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How I Believe Changes In Procurement And Storage Can Help Resolve Farmer Crisis

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Editor’s Note: This is the second article in ‘Farmer’s Lament’, a series of three articles on the agriculture sector in India.

Soon after India’s Independence in 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru said: “everything else can wait, but not agriculture.” His focus on developing the agriculture sector was built as much on recent disasters owing to mismanagement and scarcity of food resources, such as before and during the Bengal Famine of 1942-43, as it was on his conception of a comprehensive model of development for the country. However, a convenient way to follow Nehru has been by the use of quick-fix solutions, such as loan waivers and increase in Minimum Support Price for agricultural products. But the question is: is this the best way to resolve the problems that beset the farmers of India?

Not quite.

One of the most widely followed practice by governments is to make the Minimum Support Price (MSP) `fair’ for the farmers. The Union government constituted National Commission on Farmers (NCF) in 2004, which was headed MS Swaminathan. The NCF’s recommendations on the MSP are taken as reference points today when discussing this topic. The Commission’s recommendations were along these lines:

The Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP), gives three definitions of production costs: A2, A2+FL and C2.

A2 costs – It basically cover all paid-out expenses, both in cash and in kind, incurred by farmers on seeds, fertilisers, chemicals, hired labour, fuel, irrigation, etc.

A2+FL costs – It cover actual paid-out costs plus an imputed value of unpaid family labour.

C2 costs – These costs are more comprehensive, accounting for the rentals and interest forgone on owned land and fixed capital assets respectively, on top of A2+FL.

The MS Swaminathan Committee report had recommended a minimum support price of 50% profits above the cost of production classified as ‘C2’ by the CACP.

Increasing the MSP most directly helps the farmer. It is a good initiative and has helped a lot of farmers, but this is not enough. Increasing MSPs may look good most on manifestos for elections but for truly addressing the problems in the agriculture sector, one needs to have a more comprehensive approach, which includes a big emphasis on procurement and storage. Aided by a good monsoon season, India may have produced record food grain this time but the lack of storage is not going to help. Recently it came to the fore that the government of India has not been fully paying the Food Corporation of India (FCI) the cost to run the massive food-grain procurement, storage and distribution network, and that it owes FCI an amount of Rs 20,00,00,00,00,000, due to non-payment of dues for three years now!

To maintain the food procurement, distribution and supply, the Food Corporation of India (FCI) has been borrowing money from government’s National Small Saving Fund (NSSF). In 2016-17, FCI borrowed Rs 6,60,00,00,00,000 from NSSF at an interest of 8.8% as an emergency fund raising. Even though the godowns of FCI are brimming with grains after the bumper season, past instances of rotting stacks of food-grains in FCI godowns might become more frequent with such a huge foodgrain harvest. Without funds, how is the FCI supposed to maintain stocks? This has been a problem not only of this government but many governments before. As the government has increased the Minimum Support Price (MSP) of foodgrains, it is expected to increase procurement as well. And this is where the lack of fund could impact the most.

Availability of wheat is more than rice and with the kharif season around the corner, the government needs to start thinking of what to do with the wheat (which is not exported usually, due to global low prices of wheat) before the rice stock comes in. These are just some nuances of a fairly chronic problem. In West Bengal, under the Trinamool Congress (TMC), the collapse of the state procurement infrastructure has led to widespread distress among farmers and even farmer suicides.

Being a follower of certain Dharmic followers that advocate balance in one’s pursuits, I would suggest that the solution for this problem lies in the use of both. The government can only enact innovative schemes like the ‘limited procurement scheme’, where the government would procure excess farm produce and leave rest to be cleared at market price, if it has enough silos and storage for keeping this excess. At the end of the day, it all boils down to that. Minimum Support Prices are important but have to be supplemented by the increase in infrastructure, silage and procurement rates. You may ask how that is possible with the limited funds that the government has. Yes, the government has limited funds but if utilized properly they can still go a long way in resolving this. I would suggest that each village must have atleast one silo/storage facility and the MLAs or MPs of that area can contribute to this. But would that be enough?

Maybe not.

There are serious financial crunches in various sections of the value chain. To address this, I would like to put forward a proposal that may invite a lot of debate and even criticism but which I feel is the only way to address the dismal state of this in a fairly quick, quality-assured and sustainable way: put a major portion of silage, procurement and storage in the hands of private-sector entities. I will be discussing this along with the increased presence of agripreneurship in my third article. The government should handle certain key areas including a basic regulation and auditing of private sector involvement but not necessarily keep with it areas that it can source to private players and get the job done. The reason for advocating this is three-fold: more flexibility and freedom of negotiating of private-sector entities, albeit within the bounds of the law, which can help them tackle various kinds of problems on the trot; the second is more freedom to experiment and to adapt new techniques in a quicker way without excessive red-tapism; and lastly, the constant competition mode after a fixed time period in public-sector entities does not allow long-term relationships between procurers and suppliers while that is not a problem with private sector players, which leads to long, sustainable bonds and stable market chains.

I would like to conclude by quoting one of the biggest names of American history Thomas Jefferson:

“Agriculture, manufactures, commerce and navigation, the four pillars of our prosperity, are the most thriving when left most free to individual enterprise.”

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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