If MSP alone is panacea to farmers’ ills, you have another think coming

25th September 2020

25th September 2020

Illustration: Courtesy NewsClick

(Veeresh Malik continues to slice open India’s farming without which we can’t live yet it remains last on our minds. He stays on his tetralogy with the third piece below since the first and second have had readers asking for more).

"While the Shanta Kumar committee report had pointed out in 2015 that just six per cent of India’s farmers benefitted from MSP operations—that is, their crops were purchased at the MSP—the value of output that is bought at MSP appears to be similar. The total value of all agriculture output was around Rs 40 lakh crore in FY20 while the total value of MSP operations was around Rs 2.5 lakh crore; call this MSP’s 6×6 matrix if you will!"

 

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Unlike many of the "posh" people who joined the Armed Forces as officers in British days, my father came from raw agricultural stock, but my ancestors had somehow figured out that studies and educational qualifications were extremely important too. This was passed on to the next generations too. As a result, our earlier holidays were linked to agricultural technology innovations - bovine research, poultry, canning & preserving, pisciculture & coastal fishing villages, coffee & tea plantations and rubber estates are some that I can recall. 

 

At the same time, as a child I simply could not help but notice that physical movement of agri-produce in India was at the mercy of every small petty "authority", and so it was in 1980 or so, home on leave in the summers, that I found myself driving the family Ambassador car towards Rohtak, where there were all sorts of litigations ongoing about the agricultural land received in lieu of what was lost in West Pakistan.

A side note here - all sorts of complications, interpretations and amendments to the Enemy Property Act, 1968 had, by then, brought serious complications to the subject of clear title of agricultural lands. So, when we stopped for breakfast at a dhaba en route, I asked my father why we were fighting over some land which neither of us visited or farmed anyways? My father looked at me and said "for the rights of my yet unborn Grandson". I wasn't even married then, and I recall telling him "if your yet unborn Grandson is half-way intelligent, he won't go near farming, and if he is not intelligent, then we are bigger fools for driving in this hot summer in a non-AC car all the way to litigate." My father looked at me and said "you have said something sensible for the first time in your life" and commanded me to turn the car around after breakfast and return to Delhi.

This is personal anecdote, there were different variants of similar episodes, but meanwhile, it is likely that some people were also taking a different path, and today I also have contemporaries who have revived or built from scratch excellent agricultural entities. All over the country and world, I may add - and I visit them very often because to me, they give me more joy than anything else. Under the open sky, they belong to everyone, who wants to get an education co-terminus with books. And like bio-diversity as well as cross-fertilisation, sharing ideas from different locations, and then seeing them succeed, gives me even more joy.

 

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So how have people managed to circumvent the choke-points on movements of agri-produce in India?

 

The last few years have seen great changes towards enabling growth and movement of agri-produce. Setting up cold-storages, for example, is no longer a complicated process. Some States shrugged off the mandi system decades ago - the result can be seen where even miniscule land holdings, sometimes as small as the roof and walls of huts that people live in with a small backyard, are viable vegetable plus duck plus small fish pond units. Financial transactions have reached people's mobile devices along with cheap internet. No longer do we have years of waiting lists for tractors and the app-based on-demand cargo vehicle, fully loaded or shared, works as well as do taxi cabs in cities. Even agricultural implements are available on daily hire, delivered and picked up, while seeds for everything arrive by courier or from online portals. 

 

(Seeds - I recall how just getting seeds used to be a 3-day exercise, like beggars. And you took what "they" threw at you.)

 

And much before it was "allowed", many crops and agri-products, for better or for worse, had been consolidated under commercial terms - the oft repeated litany that this causes a "monopoly" flies in the face of the hundreds of private corporate ventures already flourishing and competing with each other. For every one potato farmer in some district of Punjab stuck with a soft-drink MNC dictating terms, there are 100s more in Western Uttar Pradesh moving back to genuine organic potatoes which have a huge demand too.

 

Likewise, and I started noticing this years ago, goats and pigs have replaced buffaloes on the horizon as I criss-crossed India on trains, especially with reference from Delhi, South of Nagpur, West of Bandikui, and East of Deen Dayal Upadhyay Nagar (we celebrate his birth anniversary today). The importance of goats can not be stressed enough, in terms of farming and economic returns, and I have a friend who gets paid to send his goats by the truckloads to other people's fields - which incidentally is part of not just re-energising land but also improving internal security.

 

In Part 4  I discuss how agriculture is linked to economic security, internal AND external.

 

(To be continued)

 

Veeresh Malik was a seafarer. And a lot more besides. A decade in facial biometrics, which took him into the world of finance, gaming, preventive defence and money laundering before the subliminal mind management technology blew his brains out. His romance with the media endures since 1994, duly responded by Outlook, among others.

 

A survivor of two brain-strokes, triggered by a ship explosion in the 70s, Veeresh moved beyond fear decades ago. 

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