AgriMin told to boost food output amid deficit fearsThe parliamentary Agriculture and Water Resources Committee has directed the Ministry of Agricultural Development to take urgent action to increase food production amid worries about growing food insecurity and an alarming import bill.
The parliamentary Agriculture and Water Resources Committee has directed the Ministry of Agricultural Development to take urgent action to increase food production amid worries about growing food insecurity and an alarming import bill.
Paddy output, the major food grain, has dropped for the second consecutive year due to poor rainfall. Wheat production is also expected to fall sharply this fiscal year.
Drought has become a perennial problem in most districts in the Tarai which is known as the country’s food basket.
Although the government had launched a ‘paddy mission’ in 12 Tarai districts to increase output this fiscal year, the scheme failed in the first year of implementation due to inadequate preparation, particularly the
construction of irrigation facilities.
The committee has directed the ministry to allocate funds through this fiscal year’s budget to install 10,000 shallow tube wells in the Tarai districts by mid-July by coordinating with the Irrigation Ministry. It said that the programme should be implemented before farmers start preparations for planting paddy.
“Following the committee’s directives, we have asked our concerned departments and divisions about their unspent budgets. We have decided to prepare a plan after determining the amount of resources available,” said Shankar Sapkota, assistant spokesperson for the Agricultural Ministry. He said that a few shallow tube wells would be installed by this fiscal year, and that the programme would go into full swing from the next fiscal year.
The ministry said that the task of installing deep tube wells would be executed by the Department of Irrigation while the Agricultural and Irrigation ministries would work jointly to sink shallow tube wells. Installing a shallow tube well costs around Rs100,000.
The committee has also directed the Agricultural Ministry to supply sufficient quantities of paddy seeds and chemical fertilizers. It has also instructed the government to set up warehouses in major areas to stock food grain. Meanwhile, the ministry has been told to determine the minimum support prices (MSP) of paddy, wheat, maize and sugarcane before the crops are planted to ensure farmers get value for their produces.
The government should set the MSPs before the planting season begins to prevent illegal paddy exports and encourage farmers, the committee said. The MSP is normally announced during the planting season or a month before harvest to ensure that farmers get reasonable prices for their produce.
The MSP is the price at which the government procures paddy, and it is also the minimum market rate. For instance, if the government fixes the MSP of paddy, it has to buy it from farmers at that price even if the market price is lower. However, if the market price is higher than the MSP, the government will have little to do.
The ministry has been directed to coordinate with the Commerce and Supplies ministries to set up warehouses to stock farm products in case it has to buy them.
According to Sapkota, they have already begun to evaluate the cost of production of sugarcane, and based on this evaluation, the Commerce Ministry will determine the MSP. However, the Commerce Ministry is yet to implement the MSP scheme.
Sapkota said that determining the MSP falls under the jurisdiction of the Commerce and Supply ministries. “We are also working to study the cost of production of other crops so that the MSP can be announced regularly,” Sapkota said.
In 2012, the government had announced that it would fix the minimum price following complaints that middlemen were determining the market rate. The government used to fix the MSP of paddy until 1996-97, but it abandoned
the practice due to inade-quate storage space and infrastructure.
The parliamentary committee has also directed the ministry to draft output-based subsidy programmes from the current input based schemes from the next fiscal year. Likewise, the House panel has asked the government to mandatorily integrate subsidy programmes with insurance, meaning that farmers without insurance will not be able to receive state subsidies.