In his budget, finance minister Arun Jaitley pledged support for the NDA government’s three key initiatives in the farm sector: A common national market, soil testing to improve yields and the Prime Minister’s irrigation programme.
The Modi government seeks to give farmers freer access to markets by possibly dismantling “mandis” or market committees that charge taxes on producers.
“To increase the incomes of farmers, it is imperative that we create a national agricultural market, which will have the incidental benefit of moderating price rises. I intend this year to work with the states, in NITI, for the creation of a Unified National Agriculture Market,” Jaitley said.
Nearly two-thirds of the population relies on farms for livelihood. Yet, nearly 60% of cropped areas do not have any source of assured irrigation and average yields remain poor, in part because of poor soil health.
The budget provides Rs 5,300 crore for micro irrigation watershed programmes under Pradhan Mantri Gram Sichai Yojana.
Although Jaitley did not specify an allocation, he referred to an ambitious soil health card scheme launched recently to improve soil fertility on a sustainable basis. “In order to improve soil health, I also propose to support agriculture ministry’s organic farming scheme – Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana,” he said.
To target the correct use of fertilizers, soil testing has become critical as overuse of cheap fertilizers has eroded their nourishing qualities. Smart cards can be issued to 140 million farmers in three years after testing soil for productivity, mineral mix, water capacity, and can be presented to government fertilizer suppliers.