Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has brought the focus back to agriculture in the 2016 Union Budget and this is reflected in the increased allocations. In the past two years, average annual agricultural growth has been less than one half of a percent, mainly because of successive deficient monsoons, and there was expectation that the neglect of agriculture by a government focused on ‘Make in India’ would be reversed.
The emphasis on manufacturing is correct. It can create more productive and better paying jobs. But agriculture should also be profitable. The Finance Minister has hit the right notes. Assuring ‘income security’ to farmers is a surer way of ensuring food security.
Emphasis On Organic Farming Misplaced?
The government’s emphasis on organic farming ‘to increase crop yields in rain-fed areas’ is rather curious, unless it wishes to deploy genetically-modified seeds, which have in-built insect resistance and are low on pesticide usage. But that would be too optimistic, as the ruling party’s faith in bovine dung is touching. Increasing yields through organic farming which shuns chemical inputs is a leap of faith.
Organic farming is low in productivity; farmers can make up through premium prices provided the produce is well marketed. Given the physical and marketing infrastructure in rain-fed areas, that is a stretch. In Sikkim, which the Prime Minister declared wholly organic in February, a report in the Mint newspaper said local buyers could not afford the produce. The stuff which goes to Siliguri, a neighbouring city in West Bengal, gets mixed up with non-organic produce and fetches low prices.
Is The Goal Of Doubling Farmers’ Income Realistic?
The government’s goal of doubling farmers’ incomes in five years is similar to the objective which Gujarat’s tribal affairs ministry had for the Van Bandhu Kalyan Yojana (tribal welfare programme) when Narendra Modi was the Chief Minister. The Gujarat programme aimed to achieve it by moving tribal farmers from low-yield low-income agriculture to high-yield (and input), higher income agriculture by giving them hybrid maize seeds, subsidised chemical fertiliser and agronomic advice through non-governmental organisations.
Trying to double farmers’ income by bringing five lakh hectares under organic farming in rain-fed areas, will not achieve the purpose. Tradition may have a calming influence on the mind; it will not levitate farm incomes.
A Pro-Farmer Budget
- The government’s
emphasis on organic farming is surprising since it is not a profitable
venture for farmers.
farmers’ incomes in five years also seem to be a far-fetched goal as a similar program in Gujarat failed.
agriculture needs to move away from tradition and deploy scientific methods in
the wake of rapid industrialisation and climate change.
irrigation witnesses an increase in budgetary allocation, efforts should be
made to move towards drip or sprinkler irrigation.
Focus on Increasing Agricultural Output
Organic farming is a fad which is why we moved away from traditional agriculture to the Green Revolution which was high in inputs and also high in output. But modern science has made ‘more from less’ agriculture possible, which the Economic Survey says should be the aim because rapid industrialisation and climate change have raised the scarcity value of land and water.
The Survey admits that Indian agriculture is a victim of the Green Revolution’s success. It has become cereal-centric, regionally-biased and resource-intensive. A rainbow revolution must follow the green and white revolutions. The emphasis must be on productivity. Genetically modified crop technologies, the Survey says, have “significant net benefits.”
Evolved regulation is needed to allay public fears before implementing them. Pulses and oil-seeds must be supported with procurement and support prices that reflect their social contribution – less water use and enrichment of soil with atmospheric nitrogen. For the above reasons, the social returns of pulses are higher than returns based on market prices. For chickpea or chana, they were Rs 2,662 per hectare higher. In percentage terms, chickpea’s social returns per hectare were 101 percent higher than its financial profit for the three years ending 2010-11. Blackgram or urad and lentil or masur followed. In the case of wheat, ordinary rice, basmati and sugarcane the social returns were negative.
Severe damage is caused to chickpea and pigeon pea by the pod borer; there is no known resistance within their germplasms to pests. Scientists at ICRISAT in Hyderabad and Assam Agriculture University, Jorhat have developed genetically-modified chickpea and pigeon pea that repel pod borers. By deploying these technologies, we can increase output by about 30 percent.
Need Smart Ideas for Agriculture
The budget has increased the allocation for irrigation and has assured parliament that 23 projects costing Rs 17,000 crore will be completed within a year. Whether the promise will be kept is a moot point, but along with raising irrigation capacity, India must use water judiciously. We must move away from flood irrigation to drip or sprinkler irrigation.
India has less water per person than Brazil, the Economic Survey says, but uses 90 percent of its renewable freshwater compared to Brazil’s 60 percent. Subsidies on power must end to curb water wastage. Cheap power makes India a net exporter of water through commodities like cotton, sugar and soybean, while China is a net importer of water through soybean, cotton, meat and grains. India’s export of water is equal to the demand of 13 million people. According to the Survey, a government study in 64 districts of 13 states showed 45 percent increase in wheat yield, 20 percent in gram and 40 percent in soybean with micro-irrigation.
While increased allocations are fine, we need smart ideas for agriculture and persons with proven organisational skill to execute them. The budget is an occasion for the government to build political capital, but cranky ideas should not hold centre stage.
(Vivian Fernandes is editor of www.smartindianagriculture.in)