard even though it has lower yields than indigenous public varieties and is tolerant to the prohibited herbicide, glufosinate. Only a case in the Supreme Court has prevented its commercialisation. Now, the new seed Bill could allow commercialisation of Bt brinjal and herbicide-tolerant mustard.
The Central Seed Committee under the 1966 Act included one person to be nominated by each State Government. The 2019 seed Bill has changed this provision to five representatives chosen by the Centre on a rotational basis. Meanwhile, the Seeds Division, Dept of Agriculture, has asked sellers for Expression of Interest (EOI) for bar-coding seed packets for a “national seed traceability system.” This must surely wait until Parliament passes the Bill.
Coming to the Pesticide Management Bill (PMB), it must provide for compulsory registration of Technical Grade Pesticides in India, prior to granting registrations for imports or indigenous manufacture of pesticides formulations, which is the prevailing practice in major agricultural nations such as the US, Europe, Brazil, China, Australia and Argentina.
The PMB should not include data protection for agrochemicals/pesticides as such provisions will effectively extend the monopoly enjoyed by multinational corporations, which already have 20-year patent protection under WTO (effective in India from 2005). Additional data protection would mean ever-greening of patents. Data exclusivity in agrochemicals sector will delay entry of generics and make agrochemicals/pesticides unaffordable for Indian farmers. Moreover, the PMB lacks a “pesticide schedule.” The insecticide schedule is an integral part of the Insecticide Act, 1968, and helps applicants and regulators to decide if registration is required or not.
The PMB’s over regulation of exports will adversely affect exports of pesticides, which can earn foreign exchange and boost the indigenous agrochemicals industry. Export orders for pesticide formulations are time-bound, depending upon the agriculture season in different countries and timely delivery is critical else customers will go elsewhere. All importing countries have their own regulations and registration requirements for imports, which each exporter has to fulfill.
Hence, imposing unnecessary data requirements and raising unqualified deficiencies for export-oriented products will only add to costs and delays. Data available in the public domain should be accepted by the registration authority as export orders are country-specific. The Ministry of Agriculture would do well to resolve these issues before proceeding with these legislations.
(Writer: Sandhya Jain , Courtesy: The Pioneer)
If we can address flaws in implementing welfare schemes for farmers, the efficacy of these measures will increase and contribute to doubling farmers’ incomes
In view of the crippling crisis gripping the farm sector, the Centre and all State Governments are giving priority to the welfare of farmers and have, over the years, introduced schemes targeted at increasing farmers’ incomes by 2022. State agriculture departments are responsible for implementing these schemes and though agencies at district and block levels are trying to execute them, some gaps exist.
If these gaps are plugged, the efficacy of these measures will increase and contribute to the national objective of doubling farmers’ incomes.
The Centre depends heavily on States to implement centrally-sponsored benefit programmes like the Soil Health Card (SHC) scheme, Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) and Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY).
In addition to the Centre’s welfare programmes for cultivators, State Governments also have a number of schemes for their welfare like Rythu Bima and Rythu Bandhu of Telangana and Rythu Bharosa of Andhra Pradesh.
There are more than 20 Government schemes for growers’ benefit but Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) field surveys and even National Sample Survey Office’s (NSSO) assessments show that implementation of and awareness regarding schemes can be vastly improved to achieve Government targets.
Improved dissemination of information will play a key role in this, as getting detailed information about scheme modalities, eligibility criteria, procedure for application and other information at the right time through appropriate channels is crucial for farmers to reap the benefits of ongoing programmes.
Historically, it is the responsibility of state agriculture departments to provide all scheme-related information to farmers. However, over the years, they have been burdened with distribution of subsidies and inputs, with little time left to devote for core extension activities like advising farmers on utility of the schemes, scheme modalities, technicalities, implementation strategies and procedures.
As a result, awareness of schemes like Soil Health Card is low in most cases. Even farmers who are aware of it are not adopting the recommendations based on these advisories. As agriculture department officers are simultaneously engaged in implementing many schemes, they feel that their task is over with the distribution of the cards. However, it requires concentrated efforts by the officers to motivate farmers to apply the right dose of fertilisers, depending on the health of their soil.
The national objective of doubling farmers’ income by 2022 cannot be achieved without the successful implementation of these schemes and increased awareness coupled with proper transfer of knowledge by block agricultural officers are the first steps towards achieving this.
Thus it is vital that all blocks have sufficient officers but the fact remains that there are a large number of block agricultural officers’ positions vacant across India. Currently one agricultural officer serves 1,162 farmers as against the recommended ratio of 1:750.
After liberalisation in the 1990s, agricultural extension has been constrained by limited budget allocation. Further, in recent years more money is allocated to direct money transfers schemes like PM-KISAN or Rythu Bandhu. The expenditure on agricultural extension is only 0.16 per cent of the farm sector’s contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which is quite low when compared to international standards. There is an immediate need to increase budget allocation for agricultural extension.
Given that farmers are moving from subsistence to market-oriented farming, more information is needed on seasonal changes in prices, latest farm implements, precision farming, quality standards of produce, export to different countries, export demand and food safety standards. Several Government schemes like crop insurance, subsidy on farm implements, precision farming and electronic agricultural markets are knowledge-intensive. Hence, more budgetary allocations are needed to devise innovative ways of information dissemination and promote new eco-systems even in remote and rural areas.
As agricultural departments alone cannot meet the complex information needs of farmers, there is a need for promoting alternative channels of information dissemination.
Some channels like input dealers, private companies (ITC e-choupals, TATA Kisan Kendras), farmer producer companies (like MAHAGRAPES), cooperative societies (Mulkanoor), some NGOs (Bharatiya Agro-Industries Federation and Action for Food Production) are already active in knowledge dissemination to farmers on input and output markets. Use of multiple information channels (including private) needs to be incorporated into the model agricultural extension policy of the Centre. Still, safeguarding farmers from any misinformation should be top priority.
In spite of efforts by both public and private agencies, it has been found that the reach of agricultural officers and private agencies is limited, especially in remote districts. To enhance last-mile engagement, the Government is employing progressive farmers as kisan mitras (friend of the farmer) with a monthly honorarium, which is showing good results in some areas
These kisan mitras have good knowledge of local conditions and are able to influence fellow farmers to adopt new technologies. Employing one kisan mitra for two villages and engaging one for each remote village will not only help in technical information dissemination but also help in creating awareness about different Government schemes. Also, now almost every rural household has a 4G or 3G-enabled mobile phone which makes streaming of multi-media videos and short films easy for providing information. These are better tools compared to age-old information tools like posters.
Many start-ups are also developing apps with satellite images and Artificial Intelligence to provide information at the right time in a more accessible media form. Of late, WhatsApp groups comprising farmers, local agricultural officers and NGO partners are becoming popular and effective in identifying local farm sector problems, evolving mutually agreed solutions and speedy adoption. However, local agricultural officers need to take care of farmers who don’t have smartphones, otherwise there is a danger of excluding them from Government schemes.
Also, the market-oriented approaches of private companies need to be used by Government officials in a synergist manner to popularise improved seed varieties, farm machinery, small implements, bio-fertilisers, etc so that it helps in increased adoption of new technologies.
Public-private partnerships need to be encouraged through promotion of rural advisory services and custom hiring centres, especially in hi-tech agriculture and precision farming, where the private sector is strong, for the benefit of farmers.
In the scenario of expanding private sector extension and declining funds for the public sector, there is a danger of concentrating on large farmers mostly in irrigated areas, and neglecting small, women and rain-fed farmers. Hence, the Government should incentivise the private sector to cater to these neglected areas and people, by including them in District Agricultural Plans developed by the Agricultural Technology Management Agency.
Although agricultural officers are known for their technical skills, they are not that skilled in communication and market-oriented approaches. The training institutions should focus on market-oriented information needs like trends in price changes, export demand and food safety standards.
The private and public sector should complement each other in usage of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) tools and the same needs to be synchronised in Block Agriculture Plans. They need to be trained in monitoring agricultural schemes through apps or computerised information systems, so that they can effectively implement these schemes within a limited period and spend more time on information dissemination.
An agriculture officer’s work involves a lot of field work, identifying local problems and co-evolving solutions in partnership with local stakeholders. Hence, they need operational autonomy to take local decisions like involvement of suitable private sector partners in extension, training and demonstrations.
All these measures need innovations backed by sufficient budget, at least 1 per cent of the agricultural GDP needs to be allocated for agricultural extension, so that the objective of doubling incomes of farmers will be achieved.
(The writer is Principal Scientist, ICAR)
Writer: A Amarender Reddy
Courtesy: The Pioneer
Grasslands are, perhaps, the most neglected ecosystem in the world. However, their ability to meet the climate change challenge must galvanise nations into putting them high on the conservation agenda. The Government must take note
Grasslands across the globe, especially in India, have played a silent but stellar role in reining in the process of climate change. But according to a study by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) journal, climate change, pollution and various environment alterations across the globe are changing their identity. One of the key contributions made by grasslands is their inconspicuous role in containing carbon levels in the atmosphere. It is this storage capacity for carbon that makes grasslands effective warriors against climate change.
Nearly, 30 per cent of the world’s carbon is stored in these grasslands, which makes them crucial in combating climate change. But their ecology is shifting due to human activities, says a new study.
The PNAS team conducted 105 experiments in different grasslands around the world. Each experiment focussed on particular global change factors like rising carbon dioxide, hotter temperatures and drought. Grasslands showed resilience to these factors in the first ten years of exposure, after that their species began to alter, the study said.
Half of the PNAS experiments, lasting ten years or more, showed a change in the number of species in grasslands. The study also found that their identity can change rapidly without a reduction in the number of plant species but due to the change in individual plants. Even though the grasslands are resilient towards global change for around ten years, they are vulnerable due to the fast pace of global change.
Increasingly, the scientific community across the world is forming the opinion that the role of grasslands needs to be acknowledged. They should be protected from human intervention so as to arrest their degradation. They occupy more than 40 per cent of all the ice-free land in the world. These assets of nature have sustained humans for the past 300 million years — right from the time when the first homo sapiens appeared in Africa. They also provide food and shelter to various other species, including zebras and giraffes.
Closer home, grasslands happen to be the least understood habitat of nature. There is also a paucity of effective studies on their efficacy. Still, the fact that they play a pivotal role in keeping a check on climate change cannot be ignored.
Grasslands in India share their existence with some trees, shrubs and herbs. They are found at various altitudes and in various geographical regions under different climatic conditions.
Thus, grasslands are also found in altitudes higher than 2,100 metres where the temperature is cold. Some are found at an altitude between 150 to 300 metres where the temperature is warm. Apart from the climatic conditions where the grasslands exist, there are other variants, mainly five major types. Each of these has its own characteristic. The most widespread grassland in India are the Imperata type. Our country has no dearth of diversity of greens but there is certainly a shortage of robust policies to protect them against human exploitation. This usually happens when grasslands are misrepresented as barren lands and usurped by land sharks and land mafia.
In a country where standing trees in a forest are being felled to encroach land, grasslands naturally don’t stand a chance. But matters such as these are of public knowledge. This is why it is even more puzzling that the National Green Tribunal (NGT) or even the Central Government has not come out with a forceful protection policy.
The apathy can be judged from the fact that semi-arid open areas are now being classified as wastelands, leaving them vulnerable to human intervention and encroachments. These so-called wastelands are, in fact, grasslands but neither are they given due recognition nor proper classification. The Government must not shift the burden of land requirement to cater to a burgeoning population onto the grasslands by labeling them as wastelands. Unless we course-correct, we will lose many hectares of grasslands forever.
Additionally, the wildlife that is found on these grasslands needs to be recognised and categorised so that it get chances for survival. Currently, there is little or no study or data available for the rich flora and fauna available in India. The Government must also increase awareness and recognise the support of indigenous local people so that India can benefit from their efforts to conserve grasslands. In order to do this, we must take a cue from other nations where vast savannahs have been respected and conserved over centuries. The methods and systems followed by these countries are in public domain and available to be implemented in the Indian context. Grasslands are the life breath in the fight against climate change. They must be protected and conserved.
(The writer is an environmental journalist)
Writer: Kota Sriraj
Courtesy: The Pioneer
Human activity had wiped out, between 1970 and 2014, 60 per cent of all animals with backbones — fish, birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals
The International Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) latest report, released earlier this month and stating that the process of producing and making food available accounts annually for a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, requires serious attention. The second in the series of the organisation’s specially-focussed reports and entitled Climate Change and Land, the validity of its observations is hardly in doubt.
Agriculture cuts both ways. As the report says, it accounts for 37 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions if one takes into account both the percentage generated by global food production and activities like transportation and the work of energy and food processing industries. On its part, climate change adversely impacts agriculture by affecting cropping pattern and reducing crop output through changing temperatures and unpredictable weather fluctuations. Worse, a quarter of the food produced is lost or wasted and, as the report further points out, “global food loss and waste contributed 8 to 10 per cent of total anthropogenic (man-made) GHQ (greenhouse gas) emissions” during 2010 and 2016.
Besides agriculture, a number of land-based activities like forestry, cattle-rearing and urbanisation have contributed to the carbon load. While noting this, the report also takes into account the manner in which climate change impacts these. It further argues that measures like reduction in food wastage, sustainable agricultural practices and the consumption of more plant-based rather than animal-based food could reduce the emission of greenhouse gases estimated to be about 49 billion tonnes of CO2 annually.
It will not be easy to implement the report’s recommendations. It will take a huge exercise of will by several billion human beings. Dietary habits, evolving ever since humankind appeared on earth, will be difficult to change. These, however, will have to, particularly since options are available. The alternative can be as drastic as the extinction of the species.
The danger is very real. Other species have been disappearing at an alarming rate. A report by the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) conservation group, titled Living Planet, said human activity had wiped out, between 1970 and 2014, 60 per cent of all animals with backbones — fish, birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals. Referring to such activity, the WWF International’s director-general, Marco Lambertini, has said that hunting, shrinking habitat, pollution, illegal trade and climate change had been too much for them to overcome.
The subject of mass extinction has been causing worry for quite some time. Ian Johnston writing in The Independent of the United Kingdom in 2017, cited scientists writing in a special edition of the magazine, Nature, that humans were causing the sixth mass extinction of life on earth. Earlier, Elizabeth Kolbert had written in The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (first published in 2014), “Very, very occasionally in the distant past, the planet has undergone change so wrenching that the diversity of life has plummeted. Five of these ancient events were catastrophic enough that they’re put in their own category: The so-called Big Five. In what seems like a fantastic coincidence, but is probably no coincidence at all, the history of these events is recovered just as people come to realise that they are causing another one.”
There is no reason why humans can escape the process. A major cause is the population increase under way. Referring to it, Desmond Morris predicts in The Naked Ape: A Zoologist’s Study of the Human Animal, that a time will come when “the densities we are now experiencing in our major cities would exist in every corner of the globe. The consequences of all this for all forms of wild animals is obvious. The effect it would have on our own species is equally depressing.”
Morris adds shortly thereafter, “Long before our populations reach the levels envisaged above we shall have broken so many of the rules that govern our biological nature, that we shall have collapsed as a dominant species….Many exciting species have become extinct in the past and we are no exception.” Morris’ critics argue that the human mind will, through technology, find a way of preventing this. This is laughable. Technology would remain a formulation on paper if the environment in which it has to be applied disappears. Humankind has evolved, and is sustained by, support from a wide range of plant and animal species providing it with food and habitat. No technology can sustain it if these disappear.
Particularly severe will be the impact of mass extinctions on the human mind, which Paul Shepard writes in Thinking Animals: Animals and the Development of Human Intelligence, is at the centre of humanity’s pride in its independence “from animals and animality.” According to him “the mind and its organ, the brain, are in reality that part of us most dependent on the survival of animals. We are connected to animals not merely in the convenience of figures of speech — a zoological equivalent of ‘flowery speech’ — but by sinews that link speech to rationality, insight, intuition, and consciousness’. Animal images and forms play a critical role in the shaping of human “personality, identity, and social consciousness. They are basic to the development of speech and thought.”
The situation is grim. Addressing a preparatory meeting of the UN Climate Action Summit scheduled to be held in September, 2019, the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres had said in Abu Dhabi on June 30 that climate change was advancing at a rate that was outpacing efforts to address it. While lauding the Paris agreement, he said that the world would face a catastrophic three degrees Celsius rise in temperature by the end of, century.
Things would start becoming worse even earlier. The Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, released by IPCC on October 7, 2018, had observed that at the current rate, the global mean temperature — which is already one degree Celsius above the pre-industrial revolution level — is likely to rise to the 1.5-degree mark sometime between 2030 and 2052. It further stated that warming, even if limited to 1.5°C, would not reduce the risks and impacts of climate change. Sea levels will continue to rise beyond 2100, threatening coastal ecosystems and infrastructure. Flooding, drought and extreme weather events will wreak havoc on communities around the globe. Many species will continue to be driven toward extinction and marine ecosystems could face “irreversible loss.”
The September meeting of the UN Climate Action Summit has its work cut out.
(The writer is Consultant Editor, The Pioneer, and an author)
Writer: Hiranmay Karlekar
Courtesy: The Pioneer
For better prosperity of the agriculture sector, the Government must allow farmers market access and promote Indian varieties globally
India is a biodiversity-rich country. We are the centre of origin for many crops, fruits and vegetables. Along with a rich bio-heritage, we have been blessed with all types of climate and soil. Our nation’s hard-working farmers, seed savers and plant breeders, along with mother nature, have co-evolved thousands of varieties to provide us with nutrition and also prepared us for drought, floods and climate change. In recent times, public institutions, along with the Indian private sector, have aggressively pursued this goal, too. Unlike other sectors, they have not only taken from mother nature but have also added to her bounty. Today, each Indian can proudly showcase to the world that we have achieved food sovereignty, while also conserving biological diversity in the sui generis way under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) ambit.
India has the sixth largest domestic seed market in the world. The size of the industry is over Rs 20,000 crore and it will continue to grow at six to seven per cent. But we are far from the saturation point. Restrictions on export of seeds weigh heavy on growth. In 2017, the Indian seed exports were valued at $101 million, a paltry sum when compared to the global seed export market of $11,924 million. This was due to the lack of both harmonisation with international regulations and a strong national seed export policy. The Modi Government has the mandate to clean up the clogs and facilitate the development of mutually beneficial ties between national, regional and world seed markets.
Since 2008, India has been a participant of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Seed Schemes, which open up seed trading potential with over 60 countries. Our hybrids in corn, paddy, forage crops, millets, vegetables and cotton are popular in many countries due to their productivity and resilience. Indian farmers and plant breeders will find new markets from Vietnam to South Africa. Apart from bringing economic prosperity to the Indian farmers, this push may also help farmers of Kenya, Egypt, South Sudan and Uganda among others, double their incomes. India needs to promote its indigenous R&D and seed export as part of its economic diplomacy. Indian seeds should become part of all aid programmes given to countries so as to popularise them.
ASEAN countries such as Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar also present a ready market for Indian seed exports. Currently, we are trading vegetable and fruit seeds with them, but there is a huge potential for expansion. Take the case of Vietnam and India, both countries have huge coastline, which are threatened by salinity due to climate change. We have to work on a governmental level to share our seeds and biodiversity to counter these threats. India has many paddy varieties for salinity; we should encourage cross-breeding to climate-proof our rice production.
Closer home, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka can be the top three destinations for all Indian hybrid seeds. Overall, Bangladesh reported 57 per cent, Nepal 88 per cent and Sri Lanka 83 per cent gap in supply in 2018-19. For paddy seeds in 2017-18, Nepal reported a gap of 701,398MT, Sri Lanka 104,000MT and Bangladesh 75,957MT. Similarly for wheat, Nepal reported 78,720MT and Bangladesh 33,490MT.
Our agro-climatic zones provide an opportunity for Indian farmers and breeders to be the leaders in seed production. We can become seed home for the world. We can exponentially increase our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and bring prosperity to rural India by sharing our superior varieties with other nations.
We can also increase this share by creating agriculture economic zones along the lines of special economic zone (SEZs). This can be done under the “Make in India” scheme so that companies and Government agencies can get tax benefits and indulge in rigorous R&D. This step will strengthen the Indian agriculture sector by breeding superior seeds and preparing the crop for climate change. This scheme can be used to boost our FPOs, too.
Farmers and village clusters can be encouraged to grow seeds in partnership with various companies and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). This will ensure that the target of doubling farmers’ incomes is achieved by 2022 as they will have ready buyers for their produce. Additionally, growing seeds will fetch farmers a price far beyond the Minimum Support Price (MSP).
The Government should also create an Indian seed standard and certificate that should be trusted across the world. We should rely on international standards and learn from their procedures. But to establish India as a strong force, we need to develop an indigenous standard through which we can smoothen seed exports and build regional trust.
The Government can further provide financial assistance for exporters under the “Market Access Initiative” scheme to encourage seed export business. States, which record good export growth, can get financial assistance to promote export-related infrastructure. Telangana has already shown much initiative for promoting seed exports.
Further, to promote export of seeds, the Government can form an autonomous body ie, the seed export council. This council can have representation from the public sector, the Indian seed industry and plant breeders. It can work under the Ministry of Agriculture. This will be a novel step by Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar to double farmers’ income.
In addition to all these, we can institute a single point for quarantine testing and clearance for export of seeds. The Government can undertake these steps to facilitate seed exports from the country. Further, we can harmonise our biodiversity laws and create a special provision within the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) to smoothen regulations for the export of seeds. The NBA can play a key role in drafting these new regulations.
Our Intellectual Property Right (IPR) laws are also complementary to most African and Asian nations, who don’t recognise patents on seeds and they, too, follow the sui generis system under the World Trade Organisation. The Modi Government has a unique opportunity to take the lead in creating a universal system based on breeder rights and the philosophy of Vasudev Kutumbhakam, which also protects commercial rights of our plant breeders. Through this policy, we can allow Indian farmers and FPOs to enter seed breeding contract with farmers across the world.
As we chase the goal of becoming a $5 trillion economy, India needs a firmer grip on the globalised market. But will we allow our farmers to reap the benefits of globalisation? In the rush to fill our PDS schemes with cereals, we have asked them to sacrifice for nation-building, now are we willing to reward them? It is not late, the Government can make the start by extending the “Make in India” scheme to Indian farmers and not double but maybe quadruple their incomes by 2022. We need to allow the farmers market access and promote Indian varieties across the world. It is now time for India to not only feed but also seed the world.
(Indra Shekhar Singh is Programme Director for Policy and Outreach at the National Seed Association of India (NSAI) and RK Trivedi is executive director, NSAI)
Writer: Indra Shekhar singh Rk Trivedi
Courtesy: The Pioneer
The agriculture sector received the biggest allocation but without the right kind of reforms, policy interventions and focussed approach, India cannot become a $5 trillion economy
The Union Budget 2019-20, which made a strong pitch to transform India into a $5 trillion economy by 2025, provided a precursor to the future of ‘New India’. However, the Government will have to clearly outline and delineate how it plans to catapult the economy to the $5 trillion mark in the next six years. The move is well-intentioned, but often, the way to hell is paved with good intentions. This is especially true in the present context when many of the past initiatives such as ‘Start-up India’, ‘Make in India’ and the much-hyped ‘Swachh Bharat’ mission have failed to leave a mark. Today, India stands at a crucial juncture where its evolution into a global economy largely depends on how efficiently it tackles the menace of rising unemployment, agrarian distress and burgeoning debt burden.
On the agricultural front, the budgetary focus on creating 10,000 new Farm Producer Organisations (FPOs) to improve economies of scale over the next five years is praiseworthy. It will help create institutional structure to aggregate the farmers and also help them with the necessary funds. But in order to provide a holistic outlook to FPOs, the Government will need to create an eco-system wherein farmers can seamlessly collaborate with private entities to ensure higher realisation from sales. In addition, the decision to set up 80 Livelihood Business Incubators (LBIs) and 20 Technology Business Incubators (TBIs) to produce 75,000 skilled entrepreneurs in agro-rural industries will improve the farmer’s life and boost income in the long-term.
Yet another area that the Budget focussed on was the adoption of Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF). This is a practice where farmers adopt traditional practices of farming, leading to a decline in the usage of chemicals and pesticides, promoting soil health and other environmental benefits. Many believe that this will help improve land productivity, besides contributing to doubling farmer’s income. However, the essential question that needs to be answered is: Will this model be economically viable? Because farm crisis has already reached a saturation point and despite having bumper crops, farmers’ lives have not improved substantially.
According to the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS), around 38 per cent of India’s households were self-employed in agriculture sector during 2017-18. How then will the adoption of ZBNF help improve the farmer’s life in a country where nearly 55-60 per cent of the population still relies on agriculture and allied activities for livelihood?
India’s farm sector grew at a slower pace of 2.9 per cent in 2018-19 as lower prices impacted farm incomes despite higher output. Besides, droughts and natural calamities across several Indian States in the past few years have fuelled agrarian distress. One of the reasons for crisis in the agriculture sector is a rise in input costs of seeds, fertilisers, diesel and electricity, which largely resulted due to the decontrolling of input prices and the imposition of the Goods and Services Tax.
Despite going through a major crisis, the Budget fell short of providing any relief or policy direction to the struggling farm sector. This sector plays a key role in boosting the rural economy and encouraging people to spend more. If this situation is left unaddressed, it will have serious ramifications for the economy. The goal of a $5 trillion economy by 2025, too, will remain on paper only. As far as the introduction of new schemes is concerned, the Budget announced the Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana, apparently aimed at plugging critical gaps and strengthening of value chain in the fisheries sector. Another important announcement was made for the traditional industries around bamboo, honey and textiles.
From 2014 and 2019, the suffering of the average farmer came a full circle. Droughts in 2014 and 2015 made way for bountiful harvests in the following years, leading to a collapse in farm gate prices. As a result, numerous protests and marches, demanding remunerative prices, followed suit. High-profile loan wavers by various State Governments were well-timed with elections around the corner but when the polls were over, nobody really cared about the farmers.
What can be done to improve farmer’s life?
A holistic action plan needs to be put in place to give a leg up to the struggling farm industry. In addition to the allocations in the Budget, a policy direction, technological interventions and uninterrupted access to markets without the existence of middlemen is the need of the hour.
Focus on smart irrigation:
There is a dire need for efficient irrigation systems in farming, considering rising problems of water scarcity and groundwater depletion.
In India, hardly 50 per cent of the agriculture is irrigated and the rest is dependent on erratic monsoons for irrigation. Most Indian States, including the coastal ones, are extremely vulnerable to climate change due to poor irrigation facilities and contamination of water bodies. Farmers must be encouraged to use smart irrigation systems such as sprinklers or drip water wires and even efficient water management.
Policy direction and budgetary focus:
Along with policy direction, allocation of funds is also important to ensure that the farmers have enough to live a decent life. Most times it is observed that despite bumper crops, they fail to sell their produce at existing market prices. If addressed, this will go a long way in addressing a majority of the grievances. On this front, the Budget did not disappoint as this sector saw an increase of 75 per cent in budgetary allocation over interim budget. Against the Budget 2018-19 (revised) estimates of `86,602 crore for agriculture and allied activities, Sitharaman’s Budget 2019-20 proposed to invest `1,51,518 crore in this sector.
Reduce post-harvest loss:
Post-harvest loss of major agricultural produce is estimated at $13 billion. About 16 per cent of the fruits and vegetables, valued at $6 billion were lost in 2015. Only 2.2 per cent of the fruits and vegetables, which are perishable agricultural produces, are sorted and packed for consumption in India, which has high chances of wastage as it gets sent abroad.
However, in comparison, the US with 65 per cent and China with 23 per cent are far ahead of India when it comes to processing and storing the crops. This also reflects the priority of successive Governments in addressing the likely food shortages and preparing for a sustainable future.
Due to various economic challenges, farmers are not in a position to transport their centralised large-scale processing or preservation. This results in a lot of wastage. Budgetary provisions must also address the acute cold storage shortages in India. Cold storages in adequate numbers can help farmers preserve their produce and sell them when the market prices are best.
Farmer-centric crop insurance:
Changes in climate cause a lot of uncertainty for the farm sector. In southern parts, monsoon is a major cause of worry as crops get damaged due to rain. To compensate for the uncertainty caused by climate change, the need is for crop insurance schemes that can protect the farmers from bad yields. Changes must be made to ensure that small farmers are protected by low premium and long-term insurance cover, instead of being designed as at present, it seems to be purely for the profit of insurance companies.
In conclusion, India has set an ambitious target of transforming itself into a $5 trillion economy by 2025. This may seem unachievable but with the right kind of reforms, policy interventions and focussed approach in key sectors like agriculture, it may become a global economic power and provide its people with a better standard of living.
(The writer is a communications professional and a graduate in Economics)
Writer: Nithin Augustine
Courtesy: The Pioneer
Although farmers issues are being neglected for a long time, things may change in 2019. But, for that to happen, the competing alliances in elections need to take ownership of the issue.
The term ‘agrarian’ is no longer synonymous with just the rural anymore — it has spread across the larger society. It’s not just the rural economy but the entire Indian economy that is heavily dependent on the progress of the agricultural sector that accounts for around 17-18 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and also employs about half of the total workforce. It remains the main source of livelihood for over half of India’s population. It is also a fact that since 1995, nearly three lakh farmers have committed suicide owing to agrarian crisis. And successive Governments have claimed to have pushed India to the top as the world’s fastest growing economy. Nevertheless, they also had to face the flak for denying the existence of any crisis in the agrarian sector that led to enormous suffering to the farmers. Meanwhile, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) has not published any data on farmer suicides for two years now.
Farmers across the country have been demanding debt relief and better remuneration for their produce. The year 2016 witnessed large-scale farmers’ protests. Demonstrations and protests were witnessed from parts of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Haryana, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh among others. To put it in perspective, in Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh, six farmers were killed in police firing last year; the Kisan Long March from Nasik to Mumbai saw the participation of 50,000 farmers; besides thousands of farmers across the country took part in the ‘gao bandh’ protests whereby supply of fruits, vegetables and dairy products were stopped to major cities.
The National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) 70th round of survey (January – December, 2013) suggested that a majority of the agricultural households, which possessed more than 0.40 hectare land, reported cultivation as their principal source of income. Among the agricultural households, having less than 0.01 hectare land, about 56 per cent reported wage/salary employment as their principal source of income and another 23 per cent reported livestock as their principal source of income. About four per cent of the estimated agricultural households in the country had MGNREGA job card during the survey period. About 52 percent of the agricultural households in the country were estimated to be indebted, including all kind of outstanding loans, irrespective of the purpose for which it was taken at the time of the survey. Among the major States, Andhra Pradesh had the highest levels of debt in the country (92.9 per cent) followed by Telangana (89.1 per cent) and Tamil Nadu (82.5 per cent). In rural India, about 60 per cent of the amount of outstanding loans taken by the agricultural households was taken from institutional sources, which included Government (2.1 per cent), cooperative society (14.8 per cent) and banks (42.9 per cent).
As per reports, agriculture and allied sector was growing at the rate of -0.2per cent in 2014-15, 1.1 per cent growth rate was reported in 2015-16 and 4.9 per cent was reported in 2016-17. No major contribution in the agricultural sector was reported during the four years of Narendra Modi Government. It took about 12 years and three Governments to implement the Swaminathan Commission Report, 2006, which opined that the farmers should get minimum support price (MSP) at 50 percent profit above the cost of production. The Modi Government alone took four years to implement the half-cooked recommendation.
Journalist P Sainath had concluded: “The 2011 Census signalled perhaps the greatest distress-driven migrations we’ve seen in independent India. And millions of poor fleeing the collapse of their livelihoods have moved out to other villages, rural towns, urban agglomerations, big cities — in search of jobs that are not there. Census 2011 logs nearly 15 million fewer farmers (main cultivators) than there were in 1991. And you now find many once-proud food producers working as domestic servants. The poor are now up for exploitation by both urban and rural elites.”
The average monthly income from raising crops and rearing animals increased from Rs 1,060 in 2003 to Rs 3,844 in 2013, according to the report, ‘Situational Assessment of Agricultural Households’ by NSSO, a compounded annual income growth rate of 13.7 per cent. In 2016-17, the sector was growing at a poor rate of 1.2 per cent, according to World Bank data.
Elections are just about numbers. Democratic politics is about sewing together a majority. Hence, the larger the group, the bigger is the ‘vote-bank’ and greater is its electoral clout. A social group that constitutes a majority can, therefore, dictate its terms in an electoral democracy. Or, so they say and teach in democratic theory. If we go by this orthodoxy, farmers should have unmatched electoral clout in India. However, election after election has bypassed farmers’ issues. This can change in 2019 if either of the competing alliances takes ownership of the issue.
(The writer is a student of Master of Laws at Delhi University, and is also a researcher at Swaraj Abhiyan)
Writer: Nilesh Jain
Courtesy: The Pioneer
In a haystack of aspects that are gaining importance,the most prominent ones include the need to upgrade, nurture, and facilitate indigenous skills.
The struggle for development is neither unique nor new. Each community strives to keep up with what it perceives to be the latest and the best. Obviously, there is an attempt to “keep up with the Joneses”.
The slippery bit is the definition of the Joneses. As many would recognise, keeping up with the Joneses refers to keeping pace with the neighbours. The definition of neighbourhood is constantly being redefined as technology reduces space and multiplies time. The neighbourhood, thereby becomes a dependant variable. The inhabitant of a so-called modern enclave like Vasant Vihar from a metropolitan Delhi may perceive the Fifth Avenue of New York as a ‘neighborhood’ and try to keep pace with them.
In the same manner, a tribal village in the Bastar area may see the city of its market, say Raipur, as its neighbourhood and try to replicate that story. The relationship between New Delhi and New York cited above, as also the relationship between Bastar and Raipur, is self-evident. Hence, the reference point of development keeps changing. It’s almost always context-specific.
In the meanwhile, planners of economic development, be it at the Centre or the State or the district, sitting in the Capital, revel in figure work, talking of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Gross National Product (GNP) and many other quite ‘incomprehensible’ acronyms. Often in these planning centres, the model is borrowed from entities like the World Bank, the International Monitory Fund (IMF) and lookalikes like the Asian Development Bank. The entire scenario is conspicuous by its attempt to borrow from the more prosperous entities on the line of vision.
This model has made many careers which have graduated from a humble local level to a district level and from a State level to a national level and then hopefully to some international body. That is defined as success. If one can end up with a job in a United Nations body with a pension which is tax free, then of, course, that’s applauded as an ‘achievement’. In the process, good savings have been made. The spouse is happy, presumably with a parallel engagement. The children have received international exposure. Appropriate marriages have marked the status. One would have almost said, “God is in his heaven and there is peace on earth.”
Unfortunately, as always, predictably there is fly in the ointment. The ointment is the balm for development. The communities, who it was supposed to help, are willy-nilly in 2017, similarly placed as in 1947. It is possible some will react to this analogy and condemn it as an extreme statement. That statement will obviously stand on its legs.
Let us make an example of development of tribal areas. If over a period of time, the issues are the same, the rhetoric is the same and the broadband of interventions is the full gamut of possibilities, then it is also possible to argue that one is going around in circles. Perhaps, some of the contents of the circles have changed. In early 70s, unrest in tribal areas was attributed to Naxalism. Some years later, it was attributed also to the stoking of the foreign hand. Decades later, it was termed as extremism. The problem still defies solution. The times seem to have come to visit some of the fundamentals of interventions. Evidently, more of the same is only getting results of the same variety. The concepts which are now progressively gaining attention is the need to facilitate, upgrade and nurture indigenous skills, products and thereby the returns. People should be encouraged to help themselves and the governance can only have a limited facilitative role. The framework of cooperatives is obviously handy. The methodology needs to be perfected. However, a fundamental rethink is needed.
Talking of tribals, forests easily come to our minds. The synonym of ‘forest’ is ‘jungle’. Both of these categories are inapplicable to the Indian context. Forest is supposed to be wild, the jungle is supposed to be lawless. In the Indian context, this kind of habitat is referred to as ‘Aranyak’. The ‘Aranya’ was neither wild nor lawless. It was a way of life of the ‘woods’. The need is to capture this simple yet illusive concept. The way forward is there if one can remove ones blinkers.
(The writer is a well-known management consultant)
Writer: Vinayshil Gautam
Courtesy: The Pioneer
Food Security Bill: Where’s the money for this colossal waste?
“This would perhaps be the biggest ever experiment in the world to distribute subsidized grain to achieve food and nutritional security.” “This” refers to the Food Security Bill, [FSB] the brain child of the National Advisory Council and widely expected to be the route to political nirvana for UPA. But pray who calls this grand design of distributing food grains to approximately two-thirds of our population at subsidized prices an “experiment?” The Opposition? No. The Media? Never. The Judiciary? Not at all.
Ordinance on Food Security Bill postponed
In fact, this is the view of the Ministry of Agriculture contained in The Discussion Paper on National Food Security Bill and prepared by the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices, Department of Agriculture and Cooperation. That is not all. The document laments that “The Bill, in its present form, throws up major operational and financial challenges and would have enormous ramifications on the cereal economy/markets and therefore Indian agriculture as a whole.” To appreciate the “enormous ramifications” mentioned above, its consequences and implications on national grain markets a reference to the food grains production as well as procurement and distribution by the Government through the extant Public Distribution System [PDS] needs to be appreciated.
Government as a hoarder
India produces approximately 250 MT of food grains annually. Of this one- half i.e. 120 – 140 MT is estimated to be consumed by farmers and theoretically does not enter the national grain markets. Of the balance 110-130 MT that enters the national grain markets, Government procures approximately half of this for public distribution. The balance a small portion say 60 MT enters our grain markets.
It is in this connection this document correctly points out that “The government already procures one-third of the cereals production (which amounts to almost half of marketed surplus of wheat and rice).” That makes the Government a dominant player. This has profound implications on food grains prices. As we have an open-ended purchase policy, we continue to endlessly purchase over and above our buffer stock requirements. For instance, as against the buffer stock norm of 31.9 million tons of Rice & wheat (as on July 1 of each year), total central stocks were at 80.5 million tons as at July 1, 2012.
Debate: Does India need the ‘Food Security Bill’?
Obviously the Government, thanks to its inefficiency, is unable to distribute what it procures. In the process, little do we realize that this is public hoarding by the Government. This in turn robs the common man of grain stocks while artificially inflating its prices. This hoarding by the state is at the root of the extant chronic food inflation and shortage in India.
Another dimension of the problem is that only a handful of States have marketable surplus. That implies concentrated procurement. And this needs to be distributed nationwide. It may be noted that 70 per cent of rice procurement is done from Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh while 80 per cent of wheat procurement is done from Punjab, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh. This is a logistic person’s nightmare. For instance, moving wheat from Punjab situated in one corner of the country through an archaic transportation system and storage network mechanism into Kerala virtually doubles its cost as it arrives in the point of consumption in Kerala.
Interestingly, the economic cost of FCI for acquiring, storing and distributing food grains is about 40 per cent of the procurement price. Obviously, Food Corporation of India must be a unique organisation that suffers from dis economies of scale! But who cares? The more it procures, stores or distributes, the more it leaks. In such a scenario, importing wheat, at times from international markets, theoretically becomes a wiser proposition. But when a country like India enters the international grain markets, (in view of her volumes) instantly international prices spike, making imports practically a non option. That makes us extremely dependent on the national grain markets to feed our gargantuan population.
Yet, what is galling is the fact that the National Sample Survey [NSS] studies reveals massive leakage of food grains in the Targeted PDS mechanism that aims to deliver food grains for BPL families. This is simply because PDS has virtually collapsed in several states in India due to weak governance and lack of accountability. In fact, this document by the Ministry of Agriculture demonstrates the dismal performance of this scheme for 2004-05 and 2009-10, the two years for which NSS data on consumption from PDS are available.
In 2004-05, compared to an off take of 29 million tonnes of rice and wheat by States, only 13 tonnes were actually lifted by households for consumption suggesting a massive leakage of 54 per cent. In 2009-10, 25 million tonnes was received by the people under PDS while the off take by states was 42 million tonnes indicating a leakage in excess of 40 per cent. Further, the FCI storage facilities are still primitive. For instance, the FCI is facing an acute storage crisis with covered capacity estimated at around 45 million tonnes and Covered and Plinth storage of 17 million tonnes against the stocks crossing 80 million tonnes. This once again adds to the wastage of grains while storing and handling.
There is a yet another piece of data that possibly is hidden from most Indians. Most economists within the establishment have a skewed view of the massive levels of malnutrition and food deprivation. Thus they assume we have a distributional problem. In the process most policies laid out by the Government aim to set right this issue when the challenge lies elsewhere. The Economic Survey document for 2011-12 reveals that the average daily per capita food grain consumption of an Indian in 1965 was 418 grams and that of pulses, 62 grams. Remember, in 1965 we had a war with Pakistan on top of a deadly drought.
Approximately after five decades of our ‘successful’ tryst with green revolution, the survey shockingly points out that the average daily per capita food grain consumption of an average Indian in 2010 was a meagre 407 grams and of pulses, a disappointing 32 grams. It is in this connection it has to be noted the National Institute of Nutrition is reported to have prescribed a minimum of 2,400 calories per day per person. Significant sections of our population do not have access to this minimal requirement. By the way, the average calorie intake available to an inmate at the dreaded Guantanamo Bay daily is well in excess of 4,000 calories.
Obviously, we are not producing enough food grains or pulses now when compared to 1965 on a per capita level. Yet, for the past four decades or so we have been under the mistaken belief that distribution, not production, to be the key to the issue on hand. That explains why we created a monstrous public distribution system in the first place.
Simply put, the Food Security Act is implementable only when we produce food grains in excess of 350 MT. And in such a scenario with massive stocks of food we do not require state intervention. And should we produce less than 350 MT and seek an intervention of the state, it will be a futile exercise.
Crucially, the PM and his economists within the Government assume that this outlandish legislation will settle our production, distribution and storage deficiencies in our farm sector. But assuming that it can be done what is the cost? Crucially where is the money? The document prepared by the Ministry of Agriculture states that the total financial expenditure entailed will be around Rs 682,163 crores over a three year period.
This works out to in excess of Rs 225,000 crore every year. Given this massive sums of money required to administer this flight of fancy the Finance Minister of India has allotted a paltry sum of Rs 85,000 crore in the Budget of 2013-14. And should the FM provide money for this food subsidy, his promise to assiduously restructure the finance of the country goes for a toss. And even if the money is available [remember money can be printed, but not paddy or wheat] how can it be a solution? To improve food security to our people we need to produce more of food.
For decades socialist ideas was all about distributing poverty, not wealth. Food security bill, consequently, is a repetition of our mistakes of the Nehruvian era. Consequently, it is a by- product of dangerous analysis, bad diagnosis and awful prognosis. The net impact of this silly idea of FSB is that can ruin the farm sector in India, deny food security and dynamite the food grain economics of the nation. No wonder, the document concludes that the FSB’s impact on the economy may be adverse.
And is that what the UPA aiming at destroying the farm sector too completely before demitting office? PS: My aged father tells me that ordinary cloth was rationed in the mid forties. But once the production of cloth increased, rationing stopped. Likewise the solution to food shortage is to increase food production. Reducing this to a distributional issue is absolutely foolish.
– Venkatesh Ramachandran (The author is a Chennai-bbased Chartered Accountant. He can be con- tacted at email@example.com)