The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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CM gets his way with farm policy

Calcutta, March 6: Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s government today unveiled its agriculture policy draft, avoiding the controversial expression “contract farming”, but opening the door for corporate role in what it calls “agro-based industry”.

“We will have to shift from agriculture to agro-based industry,” Bhattacharjee said after the Cabinet approved the policy, the fourth in less than a year.

Several large companies like Pepsi, Hindustan Lever and ITC are in talks with the government on agri-business, he said.

Corporate entry would obviously mean an interface with farmers who will be sellers to any company that engages in agro-based business. Such a relationship can be sustained only if there is an agreement between the farmer and the company on purchase of the produce.

Consultancy firm McKinsey, which had been asked by the government to offer the outline of a policy, had suggested such a relationship, but it had come to be interpreted as “contract farming”. In that term, some Left parties had smelt the devil who would eventually either grab the farmers’ land or come to exert control.

As a result, the policy could not be adopted even after three drafts.

Agriculture minister Kamal Guha, a strong opponent of “contract farming”, appeared to have fallen in line as he said the government would act as the monitor in the event of a collaborative agreement between a farmer and a company on marketing of produce.

“We have nothing against an agreement where a farmer sells a pre-determined produce at a pre-determined price to a pre-determined company. We will, however, keep an enabling cause to move into the picture if we find that the agreement is hampering the interests of the state,” Guha said.

Having got his way with the allies, the chief minister allayed their apprehensions. “We will not allow ourselves to be trapped by multinationals. We will not allow any change in the character or ownership of cultivable land,” he said.

Bhattacharjee took pains to emphasise that the policy had nothing to do with McKinsey’s recommendations. It speaks of crop diversification, farmers’ co-operatives, irrigation, seed production, cold storages and fisheries, animal husbandry, horticulture and floriculture.

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