In the context of making India atmanirbhar, the task of achieving self-reliance and self-sustainability in agriculture is easier and more cost-efficient compared with other sectors of the economy. The first set of measures rely on branding of local farm products to be sold globally, the branding helping to tide over price spirals and making farmers quality-conscious.
A branded quality product has the potential to increase India’s postCovid global export share beyond 2%, and aid rural prosperity. This Mission Swadeshi 2.0 must include standardisation and promotion of indigenous technology knowledge (ITK) in agriculture, where techniques are dependent on local resources in dealing with nutrition, disease and pests. These are the sort of rural innovations that need to be registered at a national-level innovation registry, which, in turn, can help in the filing of patents and get micro-venture capital support for enterprises.
ITK businesses need to be honoured with incentives like recognition at community, state and national levels. Their success beyond the local will depend on how far they resonate to be in sync with sustainability-related goals (SRGs). For instance, as the level of pesticide use per hectare in India is about 0.3 kg, one of the lowest in the world (China uses about 13 kg per hectare), this provides an immediate opportunity to brand and promote ITK.
Success with the recent infusion of Rs 1 lakh crore to strengthen farmgate infrastructure depends on discounted measures and regulatory reforms. For instance, farm producer organisations (FPOs) are currently out of ambit of interest subvention that is available to individual farmers under the priority sector lending (PSL) scheme. Extending PSL to FPOs would certainly align them to self-help groups (SHGs).
Given the consistent increase in the agricultural market size in the last five years (about $300 billion in 2018), it is essential to set up an exclusive agri-business bank, along the lines of those in China, the Philippines and other countries.
The fund crunch to FPOs can also be solved by legitimising the funding of eligible FPOs through corporate social responsibility (CSR) funds. Currently, there is no standardised framework to assess the performance of FPOs. So, such a framework to differentiate their standards is essential. A centralised, digitalised KYC would facilitate faster engagement and save time and resources.
There is an immediate need to increase producer share. This rests on efficient marketing and supply chain management. The provision of buyers’ licence has promoted cartelisation and kept farmers from being fairly remunerated. Recognising this, a legislation must pave the way for seamless flow of farm commodities across state borders.
Aligning with grades and quality controls of international consumers will help these products cross the Indian border as well. Entrepreneurship in the farm and agri-business sector should be encouraged. As SHGs now get collateral-free loans up to Rs 20 lakh and micro food enterprises (MFEs) are supported with funds up to `10,000 crore, connecting these organisations with FPOs at all relevant focal points will spur employment growth in rural areas.
Integrating the efforts of these organisations to identify niche areas — value addition, rural infrastructure, logistics, warehousing, quality certification, etc — can provide livelihood opportunities for migrant workers bearing the brunt of the Covid-19 lockdown. The effective utilisation of MGNREGA can also create adequate work days, with a thrust on rural infrastructure creation.
Finally, recognising allied activities in agriculture — dairy, animal husbandry, bee-keeping, herbal cultivation and fisheries — in GoI’s Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan (ABA) is welcome. It is also essential to highlight the fact that their marketing channels have been mostly distorted and less cooperative-driven. Infrastructure supporting these allied activities must be encouraged as a standalone enterprise, especially among the tribal farming communities.
It is the right time to establish an Agricultural Development Council (ADC) on the lines of the GST Council so as to accelerate the pace of reforms to enhance land leasing, private investment, agricultural R&D, etc. With more than 50% population directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture and allied industries, it is essential that big ticket reforms reach these people as we head into a period where we run a vibrant economy adapting to Covid-19 conditions.
Singh is with Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR)-National Institute of Agricultural Economics and Policy Research, New Delhi. Ranjith is with ICAR-Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi