Monday, March 19, 2012

Agriculture has become climate resilient

Sangita Jha/ New Delhi

The agriculture ministry is buoyed over reports of the success of the second Green Revolution unfolding in eastern parts of India. Chhattisgarh is also doing well.

Indian agriculture appears to have become climate resilient. This is good news for the Central government which is gearing up to unveil National Food Security Act this year. Indian agriculture appears to have put its monsoon tag behind and very soon India could well become the net exporter of foodgrains.
“The track record of agricultural production for the past six years clearly shows that it has become climate resilient. In 2009-10 the country had witnessed severe drought, which had affected over 340 districts. Still we had achieved a 218 million tonnes of foodgrain production. We cannot go below that figure, which is more than enough to meet the demands. This year we are going to clock 241 to 250 million tonnes of foodgrain production,” said PK Basu, secretary in Ministry of Agriculture.
“The agriculture ministry is buoyed over reports of the success of the second Green Revolution unfolding in eastern parts of India. The reports suggest that the drought prone areas in Bihar, Jharkhand, eastern Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal are doing well in spreading the green revolution. The ministry is particularly impressed with the performance of agriculture in Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Assam. “Green revolution has taken deep roots in these states due to better water table, which is being seen in healthy paddy cultivation,” said Basu. Agricultural growth rate, which was about 3.5 per cent in the 11th five year plan, is being expected to go to four per cent in the 12th five year plan. The ministry of agriculture is of the view that India has recorded record productions in sugarcane and cotton and dependency on import to meet the demands for pulses too has come down substantially. “With increasing focus on minor irrigation, water conservation, mechanization in farming, Indian agriculture is going to stay on the growth trajectory,” said a senior official.
In fact India would now require importing only about two million tonnes of pulses in a sign of dependency on import going down. India is expected to register 20 million tonnes of pulses production this year.
The same also holds true in the case of oil seeds. However, the agricultural sector in the recent years has been facing shortage of farm labourers and higher wages. Union minister of agriculture Sharad Pawar in a letter to the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had put the blame on the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MG-NREGA) for shortage of farm labourers and higher wages. But the complaint appears to have been addressed by the Ministry of rural development, which administers MG-NREGA. The Planning Commission member Mihir Shah headed committee has submitted its report on reforms for MG-NREGA, which has been accepted by the ministry of rural development and would be implemented from April 1 this year.
The report recommended 28 out of 30 new categories of works related to the agricultural sector. “The new avatar of MG-NREGA will help in improving agricultural productions. Eighty per cent of job demands under the MG-NREGA come during the agricultural off season,” said Ramesh in an attempt to dispel the notion that the MG-NREGA was the culprit behind shortage of farm labourers.
“The report seeks to exploit the synergy between MG-NREGA and agriculture. Among the new works categories, which we seek to include in the flagship scheme, are paddy cultivation, fisheries, spring shed developments, fish dry land yards,” said Shah.
The report named MG-NREGA 2.0 suggests the strengthening of the synergy between the job scheme and rural livelihoods especially agriculture and allied sectors. To stress the point that the MG-NREGA seeks to compliment the agricultural productions, Ramesh claimed that around 70 per cent expenditure in the flagship scheme has been in the field of water conservation and land development. He also claimed that there are reports which indicate that water table, which is essential for better agricultural production, has gone up in a number of areas due to projects undertaken through the MG-NREGA funds. Reclaiming the barren land for agricultural use is being seen as one of the major contribution of the MG-NREGA for healthy agricultural growth.
Bose is of the opinion that India could emerge as a strong player in the export of foodgrains. India this year has already allowed the export of over 30 million tonnes of non-basmati rice. The government is also gradually allowing export of sugar. In fact record foodgrain production has helped India in unveiling its “rice diplomacy” by which the country is exporting rice to a host of countries, including Bangladesh, African nations and other Latin American countries. It’s in this context that the government is gearing up to unveil the National Food Security Bill, which would require 61 million tonnes of foodgrains to meet the legal obligation to fulfil the entitlement of the people for wheat, rice and millets currently.
However, the food inflation remains a concern and the agriculture ministry appears to be of the view that the food basket of the people has expanded, with more demands for pulses, eggs, poultry, etc. This requires more focus on agricultural allied areas. The new avatar of MG-NREGA which seeks to encourage building of cattle sheds, fisheries, poultry are being seen as an answer to the question on how to keep the price rise in check.
The government is also seeking investment in cold storages and developing the vegetables and fruits market and supply chain to ensure that the demand is met at reasonable prices. The ministry of agriculture has drafted a legislation, which is soon likely to be introduced in the Parliament, to facilitate hassle free movements of foodgrains and related articles across the states, which are currently hindered due to each state having its own taxes. By uniform registration and single tax, the legislation seeks to break the barriers in states to allow the movement of the consumable goods to places where there is demand. The move is likely to benefit both the producers and the consumers. The ministry is also looking forward for the passage of the Pesticides and Seeds Bill, Bio-diversity security Bill to essentially address the demands of the sector.
Though the cliché of Indian agriculture being dependent of vagaries of Monsoon may be on the way out, the government still needs to keep its sustained focus on the sector, which is facing crisis in the form of water table going much deeper in northern states and land becoming infertile due to excessive use of fertilizers.

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