There is consensus in the country that farmer’s income instead of increasing has either declined or has remained stagnant. Even the union agriculture minister acknowledged that minimum support prices are not being received by the farmers in many crops. Some analysts have suggested that instead of central government meeting 60% cost of procurement, it should meet 90% of the cost because of budget squeeze in most of the states. Many farmer associations have also endorsed the recommendation of Swaminathan commission of 50% margin on the cost of production. There is an obvious paradox that the government has to deal with and that is balancing inflationary pressures due to higher prices and containing farmer’s distress and improving their income. Paradoxically enough, there is hardly any discussion on reducing the cost of cultivation or production of agriculture or livestock based enterprises. Likewise there is also no discussion on highly non sustainable use of of agri-inputs such as chemical pesticides, water, fertilizer etc.
I suggest that the next budget at state and central level focuses on improving incomes by reducing cost, adding value to produce at farm level including packaging, and improving wages of women and men workers. Elimination of child labour from the farming sector can be achieved by increasing productivity because our studies have shown that if productivity is low than local incentives for engaging children are highest. Both for reduction of external material inputs and for increasing productivity, innovations have to play a major role. There is no obligation yet on the part of Krishi Vigyan Kendra in every district to allocate at least one third space and resources for trial and demonstration of low cost sustainable innovations developed by farmers. A significant budget needs to be allocated for immediate on farm trials of thousands of farmer innovations documented by NIF in all the agro climatic zone and subzone of the country. There should a strong censure of populist measures of making water and power free. Recent policy of Telangana government in this regard is highly suicidal for the agricultural community of that state. When there is no incentive to use water efficiently, farmers will tend to flood irrigate their field. It will lead to high leaching of nutrients and increased succulence of the plant. The result is higher pest attack. Given the unfortunate practice of excessive use of chemical pesticide and that too many times in-cocktail formulations leads to development of resistance among the pests. It is well established that productivity of all material farm inputs has declined steeply in the last few decades. One has to use more water, more pesticides & water, fertilizer to get the same amount of output. The water table has been going down and with free power, it will go down further. The direct effect on small and marginal farmers unable to use submersible pumps will be either reduced or non-availability of water. The next budget should include following provisions:
a) Rs. five crore per district for rural innovations and start-ups aimed at improving farmer’s , worker’s and women’s income requiring no further approval from state or central level. All sanctions to be put on website by a committee chaired by collector/DDO .
b) Awards for farmers, workers and women groups which are able to reduce cost of cultivation per unit of production and or increased productivity in every block of the country (Rs. 50 lakh per block). These funds will also be used for further experimentation and improvement of technology.
c) A special mission for providing agro meteorological information to every Gramsabha to plan flexible farm operations to mitigate adverse effects of climatic fluctuations. Special provisions must be made for community nurseries of paddy varieties to improve farmer’s ability to transplant relevant variety given different uncertainties in eastern India.
d) Block level women’s knowledge innovation & incubation fund is needed to improve their traditional skills, help them leverage their food processing knowledge and skills to meet emerging demand for niche products .At least thousand women enterprises in every district should be the aim in the next budget.
e) The platforms to bring consumer and producer together like SATTVIK traditional food festival organised by SRISTI must be expanded and deregulated to improve the income of farmers in a time bound manner.
f) Community level small farm, machinery / devices banks must be created to reduce drudgery and improve productivity of farm workers.
g) In-situ value education should be the mantra of development in the next budget. Small multi-purpose food processing machinery supported by NIF can be replicated urgently to prevent farm distress due to price crash. Mobile food processing vans must be provided to young rural entrepreneurs to provide on farm facilities of processing. The current crisis in potato can be easily handled by converting it into starch and other products. With an investment of 5 lakhs potato being wasted can be immediately converted into starch.
h) While there has been a lot of thrust for start-up movement in urban areas, India’s first grassroots incubator setup in collaboration with Gujarat Government in 1997 known as GIAN.org is languishing for support. We need to expand GIAN’S capacity to build upon the knowledge and ideas of women and other workers, ITI & Polytechnic students to meet the unmet social needs.