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Union Budget 2019: Addressing Agriculture Concerns

The new government will have their hands full on addressing challenges in the farm sector

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Agrarian distress and the disarray in the agriculture segment would take up a big share of the concerns of the newly elected government. It was the same government that braved the ill-will of the farming community during their previous tenure. It will also be interesting to see what the budget has in store for agriculture as the due date to deliver on doubling farmers’ income, 2022, falls well within the tenure of this government. So far, there has been no respite in the situation of farmers as farming has increasingly turned economically less remunerative and unpredictable.

In the last few years, India has witnessed many climate induced anomalies. From cyclones to flooding to drought, agriculture has borne the brunt of the climate and so have the farmers. Today the biggest threat to the crops planted is the climate itself. Erratic weather phenomena and incompetency in dealing with this have damaged large areas of farms.  Serious initiatives must be taken to climate proof agriculture. Assuring irrigation through parched seasons by conventional and non-conventional methods can drought proof perennially dry regions. So can also investing in flood tolerant or drought resistant varieties. A programme must be envisioned that enumerate the ways to climate proof agriculture, and budget allocation towards the same could further reiterate the relevance of climate change.  

With the government’s focus on the agriculture sector to double farmer’s income by 2022, it would be the right time to persuade the states to enact the model Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act drafted years ago. The objective of the model Act is to keep fruits and vegetables out of purview of the mandis, abolition of Aarthia commission and permission for hassle free inter-state trade. While some states followed the act, others have not. As more states join the act, farmers in the state can find more markets and better profits. Also, the government might have to take a policy decision whether to abolish the Essential Commodities Act (ECA), a tool used to prevent hoarding and price rise. The ambiguity and open-ended policy to invoke it anytime on any commodity, dissuades traders from buying agricultural commodities beyond a point which depresses the mandi prices and is one of the factors of farm distress.

One of the biggest problems that the farmers have encountered in the last few years is bumper production. Without proper means of storing them in a healthy condition, all that the farmers could do, is to sell their products in depressed prices. The next budget should focus on building warehouses and granaries. Cold storage and cold transport are also important. Public private partnership route can be availed to maximize their presence and upkeep. Food processing to a large extent can also address the problem of excesses. Promoting food processing can increase demand, shelf life of excess produce and thereby income of farmers. Farm exports can be promoted and the taxation issues have to be resolved.

Keeping ‘Increasing farm incomes as a central strategy, farmers have to be encouraged to diversify their income basket. Besides their key crops, small and marginal  farmers should be encouraged to take up  allied farm activities like animal husbandry, fishery or poultry. Recycling their farm waste into more productive options and increasing the profitability of the farm as a whole must be the key. Stubble burning which has become a recurrent phenomenon must be dealt with an iron hand this time. Farm waste management should be made a priority.

The budget should make generous allocation for research in the country. Agriculture progress is contiguous upon research and extension. So far the allocations made to this area have been far from satisfactory. The government should this time take an unambiguous stand on GM technology. The authorities cannot ignore this powerful technology and fall prey for populist agenda. These varieties are well equipped to survive the new challenges of pest and diseases.

Agriculture is going through a difficult phase. Hopefully the new government will address them and realize their vision of doubling farm incomes.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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MJ Khan

The author is chairman of Indian Council for Food & Agriculture

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