Jul 13, 2011

A starving proposition

Sowing trouble: Reckless acquisition of agricultural land imperils food security; call a halt to it before food bowls turn into begging bowls. 

Going by a Hindustan Times-GFK Mode opinion poll conducted across five worst affected villages in Aligarh and Gautam Budh Nagar districts of UP, more than 48 per cent farmers are willing to sell land. All they are looking for is a better compensation package.

The underlying message is loud and clear. Farmers are keen to dispense with their land because agriculture has turned into a losing proposition.

This quick market research reiterates the findings of an earlier National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) survey in which 42 per cent farmers had said that they would quit agriculture if given an alternative. Viewed in the light of the terrible agrarian distress reflected in the spate of farmer suicides across the country, the ongoing debate on land acquisition skirts the fundamental issues confronting the economic viability of the farm and the resulting food insecurity.

Cultivable land is being acquired for non-agricultural purposes at a frantic pace at a time when the country is struggling to meet the growing demand for food. If India is to meet  this basic need of its burgeoning population, it will have to bring more land under cultivation. For instance, we will have to set aside 200 lakh acres if we decide to grow domestically the pulses and oilseeds we import. 

Preserving productive agricultural land for cultivation assumes utmost importance. In the US, the federal government is providing US $ 750 million to farmers for the period 2008-13 under the Farm Bill 2008 to conserve and improve their grazing lands. The idea is to ensure that farmers do not divert the land for non-agricultural purposes. 

Why can’t India, too, make adequate investments to protect agricultural land? Why can’t it use the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojna (RKVY) exclusively to improve and preserve farm lands?

Economic development, unfortunately, has come to mean divesting of their meagre land holdings. Policymakers say that with rapid industrialization, average incomes will increase. As a result, people will have more money to buy food from the open market and make more nutritious choices. But the bigger question we have simply overlooked at our own peril is that from where will the additional food come from. 

In Andhra Pradesh, over 20 lakh acres has been diverted from agriculture to non-farm uses. In Haryana, over 60,000 acres has been acquired between 2005 and 2010. In Madhya Pradesh, over 11 lakh acres has been acquired for the industry in the past five years. Punjab, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhatisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh 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.

No one, in fact, has worked out as to how much agricultural land needs to be acquired to meet the industrial needs, and how much has actually been purchased. It is free for all; you can acquire as much land as you can. 

Rahul Gandhi himself has alleged that along the proposed Yamuna Expressway in UP, roughly 44,000 hectares of fertile farm land is being acquired for townships, industrial clusters, golf courses and an F1 racing track. My own analysis shows that of the total area of 198 lakh acres under food grain crops in UP, one-third or roughly 66 lakh acres will go out of production. This will mean a shortfall in foodgrain production in UP alone to the tune of 145 lakh tonnes.

Giving paramount importance to food security, we should draw a land use map for the country. There should be a moratorium on the sale of farm lands for non-agricultural activities, except for clearly defined ‘public’ purpose. The proposed Land Acquisition Bill must include provisions for enhancing farm incomes. At present the average monthly income of a farmer's family is Rs 2400. Even a peon in a government office is drawing Rs 15,000. A Farmer’s Income Guarantee Act is the answer. 

Source: Hindustan Times, Chandigarh


Anonymous said...

It is the distorted vision of our planners- the Harvard - Cambridge educated myopic squad. They think that intensive Urbanization and Factory Farming is the answer to India's salvation. गोकृषि the ancient time proven Indian strategy does not make any sense for them.
It is hardly realized that Industrialism in the form it is conceived and practiced is the root cause of all our problems. It is a very long drawn ideological battle.

Subodh Kumar

Prof (Dr) Ramakumar V said...

U&nless the focus of agriculture shifts from farming to FARMER and encourage small holders to do sustainable agriculture, the day will not be far when contract frmers would take over and hold the govt. to ransom to allow them individual profit making. Remeber that when in devloping countries only 3% is involved in food production, 74% of Indians especially poor are involved in cattle rearing and agri. Contract farming would mean depowering the earning opportunities of farm labour without any plan to engage them.