👍👍👍Supporting farm growth | Business Standard Editorials

lipped from: https://www.business-standard.com/article/opinion/supporting-farm-growth-123020702030_1.html

Budget has enabling proposals

The agricultural package mooted in the Union Budget for 2023-24 seems to aim primarily at ramping up programmes and institutions that can potentially serve as growth agents for this sector. The objective is to raise farm production and, more so, farmers’ income to rein in the discontent in rural areas. But whether the resources allocated for these activities are adequate is open to question, considering that the budget for this sector has been stepped up only marginally and includes the sum paid to farmers (Rs 6,000 annually in three instalments) under the PM-Kisan Samman scheme. Also, while emphasis has rightly been laid on technology-driven growth, the proposed investment in agriculture research and development is below 0.5 per cent of the farm sector’s gross domestic product (agri-GDP), against the global norm of 1-2 per cent. However, the priority accorded to agriculture’s allied sectors, notably animal husbandry and fisheries, is well placed because these are reliable sources of supplementing farm incomes, especially for small and marginal farmers.

The three most notable initiatives envisaged in the Budget are the setting up of an agriculture accelerator fund, creation of an all-inclusive digital public infrastructure for farming-related information and services, and expansion of decentralised warehousing capacity for agricultural produce. The other significant moves include incentives for producing good-quality seeding material for high-value horticultural crops, promoting extra-long staple cotton cultivation, and revamping grassroots-level rural institutions like primary cooperative societies and self-help groups. Besides, it has hiked the target of institutional agricultural credit disbursement to Rs 20 trillion with focus on dairying and fisheries.

The planned agriculture accelerator fund is meant chiefly to support agri-start-ups and farmers’ producer organisations engaged in promoting modern farm technologies and offering affordable solutions to farmers’ problems. The proposed digital public infrastructure, on the other hand, is envisaged to serve as an open and interoperable public platform for providing relevant information on crop planning, crop health, farm inputs, support services, credit, insurance, market intelligence, and a host of other facilities and services. This portal would also come in handy to compute reliable crop output estimates. Apart from farmers, the other stakeholders in the farm sector would also have access to this facility. The plan to create massive decentralised storage capacity for farm commodities is another well-advised step that can help cut post-harvest losses, which, at present, range from about 6 per cent in cereals and pulses to over 15 per cent in fruit and vegetables.

The availability of commodity-specific and temperature- and humidity-controlled storehouses closer to production centres would also enable farmers to get better prices through deferred sale of their marketable produce. Warehousing receipts have already been declared legal tender to serve as collateral for taking bank loans. Revamping the primary-level cooperative infrastructure is also a need-based move that can yield enduring dividends. At present, a large number of cooperative societies, including many multi-state cooperatives, are in a shambles. Computerisation would make their day-to-day functioning more transparent and efficient. However, the proposed investment of Rs 2,516 crore seems too meagre to meet the needs of more than 63,000 such societies. This provision needs to be revisited if the much-cherished goal of “Sahakar Se Samriddhi” (prosperity through cooperation) is to be realised.

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