Harvesting on track, will ensure food security: Tomar

Harvesting on track, will ensure food security for country: Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar

Narendra Singh Tomar. PTI/File

Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar is at the centre of government efforts to ensure that the farm sector continues to function smoothly during the lockdown. In an interview to Sagar Kulkarni of DH, Tomar spelt out the steps taken by the government to help farmers in these testing times.

Government has taken steps to help farmers during the lockdown period. What is the response to those steps?

Amidst the uncertainty prevailing today, the one activity giving hope is agricultural activity, which is also providing the reassurance of food security. Throughout India, farmers and agriculture labourers are sweating and toiling against all adversities. Their silent efforts, coupled with timely intervention by the central and state governments, have ensured that there is minimal or no disruption to harvesting activities and the continued sowing of summer crops.

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We have reached out to the farmers during the lockdown by releasing Rs 17,876.7 crore to 8.938 crore farmers under the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-KISAN) Scheme. This has happened between March 24 and now. We have also issued 88,234.56 MT of pulses to states for distribution under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PM-GKY).

How much impact will the lockdown have on agriculture growth?

COVID-19 will undoubtedly have a negative impact on economies across the world, including India. However, the response of the department has been very prompt and pro-active. Home ministry exempted agriculture activities from lockdown. As a result, about 70% harvesting of Rabi crops has been completed so far and is likely to be fully achieved by the end of April. This will ensure food security for the country in difficult times.

How do you plan to address the crowding at wholesale markets?

We have launched two modules under the National Agriculture Market (e-NAM) to decongest wholesale markets and to boost the supply chain. Under the FPO module, which Jharkhand has started using, Farmer Producer Organisations can upload farm produce details from collection centres with picture/quality parameters and avail the bidding facility without physically going to the mandi.

Under the Warehouse-based Trading Module, we have integrated e-NAM with e-Negotiable Warehouse Receipt (e-NWR), enabling farmers to sell their produce from WDRA-registered warehouses notified as deemed markets, without physically bringing the produce to the mandi. Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have already implemented this.

There have been complaints of non-availability of farm labour, machines for harvesting Rabi crops?

The government had already exempted the agriculture sector from the lockdown guidelines. To implement the exemptions on the ground level, the ministry has been coordinating with the state governments to iron out the difficulties they face. So, when Kerala raised the problem of shortage of combine harvesters, we asked Tamil Nadu to extend cooperation.

How are harvesting operations going on across the country?

About 70-75% harvesting has been completed. Harvesting is at its peak in Haryana, Punjab, UP and is likely to be completed by the end of April. The excess moisture in the field for unharvested crops may, however, delay harvesting by 2-5 days.

Have you taken any specific steps for farmers of the southern states where pulses, oilseeds and coarse cereals are major crops?

We have approved procurement of pulses and oilseeds under Price Support Scheme (PSS), including tur in Karnataka and Telangana. To ensure remunerative prices to farmers, procurement of chana, masoor and mustard has also been allowed in the states that had not sent proposals for implementation of PSS for these crops. The Centre has also allowed states to decide the start date of procurement of Rabi crops.

The recent spell of rains in some parts of the country have damaged the wheat crop. Has the ministry assessed the losses?

The states reported a varied degree of impact on standing Rabi crops in about 40 lakh hectares. Wheat is a major rabi crop in these states.

However, isolated hailstorms may have impacted some areas. There is no adverse impact on total production of rabi crops, especially wheat. As per second advance estimates, wheat production is estimated at 106.21 million tonnes.

In affected areas, states make an assessment for compensating damage to the affected farmers, if any.

The government has spoken about doorstep procurement of farm produce. Is it feasible?

The procurement of pulses and oilseeds under PSS is done through a three-tier system which includes procurement directly from farmers, though at village-level cooperative societies from its member farmers.

Additionally, the e-NAM platform has been linked with various transport aggregators such as Truck Suvidha, Truck Guru, TransIn Logistics, to help traders find transporters available in their vicinity for faster movement of farm produce to mandi and other locations. We have also launched “Kisan Rath”, a farmer friendly mobile application to help farmers and traders search for transport for agriculture and horticulture produce.

Any specific advice to states to ensure smooth functioning of mandis?

We have issued advisory to state governments and UT administrations to facilitate direct marketing, enabling direct purchase from farmers/FPOs/Cooperatives by limiting regulation under state APMC Acts.

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