Like many other agriculture policy enthusiasts, I too had made my wish list expecting specific announcements in the Union Budget 2020-21. I even shared my thoughts in the social media, much to a broad acceptance of friends following me. In fact, few of the 16 points agenda of the Finance Minister, directly or indirectly, have addressed some of my commonsensical recommendations, emanating from experience in the agricultural policy space and little bit of domain knowledge. While this has made me happy, but few obvious imperatives missing from the policy intentions have again pushed the ‘doables’ to future years. I try to analyze here the budget announcements in the sector amidst challenges to make Indian agriculture climate-resilient and profitable to farmers.
The Positive Steps
Long pending Structural Reforms: It is very heartening to note that the Finance Minister has proposed to encourage States to implement much needed structural reforms like land leasing; agricultural marketing and contract farming. These legislations have been advocated by the National Commission on Farmers; Committee on Doubling Farmers’ Income; NITI Aayog and a number of think tanks working in agricultural policy arena. Even model laws have been circulated to States for their consideration. The reasons for delay in implementation of these game-changing reforms agenda is not unknown to researchers or policy-makers. Political will in many instances is not forthcoming because of vested interests blocking the move. As agriculture is a state subject, a push from center with specific incentives to States could set the trigger. Let’s take for example the land leasing laws. Except in very few states, land leasing is not legalized thus impeding private investments which would otherwise have come from the share-croppers/tenants/lessees. This is because of a lurking fear amongst the land owners that a populist government might record the cultivated lands in the names of tenants in future years. However, a well laid out law, if enforced with explicit provisions to allay such fears, would not only encourage the land owners, but also help the tenant farmers in accessing credit, technology and other services offered by the public service delivery system. The announcement of the Finance Minister doesn’t contain any specific measure that might encourage State governments to follow these model acts propounded by the Central Government. The NITI Aayog may advise for a suitable model of incentivizing states for promoting these ‘pro-farmer’ legislations.
Focus on Animal Husbandry and Fisheries: The Economic survey 2019-20 presented to the Indian Parliament just ahead of this year’s budget has acknowledged the role of livestock and fisheries in overall growth of agriculture sector. It states that the livestock sector grew at a CAGR of 7.9% during last five years, while the agriculture sector as a whole had 2.8% annual growth rate. It is in this context, the focus of the government to promote animal husbandry, milk processing and development of the blue-economy is a welcome step. The Government has since created separate Departments for all these verticals and therefore, targeted investments is expected to yield productive outcomes. To free all livestock of diseases like FMD (foot and mouth diseases) and Brucellosis in cattle and the PPR (peste des petits ruminants) in sheep and goats by 2025 is a very significant announcement considering these diseases responsible for livestock productivity loss. Similarly, raising milk processing capacity to double figures from the existing level (53 million tons) would make safe milk available to a large population and thus, enhance income of dairy farmers. The target to enhance fish production and promotion of FPOs for fish farmers are also very laudable steps.
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