Sanjeev Singh Bariana
LEGALISING the Minimum Support Price (MSP) recommended for all 23 crops by the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) is the best way to boost the farmers’ income, according to experts. The uncertainty over assured payment on their crop yields is one of the major reasons for the ongoing farmers’ protests against the new farm laws.
Assured MSP on all crops will give farmers freedom to grow other crops besides wheat and paddy. In Punjab, this choice will provide relief to the underground water reserves that have dwindled due to paddy plantation. Leading farm economist Prof SS Johl has been repeatedly saying that at the current rate of water usage, particularly for paddy, Punjab could go dry within 25 years. “Our groundwater level is falling at the rate of about 20-25 cm each year and farmers don’t get an assured price on most of their crops. How can you ask them to quit planting paddy,” he asks.
Agri expert Devinder Sharma says, “Privatisation of agriculture has failed in the US, Canada, Europe and China. India is no exception; so, unless the ground reality of farmers’ costs and returns is not made a part of the agriculture policy, the farming sector will not thrive.”
Besides paddy and wheat, the CACP has also recommended MSP for cotton, chana, masur, mustard, sugarcane and jute. A progressive farmer, Maninder Singh Gurm, says, “The MSP, by definition, is the minimum justifiable price that is offered to the farmer. It is supposed to be 25 per cent above what he spends. The Swaminathan Commission wanted this to be raised to 50 per cent.”
On the impact of lack of assured MSP, Gurdeep Singh, a farmer from Bathinda district, says, “In the absence of MSP, our government imports maize, oilseeds and other products. If our crops get assured prices, we can grow more of them and become self-sufficient.”
Currently, maize grown during February-March goes for as low as Rs 800-900 per quintal against the MSP of Rs 1,850. Sunflower sells for Rs 3,500 per quintal against the MSP of Rs 5,885, he adds.
Gurm says: “Besides a legal provision for MSP, the government needs to make MSP the benchmark for the price of the crop. No one, including the private sector, should be allowed to purchase below the MSP. This will safeguard the interests of farmers as well as consumers.”
Agri economist Prof SS Gill recently argued that if the government also started buying crops other than wheat and paddy at MSP, through its own agencies or aligning with the private sector, farmers would be benefited.
The government’s target of doubling farmers’ income by 2022 is meaningless, says Devinder Sharma. “There is no scientific basis to work out the average of a farmer’s income today, so what will get doubled? No single formula can give the correct figures for farmers’ earnings in a country where 85 per cent of them have less than four acres each,” he adds.
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