Sreelatha Menon: Chinese food for thought

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Farmers from Uttar Pradesh raise slogans during a protest rally against the acquisition of their land by the government for the construction of Yamuna Expressway, at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on 26 August 2010. (Photo: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar)

Business Standard | 5 September 2010

The Chinese have been shopping for farmland abroad while Indian states are finding ways to get rid of their land

Sreelatha Menon / New Delhi

The Uttar Pradesh government cannot be called insensitive when it comes to farmers. But it could take a lesson from China in the manner it values farmland.

The agitation by farmers in Aligarh has prompted the state government to come out with a land acquisition policy that tries to take every wish of the farmer into account. The farmers will get 25 per cent of the profits of private developers and an annual annuity of Rs 20,000 per acre for 33 years, just as in Haryana. But it could have taught Haryana a thing or two if it had offered farmers Rs 20,000 per acre for continuing farming rather than offering this package to convince them to sell their land.

Where the policy falls short is the matter of food and the question of who will feed the people of Uttar Pradesh if they convert all their farmland into concrete.

Chief Minister Mayawati might like to borrow a leaf or two not from the Congress-ruled Haryana, which is intent on giving all its fertile land to industry, but from China, which has been shopping for farmland abroad to ensure the country’s food security.

Four years ago, China entered into agricultural cooperation agreements with several African countries that led to setting up of farms in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Uganda and Tanzania. While the goal was to help the host countries increase production through Chinese technology, much of the crop is said to be exported to China. In fact, China is leading several other countries in Asia and the West-Asia in a mad rush to acquire arable land in Africa and Asia. In fact, many Indian companies have taken a cue and are buying land abroad for agriculture. According to estimates by food rights groups, arable land of the size of Germany has been acquired so far by various countries outside their borders for food production.

What we can learn from China is not its alarming passion for buying farmland in poor countries but its awareness of the value of agricultural land to meet the food needs of its citizens.

This urgency of Arab and Asian countries to buy land for food production is in contrast with the gay abandon with which Indian states have been getting rid of their farmland. China is not shopping for farmland because it is short of land.

Agricultural economist Devinder Sharma points out that while China has 149 million hectares farmland and produces 500 metric tonnnes, India has 131 milllion hectares farmland and produces just 30 metric tonnes grain. China’s per capita availability of grain is 3,000 gm, while India’s is a mere 500 gm.

In spite of such abundance, China imports grain and is on a farmland grabbing spree across the world.

But in India, which is planning a law on food security, food seems to be the least of concerns.

In Uttar Pradesh, 23,000 villages are going to disappear once the two expressways — Ganga Expressway and Yamuna Expressway — are built. That will mean loss of thousands of hectares of farm land, being projected as a fourth of all fertile land in the state.

In Rajasthan, a land ceiling law has been amended to ensure that anyone can buy land and change the land use. Land-use restrictions don’t operate anywhere and the country still awaits a law that will stop conversion of farm land.
Original source: Business Standard
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