The Cabinet yesterday announced a minimum support price (MSP) package for the kharif agricultural season, with bajra getting the highest return (83%) over an estimated cost of production. The emphasis on bajra, a coarse cereal, is important in three contexts. Coarse cereals such as bajra and jowar are more aligned to large swathes of India’s agroclimatic zone. Switching to these crops puts less stress on the environment and water tables.
These cereals are nutrient-rich making them ideal to deal with the malnutrition problem. Finally, as the cereals are largely grown in rainfed agricultural regions, a better return will improve the lives of some of the most vulnerable of India’s farmers.
To actualise multiple objectives, the government cannot stop with MSP increases. Procurement, which is geared primarily to rice and wheat, needs to increase for these coarse cereals. These cereals can be used in some of the social welfare programmes which are designed to deal with malnutrition. The drive to enhance demand for these cereals needs to be backed by institutional mechanisms to promote R&D. In absence of productivity increases, MSP-led demand will only fuel inflation in coarse cereals.