Sep 17, 2010

Who will feed Uttar Pradesh? In other words, who will feed India in the days to come?

It is the most populous State in the country, and is also the biggest producer of foodgrains. Land acquisitions will take away a third of the cultivable lands for non-farm use. Such huge diversion of farm lands will result in drastic cut in food production, and has threatening socio-political implications.

India is witnessing a thousand mutinies. Pitched battles are being fought across the country by poor farmers, who fear further marginalisation when their land is literally grabbed by the government and the industry. From Mangalore in Karnataka to Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh, from Singur in West Bengal to Mansa in Punjab, the rural countryside is literally on a boil. Large chunks of prime agricultural land are being diverted for non-agricultural purposes.

While the continuing struggle against land acquisition for instance by farmers in Aligarh, which took a violent turn, and became a political ploy is being projected as a battle by farmers for big money, the reality is that a majority of the farmers do not want to dispense with their ancestral land. They are being forced to do so. This has serious implications for food security.

Let us take the case of Uttar Pradesh. It is the most populous State in the country, and is also the biggest producer of foodgrains. Western parts of Uttar Pradesh, comprising the fertile Indo-Gangetic plains, have been considered part of the green revolution belt. According to the 2008 Statistical Abstracts of Uttar Pradesh, in addition to 41 million tonnes of foodgrains, the State produces 130 million tonnes of sugarcane and 10.5 million tonnes of potato.

Uttar Pradesh produces more foodgrains than Punjab but because of its huge population, it is hardly left with any surplus. What is however satisfying is that Uttar Pradesh has all these years been at least feeding its own population.

This is expected to change. And that is what I am worried about. The proposed eight Expressways and the townships planned along the route, along with land being gobbled by other industrial, real estate and investment projects are likely to eat away more than 23,000 villages, one fourth of the total number of villages. Although Mayawati government has dropped the townships along the Yamuna expressway, but the company that is investing in real estate claims that as per their pact with the State government, they have to be given land at an alternative location.

Former Agriculture Minister Ajit Singh has in a statement said that one-third of total cultivable land of Uttar Pradesh will be eventually acquired. The State government neither denies nor confirms this, but acknowledges that land diversion is ‘large’.

This means that out of the total area of 19.8 million hectares under foodgrain crops in Uttar Pradesh, one-third or roughly 6.6 million hectares will be shifted from agriculture to non-agriculture activity. Much of the fertile and productive lands of Western Uttar Pradesh will therefore disappear, to be replaced by concrete jungles. In addition to wheat and rice, sugarcane and potato would be the other two major crops whose production will be negatively impacted.

As per rough estimates, 6.6 million hectares that would be taken out of farming would mean a production loss of 14 million tonnes of foodgrains. In other words, Uttar Pradesh will be faced with a terrible food crisis in the years to come, the seeds for which are being sown now. Add to this the anticipated shortfall in potato and sugarcane production, since the area under these two crops will also go down drastically, the road ahead for Uttar Pradesh is not only dark but laced with social unrest.

Already a part of the BIMARU States, Uttar Pradesh will surely see surge in hunger, malnutrition and under-nourishment. I shudder to imagine the socio-economic and political fallout of the misadventure that the government is attempting with such a massive land takeover. If the State government’s can provide an incentive of Rs 20,000 per acre to those farmers whose lands are being taken away, I fail to understand why the same incentive cannot be provided to every farm family to protect agricultural land?

What is not being realised is that Uttar Pradesh alone will send all the estimates of the proposed National Food Security Act go topsy-turvy. At present, as per the buffer norms, the government keeps around 20 to 24 million tonnes as buffer stocks for distribution across the country through the Public Distribution System (PDS). In the last few years however the average foodgrain stocks with the government have been in the range of 45 to 50 million tonnes.

Even with such huge grain reserves, Food and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar has expressed his inability to provide 35 kg of grain per month to every eligible family. Imagine, what will happen when Uttar Pradesh alone will put an additional demand of 14 million tonnes. Who will then feed Uttar Pradesh?

Policy makers say that with rapid industrialisation the average incomes will go up as a result of which people will have the money to buy food from the open market and also make for nutritious choices. But the bigger question is where will the addition quantity of food come from? Already, Punjab and Haryana, comprising the food bowl, are on fast track mode to acquire farm lands. Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhatisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab are building up ‘land banks’ for the industry and Rajasthan has allowed the industry to buy land directly from farmers setting aside the ceiling limit.

Internationally, the food situation is worsening ever since the 2008 food crisis when 37 countries were faced with food riots. Even now, food prices globally are on an upswing. As Russia extends the wheat export ban till the next year's wheat harvest sending global prices on a hike, deadly food riots were witnessed last week in Mozambique killing at last seven people. According to news reports, anger is building up in Pakistan, Egypt and Serbia over rising prices.

Knowing that the world can witness a repeat of 2008 food crisis that resulted in food riots in 37 countries, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has called for a special meeting to discuss the implications.

Extended drought and resulting wildfires has caused a 20 per cent drop in wheat harvest in Russia sending the global wheat prices on a spiral. Wheat futures obviously would take advantage, and according to Financial Times wheat prices have gone up by 70 per cent since January. India may therefore find it difficult to purchase food from the global market if it thinks it can bank upon the international markets to bail it out. This is primarily the reason why several countries, mainly China and the countries of the oil rich Middle East are buying lands in Africa, Lain America and Asia to grow food to be shipped back home for domestic consumers.

Gone are the days when a worried Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first Prime Minister, while addressing the nation on Aug 15, 1955 from the ramparts of the Red Fort in New Delhi said: "It is very humiliating for any country to import food. So everything else can wait, but not agriculture." That was in 1955. Fifty-five years later, in 2010, UPA-II thinks that food security needs of the nation can be addressed by importing food. Land must be acquired for the industry, because the industrial sector alone will be the vehicle for higher growth. There can be nothing more dangerous than this flawed approach. Is India slipping back into the days of ‘ship-to-mouth’ existence?


Anonymous said...

I agree that situation for U.P. is not good. However we can increase our Productivity two to three fold. In productivity still we are far away from China and even from our Indian states like Punjab and Haryana. Isn't it? The rest are after acquisition will get better treatment in respect of Agri input and care and will fill the gap.

Jitendra Kumar Nigam

Madhusudan said...

Dear Sir,

Excellent post.

The govt, is making a fool of the citizens in all the possible ways. wondering what can be done to evade such troubles in future..

Ramesh Dubey said...

आदरणीय देवेंद्र जी आपने कृषि योग्‍य भूमि के अधिग्रहण के खाद्य सुरक्षा पर पड़ने वाला प्रभावों का सटीक विश्‍लेषण किया । दरअसल आधुनिक विकास रणनीति खेती-किसानी को रौंदकर उद्योग और सेवा क्षेत्र के फलने-फूलने पर अधारित है । यही कारण है कि सरकारें कृषि भूमि को औद्योगिक घरानों को सौंपने के प्रति मेहरबान रहती हैं । फिर इसमें सरकार और उनके सिपहसालारों को अकूत मुनाफा कमाने का अवसर भी रहता है । औने-पौने दामों पर जमीन खरीदकर उसे हजार गुना अधिक कीमत पर बेचकर मुनाफा कमाने में जुटे रणनीतिकार कभी भी इस बात पर चिंतन-मनन नहीं करते कि भारत सिंगापुर, पनामा, मारीशस तो है नहीं जो आयातित खाद्यान्‍न के बल पर अपनी खाद्य सुरक्षा सुनिश्‍चित कर ले । ऐसे में कंक्रीट के बढ़ते जंगल हमें भुखमरी की ओर ही धकेलेंगे लेकिन जीडीपी की ग्रोथ रेट बढ़ाने में जुटे रणनीतिकार इतने आगे की सोच ही नहीं पाते ।

रमेश दुबे, दिल्‍ली

Tushar@CoEP said...

Excellent Article sir.
It is 200% true that If we continue to handover Indian Agricultural to corporate sector for so called Development(?) and start importing food from outside then it will definitely gonna kill Indian Farmer.
It is not only happening in UP. In Maharashtra also huge agricultural land is been acquired for SEZ which brings nothing for a Farmer than suicide. :(

rajeev_joshi13 said...

The truth is:

1. Our top Govt. in Delhi and top State Govt. officers have stopped thinking about their duties and obligations to their citizens. They are only concerned with filling their pockets and Swiss accounts.

2. The World Bank, International Monetary Fund et al do not give dollars freely -- they always twist the Pauper Govt.'s arm, with -- You must build SEZs, give up coastal areas, build Nuclear Power Plants on fertile land, give us free mining rights anywhere, etc. etc.

The Govt. is obsequious, fawning, ready to lick the boots of ant foreign company offering them the filthy lucre in big amounts.

3. About SEZs even the Reserve Bank had complained that it will be loosing Tax to the tune of Rs. 4000 corores or so every year, since SEZ companies will not pay any taxes.

4. World power is now in the hands of the American Military, the first 100 MNCs, and the media -- all working in collusion with each other, worried about filling their own pockets only, with total indifference -- if not contempt -- for the common man. The rich are getting richer, and the poor poorer.

5. With USA's recession deepening day by day (this is 16-Sep-2011), when it reaches India's - Asia's -- shores... I think 2112 or 2113 should be interesting...

~ rajeev joshi

Amol Patil said...

There is most critical issue in India that Agricultural land get converted into NA plots.residential property developers buy such land in very less prices from farmers and after construction sell the flats very high costs.i like your post very much . lots of information provides in it.