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Foodgrain output to hit last year's record level; farmers in price trap

Last Updated: Sunday, 17th December, 2017 04:12 PM Visits 154

NEW DELHI: The agriculture sector is all set to repeat the last year' record foodgrain production at over 275 million tonnes in 2017-18 on good rains but farmers' woes may continue if prices crash below the support price. 

Some states, including Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh, have announced around Rs 90,000-crore farm loan waivers to save their farmers who have been reeling under the stress of low prices, although the Centre took some steps to address the "short-term stress". 

Experts warned that a "crisis is brewing" in agriculture as farmers income has been hit badly in last two years despite bumper crops and urged the Centre to take immediate steps to boost the farm economy and save farmers from the crisis. 

Notwithstanding the growing farmers' distress, the government asserted that the agri sector was doing "quite well" and things are changing at the ground level on account of several policy measures and their full impact would be seen in the next 6-8 months from now. 

"We have done quite well this year. There are certain challenges and we are addressing them. We are committed to farmers' welfare," Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh had said. 

He also claimed that efforts are being made to reduce the cost of production and double farmers' income by 2022 by promoting integrated farming in a big way. 

Farmers are being encouraged not to just depend on one or two crops for their income but to go for allied farm activities like poultry, bee keeping, fishery and piggery. 

Exuding confidence of achieving 4 per cent farm growth this fiscal, Agriculture Secretary Shobhana Pattanayak said the production of foodgrain and horticulture crops is expected to be better despite deficient rains and floods in some parts. 

"Overall foodgrain production will be same at last year's level. Kharif (summer) output was slightly down but we are expecting good rabi (winter) crop," he said. 

Assam, Bihar, Gujarat and Rajasthan had witnessed floods during the kharif season, while parts of Karnataka, Chhattisgarh and Tamil Nadu faced dry spell. 

In the 2016-17 crop year (July-June), the country had achieved a record foodgrain production of 275.68 million tonnes, bouncing back from two straight drought years. 

Due to the bumper crop, woefully the prices had crashed in 2016 and that continued even this year. Wholesale price of crops like pulses, oilseeds and some cash crops fell below MSP, hitting farmers. 

Pattanayak said the depressed price situation was a "short-term stress" in the agriculture sector but the government took "immediate" steps to arrest further fall and protect farmers.

The procurement of crops like pulses and oilseeds that fell below the minimum support price (MSP) was done besides allowing export of pulses and raising customs duty on edible oils and some oilseeds to curb cheap imports, he said. 

Among other measures, to check retail prices of onion that touched Rs 80/kg in some parts, the Centre curbed export of onion by imposing floor price at USD 850 per tonne and also asked state-owned MMTCBSE 0.00 % to import 2,000 tonnes and even agencies Nafed and SFAC to procure onion locally for distribution in consuming areas. 

To ensure such situation does not arise, Pattanayak said the government has given thrust on addressing the marketing and post-harvesting management challenges. 

"In fact, every year things are improving from the previous year. Lot of things are getting added," he said. 

To provide market facilities beyond traditional APMC mandis, the government has launched the electronic National Agriculture Market (e-NAM) under which around 470 mandis in 14 states have been connected so far. 

Farmers have started trading through this online platform within the mandis and gradually they will be allowed to trade between mandis and between states, the agri secretary said. 

Farmers producers organisations (FPOs) are being promoted and states have been asked to reform APMCs and explore innovative methods to help farmers market their produce. 

For instance, the Maharashtra government has allowed farmers to set up markets in urban areas. Farmers get produce from 200 km radius to sell in urban areas, Pattanayak said, adding that such experiments need to be duplicated elsewhere. 

More marketing facilities are being worked so that farmers are able to sell their produce wherever they get better price. 

Government think-tank Niti Aayog's panel is looking at ways to integrate spot and futures markets. 

"I am certain that the steps taken by the government though at times look quite distant from the target, but actually you see all of them fructifying, may be, few months from now," he said. 

Cautioning the government about growing farm stress, agri-economist Ashok Gulati said: "This should come as a wake up call" and there is an need to do "constructive work in agriculture". 

He said farmers are dissatisfied as their income have taken a hit. "If they (government) are in a denial mode, they are not doing justice to themselves and to the nation. They have to first admit that there is a crisis brewing in agriculture. Therefore they have to focus on it." 

Gulati said the farm sector during the Modi government has performed way below the level in the previous regime, he added. 

Asserting that 2018 will be definitely a much better year for the farm sector, the agriculture secretary said the supply and value chain will get straighten up than what it is at present. 

"Yes, we are on ascending path. We must recognise that India is a global agriculture superpower," he said, adding that global players are looking at the country for investment. 

In 6-8 months from now, India should be a destination in food processing sector. "Once this takes place, it will further strengthen our agriculture sector," he added.