Push for nutri-cereals, export boost — the NITI Aayog tips to tackle foodgrain surplus

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Read full article By Samyak Pandey and Sanya Dhingra @ The Print Photo Credit:BiotechExpressMag

New Delhi: The NITI Aayog has called for a policy response to deal with the growing surplus of agricultural commodities such as rice and wheat in the country, which may lead to an increase in public stockpiles along with downward pressure on prices of those commodities.

Some of the suggestions by the government policy think-tank to prevent stockpiles are diversification of crops, boost in export with focus on food processing, and district-agro-climatic wise farming across the country.

These suggestions were discussed at a governing council meeting of NITI Aayog held on 20 February.

According to documents related to the discussions at the meeting, which have been accessed by ThePrint, the government policy think-tank has called for at least a 20-25 per cent increase in export of foodgrain production in the coming years. This should be over and above the current level.

India’s exports of agri-commodities stood at $28.91 billion from April to December 2020.

The think-tank has also advocated for a major diversification push towards nutri-cereals such as jowar, millets and pulses — thus shifting away from the current massive surplus production in wheat and rice from states like Punjab, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

In 2018, the Ministry of Agriculture had termed millets — which are less water-guzzling and climate-resilient crops that can be cultivated even in dry areas — as a “powerhouse of nutrients”.

The initial phases of crop diversification, as suggested by the think-tank, should start by developing a plan at the district-level first. It said it is better to have a different diversification strategy for different districts to avoid glut and price crashes rather than a state-wise plan.

This would optimise net return to farmers — subject to conditions like lower stress on water use and usage of some natural resources, the documents stated.

The NITI Aayog pointed out that diversification can serve multiple goals such as matching demand and supply, better nutrition and health of the population, promoting efficiency, sustainability and profitability, export and enhance income of producers.

It has also advocated the promotion of allied sectors of agriculture such as horticulture, fisheries and animal husbandry.

The think-tank has also called for a continued push in diversification of areas in which there is already massive growth such as the fisheries sector, which has almost double-digit growth. It also called for promotion of sectors that would sustain high growth, while also promoting food processing and export in it

‘Livestock, fisheries should be promoted’

Experts, however, said crop diversification may not be an “easy” step for farmers, however, it will be beneficial to not just them but also the environment and consumers.

“Shifting cultivation from traditional foodgrain crops such as wheat and rice may not be an easy one, but will be beneficial to all farmers, environment and consumers,” Arabinda K. Padhee, country director of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), told ThePrint.

“Crops like millets are cheap for farmers to grow as they require less water and chemical input, which makes them suitable also for the environment. Moreover, these crops provide more macro and micronutrients than the conventional ones to the consumers, which are direly needed as (according to) the recent NFHS-5 (National Family Health Survey) data, condition of a few states have worsened in nutritional aspects.”

ICRISAT is an international organisation, which conducts agricultural research for rural development.

“Livestock, fisheries and other allied sectors should be promoted as not only have they pushed the agriculture GDP, but have also contributed to increasing the economic status of farmers,” added Padhee.

Posted on

March 22, 2021

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