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Panel on doubling farmers' income mulls major reforms

A committee formed by the Centre to double farmers' income by 2022 is considering major reforms in the agriculture sector like adopting a profit-centric approach, aiming at higher productivity and reducing cost of cultivation.

The inter-ministerial panel, constituted in April last year, is also looking at suggesting market reforms in a big way and increasing focus on sub-sectors of agriculture
like animal husbandry, poultry and fisheries.

"What we (are) really looking at is to recommend strategies that would be practical in nature and would help both the governments at the national level and state l
evel and also down the line to adopt practices which are very practical in doubling the income of farmers," committee's Chairman Ashok Dalwai said in an interview. He was in Hyderabad last week for an event.

The committee has been holding consultations with different stakeholders, including ICAR scientists, farmers and professional bodies, and it would submit its report by April this year, said Dalwai, who is Additional Secretary in the Union Ministry of Agriculture. Noting that majority of farmers in the country are small and marginal, he said making farming viable is the "biggest challenge".

The principle of profit generation in agriculture comes from looking at what is the gross output and what is the cost of cultivation, he said.

"Gross output which has been the approach so far, has been to increase production at any cost. But we would like to increase production on a sustainable basis
such that resources are not compromised, in all crops, all commodities and all sub sectors of agriculture. So, the gross output in terms of value to farmer," he said.

The post-harvest management, involving how the commodity is stored, transported and marketed assumes enormous importance, he said.

Another important thing being examined by the committee is the role of important drivers of growth like animal husbandry, poultry, fisheries and horticulture.

"Considering that consumption patterns are changing today, people are now going for high value crops like meat, milk, egg and fruits and vegetables... The farmers
can produce those things. It has to be a market-led demand-driven approach. This is what the committee is looking at," he said. The committee feels that there is a
need to focus on increasing productivity by introducing better technology and better farm management practices as land availability is limited, Dalwai said.

The panel is examining reducing cost of cultivation by cost-effective management of inputs, including fertilisers and seeds, right from manufacture to supply-chain till
they reach farmers, he said.

Highlighting the importance of market reforms, Dalwai said the Centre would like to bring in a model Agriculture Produce Market Committees (APMC) Act as the APMCs were set up about 60 years ago, but it has been seen that they have also become monopolies.

"We now need to introduce greater competition so that both public sector and private sector markets are functioning and the farmer is able to reach the consumer as directly as possible by avoiding the intermediaries. Therefore, we need to expand the market, create a universal, integrated market for the state and the nation," he said. There is criticism that the APMCs force the farmers to sell their produce only to middlemen approved by government in authorised markets.

The APMC model Act has been sent to the state governments for their opinions, he said. An expert panel has been set up to look at statutory changes that may be
required to remove inter-state restrictions on sale of produce by farmers and create an environment for free-trade.

The E-NAM (Electronic-National Agriculture Market), launched by Prime Minister last year, is aimed at taking agriculture marketing towards unification and creating
marketing efficiency through an online platform, he said.

While the minimum support price (MSP) for farmers is an important tool, the government is moving towards greater procurement intervention. Earlier, government
used to procure only wheat and paddy, but the emphasis in the last two years has been on procuring pulses and oilseeds among
others, he said.

On crop losses due to natural calamities like cyclones, the committee is looking at making crop insurance more robust, Dalwai said. Replying to a query, he said the committee would be looking at what was the income of farmers in 2015-16 and doubling it by
March, 2022.

Non-farm income (generated from works like dairy and poultry which are other than crop production) of farmers is also critical in doubling their income, he said.
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