Speaking to parliament for the first time since he was elected to power, Modi reiterated his view that no Indian “should go to bed hungry” on account of the runaway retail inflation rate that has been in double digits over the last two years as a result of doggedly consistent price rises for vegetables, fruits and milk.
"We have promised to control inflation. We are determined achieve this target," Modi said. "We will [do this] not only because it is our election promise but we want every poor [Indian] to have access to food. This is the collective responsibility of all of us.”
Modern techniques and technology
Highlighting the importance of bringing greater productivity to India’s hinterland, Modi said farmers need to look at modern agricultural techniques and technologies, especially with farm land shrinking from a rising population.
"There is enough food in the country. What is required is proper management," Modi said. "We are committed to bringing down prices. It is our collective responsibility to ensure nobody sleeps hungry.
"Today the world looks at India for software engineers. But we are yet to come up with a technology that provides real-time data. An agri-rail network should ensure movement of food during lull hours of railways.”
He also advocated the development of agro-based industries by setting up rural enterprises, large-scale storage warehouses, better post-harvest management, more soil testing and bringing “what was in the lab into the fields”.
And by making real-time data on agriculture commodities available, he said the country would be better disposed to tackling localised shortages of food grains.
"Agriculture need to be modernised. We have to take measures to enhance productivity of our land,” Modi said, and called for an Indian "soil health card" in line with what is being done in his home state of Gujarat to help farmers use proper fertilisers and grow only products that are suitable for their land.
The northeastern states and Sikkim were singled out by Modi for their potential to become significant cultivators and exporters of organic products that could cater to growing demand around the world.
On a local level, he urged states to copy policies in Chattisgarh that have led to more effective distribution of food grains in spite of the Maoist insurgency there, while micro-irrigation projects in parts of Tamil Nadu and anti-poverty campaigns in West Bengal were also noted in the prime minister’s speech, which wound up the two-day debate on the presidential address in the Lok Sabha.
And he indicated that the government’s notoriously inefficient Food Corporation of India should be restructured for better management of agricultural produce, with three different entities to be set up for procurement, storage and distribution of food products.
Positive industry reaction
Modi’s words were met with praise by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci), with its president, Sidharth Birla, lauding his “strong message that setting high targets and working vigorously towards achieving those is a collective responsibility”.
“Ficci is delighted to note that the government is considering building real-time data for agro products and modernising Food Corporation of India.
“Ficci’s economic agenda has spelt out the need for such mechanisms to mitigate food inflation and strengthening agro-supply chain. We also welcome [the] Hon’ble Prime Minister’s ideas of transforming [the] northeast region into a global hub for organic cultivation,” said Birla.
Meanwhile, Confederation of Indian Industry president Ajay Shriram expressed hope that the government would now have a focused approach towards easing supply-side issues in agriculture.
”The productivity of most major crops is lower in India compared to most other countries and improvement in agricultural techniques can bring about improvement," he said.
“[Modi’s proposals] will increase supply of food products, make farming more remunerative and have an impact on controlling food inflation.”