By Dhurjati Mukherjee
Two recent developments in the agricultural sector deserve attention. The first is the formation of the long-awaited committee to look into the financing of the minimum support price mechanism (MSP). The other development is the publication of a report by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) documenting the success stories of 75,000 farmers across the country, noting how technology and policy interventions could lead to an overall increase of 150 to 200% of their revenue in 2020-21 compared to 2016-17.
The MSP Committee’s terms of reference, however, made no mention of farmers’ demand for an MSP guarantee law. The 28-member committee to be led by former Agriculture Secretary Sanjay Agrawal will include three members of Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) – the farmers’ collective that spearheaded the protest of a year against the three laws. But the Morcha will be outnumbered since five representatives of peasant organizations are not part of the SKM. The announcement comes after the split in the SKM has recently hardened, and both sides are unhappy about it.
The ICAR report claimed that farmers in Uttarakhand, Bengal Chhattisgarh and Puducherry saw an increase of more than 200% in their overall income in four years, while most other states saw increases of the order of 150 to 200%.
Similarly, another SBI study showed that farmers’ income doubled in FY 2021-22 compared to FY 18 for some crops in some states. In all other cases, it increased in the range of 1.3 to 1.7 times. The study revealed that the increase in income of farmers engaged in cash crops was greater than that of those growing non-cash crops. Related and non-farm income showed a significant increase of 1.4 to 1.8 times in most states in tandem with farm income over the period.
According to the study: “The minimum support price is increasingly aligned with market-related prices and has increased 1.5 to 2.3 times since 2014, has played a key role in ensuring the passage of better prices to farmers and led to optimal price discovery setting a “reference floor price”. for several crop varieties (23 to date)”.
These developments bode well for the sector, although questions remain. The first and most important is the condition of small and marginal farmers who have seen no increase in income while most have seen a decline. Rising input prices coupled with lack of water availability in some states have compounded their problem. Moreover, the indiscriminate use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides affects farmers and their farms. Despite this, the government wants farmers to abandon traditional farming and embrace new technologies. As a result, the cost of cultivation increases and the profit decreases in comparison.
Government efforts to take care of farmers add to their concerns. Take the seeds, over the past five years there have been instances where foreign seeds like Bt were expensive but hurt a portion of the farmers. The claim that these seeds have high yields and no pests has absolutely no basis. In fact, the small marginal farmers got into debt.
National sample survey data showed that around 80% of farmers in Andhra Pradesh are in debt, while in Punjab and Maharashtra the figure averages 65%. These states have the highest number of farmer suicides. The country can fill the stomachs of the subsistence farmers if the farmers get the right price for their products, proper storage, marketing facilities, reduction in the cost of agricultural products, a ban on the entry of capitalists into this sector.
In the meantime, reference can be made to a report by the International Food Policy Research Institute which estimated that India would face a 16% drop in food production, the number of people at risk of hunger increasing by 23% by 2030 due to climate change. It has been reported that water, land and energy shortages combined with increased population demand and economic growth will create a global food shortage around 2050 and India is no exception.
This is reinforced by a very recent Supreme Court order which rightly stated that no one should starve “but it does happen, citizens are starving”, calling on the Center and states to reach out to farmers and to the migrants who form the country. spine. He further pointed out that the Center had not undertaken any exercise to determine coverage under the National Food Security Act, as a result of which a staggering 10 million people had been excluded from the scope of the Act. and hundreds of thousands of migrants had failed to obtain food grains during the pandemic despite the Supreme Court issuing a series of directives in this regard.
Given the current situation in the agricultural sector, it is necessary to take adequate measures to stimulate agricultural growth. Obviously, productivity must increase in states that are below the national average. In addition to this, a cash crop should be grown to increase farmers’ income. For this, technological support is essential and research institutes such as ICAR must come forward to locate at least 200 to 250 districts where the production of cash crops must be strongly encouraged.
In this regard, reference can be made to the effort of ITC Ltd. to pilot an application in seven states with 200 Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) engaging 40,000 farmers across four value chains – wheat, paddy, soybeans and chili. It plans to expand to other states and across 20 value chains. Additionally, the company intends to engage with 4,000 FPOs involving one crore farmers, according to ITC Managing Director Sanjiv Puri.
With the decline in public investment in agriculture, public expenditure as a percentage of GDP fell from 38 to 23% between 2001 and 2016 and the situation remained the same until 2020. In addition, international aid allocations to agriculture decreased by about 18 to 20%. during this period. Experts say the question is how public-private partnerships can open up opportunities for private investment to complement public resources and capacity to generate better food security, especially for the most vulnerable populations.
International scientists are of the opinion that the responsibility lies not only with the state, but also with civil society. There is a need to allocate more resources from the Center, to promote good nutrition through education, to promote better local farming methods, to increase local food processing and, of course, better technological inputs than institutions Indian scientists can provide.
Only then can India become a major food hub in the world by increasing agricultural production and productivity. With appropriate technological inputs and government support, this should be seriously considered. Especially since there is sufficient demand for certain categories of crops and the country can make a reasonable profit by maintaining sustainable exports. It is important to note that farmers must be consulted and be part of the decision-making process. — INFA