Sunday, September 12, 2010

New Food Rules - a right-to-food programme in Chhattisgarh

The Chattisgarh food security model is indeed a flagship model and should definitely be replicated in each state of our country. Local production, local procurement and local distribution. It is so refreshing to read that saving seeds for the next season, a time tested technique is being revived. Farmers can feel the respite from the debt syndrome caused by the hounds the seed corporations. If the State government's were to buy locally what the farmers grows at a competitive price with the rest being retained by farmers as seeds or for self-consumption” not difficult, is it?

Concerted efforts by States can make this into a replicable viable model, if only corruption was brought well under control. Millions then could be saved from going to bed hungry or prevented from dying of starvation.

2nd September, Economic Times page 10.
New Food Rules
How will the proposed National Food Security Act impact livelihoods, cropping patterns and productivity? Chhattisgarh, which has been running a right-to-food progr
amme for four years now, throws up some interesting answers, reports M Rajshekhar

IN ITS HEYDAY, KHOSLA MUST HAVE been a beautiful village, with fields as far as the eye can see and a pond around which its houses arrange themselves. Today, though, the houses are ageing, the pond is algaeflecked and the streets a mess after the rains. In one of those ageing houses, Ram Prasad Kurmi, a former sarpanch of the block in Chhattisgarh’s Janjgir-Champa district of which Khosla is a part, talks about another kind of change.
“In the old days, whenever the MP, MLA or local babus came to the village, people unloaded grievances on them —dissatisfaction with the ration shop, non-delivery of pension, missing doctors and teachers,” he says. “Today, they only ask for a second ration card.” Such a difference a ration card makes to the lives of the poor in Chhattisgarh.
For four years now, Chhattisgarh has been giving 35 kg of grain — comprising rice and wheat — a month at heavily subsidised rates to 3.6 million of its 4.4 million households. The ultra-poor pay Re 1 per kg, while the poor pay 2 per kg, against the market price of 12-17 a kg. The ration card is the document that enables this subsidised transfer.
This transfer of grain has come to mean many things to many people. It’s a stamp of food security. It’s a passport for choices they didn’t have earlier: to work on the fields or in industry, to grow subsistence crops or cash crops, to consume their produce or sell it in the market.
Chhattisgarh wasn’t the first state to roll out a near-universal food-security programme. Tamil Nadu was, in the nineties. However, Tamil Nadu is not a large producer of paddy, from which rice is derived; Chhattisgarh is. Hence, Tamil Nadu’s farmers could never be touched by the programme the way Chhattisgarh’s farmers are. Chhattisgarh not only diminishes the fear of hunger that sits at the heart of the livelihood strategy of the poor, it also assures farmers of a market for their produce.
The Chhattisgarh programme has come to impact the lives of everyone involved: the labourer, the small farmer, the large farmer, the middleman, the mandis and the government. Food security is just the starting point in Chhattisgarh. The myriad ways in which such a welfare programme touches lives and other aspects of the economy have shaped — and accelerated — several ongoing trends. These might well be replicated, in varying degrees, as and when the Centre rolls out a national food programme on similar lines.
There’s a drop in starvation numbers
A food-security programme is also a cashtransfer scheme. At the current price of
grain of 12-17 per kg, it would cost a Chhattisgarhi household 420-595 to buy 35 kg of grain from the market. Through the scheme, they pay 70. That’s a saving of
350-525 a month.
The scheme has created a safety net for the poor, says Yasna Singh, a PhD student at the London School of Economics, who recently finished her field work on the Satnami community in Meu village of Janjgir-Champa. “People are now eating two meals a day, which is a new experience for many of them.” Adds local right-to-food activist Vibhishan Patrey: “We don’t hear about starvation deaths anymore.”
Nutrition levels have improved, but only marginally. While the programme has protected people from a rise in prices of rice and wheat, it hasn’t insulated them from the price escalation in pulses and oilseeds. Says Samir Garg, advisor (Chhattisgarh) to the commissioners of the Supreme Court (food security): “My guess is we are stagnant on the nutrition front, the gains from the food security programme counter-balanced by inflation.”
The labourer is getting empowered…
For labourers, things are getting better, relatively speaking. Historically, labourers have worked in the fields for subsistence. Instead of money, they would take home grains. But with the public distribution system (PDS) assuring a minimum supply of grains, they would rather work for money than for food, which they can use to buy other staples or anything else. “In that sense, it confers freedom from village labour,” says J Jeyaranjan, director, Institute for Development Alternatives.
Reetika Khera, a development economist, says the agrarian economy across India is monetising. “There is a greater need for money and greater supply of it,” she says. This process has been accelerated by inflation. “Earlier, we could buy vegetables for one kg of paddy,” says Shiela Tandon, a resident of Meu. “Not anymore.”
In Tamil Nadu, the food-security programme accelerated a move towards work for money. Says Mr Jeyaranjan: “Agriculture, which was giving the household food and money, had to compete with other activities that provide only money.” In Chhattisgarh, labourers go to work in brick kilns and mines. Or, they migrate.
Says Sunil Kumar, the editor of Dainik Chhattisgarh, a Raipur-based daily: “Migration from the Janjgir-Champa district continues unabated.” A big reason for the continuing exodus is the lack of alternative employment opportunities in the village. In Chhattisgarh, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) is corrupt and doesn’t inspire confidence among villagers — either in terms of providing work or paying on time. And so, it seems the pressure for landless labourers to migrate has not been reduced by greater food security at home.
…at the expense of the
small farmer
Labourers working less or migrating puts farmers, who depend on local and cheap labour, in a bind. Bharat Lal Sahu, a large farmer in Meu, says the scheme is making workers lazier. “Where I need 10 labourers, I get just two or three. And even they ask for 100 a day, against the 50 earlier.”
Labourers in Chhattisgarh, empowered by the all-around changes brought on by the food-security programme, now prefer to work for large farmers, for 120-130 a day. They are organising themselves for better bargaining power. In the Bastar block, they increasingly move around — and negotiate contracts — in groups. For instance, to transplant paddy in a farmer’s field over 10 days, in return for a consolidated sum.
More than the large farmer, it’s the small farmer who is being squeezed by these realignments. Take Kulu Ram Dewani, a farmer
with four other family members. A resident of Bastar block, he has one acre of land, on which he grows paddy.
On the one hand, his 35 kg entitlement lasts 15 days. So, he doesn’t dare sell most of his harvest. That means he doesn’t have much cash income. But his labour wants to be paid in cash. “I can’t compete against large farmers,” he says. “I can neither offer them (labourers) work for a large number of days nor accommodate so many people. And all I can pay is 50-60 a day.” But, in the new dispensation, that is not the ‘market rate’.
This experience might be different for farmers who rent land from larger farmers and give them part of the harvest, says PS Vijaya Shankar, co-founder of grassroots organisation Samaj Pragati Sahayog. “Mostly, the terms of contract are loaded heavily in favour of the landlord. If minimum assured consumption is provided through PDS, the share-cropper will have a greater incentive to cultivate cash crops.” They could take on higher risks and try their hand at earning more.
Paddy is becoming a commercial crop
Paddy, from which rice is derived, is big in Chhattisgarh. About 63% of its arable land is under paddy, which has historically been a subsistence crop. Of the paddy they grew, farmers would first think of seeds for next year, for self-consumption and for paying the farm labour. The surplus, if any, would be sold in the market. This is changing.
Now, the PDS gives them 35 kg of grain every month at a maximum of 2 per kg. For a five-member household, this will last about 15 days. What farming households are doing is retaining just enough from their harvest to make up the shortfall and selling the rest.
There’s also incentive for them to sell in the market. The minimum price Chhattisgarh pays for paddy has increased from 775 a quintal in 2007 to 1,080 in 2010. Further, the state government has committed to buying every kg of paddy put into the market by farmers. Explains Rajeev Jaiswal, joint director, Chhattisgarh’s food and civil supplies department: “We cannot cap procurement at 1.6 million tonnes (what the state needs to feed its PDS) because large farmers would find a way to sell their produce first. This would exclude the small farmer.”
However, acreage and production numbers, as put out by the state’s department of agriculture, indicate the farmer in Chhattisgarh is not shifting from other crops to paddy. In 2006-07, when the state started giving 35 kg of grain, its area under paddy was 3.8 million hectares. In 2009-10, this dropped to 3.5 million hectares. “Land under paddy has peaked,” says Jaiswal. “We will now see a move towards other crops.” Similarly, rice production has dropped marginally from 5 million tonnes to 4.95 million tonnes. But this is also a function of rainfall — just 30% of the cultivable land in Chhattisgarh is irrigated.
Other numbers, less hostage to environmental factors, suggest a pick up in commercial farming, led by paddy. Farmers are looking at agriculture differently. The offtake of seeds has increased from 128,000 quintals in 2006-07 to 319,000 quintals in 2008-09. Says Umashankar Banjare, a rural extension worker in the Pamgarh block: “In the past two to three years, established seeds like swarnadhaara (a high-yielding paddy variety) have been replaced by even higheryielding varieties.”
This trend is corroborated by RK Chandravanshi, deputy agriculture director, Department of Agriculture, Chhattisgarh, who says the area under high-yielding varieties climbed from 52% in 2004 to 62% in 2009. Similarly, agricultural credit has increased from 457 crore in 2006-07 to 931 crore in 2009-10.
While it wouldn’t be accurate to attribute these changes entirely to the food-security scheme, it’s likely that the arrival of the food-security scheme has accelerated these trends. It has given farmers the confidence that the government will buy all that they grow, thus improving their willingness to invest in the crop.
It’s possible that the availability of cheap food from the PDS could persuade medium and large farmers to diversify into cash crops. But, says Shankar: “Punjab shows that government procurement of rice and wheat is associated with a disappearance of all other crops and end of crop diversity.”
The grain mandis are losing relevance
Ten years ago, Chhattisgarh grew 4 million tonnes of paddy, of which the state government acquired 300,000 tonnes, or 7.5% of the produce. In 2009-10, it grew 7.6 million tonnes; of this, 4.4 million tonnes, or 58%, was procured by the state. Of the rest, says Jaiswal, the state government official: “Only about 500,000 tonnes went to the mandis, the rest being retained by farmers as seeds or for self-consumption.”
Chhattisgarh bypassed its mandis in paddy procurement, instead buying through cooperative societies and procurement centres at the village level. The mandis, though, are unaffected, as the societies have to pay a procurement tax, the revenues from which go to the mandis. However, says Rakesh Kumar Sahu, an accountant at the Akaltara Mandi: “Traders, especially those who don’t have milling operations, are being badly affected.”
State energy & funds are poured into this scheme Chhattisgarh has an expenditure budget
of about 25,000 crore, half of which comes from the Centre. From its portion
of 12,000 crore, the state spends about 1,600 crore — or 13.3% — on the foodsecurity scheme. By virtue of becoming the state’s flagship programme, it gets disproportionate attention from administrators. “Collectors start their meetings by asking about the PDS,” says Samir Garg, advisor (Chhattisgarh) to the commissioners of the Supreme Court (food security). “The same level of attention and funding is yet to be given to other welfare programmes.”
In the various forms it is being debated, the proposed national Food Security Act will cost the Central government 80,000-90,000 crore. So far, much of the discourse has centred on who should get the subsidised grains, how much and at what price. Chhattisgarh is throwing up broader issues that also need to be factored into the ongoing discussion.

The Labourer

When we met her, Sanita Kadha was working in a relative’s field. For her efforts that day, she would be paid Rs 60 — a good jump over Rs 20-30 two years ago. Large farmers in this part of Bastar have been shifting from paddy to corn and other cash crops. Between that and NREGS, work is easier to come by. And the food programme helps

The Big Farmer
Ten years ago, Golchand Nayak did something different. On his 25 acres of land in Bastar, he stopped growing paddy. “It was difficult to get labour during the growing season, as most labourers were occupied on their own small tracts,” he says. He now plants tomatoes and cucumbers in November, uses groundwater for irrigation, and farms till the end of August.

The Small Farmer
Unlike Kadha and Nayak, small farmers like Kulu Ram Dewani are struggling. He grows paddy on his one acre of land, but sells none of it. His family’s 35 kg PDS entitlement finishes in 15 days and he needs his harvest. Other things complicate his life. Labour is getting costlier and wants to be paid in cash, but he doesn’t have an income and doesn’t get loans.

State Reaps A Rich Harvest

Since Chhattisgarh began its food programme in 2006, agri-credit has grown at twice the rate it did in the last five-year block. And rice production is expected to see a spike this year.

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