Food Procurement and Distribution – PDS & NFSA, Shanta Kumar Committee, FCI restructuring, Buffer stock, etc.

Ahead: bumper crop, multiple challenges


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not Much

Mains level: Ensuring food supplies amidst COVID-19 crisis

This is perhaps the first time ever that India is facing a national disaster or a war-like situation amidst plentiful supplies of food even as a bumper Rabi crop beckons.

Bumper yield in crisis

  • Farmers are currently about to harvest —if they haven’t already.
  • Given the surplus and extended monsoon rains, which helped recharge ground water and fill up reservoirs, superabundant produce is round the corner.
  • This comes even as there is demand destruction from the shutting down of HORECA (hotels, restaurants and catering) and other institutional segment businesses following the nationwide lockdown.
  • It raises the possibility of a crisis similar to the one three years ago that followed demonetization. But the scale, it is feared, could be bigger.
  • The post-demonetization rabi crop, also a bumper one, was at least harvested and marketed even if it didn’t fetch a good price.

The real challenge

  • The food and civil supplies departments in states will ultimately ensure that the terminal markets in these centres major cities receive their required daily flow of produce anyhow.
  • The problem will be in the remote towns and the rural hinterlands that are serviced through upcountry APMCs.
  • The grocers there are at the greatest risk of running out of stocks if the lockdown continues without inter-state movement restrictions in agricultural commodities being removed.

How to transport produce

  • This time, there are doubts being raised even on that.
  • The simple reason for it is: Will farmers, labourers and machines (combines, threshers and tractor trolleys) be able to move freely to harvest the produce and take it to the mandis?
  • The UP government has issued a direction to all district administrations and law-enforcement authorities to exempt all services, including labour, that are involved in agricultural production, processing and marketing from the current lockdown provisions.
  • Other states, too, may follow. But the question remains of the directives being implemented on the ground.

Will there be workers?

  • At the second stage comes the mandis, where marketing of the crop would happen.
  • Here again, there is a possibility of shortage of labour (the people who do unloading, cleaning, bagging and reloading of the grain that is auctioned or sold) and even gunny bags.
  • Further, it would be necessary to prevent crowding, and maintain social distancing.

Possible alternatives

  • One way out could be to allow entry only to a limited number of farmers, who may be issued SMS alerts informing them about the date and time to bring their crop.
  • Each farmer can also be given a maximum quantity — say, one tractor-trolley load of 30-40 quintals — that may be brought in a single day.
  • The permission for the next trolley load will be only after other farmers have got their turn to sell.
  • All this will obviously delay the process of marketing, raising the prospect of panic sales.
  • This could be avoided if the government were to give a clear-cut assurance — at least in respect of crop where there is MSP-based procurement — that it will continue buying till the last grain is offered.

Safer places than APMC

  • Besides, the marketing of produce needn’t be limited to the APMC (agricultural produce market committee) mandi yard.
  • Any flour or dal mill, and even primary school premises can be designated as an APMC marketing area.
  • The objective should be to ensure that the farmer’s produce gets marketed without resulting in overcrowding.

Way forward

  • The risk of shortages today is really not in the metros or state capitals.
  • Once marketing is done, the crop has to move beyond the mandi.
  • This is probably the right time to dismantle all inter-state and intra-state movement restrictions in farm produce.
  • Free movement is necessary for the context of both a bumper crop and the ongoing lockdown.

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4 years ago

good………………………@civils daily


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