KERALA has framed a policy to procure 16 varieties of vegetables at a floor price in order to tackle price volatility, which affects farmers as well as consumers. Despite being a staple of the common man’s diet, vegetables are not covered under the Central Government’s MSP regime or the procurement system. Kerala has assured the state’s farmers that their produce would be purchased at the floor price, which would be 20 per cent above the production cost.
Vegetables are grown throughout the country. The Kerala model seems applicable to all states. Being an overpopulated country plagued by hunger and poverty, India cannot afford wastage of perishable products like vegetables.
Punjab is a leading agricultural state with high production of various crops. However, the provision of state procurement of wheat and paddy has restricted the cropping pattern to these two crops. The area under pulses, oilseeds etc. has shrunk with the surge in the area under wheat and paddy. As most of the farmers have marginal or small landholdings, they decide to play it safe. Appeals made by agriculture experts and government officials to diversify the cropping pattern have gone in vain, leading to ever-increasing strain on the water table.
Punjab needs to adopt the Kerala model because of other factors too. About 60 per cent of the state’s population is employed in the agriculture sector but their contribution to the state’s GDP is barely 20 per cent, depicting the yawning gap between farm and non-farm income. It also highlights under-employment in the sector. The diversification of farming towards pulses, oilseeds and vegetables has the potential to ensure work throughout the year. Rather, this model should also be adopted for crops other than vegetables that are yielding high returns and have export potential. Moreover, Punjab is lagging in respect of the agro processing industry. The shortage and uncertainty of availability of raw material for such units is cited as the main impediment. The export of fresh vegetables as well as agro-processed products has left a lot to be desired, even to the not-so-distant Middle East countries.
In 2015-16, India exported onions to countries like Bangladesh, Nepal, Singapore, Kuwait, UAE and Vietnam, but other years have mostly witnessed imports. It is clear that the management of produce is being neglected.
The agro export corporation of the state must be dovetailed to the procurement system to bring in stability and mitigate volatility. The emerging glitches in the implementation of the Kerala model can be removed with experience and time.
The writer is Senior Fellow, Institute of Social Sciences, Delhi