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Anand Muttungal
Farmers' protests a problem of plenty
Posted: Wednesday, 16 May 2012 at 3:08 PM
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The ongoing farmers’ unrest in Madhya Pradesh brings back memories of the 1943 Bengal Famine, albeit for diametrically opposite reasons. The  famine, which claimed around four million lives, was among the worst food tragedies, haunting the country even after Independence. Which is possibly why food security and the proper working of the public distribution system (PDS) topped the agenda of successive governments.

The green revolution was initiated with three main objectives viz. continued expansion of farming areas; double-cropping existing farmland and using seeds with improved genetic properties. It may not have met with the desired success, but barring occasional imports of onion, sugar etc., the country rarely suffered the ignominy of food shortages since 1947.

The current farmers’ unrest in the state, on the contrary, is a problem of plenty.  MP’s wheat output has shot up to eight million metric tons (ie. twice that of last year) under mysterious circumstances. Farmers claim that the average per acre yield has gone up to 26 quintals while government agencies refuse to accept anything beyond 18 quintals. Those in the know say the excess supply is largely due to the availability of substandard wheat making its way from Uttar Pradesh into MP markets given the lure of higher procurement prices.

Predictably enough, this has led to a serious scarcity of gunny bags and procurement related problems. The current protest began after the suicide of a farmer due to delay in procurement. Adding fuel to the fire was the death of Bareli village council president Hari Singh Prajapati from police firing in which several others were injured in separate incidents of violence in different parts of the state.

Amid such a crisis of plenty a recent survey pointed out that around 60 per cent of children and a good number of pregnant women are malnourished in the state. Shortage of godowns has compelled the government to keep the foodgrain in the open, and letting it rot once the rainy season sets in.

The PDS lacks the wherewithal to deal with the crisis. The Shivraj Singh Chouhan regime has put the blame squarely at the door of the Centre which  has passed the buck right back. In 2011 the state government had distributed six months of ration to BPL card holders to tide over the problem of plenty. But this at best was a temporary reprieve.

In retrospect this may be good time to recall the words of India’s foremost agricultural scientist, Dr MS Swaminathan, who wanted the country to come up with a drought code, flood code, and a good weather code. Grain reserves are important for food security, seed reserves for crop security.

Besides a proper contingency plan must be in put in place to ensure minimum devastation in case of floods. Such a plan should help farmers who lose their main crop decide which crop to grow next. For as things stand the country needs a comprehensive agricultural policy which takes into account climate concerns and the need for a efficient PDS.

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