Calcutta, Aug. 29: Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today announced that a new agriculture policy — without the controversial clause of contract farming — has been drawn up.
The earlier draft policy — based on recommendations by consultant McKinsey —had sparked off serious differences of opinion within the Left Front, forcing the government into a review.
“The earlier agriculture policy has been overhauled and the new one will be implemented soon. Contract farming will not be mentioned in the revised policy,” the chief minister said.
Bhattacharjee said that in the new document there would not be any change in the government’s land policy.
“Whatever land-farmer relation there was in the 1960s will remain intact. We will not allow any big company to control its own command area in our state. The concept of contract farming was not there in the earlier report, too. It was created by you,” he told reporters at Writers’ Buildings.
He said McKinsey would shortly submit a report on the development of agro-business, in which it would recommend a contract between the farmer and the entrepreneur on the produce of the land.
“These contracts will have nothing to do with contract farming, nor will the land be involved. There will be an agreement between an entrepreneur and the farmer on the crop or produce. It may be pineapple, potato, mango or lichee. The local panchayat and other local bodies would also be involved to ensure that the interest of the farmer is not harmed,” he said. Citing an example, he said sugarcane was being purchased from farmers in Plassey in Murshidabad district to manufacture sugar.
There did not immediately appear to be any difference between what the chief minister announced today and what the previous draft policy contained by way of contract farming. The concept mentioned in the draft policy did not involve land, but only the produce, on which there was to be an agreement between the farmer and the buyer company, which is what Bhattacharjee seemed to be indicating today.
The deviation could, however, lie in the clubbing together of small holdings — a feature of Bengal’s agriculture after land reforms — inherent in the concept of contract farming.
For an arrangement between a company and farmers to work efficiently, the produce needs to be grown across a large area in order to be processed on a commercial scale.
The policy is now likely to skirt this necessity for consolidation of holdings, without which, some experts believe, Bengal cannot draw fresh investments into agriculture.
When the chief minister placed the draft in the Cabinet, the mention of contract farming raised the hackles of smaller Left Front constituents like the Forward Bloc and the CPI.
They had expressed fears that contract farming might eventually lead to a parting of poor peasants from their land, reversing the benefit of reforms carried out by the Left Front in its first years in power.
“We have given them some land and reaped the benefits, electorally. Any change in the structure could spell disaster for the social set-up and the Left vote bank,” a senior Bloc leader said.
At a meeting of the Cabinet core committee to be held shortly, the Bloc leadership will once again voice its objection to contract farming, but will not resist any marketing arrangement between a company and farmers.
Bhattacharjee’s statement suggested that the new policy would provide for only such an arrangement.
Agriculture minister Kamal Guha, of the Bloc, said he would submit a note on agriculture and agriculture marketing on Monday.