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Chairman P. Pushpamma
Rapporteur S. Rewal
Prafull H. Bhatt. Managing Director, Gujarat State Cooperative Cotton Marketing Federation Ltd. Ahmedabad, India
Policies and planning
Agricultural prices commission
Integration of policies
Integrated use of agricultural commodities
The cost of production of most agricultural produce is higher than the purchasing power of the masses. This creates a dilemma. On the one hand there is a comfortable stock position of over 2 million tons of food grains, yet more than 40 per cent of the population are living below the poverty line and have no means to buy food for a long time to come. In this context, therefore, to consider integrated planning of agriculture and nutrition may seem rather unrealistic. But despite this constraint, anything that could be achieved through interlinkages between policy-planning and management of integrated agriculture could evolve into a pattern that would in some measure serve the nutritional needs of the people.
Agriculture, nutrition, and food science have seldom been discussed together. Somehow, discussions on overall planning and policies for agriculture have remained isolated from food science and nutrition. However, taking the overall need as a working base, nutritional inputs and requirements are projected so as to work out per capita availability and consumption. Agricultural production will continue to remain short in relation to overall nutritional requirements.
Advances in food science and technology have been made, and various appropriate technologies applied. It is disheartening to observe that despite the existence of a very large fund of knowledge for bringing about technological changes, overall adoption of new technologies that involve agricultural produce has been slow, even when acceptance of the new technology is considered to be in national interests.
Is integrated management of agriculture policies and planning feasible in India? Agriculture is a state subject. No amount of policy planning at the central level can be effectively implemented uniformly on an all-India basis. This means, therefore, that policies will have to be broad-based and that implementation will occur according to the specific needs of the area, or, for that matter, the crop system. Co-ordination and integration at an all-India level have been attempted through well-devised interactions between policy-makers and the implementing agencies. Repeatedly over the years policymakers have recognized that planning should be at the base level, and, therefore, policies should be evolved at national level. Under the circumstances how do we go about planning an all-India crop pattern? For certain categories of production, such as those that are of a perennial nature, some planning is possible since one can estimate the areas under such plantations. But when it comes to general agricultural crops, the pattern of production would vary depending on many factors, primarily decision-making on the part of the individual farmer. Planning in agriculture therefore must establish linkages with the farmer, and some means will have to be found to involve him in the adoption of the plan: otherwise no worthwhile policy can be evolved. It will thus be necessary to know how the farmer will react to various policies in deciding his own plan. We will also have to determine what his options are, as well as his reactions to any new ideas, and how far he is convinced of the significance of things considered beneficial. So far no attempt has really been made to have the primary producer comprehend any cost-benefit ratios, or to know how he would benefit by adopting a policy strategy evolved at district, state, or central level. In the present socio-economic and political system, it would indeed be important to establish full rapport with the primary producer. This can be achieved to a large extent by interacting first with selected farm leaders, and have these leaders transmit to the farmers the overall need for policies and planning in the total national context. Through such means, there could be widespread adoption of agricultural policies and planning.
However, it is recognized that even with the diverse nature of a subcontinent like India, considerable success has been achieved in improving the overall agricultural situation. The Green Revolution, with its significant adoption of high-yielding varieties all over India, has many lessons for us. Perhaps the techniques employed in extension need much wider appreciation and adoption. Although there may be shortcomings, agricultural development has in itself been epoch-making.
With the high population growth rate in India, there would have to be continuous effort to improve food production. Agricultural production can be considerably increased in India because circumstances are favourable. It has been shown that a very high rate of crop productivity can be achieved, and from the achievement of the research stations one can visualize how much potential there still is to improve overall production. The lab-to-land programme can provide many examples of feasible adoption of high productivity.
The basic need for any human being is food, and in the Indian context, even shelter and clothes are less important. If we decide as a policy to have adequate food for everyone, an all-out attempt must be made to attain the needed production through agriculture by way of a plan that would match agricultural production with nutritional needs. This is feasible, but it does seem that our policy perhaps lacks this recognition of a need for a national nutritional uplift. Some of the policies adopted are discouraging, and do not seem to help the attainment of a higher rate of productivity.
Inputs like seed, irrigation, fertilizer, and pesticides are the basic requirements for attaining a high rate of production. Take for example the use and cost of fertilizer. Since fertilizer is essential to productivity, in the initial stages all encouragement was given to the use of fertilizer. However with the recent considerable escalation in cost, the overall demand for fertilizer has decreased, and this has substantially (10 per cent) lowered agricultural production. Is this in the national interest? would it not have been better to continue to encourage the use of fertilizer and help the farmer achieve higher rates of production? Similarly, for other inputs like pesticides, power, and fuel for irrigation, the policy should be to minimize their costs. It is a tragedy that whenever there is a shortage of power, the first restriction in most states falls on the rural feeders; this restricts use of irrigation, at a time when it is most required.
Certain advanced countries, and even developing countries, have helped achieve higher rates of productivity in agriculture by assuring a supply of inputs at very low cost. Even in India, if we were to produce much more of any foodstuff, it could be an export earner. Considering the overall potential of agricultural development, prospects for India becoming a net exporter of agricultural produce rather than having to depend on imports are very good.
The rate of productivity in agriculture can also be further increased by giving special incentives to those who attain a higher-than-average rate of productivity. Such incentives would attract many farmers, and might give the direction needed to attain specific production aims of any commodity. Many forms of incentive have been designed for industrial development and for export, but in the area of agriculture such forms are very few. In reality there is a negative approach to higher agricultural production, since urbanites and policy-makers continue to scoff at any successes made in agriculture.
The Agricultural Prices Commission (APC) is an important agency that can be effectively used as a mechanism of planning and of attaining some integration in agriculture. This role has not so far been fully visualized for the APC. It deals only with working out price support for selected agricultural commodities. To be used as an instrument in policy implementation, APC must broaden its mandate, since it is the prices of agricultural commodities that largely determine the decisions of the farmer. So far the APC has perhaps not given consideration to the nutritional aspect of agricultural commodities. No weightage seems to have been given directly to nutritional need in fixing prices, though in recognition of the overall shortfall in such agricultural commodities as oilseeds or pulses, higher incentive prices have been given. In recommending an overall "food basket" of balanced nutrition for the country, it may not be feasible to advise APC to encourage higher prices for any products that would improve the overall nutritional needs of the nation. As a matter of policy, however, a recommendation should be made that a nutritionist may be included as a member of the APC, with the intention of influencing pricing policies from the point of view of nutrition.
There is a serious lack of integration in the formulation of policies by various ministries. It would appear that often the exigency of the situation is overrated and the perspective plan is sacrificed. To give an example, the policy decision that has been made in regard to sugar price, levy excise duty, and export, in spite of integration at the highest level, suffers from lack of perspective, and has not taken into consideration the high potential for sugar production nor its effect on producers and consumers. Similarly, the decision to import 1.5 million tons of wheat as an expedient reaction to a particular situation may have a long-term effect on the production of wheat, in which India has attained an international record of productivity. would it not be possible to evolve a long-term policy, by which the farmer would be assured of prices that are reasonable, which is linked with any escalation (such linkages are in operation for all dearness allowances) and which is guaranteed for a period of five years? This would enable the farmer to work out a plan of rotation according to his own feasibility.
Another example is the price of milk. Most urban areas in India now have public sector dairies. Milk prices of these dairies are artificially kept low, resulting in substantial losses to the exchequer and, of course, in no significant improvement in the purchase price of milk. There is therefore a lack of any incentive for a higher production of milk, and this would naturally reduce the overall availability of milk and milk products. Not only is the pricing policy affecting milk production, it is also affecting the nutrition of people.
Credit again is an instrument that can really help attain higher agricultural production, but this instrument has not been properly used. General availability of credit is based on the cost of specific crops. However, only a few banks have linked a higher rate of productivity to higher credit. Such linkages between credit and productivity would enable the farmer to use effectively more inputs and improved technology.
Apart from short-term credit for the crop, there is also a real need to organize better credit linkages for land development, irrigation and such post-harvest facilities as storage, handling, and marketing. This has not been recognized. Agricultural production would be diluted through large wastages for lack of post-harvest handling facilities. Damage to perishable commodities would be especially higher without proper post-harvest facilities at the farm level and all through the marketing chain.
The processing and marketing of various agricultural commodities deserve better terms of credit. With many of them, the producers' interest can be protected only if commodities are properly preprocessed, packaged, and marketed. However, credit is sometimes restricted and is now given at a lower rate of interest only towards production. But if full benefit of greater production is to be acquired, extension of credit to the later steps of handling, packaging, and transport would not only protect many food commodities from deterioration, not only in terms of quantity but of product quality and nutrition. Much could be done in preventing wastages if easier terms of credit were made available for these purposes. Not only must credit be provided, but incentives may have to be designed to improve the overall handling of all commodities.
Planners often consider agricultural production as a base for all policies. This is highly erroneous. A country that is predominently rural, with an obvious lack of rural development, suffers when the infrastructure needed for proper marketing of agricultural commodities is missing. Post-harvest handling, processing, and marketing of agricultural commodities influence individual nutrition. In other words, it is not sufficient to evaluate the availability of nutritional foodstuffs by considering just the overall production of agricultural commodities. It is necessary to understand how the marketing of food has been organized and how the needs of each consumer have been met.
A study of the public distribution system through ration shops, of the Food Corporation of India and of other agencies that are handling such programmes as Food-for-Work, shows how ineffective are the means to properly protect food and service the consumer. Not only are the costs high, but the deterioration of food in terms of quality and nutrient content is very evident. Surely there is a need for much better understanding of how post-harvest technology could be the means for improving substantially the quality of food.
It may also be relevant to ask whether it is necessary to continue a policy of rationing, recognizing that there is an overall significant reduction in the quality and nutrition of food. Why would it not be possible to replace the entire programme by one of Food-for-Work, which has relevance to the use of manpower and the employment of food as a resource? Extension of the Food-for-Work programme could also generate employment in the private and public sectors, or enhance a self-employed status. This programme could perhaps adopt nutritional criteria as a means for improving the nutritional status of the lower strata of the community .
Market yards and mandis could also be used in monitoring and evaluating standards and the quality of agricultural commodities. This would also help in improving handling, storage and processing of the trade commodities.
Agro-industries are on the threshold of an expansion programme. However, it is unfortunate that most agriculture commodities needed by these industries are not produced in accordance with the requirements of industry since there is hardly any link between industry and agriculture. An isolated exception is sugar, where productivity has been very effectively linked with the quality of sugar-cane. Establishing linkages between agriculture and agro-industry would help to improve the status of food technology and most likely nutrition. Vertical integration through use of an agricultural commodity would contribute substantially to overall economic progress.
An important area affecting both nutrition and food technology lies in the utilization of agricultural produce to full potential. In developed countries, producers receive maximum benefit out of such total utilization of agricultural produce. This is achieved through vertical integration, utilizing each and every by-product of agriculture. Food science and technology could significantly contribute to this end of improving the status of agricultural commodities in terms of higher utilization. Moreover, many of these commodities could contribute greatly to nutrition. It is not necessary that all processes produce items for human use; there are many innovative technologies that could use agricultural commodities as cattlefeed, fertilizer, and fuel. Some studies have been made to prepare balance sheets of all inputs into agriculture and its outputs. Through such studies, one can perhaps evaluate, if not the cost-benefit at least the nutrition-benefit ratio for important agricultural commodities. If this were done, we could perhaps achieve a proper interphase of agriculture, nutrition, and food science.
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