Millennium Post

Vulnerable agriculture

Farmer’s income cannot be doubled by 2022 without a drastic change in the government’s approach

Three years from now, let us be optimistic to begin with, farmers' income will be doubled, or else our Prime Minister will dub us a 'professional pessimist'. However, the irony is, ever since Modi announced this flagship programme, the agriculture sector is suffering steep decline. The Gross Value Added (GVA) at basic prices declined from 8 per cent in 2015-16, to 7.9 in 2016-17, 6.9 in 2017-18, and 6.6 in 2018-19. The fall gives way to 'pessimism' and creates strong doubt about the success of this programme.

In the last five years, our government has succeeded only in explaining in 14 volumes as to how farmers' income will be doubled by 2022. The last volume contains only recommendations. Meanwhile, the agriculture sector went from bad to worse, farmers' income went further down with no sign of improvement in the near future, and their distress aggravated further. Does it not also speak volumes about the dismal performance of the government? We cannot feed on mere 'dreams' and 'optimism' as our PM want us to. We need real food and real income through real growth in Agriculture.

The following three years will thus be very important, but such importance in not reflected even in the budget for the current year tabled in the Parliament by our Minister of Finance Nirmala Sitharaman. The element of wild policy experiments is there along with a little dole to each farmer of our country. Even PM-Kisan Samman Yojna has faultlines which are to give 6000 rupees per annum to all the farmers from this fiscal year itself. The government said that 14.5 crore farmers will be benefited by this programme, but it still remains a mystery how this figure was calculated when the government does not have even the list of eligible farmers.

Minister of Agriculture has recently urged the states in a meeting to ensure enumeration and listing of all eligible farmers for direct transfer of cash benefits. Obviously, the planners have little knowledge of the ground reality. There are many landowners who are not farmers, and there are real farmers who do not have any piece of land. Moreover, there are numerous real farmers with very small land holding. That is why this money can give benefit to a large number of persons, but is not going to help agriculture in a big way, because it may not be invested fully in this sector. All the real farmers are not eligible and therefore they are to get anything out of this scheme. Moreover, agriculture is not all about landholders, there are also 50 per cent of our workforce engaged in agriculture who will not get anything.

Is there anything in the budget for the current year which may reverse the sliding growth rate in agriculture in terms of GVA? We need a microscopic view to search for one, but one can hardly find any such provision as against the Finance Minister's speech which was full of assurances and rhetoric, and the claim of path breaking Union Budget for attaining $5 trillion economy in five years from now. We are willing to be optimistic but we will need 8 per cent of consistent growth in the economy as Economic Survey says, but the budget has pegged growth at 7 per cent

for the current year. If agriculture is sliding how can we achieve consistent growth over 8 per cent?

The average annual growth rate in real terms in agriculture and allied sectors has remained at around 2.88 per cent in the last five years, belying all claims of growth by the government. The share of agriculture, forestry and fishing sector in the economy has continuously been declining since 2014-15 when it was 16.5 per cent which came down to 14.4 per cent in 2018-19. Such a decline is witnessed despite the claim of the government that budgetary allocation of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare Ministry was being increased year after year which reached Rs. 58,080 crore in 2018-19. A press release of the government had claimed, "It is worth noting that if we compare budgetary allocation during Congress regime from the year 2009 to 2014 which was Rs. 1,21,082 crore has been increased to Rs. 2,11,694 crore for the 5 years of the Modi Government that is 2014-19. This is an increase of 74.5 per cent." If it is so, why the agriculture sector is declining despite such a big expenditure? There must be something wrong with the government's programme and implementation. It's a question of retrospection and introspection by the government.

Now in the first year of the second term of Modi, which is the sixth year of his rule, almost the same approach has been retained with minor tweaks here and there. In 2014-15, when Modi first became PM, the agriculture ministry was allocated Rs 31,063 crore. Against the Budget 2018-19 (revised) estimates of Rs 86,602 crore for agriculture and allied activities. Sitharaman's Budget 2019-20 proposed to invest 1,51,518 crore in this sector. If we consider the dole to farmers to the tune of 75,000 crore rupees, which is not an investment is agriculture and allied activities, this budget is left with even lesser amount than the last years' revised estimate. How can one be optimistic that the decline in the sector can be arrested or reversed?

During the presentation of the budget Finance Minister did mention about strengthening agri-infrastructure, promoting biofuels, expanding the national electronic agricultural markets, and encourage formation of 10,000 farmer producer companies. However, there is no action plan or timeline for implementation. She also talked about zero-budget natural farming. It is supposed to shun the use of chemicals and envisages use of inputs like bio-fertilisers and bio-pesticides. It is still being experimented and cannot be relied upon. We cannot hazard our food security in experimentation. The idea of farmer producer companies will also be an experiment and there may be apprehension among the farmers to lose their ownership of land and their ending up as only agricultural labour in their own fields. It will also be time-taking to encourage farmers to make companies, or hand over the land to farmer companies. Many issues may crop up in between.

The fragile and vulnerable Indian agriculture with constraints of land, water shortage, vagaries of climate change, lack of public and private investment in actual agricultural activities, unavailability of agriculture markets and infrastructure need more care from the government than it has been provided in the budget. Government must think over it because over reliance on PM-Kisan cannot improve the agriculture sector, and farmer's income cannot be doubled by 2022 without drastic change in the government's approach.

(The views expressed are strictly personal)

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