C M Sharma
Agriculture continues to be the largest employment source of people in Jammu and Kashmir, as in rest of the country. It provides employment to over 50 per cent of the population despite of the fact that agriculture faced a severe crisis during the previous couple of decades due to stagnating production, very slow diversification and much less remunerations than the manufacturing and service sectors. Most of the agricultural economists and scientists had proclaimed that crop production and productivity had reached the ‘plateau-off’ stage.
Credit may however be given to the innovative and out-of-the-box thinking of NITI Aayog and Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare of the Government of India, that through interventions of better technology, market-led diversification and adoption of cluster approach in farming and related enterprises, a great scope has been sighted to upscale total agricultural production, yield per unit, economic returns and employment generation. Full potential of high yielding varieties, hybrid seeds and available ‘germplasm pool’ is yet to be realized, particularly in the dry land and rain-fed areas. With the adoption of a large number of government schemes for welfare of farmers, judicious use of key inputs and technologies can be made. Precise technology, machinery and equipments, establishment and use of adequate and proper storage and post harvest management facilities, marketing infrastructure, etc. must be encouraged and adopted to replace indiscriminate use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, irrigation waters, etc. For this to happen, farmers require specific and assured injection of capital, either through institutional credit or governmental aid or agriculture insurance or appreciable profit on investment, or through an assortment of all of these.
Agriculture fulfills the basic human and animal requirement of food and fodder and provides the major raw material for industrial and manufacturing sector. Next to air, water and soil, it is the agricultural produce only that keeps the invaluable life buoyant. No wonder then, we find a spurt in the graffiti at public places saying, “No farmer, No food.” Perhaps, that is the motivation which keeps a large proportion of farmers in rural areas continuing to stick to agriculture and remain in disguised employment.
On the other hand, Richard Mahapatra of DownToEarth (23 June/1-15 July, 2019) raised concerns, saying, “Rural India is no more agrarian, in economic and employment terms. In a research paper for the NITI Aayog, economist Ramesh Chand (also a member of the government think tank) has analysed the transformation in the rural economy. His verdict: since 2004-05, it has become a non-farm economy.” He supplemented the observation with the assertion that the farmers were continuing to quit agriculture and joining non-farm jobs because they earned more from the latter – “There was a sharp decline in agriculture’s contribution to rural economy: 39 per cent in 2004-05 from 57 per cent in 1993-94”. Mahapatra was categorical in saying that rural economy had become more non-agricultural than agricultural by the year 2004-05 and the trend had continued.
Therefore, to tide over unemployment and also to ensure livelihoods to those who had not been able to survive on agriculture, most of the government policies started focusing on non-farm sectors to absorb the people quitting farming. Governments started making investments in infrastructure because it was this sector that absorbed rural work seekers. However, the non-farm sectors still didn’t generate enough jobs at the required rate. The scenario became more depressing during from 2019-20 to 2021-22 due to the impact of Covid – 19 pandemic.
Sensing the public mood and by taking cue from this alarming situation, the planners and experts for rural India have decided to keep agriculture afloat and sustainable, by strategizing to not only achieve the overall economic growth, but also ensure a fair distribution of income amongst all, particularly the farmers. Many experts believe that even if the target of $5 trillion economy of the country is achieved by the year 2024, the government at the Centre cannot afford to squeeze wealth in agriculture sector where it is needed the most for employment and income.
In this direction, the Government of India and the UT Government in J&K have pursued procurement of food grains at Minimum Support Price (MSP), along with implementation of other relevant schemes, with renewed vigour. The Union Government has significantly raised the MSP of 22 notified crops during the last couple of marketing seasons, belying the propaganda by a number of political parties and organizations that the Government was planning to scrap the MSP system. There has been a consistent rise in Minimum Support Price (MSP) of notified crops in line with the Union Budget 2018-19 announcement of fixing the MSP at a level of at least 1.5 times of the All-India weighted average Cost of Production. The aim is to provide a reasonably fair remuneration for surplus crop producers without adversely affecting the consumers, as the cost of intermediation also gets reduced. Needless it is to mention that most of the consumers also are the farmers belonging to small, marginal and landless labourer categories, besides city dwellers. Assurance of a remunerative and stable price environment for growers/ farmers is definitely a motivation to upsurge agricultural production, productivity, income and disguised employment. Not only this, the government is also promoting adoption of smart farming methods through the use of technology and innovation, like implementing a Digital Agriculture Mission (DAM), which includes: India Digital Ecosystem of Agriculture (IDEA), Farmers Database, Unified Farmers Service Interface (UFSI), funding to the States on the new Technology (NeGPA), revamping Mahalnobis National Crop Forecast Centre (MNCFC), soil health, fertility and profile mapping.
During the current Kharif Marketing Season, 2022-23, the Department of Agriculture, Jammu as the Nodal Department and Food Corporation of India as the implementation agency had coordinated and planned, well in advance, for procurement of Paddy grains on MSP from the producer farmers through Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) mode of payment. Director Agriculture Jammu, Kamal Kishore Sharma says that to ensure smooth, timely and hassle free procurement of quality paddy grains from farmers, systems like Memorandum of Understanding of Food and Civil Supplies & Consumer Affairs, uploading the grain quality specifications and farmers related Aadhaar cards data through Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) data base linked with Food & Essential Commodities Assurance & Security Target Allocation & Supply Chain Management (FEAST)for PDS developed by National Informatics Centre (NIC) Procurement Portal, uniform cleaning charges, besides smooth supply of gunny bags, logistic support and other necessary facilities at procurement mandies by the Food Corporation of India have been placed in order. He has impressed upon the Mandi Labour Contractors to strictly adhere to the terms and conditions of the contract and no charges are to be levied from the farmers who are bringing their paddy produce in the mandies. Moreover, to dispel any fear amongst farmers regarding any kind of irregularities, officers of Food Corporation of India (FCI) have displayed the Mandi Contract Order in every procurement mandi for information of the farmers. It is also being ensured that the Mandies operate in accordance with terms and conditions mentioned in the contract. Not only this, members of Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) are also sensitised about terms and conditions laid down in the contract and any deviation in terms & conditions shall be liable for legal action. The Director of Agriculture disclosed further that during the current season, 23 procurement centers (Mandies) for paddy have been opened (11 for Jammu district, 11 for Kathua district and 1 for Samba district). Government of India has fixed MSP of Rs. 2060/- per quintal for Grade A and Rs. 2040/- per quintal for Common Grade Paddy. As on 24 November, above 2.60 lakh quintals of paddy grains (1.52 lakh quintals of Grade A and 1.08 lakh quintals of Common Grade) valued at about Rs. 50.75 Crores have been procured from 5392 farmers and Rs. 46.51 Crores stand directly paid into the bank accounts of respective beneficiary farmers. The Department has set a record procurement target of 4.50 lakh quintals by the end of December 2022 which is most likely to be achieved in full, he said.
A progressive farmer of Jammu, S. Prem Singh appreciated the transparency and rejuvenated efforts of the government to ameliorate the sufferings of farmers. However, he impressed the need to establish permanent Procurement Mandis with adequate storage godowns because many a time, rains and heavy downpours at harvesting or immediately thereafter, plays the spoilsport and put the farmers to extreme inconvenience, compelling them to sell the produce in open market at much lower prices.
The author is a Dy. Director of Agriculture (Retd.), J&K Government
C M Sharma