Agriculture after LPG reforms:
- The priority post-1991 has been given to industry as well as services.
- Middle-class consumers have been favoured by at the expense of farmers.
- This neglect of agriculture resulted in an equally unprecedented gap between the standard of living in the rural and urban parts of the country.
- As a result, the urban/rural ratio, in terms of monthly per capita expenditures, has jumped from 1.84 to 2.42 between 2012 and 2018.
- This means that an average urban-dweller today can consume almost 2.5 times more than an average person in a village.
Recent reforms by the government:
- Government has decided to liberalise India’s agriculture by amending the APMC Act and the Essential Commodities Act.
- Contract farming will also be introduced in such a way that the buyer can assure a price to the farmer at the time of sowing.
APMC Act in the context of Shanta Kumar Committee report
- The argument against the APMC Act is that it does not allow the free market to function due to government intervention.
- It denies farmers the opportunity to determine the prices of crops in the marketplace.
- In theory, this is a valid argument.
- But, Shanta Kumar Committee observed in 2015 that only 6 per cent of farmers get the Minimum Support Price (MSP).
- This is because of barriers to access for farmers as only 22 crops are procured under MSP.
- Infrastructure is also inadequate as there are only an estimated 7,000 APMC mandis across India.
- Procurement depends on the stocks required by the state.
Why should APMC not be blamed for all the problems?
Issue of farm pricing:
- The living costs of farmers was considered while determining agricultural pricing by the Agricultural Prices Commission (APC).
- CACP that replaced the APC in 1985 added a 10 per cent mark-up over the MSP to account for entrepreneurial costs.
- Such practices have been gradually eroded post-1991.
- The problem, therefore, is not state intervention but the way the government deals with agriculture.
How APMC Improved food security?
- India managed to weather the 2008 global agricultural crisis only because it had enough food stocks as Indian agriculture was not linked to the international futures market.
- This was possible due to the procurement done through the APMC Act.
- Since agriculture is a state subject, the Act has been modified in 17 states.
- On the contrary, the condition of peasants has often been affected when the APMC Act has been diluted.
- Bihar is an example
The APMC Act was revoked in 2006 with the same rationale that further deregulation will attract private investment in infrastructure.
- Not only has that not materialised, but the existing APMC market infrastructure was also dismantled.
Agricultural reforms needed:
Need for reforms in subsidy:
- Indian Agriculture is still too heavily subsidised in favour of the big players.
- In the Union Budget 2019-20, the allocation for the Ministry of Agriculture was Rs 1,30,485 crore and the fertiliser subsidy alone was estimated at Rs 79,996 crore.
- But these subsidies are concentrated on a few crops.
- Agriculture economist Bruno Dorin has shown, only three crops receive more than 60 per cent of the so-called “non-product-specific” support to agriculture — rice, wheat and sugarcane.
- This has led to environmental degradation like the depletion of groundwater levels and monocultures which are a threat to biodiversity.
- It has also led to the industrialisation of agriculture, that results in the strengthening of a handful of multinational companies, which supply chemical inputs.
- Liberalisation would only strengthen the role of large companies — including those in the agri-food sector.
Making agriculture ecologically viable:
- Structurally, farming needs to be made economically and ecologically viable in India.
- State intervention for better pricing, investments in water harvesting and an agroecological transition could ensure a more resilient system to weather shocks like the current one.
- The government could draw inspiration from the Andhra Pradesh Community Managed Farming model.
- It promotes agroecological principles with the use of locally-produced, ecologically-sustainable inputs focusing on soil health..
- Since the agro-ecological system of farming is more biodiverse in nature, it will make the system more resilient overall.
- It will provide a safety net for farmers in case of crop damage due to various factors such as climate change or droughts.
By investing again in agriculture and following, at last, the recommendations of the M S Swaminathan Committee, the Government of India would also help bridge the drastic urban-rural divide.
Q) APMC act is not always the culprit of the agricultural crisis. How can the recommendations of the M S Swaminathan Committee help in solving the agricultural crisis?