There are two different views of rural India; one from the city and the other from the village. Budgets are prepared taking the city view of the village, by experts who decide what is good for the farmer and the rural household. The consequences of this over the past decades show that this approach might have to change.
The share of agriculture in Budgets has remained around 2.4 percent until 2014-15, which has now risen to 5.2 percent due to higher allocation.
This is still low as agriculture impacts 68.8 percent of the country’s population, and 72.4 percent workforce.
The gap between policy and ground realities has kept governments from pushing for reforms that address agrarian crisis in the country directly and immediately. Here is a village-view of the seemingly good policies of Budget 2019 and how they may work out on the ground.
Give Advice to Marginal Farmers Directly
First, despite all efforts, including the much talked about e-NAM, there is little or no market support for the farmer. Doubling farm income by 2022 would require agriculture to grow at 10.4 percent annually, it is currently growing at 2.9 percent - lowest in over a decade.
Any plan of doubling and sustaining farmer incomes cannot work without the crucial linkages with market and demand assessment before the farmer commits to a crop.
But how can this be achieved when the farmer gets information about crops and markets from the local seed and input supplier, who also doubles as a private moneylender?
What needs to be done, even if it does not read very suave in a Budget speech, is to directly connect with small and marginal farmers to provide targeted and tailored advice on crops and markets.
Delays in Irrigation Projects Need to be Curbed Immediately
Secondly, the delays in irrigation projects have debilitating effect on farmers’ lives. According to the CAG, there has been an overall cost escalation of 2341 percent for major irrigation projects due to delays. Each project would have irrigated thousands of hectares of rainfed crops and supported lakhs of farmers, who now have no choice but to wait for the monsoons.
Why should a country, which facilitates freight corridors and metro for cities, be so negligent when it comes to rural infrastructure?
Once again the solution is not to put the onus on the farmer, but to expedite irrigation schemes and projects.
As the CAG pointed out, the irregularities in the Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme were concerned about financial and implementation indiscipline. The Finance Minister would have earned the applause of the poor farmer if she had promised that from next year, there will be no waiting for the monsoon.
Zero Budget Farming is Good But...
Thirdly, innovative farming techniques like zero-budget farming are the way forward for the country’s agriculture, as they seek to maximize productivity and quality of the crops. However, where over 90 percent of farmers own less than 5 acres, there are certain ground realities that must be addressed.
A majority of small farms are not mechanized, and are not too far removed from sustainable agricultural practices. Most farmers grow at least one crop on the field that serves their household needs, and this requires different cultivation protocols. Crops do not fetch prices good enough for the farmers to experiment and take losses if the new techniques fail.
Zero-budget farming must be first applied to the larger farmers or those owning more than 20 acres before it is tested out on the more vulnerable smaller farmers.
The recognition of such difference between the rich and the poor farmers will go a long way in fine-tuning policy.
Overhaul the Rural Infrastructure
Finally, Indian villages require everything, from electricity to sanitation, from food to infrastructure. All assistance that comes from the government is welcome to the poor farmer. It may not be what he or she hopes for, but over 800 million people living in Indian villages eagerly look for that short passage in every Budget that addresses rural India. They may not influence the stock markets or impact the industry indices, but farmers wait patiently for governments to finally take a village-view of India.
(Kota Neelima is an author and researcher. Her latest book is ‘Widows of Vidarbha: Making of Shadows’ by Oxford University Press, 2018. She tweets at @KotaNeelima. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)