Agriculture is the backbone of Indian economy, a fact reaffirmed by the exceptional performance of this sector since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. The bumper harvest and record procurement despite the lockdown restrictions have been among the few bright spots amid the gloom. Thanks to the farmers’ toil, the Centre has taken on the onerous task of providing free ration to about 80 crore people for eight months (April to November). The government has now set out to address a much-neglected issue: post-harvest losses. On Sunday, PM Narendra Modi launched a financing facility of Rs 1 lakh crore under the Agri-Infra Fund with the purpose of improving post-harvest infrastructure in villages and boosting farmers’ income.
There have been umpteen cases of foodgrains worth crores of rupees rotting in the open due to improper storage in Punjab and other states. Desperate growers dumping their produce on the road after a crash in prices is also a common sight. Once harvesting is over, losses occur due to several reasons: poor storage facilities, transportation problems, defective packaging, unfair marketing practices, flawed policies etc. The government claims that the ‘One Nation, One Mandi’ initiative, which promises farmers myriad options to sell their produce without the intervention of middlemen, is on the right track. The challenge is to ensure that farmers get the MSP (minimum support price) for their crop and they don’t have to face the ignominy of distress sale. In 2015, the Shanta Kumar Committee’s report had mentioned that barely six per cent of India’s agricultural households had benefited directly from selling wheat and rice to any procurement agency at the MSP. This alarmingly low figure shows that the majority of the farmers have been left to fend for themselves by successive governments.
Apart from initiating reforms in the farm sector, the Centre needs to dispel fears that the tried-and-tested MSP regime would be done away with to clear the field for private players. Farmgate sales, whereby farmers sell their produce directly to the buyers, should be promoted so as to reduce storage and transportation costs. A food-secure nation owes it to those who make the granaries overflow.