Over 60% of the country’s population lives in rural India and depends upon agriculture for their livelihood. Agriculture in many ways continues to drive India’s economy. And thereby, experts suggest that allocating a fine budget for Agriculture and farmers would be the key in realising the Prime Minister’s call for a $5 Trillion economy by the year 2024. Farmers’ stories and voices are yet to make into the headlines, and for that hopes are now pinned on the government for more farmer-friendly measures. Budget-2020 is going to be crucial in this respect.
Here is a wish list on the various areas that need budgetary focus in the food and agriculture sector:
Doubling farmers’ income
The ambitious goal of doubling the farmer’s income by the year 2022 was no doubt a turning point in addressing the most basic issues concerning farmers.
“Income can be increased through value addition at source by food processing or by reducing the input cost with farm automation and group co-operative farming. Start-ups/companies should be incentivised to create low-cost technological solutions for Indian farmers under the Make-in-India programme by tax relief and easy financing,” said Praful Nikam – President, Y4D Foundation.
Towards Climate-Smart Agriculture
Climate change is real and the risk of not planning for climate-sensitive agriculture will be huge. Farmers need to be incentivised to adopt Climate-smart Agriculture to withstand global challenges.
“Indian agriculture is highly vulnerable to climate change. Over the years, we have witnessed that with the extreme weather events happening each year, the country faces a total economic loss. Therefore, it will be good to see a budget that supports farmers on the ease-of-use of financial support facilities available; from improving overall productivity and farmer,” Shared Sheetal Sharma – Senior Soil Scientist, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).
“For this, the government needs to enhance focus on increased investment in new scientific research on technologies that help farmers and their crops adapt to climate change. At the other end of the spectrum, there is also a need to increase investment for creating enabling environments that ensure that farmers are able to actually adopt these technologies. A case in point is IRRI’s increased focus on boosting the use of digital agriculture tools and crop insurance products and services for the small and marginal farmers,” Sheetal further suggested.
Focus on nutrition
‘Nutrition’ is going to be one of the key drivers of next-generation agriculture policies. We are more or less a food secured nation, and it’s time to be a malnutrition-free one. India hosts one-third of the world’s malnourished children. The government launched the Bharatiya Poshan Krishi Kosh (BPKK) which will be a repository of diverse crops across 128 agro-climatic zones in India for better nutritional outcomes is a positive step towards the objective.
According to Prof. Prabhu Pingali and Prof. Bhaskar Mittra from the Tata-Cornell Institute for Agriculture and Nutrition, “If India wants to address undernutrition and over nutrition, then we have to promote the consumption of diverse food. To do so, India must promote crop-neutral food policies to encourage farmers to produce more diverse food i.e. move away from a cereal-centric production system.”
Basanta Kumar Kar, Global Nutrition Leadership and Transform Nutrition Champion – 2019 & Member, Steering Committee- South Asian Policy Leadership for Nutrition and Growth (SAPLING), advocates for mandatory bio-fortification to address micro-nutrient malnutrition. He said, “As per me, National Food Fortification Act is the best idea. Mandatory fortification has more advantages than voluntary fortification. Therefore, mandatory fortification can ensure universal access, regulatory enforcement and monitoring, transparency, and thereby, improve access to safe and quality fortified products to the poor who suffer from multiple micronutrient deficiencies. Hence, the government of India may consider bringing out mandatory fortification laws. Bio-fortification through conventional hybridisation should also be part of the fortification legislation.
In order to make India compatible enough to feed its 1.3 billion population, it will be imperative for us to adapt Sustainable Farm Practices. Agri-skilling will be crucial in this regard.
“Agricultural sector mostly employs unskilled labourers. The focus should be on allocating funds for agri-skilling and promoting start-ups to take lead in agri-consulting so that people utilise expert services in all aspects of farming viz. crop selection, processing, and selling. Further, shifting our vast farming labour force to an entirely new sector will be hard but, supporting farmers to take on allied businesses like food-processing, horticulture, and services is comparatively easy,” said Praful Nikam – President, Y4D Foundation.