Saturday, May 14, 2011


In a recent column, the respected agriculture economist M. S. Swaminathan has described the bumper crop of wheat in Punjab and Haryana as a moment of both ecstasy and agony. Ecstasy because the 85 million tons of wheat output reveal how our intrepid farmers battle against all odds do their bit for food security in the country; agony because most of their efforts go down the drain because of a hopelessly incompetent and criminally callous Government, particularly the Food and Agriculture Ministry headed by our cricket Czar Sharad Pawar. At the moment, India is sitting on about 45 million tonnes of food grains, quaintly known as buffer stocks. As procurement gathers momentum each day, it will not be surprising if the stockpile of food grains crosses the 50 million ton mark very soon. In fact, so acute is the crisis of ‘surplus’ that state and central procurement agencies now claim they simply have no space left to store any more food. There will be the usual tales of corrupt and venal procurement officials harassing poor farmers with demand for bribes. Worse, most of the food procured will simply rot as the government has not managed even the childishly simple task of building adequate and safe storage godowns despite more than 20 years of persistent surpluses. What can you say about the priorities of our system when spanking new stadiums for the recently concluded Cricket World Cup can be built almost overnight under the benign supervision of Mr. Sharad Pawar while we fail to erect simple concrete structures to store food in a dispensation run by the same man?

The most commonsense and obvious solution is to allow Indian farmers to export food so that they can reap the benefits of globalisation, just as our IT, Telecom, Automobile, Petrochemical and Infrastructure tycoons have been doing. But mention the word 'exports' and you will encounter storms of protest from both do-gooders and government types who say allowing exports of food will once again uncork the genie of food inflation. They will say how each kilo of food will now be crucial since the Right to Food is now a constitutional requirement and that the buffer stocks will be needed to distribute free food to the poor. They also talk about how onion exports and one bad harvest led to onion prices going through the roof last year.

Frankly, such arguments are nonsense and reflect the defeatist mindset our policymakers acquired during the dark era of socialist inspired shortages of everything. First, be assured that almost all the ‘free’ food that will be doled out to the poor will be so rotten due to poor storage that it will be virtually unfit for consumption. Second, and more important, such arguments ignore the fact that foodgrain productivity in India is still half that of China. Quite simply, we have the potential and the ability to almost double our foodgrain output to close to 500 million tonnes a year. That one national endeavour will enrich tens of millions of farmer families who can export food even as the poor get enough free food.

But I guess shrinking TRP ratings of IPL matches are a bigger priority for our honourable Minister.


No comments:

Post a Comment