Time to boost quasi-farming
The government has invested massive funds to assist fisheries and animal husbandry — the question looms over effective implementation
One of the primary problems plaguing Indian agriculture is the prominence of disguised unemployment. That is, farming by nature is seasonal and hence it does not provide a steady job as well as reliable income throughout the year. It is precisely due to this reason that every farmer needs to engage himself in some allied activities so that he can augment his income besides ensuring that he has some occupation spread over the year. An auxiliary income is essential to address livelihood concerns of our farmers, who are doing yeomen service by shouldering the responsibility of feeding the 1.3 billion people in the country--day-in-day-out.
Farm distress is real and the people at large, particularly politicians, who claim to be interested in the welfare of farmers, somehow seem to be encouraging crony capitalism, advertently or inadvertently.
After the recent election setbacks in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and a none too good showing in Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has finally woken to take cognizance of the sad plight of the farmers in our country. The Uttar Pradesh by-elections have only endorsed the disenchantment. BJP has lost the two Parliamentary seats vacated by the state's Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister.
The positive development in the Budget has come no sooner. That is, the decision to extend the Kisan Credit Card facility to include fisheries and animal husbandry. This will help farmers to meet their working capital needs, thereby, helping them to augment their income. Poultry, fisheries, animal husbandry and the like are useful in supplementing farm income. Animal husbandry is the second most important occupation of the people after agriculture in the desert state of Rajasthan. The measure will help small and marginal farmers in availing more credit for the sale and purchase of livestock. On a side-note, Assembly polls are to be held in Rajasthan later this year.
Also, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced in the Budget that the government would undertake processes to set up two funds. They are the Fisheries and Aquaculture Infrastructure Development Fund and the Animal Husbandry Infrastructure Development Fund. The total corpus of these two new funds would be Rs 10,000 crore. The move is expected to enhance the standards of animal rearing and production, even as the government in 2016 amended the norms and hiked standards under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules 2016 along with a similar rule for aquarium and fish tanks. The two funds are yet to be set up and, hopefully, they will come up sometime during this year. It has been more than a month since the Budget was presented; so far, there are no signs, as yet, of its details being worked out.
The Director of Rajasthan state animal husbandry department Dr Ajay Kumar Gupta is right in saying that the devil is in the details, hence, he cannot comment on the benefit of the scheme at this juncture.
In the last year too, two such funds were set up. One was for micro-irrigation for facilitating the expansion of irrigation coverage and another for the development of dairy processing. These are welcome developments but there is a desperate need to ensure that these developments are implemented properly and effectively.
India globally ranks second in fisheries and second in aquaculture. Considered an important sector to provide nutritional security, the fishery and aquaculture sector alone engages 14 million people, while it contributes about 1.1 per cent to the country's GDP and 5.15 per cent to the agricultural GDP. The total fish production is 10.07 million metric tonnes. Fisheries had a huge potential for further development, considering the vast coastline. It also offers great export opportunities. Though a humble beginning has been made, the size of the fund appeared inadequate, considering the potential. India needed to acquire a large number of mechanised trawlers, especially for deep-sea fishing. This fund too will help Rajasthan though it is a landlocked state. Rajasthan has 15,838 water bodies of various sizes, covering an area of 4,23,765 hectares (excluding 30,000ha of rivers and canals). The waterlogged area comes to 80,000 ha at full tank level (FTL), in addition to it, the state has 1,80,000 ha of salt-affected area. Rajasthan has also been promoting inland fisheries, especially in the ornamental category. The extension of this facility to the fisheries sector would definitely give a much-needed push to the sector with easy credit facilities.
These are not the only measures announced in the Budget, which, for the first time, has gone an extra mile to alleviate the suffering of farmers. As Jaitley said, the focus of the government next year will be on providing the maximum number of livelihood opportunities in the rural areas. It is spending Rs 14.34 lakh crore for the creation of livelihood and infrastructure in rural areas. The spending is sound but the issue looms over how much is translated into action. Farm distress is real and augmenting the farmer's income is critical for rural uplift. Agri-exports is yet another area that needs to be pursued vigorously. Considering the huge farm production, India has the potential to increase farm exports to at least $100 billion annually from the present $30 billion with a little effort, favourable policy framework and improved rural infrastructure. All this can be achieved in a very short period. The government has proposed to liberalise agricultural exports in the Budget. Also, state-of-the-art testing facilities in the 42 Mega Food Parks are to be set up to ensure high-quality standards.
Jaitley said that the government will also establish a dedicated Affordable Housing Fund to promote rural housing. This will assist in creating much-needed jobs in the rural areas, apart from providing shelter to the homeless.
Overall, there are some good initiatives to address the livelihood concerns of the distressed farmers but only time will tell how well and effectively they are implemented in 2017-18.
(The views expressed are strictly personal)