Lacks farm focus, vision

BUDGET 2011 comes against the backdrop of an emerging global food crisis caused partly by extreme weather events in some major food-producing countries, including China, and partly by the escalating petroleum price due to the battle for democracy in West Asia. Add to this the continuing food inflation in India.

The last Budget of finance minister Pranab Mukherjee included special production efforts in eastern India, described by the National Commission on Farmers as the “sleeping giant of Indian agriculture”. The major components of the 2011-12 Budget relating to farming include bringing Green Revolution to the eastern region, integrated development of 60,000 pulses villages in rain-fed areas, promotion of oil palm, increasing the production of fruits and vegetables and the promotion of nutritious millets like bajra, jowar, ragi, and initiation of a national mission for protein supplements through dairy farming, piggery, goat rearing and fisheries in selected blocks. Provision has also been made for accelerated fodder development programme and the promotion of organic farming methods.
The target of credit flow to farmers has been increased to `4,75,000 crores and since so far most of the credit went to companies and not to farmers, Mr Mukherjee is planning to advice banks to step up direct lending to small and marginal farmers. Also, the effective rate of interest to farmers who repay the crop loans on time will be four per cent, as suggested by the National Commission on Farmers in 2006. Provision has also been made for more mega food parks, for warehousing and storage and cold chains. It is proposed to attract private investment in this sector.
Mr Mukherjee has also announced that a national Food Security Bill will be introduced in Parliament this year, to address under nutrition and malnutrition particularly among women and children. He also proposed that some of the subsidies, like the one relating to fertilisers and kerosene, will be paid to the farmers directly. Excise duty has also been reduced in the case of equipment for drip irrigation. A welcome step is the creation of the Women Self-help Groups’ Fund with an outlay of `500 crores. If this is linked to the Mahila Kisan programme, it will have an impact on rural income.
On the whole, the Budget contains several good proposals but it lacks a vision and a strategy for keeping farmers on the farm and for attracting and retaining youth in farming. While Mr Mukherjee emphasised the need for reaping a demographic dividend from our youthful population, there is no strategy or programme for attracting and retaining youth in farming. Most of the farm graduates seek employment in the organised sector and are not interested in going back to the villages. The major deficiency of this Budget is that it has not addressed two goals of the National Policy for Farmers placed in Parliament in November 2007. This policy calls for an income orientation to farming and the measurement of agricultural growth in terms of growth rate in the real income of farm families. Also it calls for an integrated action plan involving higher farm productivity and larger income to encourage yuva kisans to take to farming as a profession.
It is unfortunate that in a year of emerging global food crisis and persistence of food inflation, an opportunity to accelerate agricultural progress and agrarian prosperity has been missed. The only hope for farmers is the enactment of a Food Security Bill which confers legal access to food. While the right to information can be implemented with the help of files, the right to food can be implemented only with the help of farmers.

M.S. Swaminathan is the chairman of the National Commission on Farmers. He is considered the father of India’s green revolution.

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