Cheap wheat imports will reverse success of green revolution: M.S. Swaminathan

Agriculture scientist M.S. Swaminathan says presently there is no integrated approach which balance the problems faced by farmers and consumers


On 8 December, the Centre abolished the 10% import duty on wheat in a bid to tame rising prices. Photo: Mint
On 8 December, the Centre abolished the 10% import duty on wheat in a bid to tame rising prices. Photo: Mint

New Delhi: Renowned agriculture scientist and architect of India’s green revolution, M.S. Swaminathan has rapped the Centre for abolishing the import duty on wheat, saying cheap imports will put the clock back on sustaining the wheat revolution.

In a series of tweets on Wednesday, Swaminathan said that “sustaining wheat revolution is important for success of food security and fundamental to safeguarding livelihood security of wheat farmers.”

“Cheap imports cannot be at the expense of domestic farmers,” Swaminathan said over phone from Chennai, adding, “presently there is no integrated approach which balance the problems faced by farmers and consumers.”

On 8 December, the Centre abolished the 10% import duty in a bid to tame rising prices. The move came even as farmers were planting wheat in the ongoing winter or rabi crop season.

ALSO READ: Farmers’ union demands rollback of decision to scrap wheat import duty

Earlier this week, farmer organisations like the north India based Bhartiya Kisan Union demanded reinstating the import duty and raising it to 40%, and said the decision is a “shock to farmers in the middle of the planting season.”

“India’s progress in wheat production in the past was hampered by cheap wheat imported through the PL480 programme of the USA,” Swaminathan said, adding, “farmers are demanding 40% duty to prevent distress sale of locally grown wheat.”

By early 1970s, Swaminathan steered India out of its food aid dependent years by introducing high-yielding wheat varieties. India’s wheat production doubled between 1964 and 1970, from less than 10 million tonnes to over 20 million tonnes, and touched a record 95.8 million tonnes in 2013-14.

“Monsoon and markets are the most important determinants in a farmer’s life. Wheat revolution was possible due to remunerative prices and robust procurement and government support. There is nothing wrong in imports but the policy should be holistic. You need to decide how much to import and at what cost,” Swaminathan said on the duty cut.

ALSO READ: Abolishing wheat import duty raises questions on production estimates

On the issue of farmers selling the pulses crop below government-announced support prices in the past few months, Swaminathan said that “be it oilseeds, pulses or natural rubber, farmers are crying. They are forced to throw away their potato and tomato harvest. The Centre should bring pulses under the Food Security Act as states like Chhattisgarh have done to boost procurement and prices.”

Swaminathan, who turned 91 this year, headed the National Commission on Farmers during 2004-06 which recommended that government announced support prices be calculated at a 50% premium over costs of cultivation. This was also a poll promise from the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party during the 2014 general elections, but despite protests by farmer organisations, the recommendation is yet to be implemented.

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