‘Our procurement has reached commodities outside MSP ambit’

‘Our procurement has reached commodities outside MSP ambit’

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Raising farm income could well be the agenda for 2019 general elections and well aware of this is the Narendra Modi government, which is leaving no stone unturned to lure this vote bank. Navigating this agenda for the government is Radha Mohan Singh, Union Minister of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare. Aware of the challenges of the price sensitive market, Singh said, “agriculture markets cannot be perfect and there always will be price fluctuations.” In conversation with BusinessLine, Singh explains the rationale behind minimum support price (MSP) and why it is wrong to say that the input costs of farmers are increasing, and that nothing is being done to get them good returns. Excerpts:

Merely announcing MSP is not enough to ensure farmers get good price for their produce, procurement is one key component. But, our procurement is largely restricted to rice and wheat…

There will always be price fluctuations in the agriculture market. When there is glut in production, the prices will go down automatically. We understand that government intervention is important in such situations.

Before we came in, the government procurement was largely confined to rice and wheat. Over the last four years, the procurement of pulses and oilseeds has increased immensely. In 2017-18, 4.5 million tonnes (mt) of pulses — about 18.5 per cent of total pulses production — and 2.04 mt of oilseeds were procured. If need be, we are willing to increase the procurement of these commodities further.

We may even procure coarse cereals. Our procurement in fact has gone beyond commodities for which MSP are declared. In the last four years, through market intervention schemes, we have procured oil palm, chillies, and turmeric in Andhra, ginger in Arunachal, areca nut, onions and turmeric in Karnataka, chillies and grapes in Mizoram, onions and chillies in Telangana, and potatoes in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

Nafed, the primary procurement agency, was almost closed down. It used to get a bank guarantee of ₹100-200 crore then. We have increased bank guarantee to Nafed to ₹29,000 crore.

You think you have successfully created a competitive and transparent agri-marketing system?

We started talking to the State governments and convinced them about national agriculture market. Subsequently, in April 2016 we launched eNAM platform and already 585 mandis are linked. By next financial year, we would add another 400-odd mandis to it, helping to lay a foundation for a strong National Agriculture Market.

A year later, we came out with a model APLM Act, 2017, which has been accepted by a number of States. Many of them in fact are in the process of adopting the Act with necessary changes to suit their requirement.

Your critics say while on one hand the input costs of farmers are increasing, on the other they are still not getting enough. How do you counter it?

It is not right to say that the input costs are increasing. It’s far from it. Our major focus has been to reduce the input costs. We know that it is important to improve input management of the farms if farmers have to earn better. Therefore, we have focused on different aspects of input management, particularly, irrigation, nutrients and soil health cards.

When we came to power there were 99 medium and major irrigation projects languishing. We took it up on a war footing and allocated ₹40,000 crore for the same. Today, 18 of them have been completed and 80 per cent of work has been carried out in the case of close to 60 projects. By 2019, we are confident of commissioning all 99 projects.

In 2017-18, micro-irrigation facilities were extended to 10.48 lakh hectares, which is a record for any year. In the coming years, our goal is to bring 15-20 lakh hectares of land under mirco-irrigation annually.

Little work was done on watershed development and water conservation. Under the MNREGA programme, we have created 10 ponds across the country. We have started giving farmers subsidy for solar-powered irrigation pumps. Besides, there is a mission mode programme called Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayi Yojana.

Input management doesn’t end here…

No it doesn’t end here. Increased loan disbursement, making land available to landless farmers through joint liability groups, and setting up of 2,700 farmer producer organisations are some other measures.

Also, availability of urea. Till very recently, 35-40 per cent of urea produced in the country used to be diverted for non-agricultural purposes and as a result a number of farmers had to buy it from black market. Today, thanks to neem-coating, farmers are getting it in time and right quantities.

Till the time we came in, there were no standards available to measure soil health. There were only 40-45 soil labs. Today, there are 10,000 labs across the country. Working closely with State governments, we distributed soil health cards to farmers which helped them to bring down their input cost substantially.

Similarly, in the case of organic farming, till a few years ago, there was no scheme to promote organic farming. A lot of small small groups used to do organic farming in different parts of the country in isolation. As soon as we came to power, we gave ₹1,000 crore to the State governments to promote organic farming which was used to create 10,000 clusters across the country. Sikkim has already become an exclusive organic state. Other North-Eastern States and Union territories are working hard to make their States organic.

Are these measures enough to improve farm incomes?

I sincerely think so. E-marketing, Kissan Haats, and many such concepts which this government has initiated would ensure farmers get right prices. See only when input management is done appropriately that we can do output management. The farmers need to be first made economically strong.

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