New Delhi: The spectre of farm distress has finally begun to haunt policymakers and the government is doing everything it can to address the situation, Rajiv Kumar, vice-chairman of central government think tank NITI Aayog, said on Friday.

“We in the NITI Aayog and the government have decided it is finally time we must focus only and only on farmers and farmers’ distress," Kumar said, adding, “that’s a real issue which is beginning to haunt us... and (the issue is) so amazingly complex."

“Thirty-eight per cent of our children are undernourished... and 60 million tonnes of foodgrains are being stocked somewhere while farmers are throwing away their produce (for want of a fair price)... I think it’s just a crying shame," Kumar said at an event organized by the International Food Policy Research Institute in Delhi.

“Despite six decades of agricultural development, we still have a situation like this and it’s time to introspect deeply," Kumar said.

“For the next few years, we have to concentrate on curbing hunger and malnutrition, and make sure that our farmers come up to the same level as their urban counterparts," he added

Kumar’s comments come in the wake of repeated farmer protests, beginning in June last year, following a record harvest and a sharp fall in crop prices.

Farmers in several states are demanding fair prices and loan waivers, even as the central government has set an ambitious target to double farm incomes by 2022.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Kumar said, has entrusted the NITI Aayog with ensuring that minimum support prices are effectively administered and the NITI Aayog is considering three distinct mechanisms. These include schemes on direct procurement by states at support prices, paying farmers the difference between ruling market price and MSP, and a private stockist scheme.

Kumar further said that it is “incumbent on us that we generate jobs outside agriculture and follow China’s path (to allow farmers to move out of agriculture)".

Speaking at the event, director general of the Indian Council of Agriculture Research, Trilochan Mohapatra, said that “farmers cry when they produce less (during a drought) and they also cry when they produce more (following a good harvest)... so when will they get more returns? By increasing MSP?" 

Mohapatra added that at a recent fair organized by the agriculture ministry (Krishi Unnati Mela), a display of the electronic national agriculture market (eNAM) platform showed that all the products was selling below MSP. “This is what we accept and go happily with," Mohapatra said.

Commenting on the price crash in agriculture, NITI Aayog member Ramesh Chand said that “while the current situation is bad for farmers, it may not last long as price movements are often cyclical". The government has responded to the situation by increasing import tariffs (in pulses and edible oils) and making changes in the MSP policy to help farmers, Chand added.

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