The Narendra Modi government has done well to ask the states to launch a drive against hoarders to check speculation. Its move towards fixing a minimum export price of USD 300 per tonne on onions to curb their exports while asking the commerce ministry to come out with a similar measure for potatoes is also reassuring. That this is intended to check the rising prices of food items that have spurred overall inflation is obvious. It is vital to ensure availability of essential commodities by providing for their smooth flow through de-hoarding, timely inspection, and monitoring. But these can at best be temporary steps. India must improve agricultural productivity and rationalise marketing of produce. Improving productivity will be a long project and will require better irrigation, improved seed varieties, making appropriate technology available to farmers and judicious use of fertilisers.
There is a need for use of modern techniques in agriculture because farmland is shrinking with rising population. To increase soil productivity, we need to expand the research work in our universities as Modi has been stressing. There has been no research on pulses for years, so it is small wonder that production is stagnating. Modi’s strong pitch for engaging students of agriculture to roll out his ambitious soil health card scheme to help farmers assess soil quality is worth a try. The new emphasis on using Information Technology for real-time data on agro-products will improve management of farm products.
The government must start measures to improve storage and logistics for perishables. Much lip service has been paid to this in the past. There is need now for concrete action. The Centre’s directive to states to delist fruits and vegetables from the Agricultural Produce Market Committee list, allowing farmers to sell their produce directly in the open market seems sensible. The advice to states to dismantle the APMCs will promote efficient markets in the agriculture sector and trigger investments in logistics, benefiting both farmers and consumers.