Pranab Mukherjee has laid out a road map for agricultural recovery and progress based on conservation of ecological foundations, cultivation on conservation principles, consumption with focus on food safety and quality, and farmer-centric commerce. Also, for the first time, he has addressed the issue of feminization of agriculture by proposing a Mahila Kisan Sashaktikaran Pariyojana. His four-pronged strategy relates to production, waste reduction, credit support and a thrust in post-harvest technology and food processing. In order to increase the production of pulses and oilseeds, he has provided Rs 300 crore to organize 60,000 pulses and oilseed villages in rainfed areas. If implemented properly, this will bring about a pulses and oilseeds revolution.
A substantial step up of the credit availability in rural areas has been proposed. The effective rate of interest for farmers who repay their short-term crop loans as per the schedule will be 5% per annum—a progress towards the proposed target of 4% interest rate.
While a roadmap has been indicated in the budget, the achievement of the goals will be possible within the amounts provided only if the states can introduce a “deliver as one” approach. If such an approach is not adopted, the money allotted for these purposes will not yield the desired results.
Another issue that needs consideration is the opening up of retail. Mini-retail and smallholder farming are the largest self-employment enterprises. The opening up of retail trade to large companies needs to be taken up only on the basis of an employment impact analysis. The rise in diesel and petrol prices will also have serious implications for the farm sector; especially the Punjab-Haryana farmers who bought diesel to run water pumps to irrigate their rice fields, thus giving us a comfortable rice reserve.
Finally, it is high time the Finance Minister’s sentiments vis-à-vis post-harvest technology and particularly grain storage are converted into action.
In April-May 2010, the FCI and other agencies may have to buy over 20 million tonnes of wheat. Even the existing stocks of wheat and rice are not stored properly. It will be sad if during a period of hardship, as a result of food inflation, we should allow wastage of precious grains. The Finance Minister’s recipe for agricultural renewal thus involves convergence and synergy among numerous ongoing programmes.
It will be useful if the PM and National Development Council initiate as soon as possible the steps needed for such reforms.
The author is Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha)