Plan to plug logistics gaps in tomato, onion, potato

Bumper harvests tend to drive down prices of crops that are not covered by minimum support price (MSP), prompting farmers to dump crops or sell them at a loss. (PTI)
Bumper harvests tend to drive down prices of crops that are not covered by minimum support price (MSP), prompting farmers to dump crops or sell them at a loss. (PTI)

Summary

  • The government has formed a committee under the agriculture ministry to examine the matter and draft a plan to implement the TOP scheme effectively

NEW DELHI : Tomato, onion and potato (TOP) farmers battling frequent price crashes may have relief at hand, with the Centre working on a pilot scheme to remove logistics bottlenecks in these crucial perishable crops. The pilot will be conducted under the agriculture ministry’s market intervention scheme (MIS), two officials aware of the plan said.

India’s Operation Greens project supports hiring of storage facilities and provides a 50% upfront subsidy to farmers on freight for TOP crops, supported by the ministry of food processing industries.

According to one of the two officials, storage has not been an issue thanks to the food processing ministry’s mega food park scheme; however, transport subsidy hasn’t worked out well, since there are no cooperatives or nodal agencies to purchase the crops, transport them and sell them at another place when prices crash, the official said on the condition of anonymity.

“At present, unlike PSS (price support scheme) and PSF (price stabilisation fund), proposals (for making market interventions) have to come from state governments and farmer bodies, which rarely happens," the official said.

The government has formed a committee under the agriculture ministry to examine the matter and draft a plan to implement the TOP scheme effectively, the second official said. “One meeting has already taken place and the findings are yet to come. Based on the committee’s recommendations, the matter will be taken forward," the official said on the condition of anonymity.

Bumper harvests tend to drive down prices of crops that are not covered by minimum support price (MSP), prompting farmers to dump crops or sell them at a loss. Under the Union agriculture ministry’s MIS, government agencies purchase such crops to prevent distress sales. The National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India Ltd (Nafed) and the National Cooperative Consumers’ Federation of India Ltd (NCCF) are two of the government agencies usually engaged in crop procurement and sales.

As prices of tomato and onions shot up earlier this year, the government purchased them from regions where they were cheaper and sold them at concessional rates in places where they were costlier, to cool prices.

The government currently procures cereals, pulses and oilseeds at the government-announced MSP; however, there is no concept of government procurement at MSP for vegetables. Expenses for the MIS operation are equally shared by the agriculture ministry and the state government.

Mint reported on 25 July that the agriculture ministry was in talks with the food processing industries ministry to take over a scheme aimed at the integrated development of the TOP value chain. The TOP scheme is part of Operation Greens, announced for these three crops in the Union Budget 2018-19 with an outlay of 500 crore, which was enlarged to 22 perishable crops, including fruits, in the Union Budget 2021-22.

Queries sent to the ministry of agriculture and farmers’ welfare and the ministry of food processing industries remained unanswered till press time.

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