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Food Security


Food Security:Modalities of Management

If you don’t diversify, incomes don’t rise. For that you need infrastructure and technology. Seeds are important. You need MNREGA and food security because a lesson of world history is that rise in wages triggers technical change in agriculture. Its not the other way around.
The Food Security Bill may be passed by the time this sees print and it seems better to get back to the village and see how we can have sustained agricultural and rural development growth as the basis of food security. Many years ago I had modelled in the Plans that redistribution always needs to be intertwined with growth. I know that in high growth areas poverty still remains and co-relations of growth with reduced poverty don’t help the women and men and their children are left out. But any food security scheme will only work best in the larger context of widespread and diversified agricultural and rural growth. So back to the village with some stories to anticipate what will really happen and what to do about it.
The typical image of agriculture in the eastern region is hard working poor farmers producing paddy in the monsoon, getting hit by floods and then again gambling in the winter rains, which when they fail lead to drought. Yields were traditionally high in this fertile soil, but did not rise. All that is changing, as we see the Second Green revolution in the Eastern Region. We need more and better versions of that for growth is in spasmodic spurts, rather than a continuous oiled machine and also not everywhere. When I last went there, the district was Midnapur; not as fertile as Hooghly or the 24 Parganas. As you drive out of Howrah, it is all factories, but surprise-surprise, there are now dairies and nurseries. After a few hours of driving we stopped by for a meal and the fish curry, rice and channa dal and topping off with a sandesh and mishti dohi, brought back my childhood in Calcutta. The waiter was happy that an obvious Pathan like character could eat fish and bhat in the Bengali style without first taking out the bones even when the fish was the delectable but not so easy to eat rohu. The Midnapur I landed up in was red laterite soil and the slope of the land didn’t retain water. It drained back into the rivers; an agricultural extension man’s nightmare.  

The village was Kaspal in the Borkollah gram panchayat area. There were urban demand centers around (the famous Census Towns I discovered as ‘Large Villages’ in 2007)and now Kolkata is not perceived as the only center. It is lucky for it is near the bed of a small river- the Kasai. If it doesn't rain they can virtually take out the water in buckets, but again not surprise- surprise any more, they almost all have tubewells. The first area I have gone to in quite a while, where a public sector bank actually gave credit on a more or less universal scale for water development. Here it was the State bank of India. I could’nt touch base with the local banker and so we don’t know if it was the land holding rights under operation Barga or some enthusiastic banker. I talk with Hari Prasad Samantha, Chitto Maiti and Jhath Lenka. Nobody farms more than two acres. This is densely farmed territory and the reverse tenancy of land to middle peasants hasn’t taken place, as in Gujarat or in North Western India. The prosperous peasants don’t lease in more land. They diversify. The technology is fairly good. The original seeds came from the university although there is little replacement in paddy. But they make more money from cash crops and it is vegetables all the way. Potatoes are a craze. The seeds come from commercial companies, are expensive, but they make money even when the market is down. BT seeds from unknown, unregulated(?) producers are common, although some famous brand name ‘approved’ seeds are also there. A great thing that happened on the way was dairying. Almost all of them have between three to five cows. The women folk look after them. This is now spreading.
There is a feeling of unease and it is not WTO. It has all happened and they don’t see where to go. This growth game. You have to run to keep where you are. They are not quite clear where to run. But they are organized and after we talk of a number of possibilities it is their turn to ask questions. They are full of what’s going on in the North and West. They know the best pulse seeds come from Maharashtra and M.P. and oilseeds also from there and that Gujarat has castor. Their mustard is good and now NDDB has its spread. Party Bus Boston  The landless say hunger is less and some girls go to school.
The land slopes up from the river. About two to three hundred meters up and a distance away I check out another village. Not much has happened here. Around half of the population is poor. It is a mono crop region with the second crop, if any, depending on the rains. Yields are low. Many answers are possible, but with the plan and public investment a non-starter it would be a cruel joke to talk about them. We are doing nothing to integrate these villages with markets and prosperity. The largely tribal and scheduled caste population carries along, as it was through the centuries.
Yes, we need a public food security packet until the growth millennia arrives and I am all for it coming. But that old man who made us fight for freedom and had a chela who dreamt when the world slept and India awoke to life and freedom, made us keep our head in the stars, but feet on the ground.
Now I come to my Gujarat. When I took over as chairman IRMA I knew I didn’t have my hero Kurien’s personality but I would institutionalize. It is a fascinating area, good soil in the main until you enter the problem area we call the Bahl. I did not succeed in getting more land around IRMA and I was always looking for a location where we could expand and hope my successor will look at this larger area I am talking of. With my friend in Agricultural Economics, Prof. Mahesh Pathak I went to the village of Khanpur in the Bahl a few kilometers away from Tarapur. This is an area where after the monsoon, water collects from both Saurashtra and North Gujarat though since it is a low lying area, it gradually drains out. In the Rabi we grow the famous Durhams the “Bhalia Wheat”, the Daudkhani and others. Since irrigation, particularly drainage was always a problem we could never irrigate and so yields are low as compared to say the Wheat Durham Ludhiana. It is a poor region, perhaps not advanced much more than at the time when close by Lothal was prospering 5000 years ago. In Khanpur progress was obvious. They were not growing Bhalia Wheat but they were growing the MP “Tukdi” which is a high yielder. Irrigation came in a strange way. The Sardar Sarovar Project has a drinking water scheme and it fills up the village talab in Khanpur. The official provision of water for drinking purposes was enough to leave water for crop irrigation. I have always wondered at the difference between what our project planners consider our requirement and what our poor people can manage with. In a similar case when the IPCL built an effluent disposal canal from Vadodara to the sea, the polluted water was used for irrigation. I asked Maheshbhai, the farmer, I met as to why he was not growing Bhalya wheat, which always gave a good price. He said since farmers around the area were irrigating, if he sows the Bhalya seeds, with the accumulated water the pods get the pest Gheru and therefore there would be no yield. Irrigation had led to the cropping pattern changing from a quality product to a standard product and we call this growth. My worry is a little more, since the drainage capability of the area is bad, even with the limited irrigation that it gets, we may move to salinity of which there is a lot in this region. That can be a terrible curse when it hits an area suddenly when the salt rises to the surface. But I pray for my Bhaliya friends. Also for a not very far away area called the Chuvahl (the land of forty four villages which I walked as we laid out the SSP canals) and where Narmada waters came. but we have at Delhi and Gandhinagar decided to industrialize them and a thousand tractors came out from there in protest and not only brought out their ladies in large numbers but also made me go along with them in peaceful protest, quite an experience for a dyed in the wool ‘central planner’.
My last story is in a tribal region. In the Panchmahals a somewhat different babu, A. Tiwari decided to introduce a Sunshine Project. The Adivasi eats Maize as staple. He farms the land with one and a half quintals per hectare and always remains hungry. Tiwari introduced Bio tech maize seeds. They came from Monsanto with around sixteen quintals plus per hectare but our own agricultural universities in fact did better as a field survey by Sadguru one of our best land and water NGOs showed. Now here hunger had really gone. Tiwari was transferred and an NGO stopped all that. Sadguru and Vivekananda, again a famous NGO working out of Kutch were left high and dry.
I was elected the first Fellow of the Indian Society of Agricultural Economics, an honor I value more than the Ministership I was invited to. In my acceptance speech printed in the March 2011 issue of the Society’s Journal I spoke on the work needed on agriculture beyond the approach paper to the Twelfth Plan. I spoke on water, the lack of markets in the rural urban continuum in which farmers come with their produce, technology and perverse policies hindering diversification and the need to recognize and remedy them. I talked of a focussed approach to MNREGA and food security. If you don’t diversify incomes don’t rise. For that you need infrastructure and technology. Seeds are important. You need MNREGA and food security because a lesson of world history is that rise in wages triggers technical change in agriculture. Its not the other way around. Read any good book on the economic history of England and Europe. All these problems are there in Kaspal in the Borkollah gram panchayat, Khanpur near the Wataman Chowky and in the tribal villages in Dahod. For those who are left behind until you catch up we need MNREGA and food security.
By : Yoginder K Alagh ; The author is Chancellor, Central University of Gujarat, Vice-Chairman, Sardar Patel Institute of Economics & Social Research and Former Minister of Power, Planning and Science and Technology, Govt. of India.


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