Experts, farmers’ organisations suggest distribution of other foodgrains through PDS

While discussions on the Public Distribution System in the State has centred around providing rice at Re. 1 per kg to BPL families, experts and farmers’ groups said the government should procure wheat, jowar, ragi and minor millets from farmers and distribute them at ration shops.

They also felt it would benefit farmers if the government buys grains directly from farmers at the district-level.

“This is a golden opportunity for the government to help farmers and the common man,” said Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha leader Veerbhushan Nandagave. “If the government were to replace the word rice with jowar or ragi, it would save the lives of lakhs of farmers. It would also address the issue of malnutrition,” he said. “We have been urging successive governments to include jowar and ragi in the public distribution system. We had recently sent a memorandum to Chief Minister Siddaramaiah to distribute minor millets through ration shops,” he said.

Experts support decentralised procurement and diversification in foodgrains. “Local procurement is a good idea. So is diversification in grain distribution,” said Abdul Aziz, professor emeritus of the Institute of Social and Economic Change. Local procurement makes great economic sense as it reduces the cost of transport and storage. Guarantee of a minimum price by the government would encourage farmers to grow jowar or ragi on larger tracts of land, Prof. Aziz said.

He also argued against diversification for socio-cultural reasons. “The government should not force people who are accustomed to eat a particular grain into switching to other grains,” added Srinivas Kakkilaya, a Mangalore-based physician.

“Successive governments have neglected jowar,” a senior scientist and sorghum breeder with the university of agriculture science, Dharwad, said. “Area under jowar has fallen to 10 lakh hectares from 18 lakh hectares in the last ten years. We have been appealing to the government that this trend can be arrested if they can procure the grain for a minimum of Rs. 15 per kg. Then, more farmers will venture into jowar,” he said.

However, Maruti Manpade, Karnataka Pranta Raitha Sangha president, said though it was a good idea, it would be difficult to implement. “It is easier to procure rice because paddy is grown on large tracts of land and the processing industry is concentrated in a few towns,” he said.

Politics involved

According to him, procurement is a highly politicised process. “The foodgrain merchants lobby will oppose any move that could reduce its profits. Rice millers and traders are already opposing levy collection. If the government were to try to procure jowar or ragi, the traders are bound to create obstacles. They could also create deliberate shortages and push up prices of these grains, Mr. Manpade said.

Harsha Gupta, Commissioner, Food and Civil Supplies, said the government is examining proposals for local procurement and distribution of grains other than rice.

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