May 1, 2012 – Whether it is the harvesting or sowing season, joy has gone out of the Indian countryside. The harvest is faced with uncertainties around selling and prices while sowing is a bigger cause for anxiety because the Indian farmer does not know what crop will earn him a fair price. Consider a personal dilemma. As a farmer, after my wheat harvest, it is time to sow the next crop. In figuring out what to sow next, I narrowed down to guar, instead of cotton. The price of cotton has dropped by more than 80 per cent since last year due to the flip-flop in the cotton export policy of the Union Commerce Ministry amongst other reasons. Guar, prices, however, have gone up by of over 400 per cent in one year.
I have always sown guar to improve soil fertility rather than as a commercial crop but with its price at Rs 30,000 per quintal, I decided to do a little more research before committing myself. Surprisingly, 85 per cent of the global guar is grown in India and 80 per cent of what is grown here is exported, fetching the country valuable foreign exchange. (Guar gum, it may be noted, finds applications in the fields of oil-drilling, textiles, paper, medicines, cosmetics, mining, explosives, apart from food). Expecting more farmers to sow guar given the high prices that it is fetching, I decided to explore the opportunity to sell 80 per cent of my projected guar output in the futures market as a risk-mitigation strategy. What else could I expect? The government of India has banned futures trading in guar!
Now, guar is not an essential food commodity but vested interests that lost money on the futures market and international buyers manipulated the system to depress prices. A good thing cannot be kept down for long though and the price of guar which, on the day of the ban on futures trading, was prevailing Rs 23,000, is now Rs 30,000.
The Indian Constitution begins with the phrase: “India that is Bharat”. Yet, over the years since India became a Republic, the development and progress of the country has been so selective to particular regions and communities that, quite literally, India has progressed while Bharat – that resides in the villages – has become another nation. To give Bharat a voice in policy-making it has now become a mission.
Even when the Prime Minister formed a sub-committee on ‘Enhancing Agriculture Production and Food Security’, he selected members of the Prime Minister’s Council on Trade & Industry. Farmers are still not being consulted or not considered intelligent enough to know what is good for them. It is apparent that the industrialist and, increasingly, the those from urban areas influence policy more than any other section of society.
Non-government organizations in India have received donations from overseas worth nearly $20 billion or Rs 1,00,000 crore, from 2000 till date. One is quite certain that most of this largesse has gone into propagating policies that will not allow Indian citizens and India, as a nation, to be self-sufficient. It appears there are conspiracies to contain India’s growth by funding NGOs that oppose constructive policies and propose destructive programmes. Oscar Wilde, had in a different time and under different circumstances said that: “selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live”. It applies perfectly to that half of India that decides how the other half should live. That is the problem one encounters with many individuals and many NGOs that are cynically referred to as “no good organisations” in the country.
On the issue of enacting a law to ensure right to food for all, the intention is fabulous but the approach has been diabolical. India needs to invest money, time and effort to become self-sufficient in food, more than anything else. It is absurd that the policy of providing cheap food is destined to make farmers, who are supposed to feed the nation, the recipients of cheap foodgrains. Could the money not be used to making farming a profitable profession? If that were the case, the government would not need to provide jobs or food to people.
India is an extractive economy. Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty, a book by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, points out that India is “saturated by economic institutions that are structured to extract resources from the many by the few and that fail to protect property rights or provide incentives for economic activity. Extractive economies can achieve growth for a while, particularly as today when resources are being transferred from the unproductive agricultural sector into manufacturing but run out of steam eventually. The right policies for growth are not too difficult to determine. The question is why do some regimes deliberately follow a perverse path to economic ruin. The answer: politics. It has been said that poor countries are poor because those who have power make choices that create poverty. They get it wrong not by mistake or ignorance but on purpose”.
There is no single solution to providing food security for all Indians but many small and significant changes and solutions put together, right from research, policy, use of traditional and modern knowledge, optimum input utilization, transferring knowledge to farmers while accepting and adopting age old knowledge available with the farmers, is what will together help solve the country’s problems. Security means being able to fend for oneself. India can only feed everyone if it first ensures soil health in its farms and the financial health of its farming community. At present it is doing neither.