Policy Research In Agriculture
Strategies for research and policy development must simultaneously address people’s needs, the capacity of programs to provide good quality of care and the range of technological options available.
According to Dr. Richa Govil from Ashoka, India the demand for wheat and rice is decreasing annually by 1–2 percent and the demand for fruits and vegetables is increasing by 2–3 percent annually. Moreover, my recent market survey about the prices of fruits, vegetables and other types of crops like millets made me conclude that selling fruits, vegetables, millets would make farmers earn better profits than wheat and rice. But still, farmers prefer growing wheat and rice to fruits and vegetables especially in the states of Punjab and Haryana.
As a member of Eduwaive Foundation, I have been frequently visiting the nearby Krishi Vigyan Kendras, meeting the farmers and other agricultural stakeholders. These interactions have made me conclude :
Agricultural policy is the main food for thought given by the government to the farmers for bringing a change in their agricultural activities.
So, to change the agricultural approach taken by the farmers, the government changes the policy. But like every coin has two sides, the policies that were meant for doing good to the nation have actually exacerbated the problem.
Policies under consideration
We are all aware of the famous agriculture policies :
-MSP on rice and wheat
The MSP or Minimum Support Price is a price fixed by the government of India to protect farmers against any sharp decrease in the prices of the crop commodities.The Minimum Support Prices (MSPs) for wheat, paddy and coarse grains are fixed by the Department of Agriculture & Cooperation on the recommendations of the CACP.
-Procurement policy of wheat and rice by FCI
FCI, the nodal central agency of Government of India, along with other State Agencies undertakes procurement of wheat and paddy under price support scheme . Coarse grains are procured by State Government Agencies for Central Pool as per the direction issued by Government of India on time to time. The procurement under Price Support is taken up mainly to ensure remunerative prices to the farmers for their produce which works as an incentive for achieving better production.
-Punjab’s free electricity policy
Punjab’s free electricity policy for the farmers aims at increasing the paddy production. This policy allows them to extract groundwater from the borewells.
With the aim of contacting organic farmers in the nearby regions (Punjab and Haryana), I came across a list of farmers on google who are practising organic farming under Kheti Virasat Mission. I happened to read about them on the internet before talking to them.
So, according to google most of them were involved in the cultivation of fruits,vegetables , pulses, wheat , rice , sugarcane etc. In other words, all different crop commodities were being grown by them. I repeat- were being grown by them.
Reality struck me when I actually talked to them. Almost all of them recently shifted their cultivation to wheat and rice from fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables were mostly grown by them for consumption by their own family members.
On being asked the reason they replied “Earlier we used to grow everything. But later the MSP on rice and wheat made us get a fair price for them and even if we produce them in surplus, the FCI procures them from us. We want to earn profit and since the price of vegetables and fruits keeps fluctuating and there are no cold storage facilities provided by the government, we grow only rice and wheat to earn our living. We have to spray pesticides on fruits and vegetables so that the produce does not get spoiled. The buyers mostly buy seeing that the fruits and vegetables are shiny and look good. So, we spray fertilizers as well.”
Direct Influence On Our Eating Habits
All this made me wonder how our eating habits are influenced by the cropping patterns in our states which in turn are influenced by the state agricultural policies around us. The fruits and vegetables we eat are all sprayed with medicines. Just wheat and rice can be organic because there is a guarantee given by the government to the farmers for procuring them. Although earlier our ancestors used to eat different types of crop commodities which added more nutrition to our diet, we are now restricted to majorly wheat and rice which are available in abundance and are easily accessible. While a well-balanced diet of ours should have contained millets, due to the abundance of wheat and rice in Punjab and Haryana, the supply chain of millets is not that well planned and thus, it makes them costlier.
Rice and wheat are not only the two most important crops in terms of the most consumed grains but also are the most water-guzzling crops — using up to 60 percent of irrigation water available in the country. According to NABARD and ICRIER,the top wheat and rice producers of India are Punjab and Haryana- contributing almost 15% to the entire rice production in the country. Thanks to Punjab’s free electricity policy that favours paddy production by allowing the indiscriminate pumping out of groundwater. Since electricity is free farmers indiscriminately use groundwater to irrigate paddy fields even beyond the limits. This has put pressure on this precious resource. A news report published in the HindustanTimes points towards the tensed situations in Punjab and Haryana pertaining to groundwater levels- 82% areas in Punjab and 76% in Haryana have witnessed a decline in the groundwater levels by up to 4 meters. The increasing number of wells is a proof of this.
Thus, what earlier the government thought to be the most favourable policies for increasing wheat and rice production in the country turned out to be a bane for the country. Since no agriculture can survive without policies,it is important for the government to not only implement policies but be more thoughtful about the problems these policies could pose in the future.
We need policy implementation in favour of farm activities that encourage multiple cropping patterns so that farmers can move their attention away from wheat and rice and give a thought towards planting other crop varieties.
An eminent agriculture economist Dr SS Johl gave a very nice solution to these problems — “remove free electricity subsidy and instead distribute the subsidy amount equally even amongst the farmers who have no tubewells.” Apart from this,early plantation of paddy needs to be banned in order to use monsoon run offs to irrigate the fields. Continuous recharging of groundwater and rainwater harvesting systems are the need of the hour.
If the steps are not taken immediately, the days are not far when the demand for water will enormously overpower the supply and turn Punjab and Haryana into mere deserts.