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'I hope Budget marks end of farmer suicides'

Eminent farm scientist MS Swaminathan calls the Budget "forward looking" and hopes the Rs 600 bln loan waiver would "mark the beginning of the end of the era of farmer suicides".

business Updated: Mar 01, 2008 17:19 IST

Eminent farm scientist MS Swaminathan has called the 2008-09 Budget "forward looking" and hoped that the Rs 600 billion loan waiver would "mark the beginning of the end of the era of farmer suicides".

"(Finance Minister P) Chidambaram has addressed the major problems faced by our farmers as outlined in the Economic Survey 2007-08," Swaminathan said.

He pointed out that the Survey attributed the loss of dynamism in agriculture to a gradual degradation of natural resources, decline in public and private investment, and technology and extension fatigue.

"The outlay-outcome relationship has been deteriorating in the farm sector because of a lack of convergence among numerous on-going programmes of both central and state governments. Only when the necessary synergy is created, will we see the beginning of a new dynamism in agriculture," he said.

"The Budget provides a three-pronged strategy to address these issues. First and foremost is the debt waiver and relief involving a total outlay of Rs 600 billion," Swaminathan, who is known as the 'father of the green revolution in India', told IANS.

The loan-waiver announced by Chidambaram in the budget on Friday is expected to benefit 40 million farmers across the country.

"I am particularly happy that Chidambaram has emphasised that the debt waiver is not just an act of charity but is an expression of the deep debt of gratitude we owe to the women and men who work day and night, in rain and sun, to produce food for the over one billion people of our country and thereby safeguard our national food sovereignty," the Rajya Sabha MP said.

According to the Economic Survey, 48.6 per cent of farm households are indebted. Out of the total debt, 57.7 per cent was sourced from institutional channels and the balance 42.3 per cent from moneylenders, traders, relatives and friends, the expert noted.

It has been estimated that the debt from non-institutional channels was around Rs 480 billion in 2003, the scientist said, hoping this year's budget "will give relief to all farmers who had borrowed from institutional sources as well as non-institutional" ones.

He, however, warned that those who have borrowed from private sources needed urgent help and hoped they would get relief from moves like smart cards that will help them get essential inputs like seeds and fertilisers at low or no cost.

The second component of Chidambaram's agricultural renaissance strategy is the provision of necessary support to marginal farmers for both improving factor productivity and income security through multiple livelihood opportunities in both on-farm and non-farm sectors, Swaminathan explained.

He also lauded the agricultural renewal strategy outlined in the budget that now offers programmes that can address soil health, irrigation and infrastructure issues.

It is also proposed to step up the area under irrigation through Bharat Nirman, the Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme and the Rainfed Area Development Programme.

"Credit availability has already been substantially stepped up. What is now needed, as repeatedly stressed by the finance minister, is a careful monitoring of the outcome from the substantial outlays proposed," Swaminathan stressed.

Conservation farming will be further strengthened through the 500 new soil-testing laboratories and the mobile soil testing vans for which provision has been made in the budget, he said.

The expert also commended the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the National Rural Health Mission and programmes for insurance and credit literacy through village level Gyaan Chaupals.