In this season of elections we are witness to multiple political rhetoric promises and sops offered to the pampered segment of the society albeit temporary. Yes, the agriculture sector still rules the politics with 61% of the 1.3 billion populations’ dependent for their bread and butter. That gives the opportunity to call the shots on who is going to form the government. Recent results of four states that has gone to polls has established that it’s not religion, caste or industrial success that buys votes but only the health of the economics of the agri-sector.
It’s an irony that the country having reached a rank of 5th in terms of GDP in the world has a vast population still struggling for bread and butter. In spite of our new found global status as an industrial and IT nation, agriculture still ranks top in terms of employment. This chart below exposes some harsh truth.
|GDP sector composition, 2017 (in percentage and in billions of dollars) of top ten nations|
|Comparison of employments generated for the same period by the different sectors|
From the above table it’s apparent that the solution to the national challenge of employment lies in the restructuring the national mind frame, vision and focus. It is indeed going to be a huge challenge to our political leadership to keep the majority population fed and the solution lies in redefining our outlook towards agriculture and its contribution to the economy. The current statistic says half our population is below the 30 years of age and we are the youngest nation of the world. But if this youth energy is not given an opportunity for to make a living there is going to be a huge anarchy in the society. It’s going to be a challenge to the political leadership to provide ROTI, KAPRA AUR MAAKAN vis a vis earning avenues.
MARKET DRIVEN VISION & PLANNING REQUIRED – TEMPORARY LOANS & SUBSIDIDIES WILL RUIN THE ECONOMY MORE
Where the political leadership is promising and dolling out sops in terms of subsidies, loans and loan waivers to the farmers to grow their crops but nothing thereafter. Ever since the independence this sector was looked on as the weak child and pampered to lie in bed defined as the weaker segment. They were never given honour of being the manufacturers and never shown the path to run and create their market. So the truth is they produce with the help of sops and loans but never given support to sell their produce. The hard fact is on an average the FMCG goods manufacturers are getting a minimum of 50% of MRP to their kitty but our farmers are on an average receiving 10% of consumer buying price sometimes even left with unsold stock. This is where the problem lies and they fail to pay back their loans. As defaulters sometimes committing suicide followed by promises of loan waiver on political compulsions obviously from tax payer’s kitty.
Therefore in the opinion of yours truly time has come for the political leadership to change its focus on the post harvest management.
MARKET BASED PRODUCTION
Often it is found one product over produced and another under produced. There are no monitoring agencies to guide the farmers on demand based production. Couple of years ago two districts of Bengal were flushed with over production of rice but it was found that the variety produced were of locally demanded and had no demand in the urban or other parts of the world. Professional study of product demand and production planning has to be available to farmers. This will only be possible where private sectors come in for marketing.
CUSTOMISED & STATE OF THE ART STORAGE FACILITY
Facilities for customised cold storage and pack houses need to be put up district wise depending on the type of products being grown. Each vegetable and fruit has its own technical needs for preservation so a generalised cold storage will not serve the purpose. Cleaning and gradation of products is the need of the hour to achieve global standards. In today’s market mix of bad and good quality and size are sold together. A customer doesn’t have the choice to be selective thus don’t pay premium. It’s a myth that if graded then lower quality will remain unsold. There is a market for all quality and prices. West Bengal being one of the highest producers of agricultural and horticultural products has no proper pack houses even till date. Whereas, a state struggling for revenue could help its cause by focussing on this aspect. This is the area where government’s subsidies/sops are badly needed as it would add value to the product and its price. Otherwise the option is to lure the private sector into it. Tax benefits could be introduced as in any case agricultural income is tax free. One of the biggest glaring follies of our system is generating post harvest damage to the tune of over 30%. It’s a national crime that we could not address this loss.
One of the major reasons for our national post harvest damage is because of lack of proper and customised packaging. Unfortunately, where we have grown in leaps and bounds in information, space and other heavy engineering technology our leadership has not had the vision to implement and guide our agricultural sector to modern packaging. Customised packaging would reduce post harvest wastage, create brand and fetch premium for selected products. It also gives an opportunity to provide an identity to the product and its geographical zone. It is to be noted the Britishers had the vision to package an agricultural produce called tea some 200 years ago and it is a premium product which calls the shots and competes as a premium product along with many industrial products. Branding and packaging has given it a GI tag.
The 300 million tons per annum fruits and delicate vegetables badly demands a packaging policy. There have been endless studies by our national institutions like IIM and IIT along with leading global universities on the best possible packaging solutions. But apart from Himachal Pradesh who has created and implemented a packaging policy for their apples no other regions have taken any step whatsoever. The glaring statistics say India is suffering from over 30% post harvest wastage and a major reason being lack of availability of appropriate packaging. The bonus for having a packaging policy is it will open up another industrial activity with a potential to generate an additional employment of over 15 million man days. The other disturbing part on this subject India still continues to use huge quantities of wooden crates which are banned worldwide. It has been established that wooden crates damage horticultural produce more than other means of packaging, it is a source for various bacteria and viruses and lastly but not the least it is contributing hugely to deforestation.
TRANSPORTATION & LOGISTICS
To best describe this issue is to have a look at litchies and its sales. The average recovery by growers was about Rs 15 per kg whereas it sold @ 120/150 in major metropolitan cities. This fruit has a very short shelf life of 5 days and the harvest is less than two months. The requirement is a freight corridor during seasons where daily harvest can be distributed out to the global markets. But most litchi growing areas don’t have an airport within 100 km of harvesting and once they reach the airport there is no assured flight. This is just an example how government can come up with customised transportation solutions for individual products to save wastage, save cost and facilitate the movement of goods to the nearest market at the earliest time. The time has come for a national agricultural App too showing the demand and supply. This segment is another potential for investment and employment and government can use its subsidy budget to shake it up
The welfare of the agricultural sector and employment generation is of primary importance to the country as on date at par with national security. To sum up time has come for the government to focus on post harvest management in its logistics, planning guidance, packaging and bringing in the private sector in its marketing. Endless sops and loans behind non viable projects will result in endless NPA where the national exchequer will keep on bleeding for political gimmicks. The farm sector would do better with empowerment and vision for cure from its woes than temporary nursing. Another recent study should be of concern for the society 76% of new generation from the farming community expressed that they would not like to pursue agriculture as their career. Agriculture sector has to be given status of industry, an honour and a brand so that every student pass out will not rush for an IT white coloured job.
–Achyut Chandra, Member, Banking Sub-Committee, Bharat Chamber of Commerce and Hony. Secretary, Eastern India Corrugated Box Manufacturers’ Association.