By building up rice and wheat stocks more than needed for the PDS system, the government has long been distorting the market for these products besides adding to its food subsidy burden. But there are over a dozen farm items for which MSPs are religiously announced, however, procurement is very little or non-existent.
In case of these commodities, while MSPs don’t really come to the help of farmers, these prices tend to stoke inflation when market prices are lower as farmers hold on to the stocks anticipating a price rise. Either way, the MSP system is market distorting and inflationary with no commensurate benefit to farmers.
Although the government announces MSPs for 23 agricultural commodities annually, the procurement agencies, Food Corporation of India (FCI), National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India (Nafed), Small Farmers’ Agri Business (SFAC) and the Cotton Corporation of India (CCI), procure only a handful of commodities, rice & wheat, oilseeds, pulses, copra and cotton from farmers leaving most of the other commodities virtually out of the purview of MSPs.
While the FCI purchases large amounts of rice and wheat, the other agencies buy only small quantities of pulses, oilseeds including copra and cotton. Most of the items are hardly purchased.
FCI’s mandate is to procure grain which would meet the government’s requirement for the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) and ensure enough buffer stocks. In practice, FCI purchases at MSP even as market prices are more, as building buffer stocks rather than price support to the farmer is practically its objective. At the same time, NAFED, SFAC and CCI intervene in the market only when prices fall below the MSP in case of most commodities. Their operations are location-specific and limited.
“MSP should only be for wheat and rice, if those are the priority staple crops. The system of effective procurement does not exist even for these across all states. MSPs for other crops are notional and can be done away with over two-three years without any adverse impact,” Ashok Gulati, chair professor (agriculture), ICRIER and former chairman Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP), said.
Besides, due to the acute crisis being faced by NAFED because of its failed ‘tie-up business’, the federation’s capacity to independently procure agricultural commodities from farmers has virtually stopped.
“We carry out only Price Support Schemes on behalf of the government for oilseeds, pulses and corpra but