Price, procurement, and food security
The increased MSP for coarse grains hints at a positive possibility with respect to malnutrition and consumption of these lesser-popular grains.
Balancing the interests of producers and consumers, the direct market intervention of Minimum Support Price (MSP) for Kharif crops has been phenomenally hiked. This 'historic' 15,000-crore move is said to be in keeping with this year's Budget whereby the principle to determine MSP would be that the harvest should get farmers 150 per cent of the cost of production. This is also a step in the direction of commitment to doubling farmers' income by 2022. The purpose of announcing MSP at the start of the sowing season is to financially safeguard the farmer against any steep fall in sale prices in case of a bumper crop. So, clearly, this is a method specific to a season and should not be expected to contribute to long-term goals of upgrading agriculture, a practice resulting from a combination of factors and impacting a range of other services.
Given various aspects of this development, the increased MSP for coarse grains among other food and cash crops (jowar 42 per cent, bajra 37 per cent, ragi 52 per cent) hint at a very positive possibility, particularly with respect to dealing with malnutrition and consumption of these lesser-popular grains. These grains have a small weight in the price indices and will thus likely moderate inflationary impact due to the sharp rise in MSP. A cheaper source of protein, micronutrients, and dietary fibres, coarse grains contribute significantly to food security. This very aspect has the potential to ensure a wide range of associated activities that are crucial to sustaining an agriculture-based socio-economic system. The mid-day meal scheme aims for children to enroll in schools and additionally boosts education and general health. Integrated Child Development services seek to ensure awareness regarding the most initial healthcare of a new mother and her infant. Public Distribution System is for the purpose of bringing subsidised food and non-food items of sustenance to the poor. Hence, enhanced support for a certain group of crops and effective implementation can revive the grim socio-economic situations that dot the country.
The support that comes to summer-sown crops for the coming season will benefit close to half of India's farmers that cultivate on dry land and in rain-fed regions. The unpredictable climate and the vagaries of monsoons make it necessary to have in place methods to crisis-proof agriculture. Beyond the short-term fixes like raised MSP, there needs to be a concerted effort to promote innovation and competitiveness in agriculture because it has the potential to meet more economic requirements than food. From cultivating for biofuel to using agricultural residue for manufacturing paper, etc. agriculture can generate a host of non-food undertakings. The future lies in upgrading technology for agriculture and improving conditions to incorporate more skills to achieve maximum output with minimum input. Unimpeded irrigation and proper storage along with increasing fuel prices remain enormous challenges.
There is no doubt that boosting agriculture will boost the economy overall and give it a new level of performance. The hike in MSP is a decision that has tremendous rural appeal, and although necessary for immediate consequences, the short-sighted approach (and attitude) to double farmers' income is not one to have a lasting impact. Focus ought to be on facilitating and augmenting the conditions that will ensure stable income to farmers. Farmers are very crucial to the economy and they deserve to be treated better than food-procuring agents at the mercy of rains and government policies.
(The author is Senior Copy Editor with Millennium Post. The views expressed are strictly personal)