Think big on agriculture, says Modi, courts farmers

Gandhinagar, Sep 9 (IANS) Every Indian state should have its own agricultural export policy, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi Monday said, asking the country to think big on the farm front.

Widely tipped to be the BJP's prime ministerial candidate, Modi was addressing thousands of farmers from all over India at the Vibrant Gujarat Global Agricultural Summit here.

The two-day event, which Modi said was the first of its kind in India, saw Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal urge the younger counterpart not to confine himself to Gujarat.

"Why do you confine yourself to Gujarat?" Badal asked in his earlier speech, drawing a roaring round of applause at the packed Mahatma Mandir auditorium.

While Badal called Modi "desh ka mahan neta" (Great national leader), Madhya Pradesh Agriculture Minister Ramkrishna Kusmariya described the Gujarat chief minister as "Bharat ka bhavishya" (India's future).

With the Lok Sabha election only months away, both Modi and Badal took potshots at the central government for not doing enough for the country's farming community.

Modi said he was sad that a set of suggestions he had given to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh years ago to improve the state of agriculture had not been acted on.

He said he had told Manmohan Singh that 500 Indian towns should be picked for solid waste management so that fertilizers thus produced could be given to farmers in the nearby regions.

He said he had decided to implement the scheme in Gujarat by selecting 50 towns.

"India needs to think big on the agriculture export policy," Modi said, speaking extempore in Hindi. "Every state should formulate an agricultural export policy."

Painting a dismal picture of the Indian farm sector today, he said around 2,500 farmers were giving up the profession daily and that 270,000 farmers had committed suicide in the last 20 years due to indebtedness.

Modi said he hoped the Global Agricultural Summit would help farmers learn about latest farm technology as well as progressive practices employed in other countries.

The summit has attracted experts and diplomats from several countries including Denmark, the Netherlands, South Africa, the Maldives, Ireland, Australia, Seychelles, Gambia, Malawi, Madagascar and Bolivia.

In a speech far more critical of the central government, Badal demanded that the Commission for Agriculture Costs and Prices, which decides the minimum support price of foodgrain, be made autonomous.

"This body should be autonomous," he said, as its head Ashok Gulati sat on the dais with Modi and other dignitaries.

"The government should not decide the minimum support price," he added. "This (autonomous) body should have genuine representatives of farmers."

The Punjab chief minister accused the CACP and the central government of not paying farmers enough for their produce.

"Are your decisions right?" he asked, looking towards Gulati. "Do you know how much diesel and other input costs have gone up?

"We are not even consulted regarding the pricing (of foodgrain)."

Badal criticized the central government's suggestion that farmers in Punjab should give up rice cultivation in view of depleting water table.

"It's easy to say 'don't grow paddy'. But when there was a crisis in agriculture, the farmer was told to grow paddy. Now that the farmer is in crisis, should not the government come to his help?

According to Modi, the two-day meet has drawn farmers from 542 districts of India.

(M.R. Narayan Swamy can be contacted at narayan.swamy@ians.in)

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