June 7, 2021 3:48:43 am
The farm sector grew by 3.6 per cent even as GDP fell by 7.3 per cent in 2020-21. This standout performance — all previous economic contractions in India were accompanied, if not caused, by droughts — came largely on the back of a good monsoon. That was some consolation amid the havoc wreaked by Covid-19. With the India Meteorological Department forecasting a third consecutive good monsoon this year, it is natural to expect agriculture to deliver the goods yet again. True, the pandemic has spread to rural India, unlike last year. But there is respite even here, with the number of cases declining. The second wave should hopefully subside by mid-June, when plantings for the kharif season would also take off.
Given this prognosis, what should the BJP-led government do for agriculture? One thing it must not do is waste a good monsoon; three in a row is literally manna from heaven. This is the time to make farmers grow more of oilseeds and pulses (both are massively imported and also require less water) and reduce the area under rice and wheat. Government agencies have procured 54.09 million tonnes (mt) of rice and 41.39 mt wheat from the 2020-21 crops so far, breaking even the previous year’s record. With public stocks of the two cereals at soaring levels of 100.62 mt as on May 1, a firm signal discouraging their cultivation needs to go out. One way to do it is by freezing their minimum support prices (MSP) and raising those for pulses and oilseeds. But more important is capping procurement of the former — at, say, 10-15 quintals per acre per farmer — and committing to make unlimited MSP purchases of the latter.
That links up with yet another favourable factor: Prices. During the recent rabi marketing season, farmers realised rates for chana (chickpea) and mustard that were close to or higher than their MSPs. Soyabean, groundnut and cotton, too, are currently trading above MSP levels, which should lead farmers to expand their acreages in this kharif season. The government can aid the process of market prices-driven crop diversification by pre-committing to procure these crops at MSP. Even in the event of their prices falling below MSP, the quantities bought will be nowhere near those of paddy and wheat. From a nutritional standpoint also, it makes sense to make more pulses and edible oils available through the public distribution system than just wheat and rice at Rs 2-3/kg. India’s next Green Revolution should be demand-driven, while meeting not just production, but also nutritional and environmental goals.