Read the full article in The Hindu Business Line by Thiruvanathapuram S Ramakrishnan on 16 July 2020 The writer is a public policy analyst
Last month, the Union government announced a revised minimum support price (MSP) for kharif crops for FY 2020-21. The MSP for the basket of oilseeds, comprising groundnut, sesamum, sunflower, soybean and niger, got an average boost of 8.98 per cent, followed by millets like jowar, bajra, ragi and maize getting an average boost of 4.36 per cent compared to their respective MSP in FY 2019-20. Pulses such as tur, moong and urad got an average boost of 3.48 per cent and paddy got the boost of 3.02 per cent; MSP of wheat remained the same.
Following oilseeds, Millets saw the next maximum boost in the MSP. It is well known that millets are multi-nutrient grains and contain enormous fibre, and hence have a lower glycaemic index than staple foodgrains like rice and wheat. Barring Covid-19, India’s health paradigm has shifted to lifestyle diseases from infectious diseases in the last four decades. With people’s awareness increasing and grains with more fibre and nutrients being consumed to overcome lifestyle diseases, it is also important for the government to encourage farmers to cultivate millets more.
The moot question is why did paddy get the lowest MSP increase of 3.02 per cent, and wheat nothing at all. Up till the Green Revolution in the late 1960s and early the 1970s, India had to import wheat from the US despite being a predominantly agricultural country in terms of GDP at that point of time. Although India achieved self-sufficiency in grains in the 1970s itself, the lingering legacy of shortfall in grains haunted the minds of policy-makers for decades, and rice and wheat cultivation have been promoted incessantly without a thought about the changing food consumption pattern of people. As a result, the stock of grains with the FCI has been about thrice the mandatory quantity needed for any contingency.