The Madhya Pradesh Government has been slow in implementing agricultural reform and there is urgent need to improve the infrastructure to reduce the cost of cultivation. Union Minister of State for Agriculture Kantilal Bhuria spoke to Shubha Jain about issues related to agriculture. Excerpts:
Why is farming no longer profitable and investment is also high?
Farming becomes profitable only when combined with horticulture, fishery, sericulture etc. The Centre provided Rs 60 crore to Madhya Pradesh under the National Horticulture Mission.
We directed the funds here so that gardens could be developed near every field, but the output (in terms of fruit and vegetable produce) has not improved. The input cost depends on infrastructure.
Do you mean that infrastructure support to agriculture in the State is minimal?
Weak infrastructure definitely affects agricultural growth also. Electricity shortage also affects cultivation and farmers have to depend on rains for irrigation. Transportation facilities are also poor here. These reasons mar the agriculture produce and thus the timely supply of products to the Mandis.
Despite good soil quality and favourable climatic conditions why does Madhya Pradesh lag in export?
Soyabean produced here is exported in different forms. As for other crop such as cotton, wheat and herbs exports would be possible only if the quality is at par with global standards. Majority of farmers in Madhya Pradesh are engaged in traditional farming methods, whereas the present scenario demands advanced techniques.
Why do farmers here not get seed on time?
The Centre provides seed to the State Government on time. The Patwaris, tehsildars and distribution channels belong to the State Government and it would have to rectify the flaws in seed distribution to the farmers. We have suggested that the State organise camps in rural areas and provide seed to farmers. The farmers would also have to be educated about high yielding seed.
But, the farmers do not get proper price for their produce and face storage problems if yield is higher.
We are looking into the storage matter. The government is now open to private companies or individuals who can provide godown or cold storage facility. Sufficient space can be provided to farmers if private sector participates in the venture. I personally recommend contract farming so that the farmers can get a fixed rate for their crop.
Water shortage has worsened the conditions for farmers. What is your take on this matter?
With unpredictable nature of rains, water conservation is the only suitable solution. Administration and public go for immediate relief and therefore find temporary solutions. For instance, even one-metre deep holes in fields were counted as ponds under the Jalabhishek Abhiyan. These holes would become useless once the winter sets in. What is required is permanent conservation methods like check dams and large bodies of water.
Corporate houses like Reliance are now taking interest in agricultural sector in others states. Have they shown any interest in entering Madhya Pradesh?
No discussions are in progress with such corporates and none have shown interest in the State so far. In general this foray would increase the competition in agricultural sector and competition always leads to improvement in products and adaptation of time saving methods. It could revolutionise the farming scenario. The State would have to use scientific and organic farming first to produce crops that would be approved by technicians and research scientists in corporate houses.