Union Budget 2017-18 and the Agrarian Crisis: Prof Swaminathan

Chennai, February 1, 2017: Keeping in view the problems faced by farm families, who comprise over 60% of our population, the Finance Minister has reiterated the Government’s resolve to help farmers double their income in another four years. The various measures suggested for doubling income include distribution of soil health cards, promotion of more crop per drop, increase in availability of credit, improved post-harvest processing and value addition and market reform. In all these cases, what is important is to attend to the principal need. For example, in the case of soil health card, the most urgent requirement of our soils is an increase in organic matter. The more crop per drop approach needs also to be introduced in peri-urban horticulture. Improvement of income of small farmers will require concurrent attention in productivity increase, prevention of post-harvest losses, value addition to primary products and above all, a farmer centric pricing policy. In the area of pricing, it is high time that the recommendation of the National Commission on Farmers (NCF) to provide a minimum support price of C2 (i.e. total cost of production) plus 50 percent, is implemented.  This has been the demand of farmers all over the country.

The proposal for developing a model law for contract farming is a good one.  What is important is the use of contract farming as a method of providing scale to small producers as well as improved post-harvest technology and marketing. Contract farming should not be exploitative but should be based on the principle of win-win for both farmers and the contractors.

More than 50% of farm work is done by women. Unfortunately there is yet no clear policy towards women farmers’ empowerment. Title to land is essential for getting credit. Kisan credit cards should be issued to women farmers even if they do not have title to land. Government should also take steps to promote more cooperative farming and for this purpose, a model act could be prepared for the consideration of state governments.

The Finance Minister has rightly emphasised the need for using the unexploited power of Panchayat Raj institutions. They provide a powerful pathway for promoting sustainable agriculture through techniques like integrated pest-management, integrated nutrient supply and improved post-harvest technology. It is particularly praise worthy that the Finance Minister has placed additional emphasis on strengthening the dairy sector. Livestock and livelihoods are closely related in our country and the ownership of livestock is more egalitarian than that of land. Therefore, mixed farming is important for small farmers for additional income and nutrition. Mixed farming is also essential for promoting organic farming and sustainable agriculture.

 I hope that some of the recommendations made by NCF such as the establishment of a price stabilisation fund will receive urgent attention. For example, the price of natural rubber has gone from very low to high within a period of one year causing uncertainty in income. Plantation crops which provide a considerable amount of foreign exchange need price stabilization fund urgently to offset the problems of price volatility.  

 A majority of the population belong to the category of youth. The Finance Minister’s announcement about additional measures for youth empowerment and skill formation is a welcome step.  A major problem now is attracting and retaining youth in farming. One of the focus areas of Skill Development Program for rural youth could be building their skills in modern agricultural methods, including using of agricultural equipment, their maintenance and repair. This will create employment opportunities for youth since now farming in India is being mechanized on large scale. This may also pave the way for retaining youth in agriculture. Krishi Vigyan Kendras are to be strengthened for this purpose. Overall the budget is characterised by the right emphasis in addressing the agrarian crisis. What is important is the conversion of ideas into field level action with the help of State Governments, the Indian Council of Agriculture Research and Agriculture Universities. If agriculture goes wrong, nothing else will have a chance to go right.

 Finally, there is need for integrating anticipatory research and action to meet the challenges of climate change.  Unfortunately this is an important missing factor in the Union Budget in relation to farmers and farming.

(MSSRF File Pic: Crops for Climate Resilience)

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