Friday, September 10, 2010

Indian Agricultural Sector needs a Critical Surgery; Will the Government rise up to the expectations?

Food is considered as one of the essential ingredient for the survival human beings. Most, if not all, civilizations in the ancient world were agricultural one and flourished on the banks and deltas of great rivers; no matter weather it’s ‘Indus Valley’ or ‘Mesopotamian’. Over the decades when the human population exploded to six billion and racing towards seven billion, the requirement of food grains also multiplied many times. More interested in planting mines and IED’s instead of doing agriculture, overconsumption and wastage of food items, corrupt governments and inefficient and corrupt Public Distribution System (PDS) etc. resulted in severe shortage of food items in many part of the world.

It is estimated that by the end of 2009, number of hungry people in the world will reach 'one billion' (approximately one out of every six person). It is also sure that India will lead the world in this case with 200mn (largest number of under nourished people in the world) people. Reports even compare Indian states like ‘Madhya Pradesh (MP)’ to that of the war-torn and poverty stricken sub-Saharan countries like Congo. MP has a population of 70mn where as Congo have 62mn but in the case of poverty both are in the same level.

It is in this situation we are hearing the news 11,700 tonnes of wheat washed away. A figure stated by no less than the union minister for Food and Agriculture Sharad Pawar. Not only that, around 60 lack tonnes of wheat in Punjab and 40 lack tonnes in Haryana are lying open in the so called ‘Covered And plinth (CAP) method’. It doesn’t stop there – more than 1,300,000 tonnes of food grain was rotten in the storage during the past decade.

FCI (Food Corporation of India) admits that 1.83 lack tonnes of wheat, 3.95 lack tonnes of rice, 22,000 tonnes of paddy and 110 tonnes of maize were damaged in between 1997-2007. There is no doubt that a part of food lying open will soon swell these numbers further because of our ‘highly efficient’ management of food grains and ‘more efficient’ Public Distribution System.

Most of the time famines in India are not due to the deficiency of food, but due to the way we manage to store and distribute the food grains to the needy. One of the critical problems in agriculture is, this sector provides job and livelihood for close to 60% of the population but constitute only 18% of the GDP and growth in this sector is very low as compared to other sectors.

What we need is an end to end reform in Agriculture in the lines of service industry. Reforms have to touch all the stages – irrigation, production, procurement, storage and distribution. No one is doing agriculture for charity, they have to sustain themselves and make a decent living out of it. Even when the price of wheat, rice and other food grains are so high, not only in the national markets but also in the international markets, we are still hearing about the suicide story of farmers from Vidharbha, Waynad etc in huge numbers. More interesting thing is government is offering almost twice the price for imported wheat as compared to that of domestic one.

I think time is come for applying a radical change in the agricultural sector. Farmers should be more in control on what they are producing, they should be able to put forward and bag better bargains for their products instead of fully depend on government agencies or middlemen. The dependency relations often create and expand a vulnerable underbelly in the chain, where farmers will be at the mercy of government and middlemen.

We have several examples were farmers we more united and able to reap the benefit of markets. No need for taking another study trip to China, Europe or USA. A classical example is available here in home - ‘Anand Milk societies’ and its famous brand Amul.

For this change to happen we should promote both forms of modern agriculture – co-operate farming and corporate farming along with giving the individual farmers more access to the markets. If a real estate company can fix the price for their flats, why a farmer can’t fix the price for his/her products? Political parties especially Left who often show themselves as the champions of farmer’s rights can act proactively here. We want radical reforms in agricultural sector in the lines of Telecom and Service Sector so that it can once again regain its leading position in Indian GDP and improve the lives of farmers.

Now Union agricultural Minister ‘Sharad Pawar’ is in a critical juncture. He can be ‘Manmohan Singh of 1991’ and write his name forever in to the history as the reformer in Agriculture or simply fade away just like another statistic in the text. If he is choosing the second way there is no doubt that, it will be a great tragedy for the Indian agricultural sector.


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