Agri Politics

Missed the Root – Agriculture in Budget 2019

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitaraman presented the maiden budget of the second term of Narendra Modi Government. This Budget 2019-20 is merely a continuation of agricultural policies of previous year And new policies spelt out by Government is neither explained nor substantiated. 

The proposal to develop 10,000 new Farmer Producer Companies (FPOs) is an addition of target numbers to previous budget targets. Similarly, promise of expanding benefits to farmers under eNAM with state government cooperation and proposal to promote private investment in agriculture are all repeated in this year’s budget also.

The Government’s shift towards sustainable farming marking a departure from Green Revolution era is felt in this budget also. Finance minister suggested to replicate the innovative model of Zero Budget farming. “We shall go back to basics on one count: Zero budget farming” said Finance Minister. She also insisted that such steps would help in doubling farmers’ income.

Finance minister suggested to replicate the innovative model of Zero Budget farming. “We shall go back to basics on one count: Zero budget farming” said Finance Minister. She also insisted that such steps would help in doubling farmers’ income.

The minister initially started the speech by thanking farmers for making India self sufficient in pulses. And that she expects to repeat the same success in production of oilseeds and reduce import bill. However, no special packages or policy announcement was made in regard to increasing oilseed crop production.

Focus on Allied Agriculture

The Government is aware of the fact that unless allied agriculture is given due importance, the agrarian distress could not be solved. Previous budget announcements have led to the creation of Dairy Infrastructure Development Funds and interim budget 2019 proposed Rashtriya Kamadhenu Aayog. This budget emphasizes on dairying through co-operatives. “Cooperatives shall also be encouraged by creating infrastructure for cattle feed manufacturing, milk procurement, processing and marketing” Finance minister said in Budget speech.

In Fisheries, Government launched a focused scheme – the Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojna. Interim budget 2019 proposed for creation of separate department for fisheries, now this scheme is expected to address the critical gaps in value chain, modernization, post harvest technology, quality control, etc.

The proposal of cluster based development of traditional industries with focus on bamboo, honey and kadhi clusters is most welcoming part of this budget. It is capable to generate sustained rural employment. The Common Facility Centre will be set up to facilitate such clusters under Scheme of Fund for Upgradation and Regeneration of Traditional Industries (SFRUTI).

Similarly Government intervention to provide private entrepreneurship in value addition and allied sector activities is also welcoming. Budget also spelt out entrepreneurship be created for generating renewable energy from agricultural activities. “Annadata can also be Urjadata” said finance minister in her speech at Lok Sabha.

Budget 2019
Credits: Agademy.in

No big structural reforms

The great miss in this budget is regarding ‘Jal’ – irrigation. With water scarcity deepening the agrarian distress across country, no special intervention has been made in budget. The onus has been shifted to ‘Jal Sakthi Ministry’, new ministry created for integrating water management activities of various ministries. We have to wait and watch whether this new ministry will solve the inter ministerial lag in delivering irrigation water to farmers or act as one more layer of hurdle to existing system.

‘Zero budget natural farming’ (ZBNF) has been repeatedly mentioned in Government documents like NITI Aayog strategy for New India @ 75, Economic Survey 2019 and now in Budget 2019. But there is no proper definitions or protocol is available in that documents. Footnote in the Economic Survey ZBNF is “(farming) without using any credit, and without spending any money on purchased inputs”.

FAO in its website mentioned ‘‘zero budget’ farming promises to end a reliance on loans and drastically cut production costs, ending the debt cycle for desperate farmers. The word ‘budget’ refers to credit and expenses, thus the phrase ‘Zero Budget’ means without using any credit, and without spending any money on purchased inputs. ‘Natural farming’ means farming with Nature and without chemicals. Does Government is ready to provide inputs like irrigation water, seeds, fertilisers ? Or is it possible to purchase inputs without spending in the era of biotechnology and private hybrid seed commercialisation ?  The ZBNF movement in Karnataka state was born out of collaboration between Mr Subhash Palekar, who put together the ZBNF practices, and the state farmers association Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS), a member of La Via Campesina (LVC). Government mentioned this as innovative model, Does Government ever studied or proved its efficacy besides the success story of South Indian Farmers ?

Does Government is ready to provide inputs like irrigation water, seeds, fertilisers ? Or is it possible to purchase inputs without spending in the era of biotechnology and private hybrid seed commercialisation ?

Budget speech has mentioned that Ease of doing business and Ease of Living should also apply to Farmers. But in reality farming as business is collapsed due to excessive Government regulation in agriculture marketing and similarly debt burden, climate change related calamities and high cost of agricultural inputs has affected the livelihood of farmers.

It is greedy to expect bigbang announcement in agricultural sector in this Budget as Interim budget 2019 itself has spelt out many populistic interventions like providing income support of Rs. 6000 per year to small and marginal farmers under PM KISAN scheme, extension of interest subvention to farmers of animal husbandry and fisheries and additional interest subvention of 2 % in case of natural calamities.     

But what is expected is bigbang structural reforms like easing farmers out of debt burden, establishing new GST council like mechanism for centre-state and inter-state coordination and finally immediate policy decision to tackle water crisis and drought in agriculture sector. In a sad note, the Finance Minister has failed to touch the root.


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