The Union government has discovered a cure for agriculture, and much like the solution that the country’s policymakers have come up with for other sectors such as infrastructure, this one involves public-private partnerships (PPPs).
The recommendation to partner with the private sector to market agricultural produce, set up post-harvest facilities and develop wastelands was made by the National Development Council’s (NDC) sub-committee on agriculture and related issues on Wednesday.
The committee is chaired by Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar and includes finance minister P. Chidambaram, Union commerce minister Kamal Nath, along with chief ministers of 11 states and deputy chairman of the Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia.
“It has been recommended by the sub-committee that wasteland development should be in the domain of PPP as also cooperatives on a liberalized long-term lease basis,” said a government official close to the development who did not wish to be identified.
He also said the state governments are expected to formulate a policy for development of wastelands on a PPP model.
Several companies, including Reliance Industries Ltd, have evinced keen interest in Jatropha (the plant’s seeds yield biofuel) cultivation, ideally suited for wastelands.
Private firms are already present in the agriculture sector through the contract farming route. To ensure that more companies enter the sector, recommendations made by the committee include one about the creation of a dispute redressal mechanism for contract farming.
“The working group on marketing reforms, contract farming and agro-processing, has recommended setting up of a quasi-judicial quick dispute resolution mechanism to settle disputes between the sponsoring companies and the farmers under contract farming arrangements,” said the official.
“All these recommendations will be put up before the National Development Council when it meets in two to four week’s time and then a final view will be taken,” said another government official close to the development, who did not wish to be identified.
Other recommendations of the sub-committee include scaling up public investments by states to curb regional imbalance, speedy completion of ongoing irrigation projects under the accelerated irrigation benefit programme, enhancing the usage of water efficiently and developing a coordination mechanism by states to avail guidance from National Rainfed Area Authority, a government body looking at all dimensions of managing water resources in rainfed areas.
The decision to set up this sub-committee was taken in the NDC meeting in June 2005. The idea was to draw up an action plan for agriculture and areas relevant to it.
NDC formed six working groups to prepare specific reports on agro-climatic zones, marketing and contract farming, irrigation and minor irrigation, animal husbandry and credit and risk management.