In the Budget 2019-20, the government has laid a lot of emphasis on the rural economy as a whole and farmers in particular. It has categorically stated that ‘Gaon-Garib- Kisan’ will be their central focus. We have earlier explained in detail about how rural India is going to benefit from this budget in our article Budget 2019 – Tell Us Who You Are, We Tell What’s in It for You.
Government & Farmers- Changing Relationship?
If you look at the way the Union Budget was presented this time, it becomes evident that it has not restricted itself to stating the allocation figures but a greater emphasis was on the roadmap for a larger goal. So, while addressing the farmers what particular context the budget has set? Some broad indications we are getting can be listed as follows.
- The government says it is committed to double the farmers’ income, but it is also expecting the farmers to align their interests with a broader policy focus with much more clarity, so that it can become a win-win situation.
- As in every major change as we have seen in the instance of cleanliness and sanitation access, the government is trying to bring behavioural changes in the farm sector. To ensure this, the government wants to communicate directly with the farmers.
Let’s deliberate on these points further.
A New Win-Win Deal
Doubling the farmers income is not a static one dimensional slogan. Both farmers and the government ought to pursue some strategy to realise this goal. In this budget speech government has talked exactly about that. It said, “Annadata can also be Urjadata” and stated, “We will support private entrepreneurship in driving value-addition to farmers’ produce from the field and for those from allied activities, like Bamboo and timber from the hedges and for generating renewable energy.”
When the government asks farmers to focus on bamboo and timber wherever possible, there are many elements that make this offer credible.
- First of all, India is a timber importing country. So, a call for farmers to grow timber perfectly makes sense.
- As far as bamboo is concerned, the government has already shown its reformist approach by exempting bamboo grown in non-forest areas from definition of a tree, thereby dispensing with the requirement of felling/transit permit for its economic use.
- Further, in this budget there is a proposal of 100 new clusters of traditional industries such as bamboo and honey. The budget said that these industries will help 50,000 artisans apart from farmers.
Thus, making farmers key players in the economic value chain is not an idea that the government is offering all of a sudden but it has the backing of demand and supply rationale and also a support system evolved by the interventions of the government.
What the Finance Minister had said further in her budget speech also holds true to the above-detailed pattern. She said,
“I place my appreciation for our farmers who have made India self-sufficient in pulses. I am sure they will repeat such a success even in the production of oilseeds. Our import bill shall be reduced by their Seva.”
Again, the fact that the country is not self-reliant in oil seeds and the nation has made the progress on pulse and oilseeds production under this government is undeniable. So, when the government asks farmers to produce oil seeds and assures fair price for their produce, it stands to a credible give and take offer.
During 5 years from 2009-10 to 2013-14, only a quantity of 7.28 lakh MT of pulses and oilseeds valuing Rs. 3,117.38 crore was procured at MSP whereas during the period from 2014-15 to 2018-19, a quantity of 93.97 lakh MT of pulses and oilseeds valuing Rs. 44,142.50 crore were procured at MSP by the Modi government. More than 54 lakh farmers benefitted from the procurement of pulses and oilseeds during this period.
As far as the need for farmers to produce oilseeds is concerned, the below headlines may effectively present the case.
Reaching the Farmers Directly
In the following statement from the budget speech, the word ‘economies of scale’ may perhaps demand our attention.
“We also hope to form 10,000 new Farmer Producer Organizations, to ensure economies of scale for farmers over the next five years.”
To achieve ‘economies of scale’ in any produce or to achieve a remarkable result in any of the chosen plans, an example here and there will not suffice. Say for instance, if the government persuades farmers to move from water-intensive crops to other alternatives, a large number of farmers irrespective of states and regions need to buy that idea and act upon it. Once the 10,000 new Farmer Producer Organizations are formed, perhaps the government can find a way to do this through these organisations. Such an outreach of the government to farmers may also visible in this budget line, “This Government will work with State Governments to allow farmers to benefit from e-NAM. The Agriculture Produce Marketing Cooperatives (APMC) Act should not hamper farmers from getting a fair price for their produce.”
Remember what the Prime Minister did when he conceived water conservation to be a mass movement in this term. He directly engaged the village heads by writing a letter to each of them.
Thus, the uplifting of farmers’ economic status is indeed possible and needed. But for that, farmers on their part need to be made ready to utilise the new opportunities before them. The government on its part should provide such opportunities and also ensure an ecosystem of incentives in such a way that farmers find these opportunities profitable. The emphasis on the allied activities of agriculture has been the focus of this government from its first term. In the budget that was presented at the beginning of the first term, the roadmap in this regard is placed even more firmly.