The agriculture sector has made significant progress over the years, and the government’s recent measures have infused a lot of vitality. The sector is now on the verge of a quantum leap toward sustainability and resilience. Expectations are high, and the Union Budget 2023-24 is expected to create a supportive ecosystem for the sector. Higher allocations and adequate financial provisions are expected in the Union Budget to prepare farmers for the future. The government is expected to create an enabling and future-ready agriculture ecosystem. Further the Union Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman should focus on 8 key areas which make the farming sector future-ready.
Process streamlining measures in irrigation subsidy
The delays in the disbursal of micro-irrigation subsidies under the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana (PMKSY) programme have hampered its progress. Online portal for an end-to-end process execution and visibility, transparency in the process for fund disbursement, ensuring checkpoints at various stages and adherence to timelines would bring efficiency in subsidy disbursal and support farmers to be debt-free in a faster way.
2. Crop diversification to increase productivity and value
The 12 per cent of the cropped area under fruits and vegetables (F&V) leads to 24 per cent in value terms, in contrast to 13 per cent land under oilseeds which gives only 6 per cent in value terms because of lack of scalability. Addressing the domestic demand for edible oils, it is inevitable to promote domestic oilseeds and oil palm cultivation with higher productivity measures. Similarly, rice being one of the crucial crops both in terms of area coverage and usage of water, promoting drip technology will help increase the yield, save water and reduce carbon emissions. Drip irrigation adoption also facilitates crop diversification, thus, making a direct impact on farmer incomes.
3. Making PDMC mission mode through Project Management Unit
The 10 million hectare coverage target in 5 years has current achievement levels at 50 per cent. It is primarily because there are certain gaps in states’ alignment with the Centre in terms of execution of the scheme and overall focus. Making Per Drop More Crop (PDMC) a Centrally sponsored scheme with a mission mode execution focus through Project Management Unit (PMU) like other key flagship schemes will go a long way in overall achievement. Basis the assessment, the subsidy can be capped at 50 per cent.
4. Need a push for the adoption of drip irrigation in field crops
Looking at the ever-depleting groundwater table, policymakers should push for drip irrigation usage in water-guzzling crops such as rice, wheat, and sugarcane. Currently, the penetration of drip technology in these crops is low. Additionally, drip irrigation helps in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in crops like rice.
5. Providing infrastructure status to micro irrigation industry
Infrastructure status would help the micro irrigation manufacturer (95 per cent of which comes under MSME) to reduce operating costs, thereby accelerating the industry growth, and bringing the equipment cost down for the farmer community.
6. Aligning different schemes together for exponential benefit
Focus on renewable energy like solar will ensure energy security, especially in agriculture and the rural landscape as well as address environmental concerns. Making farmers energy-sufficient would also reduce the burden on government energy subsidy bills. Solar installation-friendly agriculture would help farmers with reduced operational costs, boost land utilisation and improve overall income.
7. Creating infrastructures to support innovation and digitalisation
Dedicated focus and fund allocation in the upcoming budget for infrastructure in rural areas to support the digitalisation of agriculture will put the sector growth on the fast track. Currently, India is spending less than 1 per cent of agri GDP on R&D. An agricultural innovation fund, which supports agritech solutions, startups and digitalisation at different levels of the agri value chain can transform the agricultural economy in the future.
8. Policy for recycling in agriculture
Plastics are used extensively in farming. Focus on creating sustainable means for disposing of plastics and policy intervention for recycling plastic that is used in agriculture would go a long way to align environmental conservation.
(Randhir Chauhan is the Managing Director of Netafim India and Senior Vice President, Netafim. Views expressed in the article are author’s own.)
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