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Global Rajasthan Agritech Meet (GRAM) was organised in Udaipur recently by Rajasthan Government and FICCI to provide a national and international platform to the farmers for knowledge sharing in several different segments of the Indian agriculture sector. In a candid interview with BK Jha, Rajasthan Agriculture Minister Prabhu Lal Saini speaks about the initiatives which aim to double farmers’ income. Excerpts:
What are the main takeaways of the Agritech Meet?
Generally people believe that Global Rajasthan Agritech Meet (GRAM) is all about attracting investments in the agriculture sector in the state. This is not true as apart from investments, it focuses on innovations, sharing technical knowledge about diversification of crops, organic farming, herbiculture, floriculture. Main is to double farmers’ income by 2022 and for that the farmers need to adopt new technology to ensure success and prosperity. First of all, an initiative like GRAM has provided the farmers a national as well as international platform. We had signed the 38 MoUs worth Rs 4,400 crore in GRAM Jaipur last year and the 18 MoUs worth Rs 487.96 crore were signed in Udaipur. With these initiatives innovations and improvisations in agriculture will be manifold. The concept of 'Jajam Baithaks' ( Interactive Session with Farmers) would be carried forward to the various Gram Panchayats. Farmers will feel more comfortable taking their farm related queries to Gram Panchayats who are aware of the specific agricultural strengths and limitations.
What are new measures, the state has recently taken, to push agriculture sector?
The Centre of Excellence on Maize in Banswara, which was announced by the Chief Minister during the inaugural session of GRAM Udaipur, will be implemented soon. A fund of Rs 10 crore has already been sanctioned in this regard. Similarly, at Balicha in Udaipur an agro tech tower will be set up for Rs. 14 Crores. There was also a budget announcement of Rs 114 crore for the development of GRAM Mandis in the Balicha and adjoining area. Van Upaj Mandis (Forest Produce Mandi) are being set up in Udaipur and nearby areas. Mandis will be set up at an equal distance of 30 km to cover the entire Division. For the convenience of tribal people who come to Mandis with several forest produce including herbs old age system of Transport Permit (TP) has been done away. The tribal belt of the Division has immensely gained from the special minor forest produce Mandi, which has helped the farmers find the right value for their produce.
Farm credit and crop insurance are two major pain points for the farmers. What steps are being taken address these problems?
In the last three and a half years, Rs 55,000 crore of interest free loans have been given to farmers in Rajasthan, which is the highest in the country till now. The State Government plans to take this figure to Rs 75,000 crores in the next 1.5 years. The interest rate of Land Development Banks and Co-operative Banks is also being continuously reduced and will soon be as low as 5.5%. The farmers who take these loans will also be given an insurance cover under the cooperative sector Bima Yojna of Rs. 6 Lakhs and will soon be increased to Rs 10 Lakhs. The premium amount for Bima Yojna is Rs 55 annually, out of which the farmer only has to contribute Rs 27.50 paise. The remaining amount will be contributed by the district co-operative banks. In addition to this, a separate fund of Rs 100 Crore has also been made for milk unions to benefit as many as 9 Lakh milk producers. Besides, 2,652 Custom Hiring Centres will be set up in the next 3 years.Crop Insurance schemes are being implemented effectively. We had some issues, pertaining to payments to the farmers in some districts, with the nodal agency Agriculture Crop Insurance Company and one public sector insurance company. However, we have sorted out these issues.
Olive Farming is picking up in the state. How do you plan to take it forward?
It is indeed a matter of pride that Rajasthan is the first state in the country to produce Olive Green Tea. The state is now also exporting extra virgin olive oil to countries like UK, USA, Singapore, Netherlands, among others. We have set up a processing unit in Lunkansar in Bikaner. With a huge nursery at Bassi near Jaipur, farmers are getting olive plants for their farms. Going forward, we would be expanding area under Olive farming manifold and that would help in raising farmers’ income. Moreover, we have also launched our own brand of Olive tea which getting very popular.
On the one hand you talk about adopt of new technology and on the other hand you say ‘No and Never’ to Genetically Modifed (GM) crops in Rajasthan. Is it not contradictory?
No, we have made it very clear that Rajasthan does not need GM crops. Unless and until there is international consensus on safety concerns, we would follow ‘No and Never’ to GM crops. Our agro-climatic and natural conditions are best suited for conventional farming and do not adversely affect productivity. For example, promoters of GM Mustard say that it will give 16-17 quintal per hectare. But in Rajasthan, we are producing nearly 30 quintal per hectare through conventional seeds and methods. Oil content is also higher in our traditional varieties. So, I do not think there is a need for adopting GM in the state at a time when there is lack of consensus and clarity on safeguards and regulations. Yes, we are open for innovations and new technologies which suit for requirements for ensuring farmers’ prosperity and growth of the agriculture sector.