Ghosts Of Ship-To-Mouth- Price spikes, production fluctuations challenge us, not insufficient food production. (Indian Express) • Having inherited an unsustainable farm economy, made worse by bad monsoons and low international commodity prices, the government is struggling to show progress in the face of farmer suicides. To its credit, the government is consulting farmers for the preparation of a budget that not only addresses their concerns but also appears to do so. • Cheap imports artificially drive down commodity prices, leading farmers into a cycle of perpetual poverty and, as a result, rural-urban migrations. • The conversation on the farm sector needs to radically shift from focusing on fears of insufficient production to issues of nutrition and safety. The ghosts of decades of food shortages, “ship-to-mouth” horrors and Lal Bahadur Shastri’s appeal for skipping a meal continue to haunt us. • Technology input companies and commodity firms are scaremongering us into a narrow tunnel of fear. But for long, India has moved on to greener pastures. Outdated fears are being reinforced by allegedly insurmountable new challenges posed by population growth, changing dietary patterns and climate change inhibiting food production. • Even after taking into account these underlying anxieties, we farmers, on the contrary, feel India has entered an era of marketable surpluses — but there are no buyers for our produce. • The challenges India faces are price spikes and production fluctuations, not insufficient production. Onions and pulses, etc, augment the anxiety, but these are the consequences of lopsided farm support programmes and detached policymaking. • India is already among the largest producers of foodgrain, pulses, sugarcane, tea, spices, eggs, meat, fruit and vegetables in the world. These milestones have been reached even though we lag behind in crop yields. • Investments in research for better farm technology and applications hold endless opportunities for yield improvement. Additionally, there is a difference in yields within villages, as well as between a research centre and even the best farm. These differences can be bridged by improved extension services. Other than research-induced increases, productivity can be enhanced by a quarter across the spectrum without adding extra inputs (and with fewer seeds) if we simply upgrade sowing machinery. While farmer-ownership of machinery will lead to debt, service leasing will lead to prosperity. Merely defining objectives is half the work done; the fine print holds the key to achieve the objectives. • India is the largest milk producer in the world, but cooperatives are collapsing because of just the interest burden of unsold stocks and competition from cheap, imported, subsidised and substandard milk products. • Farmers’ biggest concern isn’t insufficient production. In irrigated areas, farmers worry about markets and, in rain-fed areas, they worry about water availability. Only time will tell if the consultations are seeking to validate existing ideas or if they accept the new rationale.

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