President hopeful of early passage of Food Bill

President hopeful of early passage of Food Bill New Delhi: President Pranab Mukherjee on Friday said food deprivation should not be allowed to continue in India and was hopeful of early passage of the proposed Food Bill.

Mukherjee expressed concern over declining growth in the farm sector but felt confident that agriculture will soon return to higher growth path.

He also emphasised on doubling food production to meet rising demand and called for ushering of second Green Revolution, which should be more widespread.

"Food deprivation cannot be allowed to continue. Steps are required to secure for the poor and the needy greater access to food," Mukherjee said, addressing a conference on 'Doubling foodgrains production in 12th Plan period' organised by industry body Crop Care Federation of India (CCFI).

"We have relied on a rights-based method and empowered our citizens with legal entitlements. The landmark Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act of 2005 is one such example. I am hopeful of the proposed legislation for provision of food security to our people becoming a reality soon," he said.

UPA government's ambitious Food bill, introduced in Parliament in December 2011, aims to provide legal right on subsidised foodgrains to 67 percent of the population. A Parliamentary panel has recommended drastic changes in it and the same is being studied by the Food Ministry for policy formulation.

Stating that farm sector deserves high priority in the policy making, Mukherjee said it would be a test to double foodgrains production in the next five years. He noted there would be several benefits if the country is able to achieve quantum jump in food output.

"In the context of the current production levels, doubling food production in next five years will be a test of our capacity to successfully employ all possible growth- inducing measures," he said, but added that this task wan "imperative" and cannot be "ignored."

With rising population, Mukherjee said the challenge before the government was not only to ensure that the "indicators of food security do not deteriorate but instead show improvement."

Although the farm sector has lagged behind the other sectors of the economy, but the potential of agri-sector for rural rejuvenation cannot be undermined in a country with one-third of its rural population below poverty line, he said.

Some studies have indicated that a one percent growth in agriculture is 2-3 times more effective in reducing poverty than a one percentage growth in non-farm sectors, he added.

Noting that deceleration in farm sector is reflective of the challenging economic scenario, Mukherjee said, "But I am confident of this situation being reversed quickly".

Farm sector growth has declined from 7 percent in 2010-11 to 2.8 percent in 2011-12 and further to 2.1 percent in the first half of the current fiscal. The government has targeted achieving 4 percent agriculture growth during the 12th Five Year Plan (2012-17).

The rise in food production during the plan period has to be relied primarily on productivity gains, Mukherjee said.

For raising crop yields, the President suggested crop diversification, improvement in seed replacement rate, adoption of high yielding hybrid seeds and improvement in water management practises.

He also recommended greater use of satellite communication for weather forecasting, strengthening of farm insurance and propagation of balanced use of fertilisers.

On benefits of higher farm growth, Mukherjee said, "Quantum jump in food production will have several positive spin-offs. It will drive investment in infrastructure for storage, processing, transportation and packaging."

It also will create jobs in rural sector and reduce migration, Mukherjee added.

PTI