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Do Indian farmers go for crop diversification or not?

A conference of state food ministers on ‘Food and Nutrition Security in India’ on Tuesday may have sent contrasting signals to the states when it comes to crop diversification.

It was addressed by Union Minister for Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution (CA, F&PD), Piyush Goyal and Minister of State (CA, F&PD) Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, Food Secretary Sudhanshu Pandey and food ministers and food secretaries from multiple states.

Incidentally, the year 2023 has been declared as the Year of Millets by the UN.

Since morning, many speakers, including Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, had highlighted the importance of coarse grain, millets etc. In fact, Karnataka — which had distributed laddus and biscuits made of ragi at the venue — was lauded for encouraging millets.

And then, while taking feedback from the states about the time consuming audit processes and their submission to the Centre etc, Goyal suddenly donned his avatar as the Union Minister for Commerce and Industry.

“This time the paddy sowing is 16 per cent less than previous year. I request all of you to have a word with your Agriculture Ministers, we request all the states to increase the sowing of rice more than last year. We have sufficient stocks (for ourselves), there is no problem with stocks,” Goyal said.

“But there is a lot of demand internationally. So, the more our farmers produce, they will get more price in the international market. I am also the Commerce Minister, so I have also to keep increasing the exports,” the Minister said, adding, “We will increase our exports, if required, we will increase our procurement also.”

He also exhorted states to increase wheat sowing in October. “The other day, Madhya Pradesh chief minister was telling me, Uttar Pradesh was also telling me. Punjab should also consider. You should increase the sowing of all the crops and look at higher productivity too.”

When one of the states immediately pointed out that it is policy recommendation of the Government of India to reduce area under paddy, Goyal said, “That is applicable only if you are converting any of these to pulses, oil seeds and millets a that is welcome. But otherwise, make sure the production and productivity is high.”

Shubha Thakur, joint secretary in the Department of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, made a presentation about crop diversification. Starting from how the green revolution necessitated increased rice and wheat production for ensuring food security, she elaborated on the changed conditions, including the increasing instance of climate change and asserted how important it is to diversify into crops other than rice and wheat.

Thakur also gave examples of states that have successfully started or already diversified into a variety of millets and cereals. Those states included Haryana, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Chhattisgarh. She had quoted the 2018 NITI Aayog report about aggregate demand and supply estimates for various crops. That report had stated that in 2032-33, India’s production of coarse cereals, pulses, oil seeds and fruits is going to witness a shortfall against rice, wheat, cereals, food grains, milk and milk products that all are going to be surplus then.

Goyal’s request for increasing rice and wheat sowing area comes in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine war and subsequent supply chain disruptions that has led to global shortage of, mainly, wheat and sunflower oil.

India had exported wheat till April end by which time, due to two consecutive months of heat wave in northwest and central India, it was clear that the wheat production had shrunk, prompting the government to ban wheat exports. The Centre had then cited reasons that it needed the buffers to cater to the vulnerable countries and to reign in domestic inflation.



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