Tuesday, October 5, 2010


Any sovereign nation worth its name will have its own policies in different areas of endeavor that govern the day to running of the government and these policies, both short term as well as long term, are supposed to guide the rulers who have the mandate from the citizens to govern serving their interests. Such policies project to the world the character of the nation and assure the citizens about their safety and dignity. India which attained independence in 1947 has been striving to evolve its own distinct policies in areas like agriculture, defense, foreign relations, investments, exports and imports etc compatible with the provisions of Indian constitution.

One of the fundamental rights of an Indian citizen is access to food with right quality and in adequate quantity and the country's agricultural policy has always given primacy to the farming community which has the onerous task of feeding the population. During early stages of development emphasis was more on establishing necessary infrastructure to support and increase food production, though importance shifted later to industrial development considered imperative to generate employment. The share of agriculture continuously went down as manufacturing and service sectors started contributing to the GDP increasingly under favorable industrial policies and state incentives. The success of Green Revolution that boosted food grain production dramatically and the White Revolution which made the nation top most producer of milk in the world can be attributed to a right mix of policies and encouragement from the government.

Billions of rupees of investments on agricultural investments, farmer subsidies and export initiatives have not brought self reliance in case of foods like oil seeds and pulses and no one is sure whether this failure can be attributed to a lack of a long term cohesive agricultural policy. Why India has not been able to raise production of pulses and oil seeds is an issue being confronted by the GOI for almost three decades. The fact that GOI is concerned with it is reflected by the Missions launched earlier in nineteen eighties and nineties on oil seeds and pulses which did not make any dent in the deficit as far as these critical food commodities are concerned. It is always easier to blame the fragmented land holding pattern in the country which is supposed to be coming in the way of deploying modern technological inputs for any dramatic increase in the production of these food material. If the country has really a long term "agile" agricultural policy such distortions would not have taken place and still continue to haunt the nation.

Having ignored agriculture for such a long time it is surprising that the Prime Minister of the country is now harping on an "agile food policy" what ever that means. According to him such a policy should be "alive to the market reality and must dovetail the procurement and distribution system to provide stability in prices". He wants to ensure that such a policy must have mechanism to "respond to the market quickly so that prices do not fall to the extent of hurting the farmers or rise to the extent of hurting the consumers". With food inflation hovering around 15% the much talked about National Food Security Law (NFSL) is stuck between opposing ideologies of members of National Advisory Council and the impending implementation of the Unique Identification Authority scheme seems to have created further uncertainties about NFSL. Talking about "Green Revolution" and "Ever Green Revolution" has no meaning as long as concrete actions at the ground level materialize and probably nothing may come out of the present contradictions amongst the policy makers. Who prevented the government in evolving such a policy, after being in power most of the years after attaining independence may be an inconvenient question but deserves an answer from him.

A food policy that can make an impact must include setting of goals for production, processing, marketing, availability, access, utilization, consumption, nutrition, health and environment. It must cover the entire food chain from material resources to processing, retailing and consumer health. Food policies of most of the developed countries emphasize on less and less consumption of energy, fat, sugar and salt whereas for developing countries more stress needs to be given for food adequacy first followed by balanced mix of food components to meet the health and nutrition guidelines of a population, most of which are malnourished and under nourished. Whether GOI can come up with a policy frame work and implement it is a moot question in a federal set up like that in India where agriculture and food are state subjects, unless there is a strong leadership at the Center.




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