People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 23

June 22 , 2008



Planning For Food Security

K N Harilal

KERALA is a state suffering from chronic food shortage. According to latest estimates production of rice within the state accounts for only about 20 percent of its consumption requirements. In fact, the ratio between domestic production and demand has been deteriorating systematically over a long period of time, signifying increasing food dependency of the state.

However, until recently the growing gap between production and demand for food, and the consequent worsening of food self-sufficiency indicators did not surface as a major issue of policy concern in the state. Without fear of exaggeration, it can be stated that Kerala was complacent about food security. But, there were certain obvious reasons for this apparent complacency. The state has certain natural comparative advantage in the production of cash crops such as rubber, coconut, tea, coffee, and spices. The national policy regime that evolved after independence encouraged the state to specialise in the export-oriented cash crops that earned valuable foreign exchange for the country. In other words the role envisaged for the state in the national division of labour was not so much of a food producer as it was of a producer of export oriented cash crops. In return the national government assured food security for the state. As such, food security, not to speak of self-sufficiency in food production, hardly figured in the agenda of development planning in the state. Viewed in this backdrop, the Eleventh Five Year Plan of the state formulated by the new LDF government marks a major break in the history of development thinking and planning in the state. It grants pride of place to the question of food security. An integrated flagship programme for achieving food security, which has several components distributed across various development departments, perhaps is one of the most prominent features of the state's Eleventh Five Year Plan.   

This departure in development thinking, which brought back food production to the central stage of development planning in the sate, was necessitated by the neo-liberal turn in policy making at the national level on the one hand and the sustained critique of the same by the Left parties on the other. In fact, the present food crisis of the county was anticipated well in advance by the critics of the neo-liberal policies. They could also be credited for giving several early warnings in this regard. Unfortunately, the NDA and the UPA governments at the centre were not ready to listen. Instead, they went ahead with their 'project destruction' and brought down almost all important pillars of the country's food security system. First, the central government liberalised tariff as well as non-tariff barriers that insulated domestic production and peasants in India from dumping of cheap food produced in developed countries. Second, in the name of fiscal discipline all forms of subsidies given to the peasants were drastically cut. Third, on the pretext of prudential norms, preferential credit support extended to agriculture was reduced considerably. Fourth, the state withdrew form its commitment to intervene in the market to ensure remunerative prices to the farmers. Fifth, the national food grain stocks were run down. Sixth, the public distribution system was diluted and ruined. It took such drastic measures and many other complementary actions for the central government to destroy the system of food security in the country.

It was in this context that the new government in Kerala decided to have a rethink over its role in the national division of labour. The state cannot anymore rely on the elusive national umbrella of food security. Over the last two decades the state has experienced drastic reduction in area as well as production of paddy. Area under paddy declined from 3.47 lakh ha in 2001 to 2.64 lakh ha in 2007 while the production of rice fell from 7.51 lakh MT to 6.42 lakh MT. More recently the state has also witnessed sharp decline in its cattle population and milk production. However, the deficit situation on the food front did not affect the state much because of the huge stock of food reserves at the centre and the status of the public distribution system was not as bad as it is today.  In the changed policy environment, the state does not enjoy the comfort of large precautionary inventories maintained by the centre. On the contrary, the state is exposed to the risk of drastic and unprecedented cut in its quota for the public distribution system. Contextually the state's rice quota was cut down from its position of 1,13,420 MT in 2007 to 17,000 MT in 2008. The state cannot also hope to procure enough food grains from the national or international market to fill in the increasing gap between domestic production and demand. The general environment of 'shortages' in the food grain markets not only within the country but also in the world as a whole, and the consequent rise in food prices, would make procurement difficult, expensive and unsustainable. The state's strategy, therefore, should be to go for a 'big push' in domestic production of food.

The state's flagship programme on food security assumes special significance in the context of the contemporary food crisis, which is threatening to engulf the whole world. It is now widely feared that the food crisis would not be a short run phenomenon and that in all likelihood it would be a long drawn out affair. Global, national, and regional data on area under food crops, productivity, production, and prices, as well as available studies on the subject, solicit a cautious and long-term approach to the problem. Such unusual crisis situations demand special and innovative initiatives from the part of the government and the society at large. It is time for the state to launch a 'People's Grow more Food Campaign'. The state government is preparing to launch a massive people's campaign for producing more food.

The state food security programme is visualised as a multi-component and multi-agency programme. Its implementation requires coordination and integration of several components of the larger programme earmarked for implementation by various government departments, local governments, and several other institutions. Implementation failures can be overcome by ensuring coordination and integration of components and agencies at the level of farms and farmers by local governments, Krishi Bhavans, and Padsekhara Samitis. The development departments of the state government would make all efforts to orient all the relevant activities to reach out to the farmers, Padsekhara Samitis, Krishi Bhavans and local governments.

Shortage of funds would not be a constraining factor for the food security campaign. In 2008-09 itself nearly Rs 1000 crores could be spent in the state for augmenting food production by various state government departments and local governments. It also includes funds made available under various centrally sponsored programmes such as NREGA and RKVY. Meanwhile the state government would also try to enhance the state's allocation under the national food security mission. It is a matter of grave concern that only Palakkad district in Kerala got chosen for the national food security mission project. The project should be extended to Thrisoor and Alappuzha. Moreover, the allocation for Palakkad should be increased substantially from the present level of just two crores.    

The central objective of the flagship programme on food security is to make paddy production profitable and attractive to the farmers. It will be achieved with the help of a variety of measures such as introduction of group farming methods, recovery of fallow land for paddy cultivation, distribution of soil health cards, improvement of irrigation and water management services, timely and guaranteed supply of certified seeds, provision of interest free credit, strengthening of extension services, promotion of labour-friendly mechanisation programmes, initiation of complementary activities such as cattle rearing, cultivation of pulses, poultry, and fisheries for ensuring supplementary income for farmers and farm labourers and most importantly by  ensuring timely procurement of paddy at remunerative prices.

The state food security project aims to enhance rice production from the base (2005-06) level of 6.3 (Lakh MT) to 9.45 (Lakh MT) in 2011-12. It also targets to increase milk production in the state from 20.63 (Lakh MT) to 35 (Lakh MT) over the same period. Egg production in the state would be doubled from the base level of 1196 (Million Nos.) to 2395 (Million Nos.). The campaign is also expected to retrieve around 30,000 Ha of fallow paddy land back to cultivation. The physical targets set in the plan document would be revised upwards after a mid-term review of progress and potential. Introduction of new centrally sponsored programmes such as NREGA and RKVY can be used to revise the targets upwards and to strengthen the state level campaign to produce more food.

The state government is fully committed to face the challenge of enhancing food production. The state cannot hope to achieve food self-sufficiency in the near future. But, it can increase food production and improve the food security profile of the state significantly. The people's campaign for food production would help the state achieve the above goal and thereby set an example for the rest of the country.