Brazil has two ministries for agriculture. While one handles big agricultural enterprises, the other, namely the Ministry of Agrarian Development, deals with family farmers. The second is equivalent to India’s rural development ministry, even as the latter shies away from talking about the problems faced by farmers — the main beneficiaries of its programmes.
The rural development ministry seldom pays attention when farmers in India kill themselves or face the problem of surplus produce. The reason: it’s not a part of their mandate. Hence, it does not shape its programmes to suit the needs of small farmers, except recently, when the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act introduced jobs such as the creation of sheds for cattle and poultry within its ambit. Even as it does create a list of those below the poverty line, it does not identify them as farmers.
Farmers are the exclusive domain of the agriculture ministry, even though its main job is to draw policies for agricultural growth. It is the food ministry that handles foodgrain procurement. But, farmers as a constituency are left out of the purview of both the ministries.
At a recent conference in Delhi, speakers from Brazil and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) expressed surprise at the rural development ministry’s failure to address the issues of farmers.
There is no comparison between Brazil and India, mainly because the former is mostly urbanised whereas rural India and its farm-based livelihoods still exist and can become pathways to prosperity with the right inputs.
Brazil, under one of the components of its Bolsa Familia scheme called PAA, provides for local procurement from farming households, as also local consumption in school feeding programmes. It channelises some of this produce to the ‘popular restaurants’ for the poor, which it recently opened in its vastly urbanised milieu and which offer nutritious meals at about Rs 25.
Radhika Lal, deputy director at UNDP in Brazil , says procurement options are available to family farmers not just for cereals but even milk and vegetables. Unlike the procurement done for the public distribution system in India, the Brazilian system procures what is typical to the region and supplies these to local schools, besides ‘popular restaurants’.
Almost 30 per cent of food for school feeding programmes comes from farmer families, she says, adding India should also focus on what it can do for farmers in their own land.
Brazil’s combination of traditional supply-side policies such as credit and insurance with creating demand-side stimuli through integration of local communities into market-driven processes is a good recipe for productive inclusion, she says.
India procures grain in some places and declares minimum support price for few commodities, excluding a large number of items.
The farmers do not get any cash benefit and if there is a surplus, they are left to fend for themselves.
India suffers from a recklessness which comes from a problem of plenty. It has plenty of farmland, plenty of people who care to spend time tending to crops round the year, and plenty of food grown across the country. It has 120 million farming families, 80 per cent of which are small and marginal and work in their own small farms. The country has a net sown area of 142 million hectares and grows 250 million tonnes of food grain, excluding oil seeds and cash crops such as sugarcane and tea.
Through a farming census conducted a decade ago, Brazil’s Ministry of Agrarian Development found there were 4,139,369 farming families taking up an area of 107.8 million hectares. It was then that they started their farmer credit, procurement and market-linkage programmes. India, on its part, is waking up to market linkage through its Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana. The other strategy is to prompt at least 40 per cent of farmers to quit farming and do something else.