India’s National Food Security Act (NFSA) seemed to be an effective way to get a basic food ration to the majority of Indians who struggle to feed their families, at least in the state of Madhya Pradesh. There, Dr. Manohar Agnani, State Commissioner for Food and Civil Supplies, was expanding the reach and scope of the program while wringing fraud and inefficiencies from the system. But what about the payment of subsidized prices to farmers to acquire that food, the part of the NFSA that had run afoul of World Trade Organization (WTO) rules?
“The NFSA starts with farmers and procurement,” Agnani stressed to me. “It is much more than a welfare program.” He attributed their success in the state to “good supply chain management,” a phrase he seemed pleased to borrow from the private sector. This includes collection from farmers, local warehousing, and distribution to the network of ration shops.
“It’s very decentralized, with 3,000 collection centers in the state mostly managed by cooperative societies,” Agnani went on. “The government is buying about 40 percent of the state’s wheat, and even sending it to other states.”
But aren’t the larger farmers and the middlemen the ones who benefit from the minimum support price? I asked.
“We are buying from the smaller farmers,” Agnani said. He explained that in Madhya Pradesh farmers who are registered to sell to the Public Distribution System (PDS) cannot be large-scale farmers, traders, or from another state. Those rules are strictly enforced.