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Will Modi come out of the Manmohanomics shadow to bail out our farmers?
In America, Narendra Modi requested the Cola companies to add at least 5% fruit juice in the cola being made in India. He opined that it would help the fruit farmers of India. Even if the cola companies respond favourably to the PM's request, it won't make any big impact because fruits needed to make 5% juice in the Indian made cola are just a speck in the ocean of Indian made fruits.

Some of the actions of the central government and the good intentions of the PM are at variance. Our bureaucracy and scientific establishment perhaps continue their old ways despite the change of political masters in Delhi.

The food processing is primarily to ensure that the food industry focuses more on sourcing local farm produce in processing and in the process reducing food wastage. But what is the reality? 

Most of the big brands of tomato ketchup and tomato puree are using imported paste and pulp from China. This is happening at a time when farmers are repeatedly being forced to throw tomatoes onto the streets for want of buyers. This year too, when food inflation was at its peak, reports of dumping of tomatoes by farmers had poured in from several parts of the country, including Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

With tomato prices crashing to Rs 2 (and at several places to Re 1 per kg) farmers had no choice but to feed it to cattle or to throw it away. But the tomato processing industry was merrily importing tomato paste and pulp mainly from China. While politicians, TV commentators, editorial writers stressed on the need to strengthen food processing, not many know that the existing tomato processing industry was relying heavily on cheaper import of pulp and paste. This is not the first year for such imports. Such imports are continuing over the years.

Not many know that the popular brands of tomato ketchup, tomato puree and even tomato juices that we consume at home are made from tomatoes imported from China, Nepal, Italy, USA and the Netherlands. In other words, we are inadvertently helping tomato farmers of the other countries while our own farmers are left to die.

Just in one month, between Aug 28, 2014 and Sept 28, 2014, India imported $ 376,009 worth of dried tomato and tomato products (like paste, pulp and juice concentrate) from China, followed by $ 94,057 worth of imports from Nepal, and $ 44,160 from the Netherlands. A news report in the Economic Times (Oct 20, 2010) quoted Pradeep Chordia, managing director Chordia Food Products Ltd saying: "We can't afford the high local prices so we imported 80 per cent of our requirement of tomato paste from China this year."

Another food processor, Akshay Bector of the Ludhian-based Rs 400-crore Cremica Group said: "There is a cost advantage in buying from China versus India where prices fluctuate." This company supplies to McDonalds, Taj Group, ITC Group, Jet Airways, Indian Airlines, and chains such as Barista, Cafe Coffee Day, Pizza Hut, Domino and Papa John's. Go back a little more, and you find a lot of Indian companies importing tomato paste way back in 2005, and even before. No wonder, tomato farmers in India have been at a great disadvantage for several years now, if not decades.

Should it not be made mandatory by the state for the food processing units to source the raw material that is available in India from domestic sources? This is the only way to develop the back-end infrastructure that will help reduce farm wastage. A minimum support prices should be announced for tomato which should serve as a floor price for the markets.Cement from Pak, Korea etc costs lesser. Will the state import cement from those countries?

Food processing industry will pose a genuine problem. If Indian tomato farmers cannot compete with their Chinese counterparts, how can the Indian food industry compete with the ones from other countries? Japan  imposes 328 per cent import tariffs on sugar ? so as to protect its domestic industry. Why can't India do it?

Opening India to Chinese silk has already ruined our sericulture. In 2005, UPA govt allowed import of cotton with 10% import duty from America. This cotton was produced by American farmers with mind boggling subsidy. No wonder the cotton prices here crashed on arrival of the US cotton. Many a cotton farmers of AP and Maharashtra were forced to end their lives because of this atrocious anti-farmer action of the Manmohan govt.

Modi's supporters may argue that these were the acts of the previous govt and how can Modi and NDA govt be blamed. I would like to ask these friends why the tomato processing industries are still allowed to import cheap tomato paste and pulp from other countries. If Japan can impose 738 per cent import tariffs on rice to protect its domestic farmers, why can't Indian state stand firm to protect its tomato farmers?

The story does not end with tomato.  Every year farmers throw potato on the streets protesting against the low prices. And yet the Modi Sarkar allowed import of potato for the first time ever. The official explanation is that the imports are to augment the domestic supply and curb inflation. But the fact remains that the production of potato has almost been normal this year with an insignificant shortfall. Imported potato is expected to reach India by end of this November. 

By that time potato from our farmers also will hit the market. It won't be a surprise if farmers are forced to dump the cartloads of their potatoes on the roads.

Under pressure from a strong lobby of economists, food inflation is coming in as a handy excuse to open up the Indian market for import of fruits, vegetables, potato and milk products. EU is demanding exactly this under the ongoing negotiations of the bilateral Indo-European Union Free Trade Agreement.

The domestic potato chips, fries and flake industry is now pressing for the removal of 30% import duty on potato to make the import cheaper. There is every likelihood that Modi Sarkar will comply with the need of potato industry to ruin the farmers.

Shouldn't the livelihood concerns of our farmers get precedence over the multilateral agreements signed/to be signed by our govt to please the white masters in EU and USA? Will Modi come out of the Manmohanomics shadow to bail out our farmers?

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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