'All this is possible only if my farmer can produce... we must see he gains'
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As Parliament prepares to take up the Food Security Bill, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar speaks to Pranab Dhal Samanta
What are your thoughts on the Food Security Bill?
I was in FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) in Rome. And one figure struck me in their report for this year on the overall heath condition of young children — 71 per cent of children are facing the problem of malnutrition in India. It's a huge issue. How to resolve this? Provide a full meal. And a full meal means not just wheat and rice. You require vegetables, pulses, fruits and edible oil. If you are non-vegetarian, you require egg, meat and fish. Wheat and rice we have, but a lot of the other things are not available. You can see the prices of meat, poultry products and even some of the pulses are on the higher side and that's why young children are unable to get full nutrition in terms of calories. I think this decision on bringing a food security bill will definitely find a solution. Even today the bill is only supposed to give a guarantee for wheat and rice, but the rates of Rs 2 (wheat) and Rs 3 (rice) are even lower than the rates at which they are currently given to the BPL population. So large sections of people facing malnutrition today can save here and spend on vegetables, fruits, pulses, meat and eggs. From that angle, it's a very good decision. And ultimately, if any country cannot provide food security, then what type of administration is it?
So I am for the bill. But there is also the other side. All this is possible only if my farmer is able to produce a substantial quantity of the food. Today we are fortunate. Five or six years ago we had to import, but today India is the largest exporter of rice in the world, the second largest exporter of wheat and sugar. About six years ago we were importing cotton, today India is the second largest exporter of cotton. My export earnings from agricultural produce is about Rs 2,32,000 crore. Things are definitely changing. We have to constantly improve productivity so that the farmer is not disheartened.