Agriculture is a fascinating subject. I certainly did not realise as a modest student at Hindu College in Delhi University where I did an Economics Honours programmes. However, in hindsight it appears I always had an inclination towards the subject - I scored the maximum in my Indian Economy paper! As a journalist I never got an opportunity to explore if I had a proclivity to dive deeper into it. However, as an entrepreneur, I was lucky I am getting ample opportunity to focus on agriculture.
I realised agriculture sector has some fascinating administrators too. One gentleman whom I have closely followed is Mr Mukesh Khullar who passionately drove National Food Security Mission programme as its Mission Director. I have had the privilege of interviewing him for our portal www.IndiAgri.in, which I reproduce below:
Mukesh Khullar, IAS, Principal Secretary, Govt of Maharashtra
Former Mission Director, NFSM, Min of Agriculture
Q. Critical achievements of NFSM?
A. National Food Security Mission has met and even exceeded the domestic consumption requirement of total food grains in the country. Secondly it has been able to widen the food basket from traditional 5 to 6 surplus States to 16 food surplus States in last five years, and thirdly by targeting low productivity districts, strategic crops (pulses) and areas (eastern and rainfed) NFSM has been able to promote inclusive and sustainable production.
Q. What are the 3 critical challenges that NFSM should address in 12th Plan, based on the learning of the 11th Plan?
A. National Food Security Mission will need to target lowest producing areas (blocks) within low productivity districts. Secondly it should address key site specific constraints in conjunction with other interventions, and thirdly it should focus on primary processing in post-harvest management to save grains and improve their marketability.
Q. You have also recommended a revisit in strategy vis a vis the laggard districts and advised a holistic and participatory model. Increasing synergy between different schemes is a novel idea but will it work?
A. There are a number of laggard districts where promoting crop husbandry alone might not work considering area constraints in the form of extreme climatic conditions, poor land development or more attractive alternate land use. With MGNREGS, IWMP, RKVY, NHM, NMMI, NMSA and host of other schemes, NFSM should promote its intervention in conjunction and not in isolation of these schemes. Since CDAPs are already developed, NFSM could assign these tasks to a partner institution which can implement the plan holistically by taking contributions from different schemes. Such partner could include a credible NGO.
Q. The operationalisation of Food Security Bill will mean additional foodgrains. How do you think NFSM can play an important role on this?
A. Total estimated demand for food grains for 12th Plan period has been computed by Planning Commission. NFSM has accordingly been given target to produce additional 25 million tons of food grains by the end of 12th Plan. It is essential now to create adequate buffer to tide over likely fall in production due to wide spread extreme climatic events. Current strategy of broad based production would also ensure sustainability.
Q. We have adopted a structural shift in approach through programmes like NFSM and BGREI. Is it helping?
|Mr Mukesh Khullar, IAS|
A. Sure, production in Eastern India has dramatically increased with significant productivity and production gains in rice based cropping system in all the seven States of Eastern Region. In fact it is heartening to note that the winners of Krishi Karman Awards for 2011-12 were mostly from hitherto under-performing areas.
Q. Integration of technology in agriculture is low - farm mechanization being one example. What policy prescriptions would you like to provide to address this gap, which surely has direct bearing on productivity and farmers prosperity.
A. Improving access to technology is the way to go for ensuring desired level of adoption of farm mechanization especially for resource poor small and marginal farmers. Services model is getting popular among paddy farmers with a number of service providers offering end to end mechanization services.
Q. Ministry of Agriculture has rightly endorsed use of biotechnology in agriculture - and the runaway success of Bt cotton gives us ample reasons to do so. However, today biotech is mired in an intense politicking and policy haze. NGOs are creating panic while silence of agencies including Ministry of Environment and Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) are doing no good to the cause of this technology. What is your view on this?
A. Biotechnology is not just about transgenics. There are other ways in which genetic engineering is being used. For example stress tolerant rice varieties have introgressed specific stress tolerant gene from wild varieties into the desired varieties. Such method does not need any environmental clearance or biosafety safeguards.
Mr Khullar was the Mission Director of National Food Security Mission between July 2011 to July 2013 and did exemplary work. Currently he is the Principal Secretary to the Government of Maharashtra in Tribal Development Department.
The interview can also be read at: http://www.indiagri.in/interview-view.aspx?srno=5
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