Pawar announces mega plans for mechanisation in 12th Plan
Faced with farm labour shortage following the introduction of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar on Wednesday announced mega plans for mechanisation in the 12th Five-Year Plan.
“With the successful implementation of the MGNREGS and other anti-poverty programmes, there is now pressure on the availability of farm labour,” Mr. Pawar told senior journalists at the Economic Editors' Conference here.
“While we are attempting to innovatively utilise the MGNREGS for augmenting activities that will directly add to farm productivity, for compensating scarcity of labour, I am proposing a large programme for agricultural mechanisation during the 12th Plan.”
Complaint by CMs
During his interactions with Chief Ministers he was faced with a general complaint of non-availability of labour, particularly at the time of sowing and harvesting. “So, in that period, we have to see there is availability of labour and if it is not there, we have to find some alternative mechanism,” Mr. Pawar said.
Asked to elaborate the mechanisation plan, he gave the example of a harvester for cane but said if the MGNREGS was linked to agriculture, then it could be a combination of both machine and human work. Mr. Pawar said that despite the vagaries of monsoon, the farm sector achieved a growth rate of 3.2 per cent during the current Plan and was set to record the 4 per cent growth targeted for the next Plan period. Foodgrains production in 2011-12 crop year would surpass the previous year's record of 241.56 million tonnes that included the highest ever output in wheat, pulses, oilseeds and cotton. There were expectations of expansion of the crop area this year and higher rabi output. Kharif paddy production was also slated to be a record.
Ruling out de-control of sugar as it was a “sensitive issue,” Mr. Pawar said the Empowered Group of Ministers would on Thursday look at a policy for overall farm exports, and prices of sugar and onion.
Asked specifically about sugar exports, he said there was scope for export as production was expected to be higher than demand. But he favoured exports in small tranches as India's presence in the international market tended to dip prices. “When we enter [the market] to buy, prices shoot up and we are there to sell, prices dip.”
To a question on suicide by farmers, Mr. Pawar referred to the Prime Minister's Rs.16,000-crore package for four States and said the crisis had eased.
Asked about genetically modified food crops, he said: “We are cautious and assessing the impact on soil, environment, human beings, birds and water. Only if we come to the conclusion that it is safe, will GM food crops be permitted.”