Food Security: A ticking Time Bomb – Part 2

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The first part of this series demonstrated the food security crisis India may face in the coming years and decades. The second part outlines a set of policies which can help India secure its food supplies for the long-term future.

Rationalisation of Land from failed industries

The big question is that land from farmers is acquired but why not the land from the failed and failing industry. If the government carries out the an audit of the land under industrial complexes, one would not be surprised to find that more land is occupied by locked industries/ loss making industries and surplus land with the industrial corridors than what India needs in next couple of decades. Government should take two steps. First, acquire the land which is waste due to failure or loss making industry and thus no land should be acquired for new industrial projects till this land pool is exhausted. Second, if alternative land is required, the idle land locked in industrial hub centre be released back to the farmers.

Time To Declare Agriculture and Horticulture Corridors

Governments of the past and present have walked additional mile to make available resources, land and road communication for establishing special and exclusive industrial corridors. But in the last 65 years no government has made exclusive agriculture corridors.  Even today close to 40 % population need state support for food subsidy. On one side government is making laws for food security and on the other side farm land is shrinking to real estate and corporate India at a rapid pace. Government should preserve meagre agriculture resource by ensuing following:-

  • Grain, Fruit & Vegetable Corridors.  Grain, vegetable and fruits corridors should be established. This should be ratified by an Act of parliament where land in such corridors can’t be acquired for any other purposes than the agriculture.  Similarly corridors for pulses, oil seed, cotton, spices and medicinal plants must be conceived. Distribution in such corridors should be 60% for main crop for which land is earmarked and 40% for other subsidiary crops. Agriculture scientists should be incorporated before a decision is taken to declare an area as specific crop corridor. Agriculture laboratories, grain silos, food and vegetable processing units should alsobe established in near proximity so that cost is reduced and corridors are developed in a holistic manner.
  • Development of Exclusive Export Oriented Agriculture Corridors. Don Hofstrand (Retired Agricultural Extension Economist) wrote in his paper, “can we meet the world’s growing demand for food” that, “currently there are over one billion chronically undernourished and malnourished people in the world “. The per capita food availability is declining at a rapid pace and by 2050, the under nourished population will grow manifolds. Reasons for rise in food deficiency are shrinking agriculture land, low yield due to environmental factors and steep rise in population. It is estimated that re-conversion of land for agriculture purposes will be necessitated to feed nine billion people by 2050. But reconversion is not the answer; it would need skilled manpower, irrigation, availability fertiliser and seeds for high yield. Global demand for rice, pulses, fruits, vegetables, and oil seeds is increasing. Demand for food in Asia, Africa and industrial nations across the globe will increase. Therefore, India should invest in food research projects to become global power in agriculture export.
  • Development of Agriculture Infrastructure. The pace of bringing agriculture land under irrigation has nearly stopped. It only gained momentum during green revolution in mid 70s and 80s. But successive governments subsequently paid little attention to this vital state responsibility. Infrastructure for grain specific assistance should be extended to the farmers in the earmarked corridors to increase productivity. One of the main reasons for farmer’s suicide is failure of the government to bring the vulnerable traditional agriculture areas under irrigation, inability to implementation crop insurance and absence of markets for guaranteed procurement at support price.

Market Reforms and Guaranteed Procurement

The scheme of support price and procurement process is riddled with corruption, manipulation by middlemen and exploitation of unorganised farm sector. The problem is further compounded by lack of grievance mechanism. Process of procurement is time specific and delay in harvesting, procurement and forwarding leads to huge losses to farmers and state exchequer. There is a need to fix accountability and responsibility for delays. Wholesale market reforms, warehouses for stocking of grains, cold storage for fruits and vegetables and supply chain are urgently required to fix the problems of the farmers.

Farmers Grievances Forum

There is a need to constitute farmers forum on the lines of CII and FICCI so that farmer’s forum can intervene and protect the vital interest of the agriculture sector. A farmer should be able to log his complaint at a grievances web which should be monitored at regional and national level by political leadership, executive and farmers forum. Actions to redress the grievances be time bound and feedback system be put in place so that transparency is brought in the entire system.

No Farmer Be Made Landless

Acquisition should have provision that farmers be given alternative land to continue the farming as their prime source of engagement. Relocation if required should be from one agriculture pasture to another and not from farm land to city slums. As a policy farmers should not become landless because it weakens the social and economic well being of the farmers.

One Employment Per Family Cannot Compensate Farmers In Lieu of Land. There is a job for a child, a young man, a woman and eighty years old grandparents in agriculture farms. A child of 12 years when he works in his own field during school holidays is not a bonded labour, but an apprentice learning the wisdom of agriculture  from his father or grandfather. I can’t think of any other industry or business which can give job guarantee in his home to every member of the family. Employment in lieu of farm land to a family member can not sustain economically a family. Jobs offered to a farmer are unskilled labour/ security guard with no long-term sustainability. If the jobs are to be offered in return for land, in that case industry or the government must provide job guarantee for minimum 25 years and thereafter a job security for the offspring’s as well. Second, 40% managerial / technical jobs should be reserved for the children of farmers whose land has been taken away. It should be the responsibility of the industry or the government to educate and train the children of those whose land has been acquired and from the catchment areas.

Conclusion

Change of name of the agriculture ministry will yield results if the mindset and ownership is assumed by the government. India needs empathy towards farmers and consistent policy for usage of land for industrial growth without compromising the interests of the agriculture sector. Land acquisition is a necessity but let us also look at other land rather than adopting the easy path of acquisition of land from farmers because they are unorganised and unable to resist legally or procedurally. Today it is easy for the government to acquire land from the farmers than to transfer the government land for industrial/ housing projects / defence purposes. There is reluctance of acquisition of land from loss making public and private sectors because the squatters of loss making projects are capable of putting the land acquisition in legal tangle for infinite period.  Bill must have the provisions to acquire land under occupation of loss making or dead industry even if the land is under litigation for the projects which are in public and national interests. The bill should create an environment of social justice and remove insecurity among the rural citizens of India. India must refrain from adopting Chinese model of development. China has adopted the path of unsustainable development and people will pay heavy price in the years ahead. India cannot afford 400 million floating population and mass migration of population from rural to urban centres. Resources are depleting, and food security is a ticking time bomb. Failure of agriculture industry will lead to unimaginable instability and will produce disastrous results for India as a nation.