The proposal of cheap food that they are giving is a short-term measure, used usually in terms of crisis. It does not have a vision to it… They should spend the same money on agriculture research and farm infrastructure…
Rather than launching one of the most ambitious food aid programs in history, India should have instead used the funds to directly support the agriculture sector, a leading farmer group said. Under the National Food Security Bill, passed by an executive order,India will spend an estimated $4 billion a year on supplying about 70 per cent of its population with cheap grain. “More than 50 per cent of the recipients under the program are farmers. Rather than give cheap food, why don’t you give them technology to feed themselves?” asked Ajay Jhakar, chairman of farming body Bharatiya Krishak Samaj. “Why do you want to make them dependent on cheap food?” he said in an interview ahead of the executive order being passed.
“The proposal of cheap food that they are giving is a short-term measure, used usually in terms of crisis. It does not have a vision to it… They should spend the same money on agriculture research and farm infrastructure,” Mr. Jhakar added. Low crop productivity, lack of irrigation facilities and slow adoption of mechanised farming has kept the annual growth of India’s farm sector below the Government’s targeted 4 per cent. Farm sector growth eased to 1.8 per cent in the year ended March 31, from 3.6 per cent the previous year after a drought hit major farm regions, according to the Statistics Ministry. In the five years to end-March, farm sector growth also averaged 3.6 per cent a year. “I think these kind of handouts will only make people lazy and dependent. Instead, the Government should help to create more employment,” said Virender Kumar, a farmer in the eastern State of Bihar.
Much of India’s farmland is reliant on the annual monsoon rains for water supply and remains vulnerable to unpredictable weather patterns. India hasn’t managed to replicate its green revolution of the 1970s which turned the country from a grain importer to self-sufficiency with the use of hybrid seeds, better technology and use of fertilisers. Government programs have remained heavily focused on growing more wheat and rice, a policy that has severely depleted water levels and soil nutrients in the northern States of Punjab and Haryana that once steered the country to self-sufficiency. Food Minister K.V Thomas acknowledged that the law will need more supplies, but added that the Government was working on a long-term plan to increase the output from water-abundant eastern States.
“In order to be able to ensure food security in a sustained manner, it is necessary that momentum in growth in food grain productions is maintained so that it keeps pace with increase in demand due to increase in population,” Mr. Thomas told a conference on malnutrition in late April. Economists say guaranteeing cheap grains to so many people would likely reinforce the motivation for growing more grains.
“There will be definite pressure on cereals, particularly white rice and maize. No doubt these will have to be made available and produced in certain quantities,” said R.S Paroda, chairman of Haryana Farmers’ Commission. He said farmers want to increase their income through crop diversification. D.H Pai Panandikar, head of RPG Foundation a Delhi-based think-tank, said the emphasis on growing more grains was misplaced as people in India are eating more protein-rich foods, fruits and vegetables rather than carbohydrates. India is one of the largest importers of edible oils. It also buys about a sixth of its requirement of lentils, the demand for which has been growing. Mr. Panandikar said demand for milk is also on the rise. He said the Government ought to recognise the changes in consumption patterns and invest more in diversifying and improving farm productivity, including improving the output of milk.