Friday, December 23, 2016

2016-Agriculture: Drought, pulse crisis mar game changers e-trading, crop insurance

The year gone by for the Indian agriculture sector posed serious challenges as the country confronted the drought yet again due to poor monsoon even as the Modi government took a number of steps like new crop insurance scheme and also a trading platform for agri products trying to bring in a few 'game changers'.
In circa 2016, those managing the country's food and agri sector also had to deal with the shortfall in the pulse production. In the budget speech for fiscal 2016-17, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley pledged for the government to "reorient its interventions in the farm and non-farm sectors to double the income of the farmers by 2022".


Even as the government kept talking about keeping farmers in focus, the demonetisation drive announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in November also triggered controversies that the decision was taken "unmindful" of winter planting season.

In between, during the year, there came up in public discourse a contentious debate on whether agriculture income would be brought under the tax net. On May 5, replying to a debate in the Lok Sabha, the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley ruled out possibilities
to bring agriculture income under the tax net. However, he cautioned strict action will be taken against those passing off income from other sources as agriculture income. 
"One is honest agricultural income. You may have a large income which is a separate case. That is a rare case. But there are some cases where people are passing off income from other sources as agriculture income. This is a case of evasion. That will be dealt with under the law," Mr Jaitley said.

The announcement of the New Crop Insurance scheme - popularly touted as Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yozana-- was made on 13th January, 2016. Under the new scheme that would cost government Rs 8,000-9,000 crore annually, the farmers' premium has been kept at a maximum of 2 per cent for foodgrains and oilseeds, and up to 5 per cent for horticulture and cotton crops.


  The new Crop Insurance scheme is in line with ‘One Nation – One Scheme’ theme. “It incorporates the best features of all previous schemes and at the same time, all previous shortcomings/weaknesses have been removed,” an official announcement said. 

It also highlighted the end of the cob of complexities the farmers had to face earlier.
       Similarly, in another ingenious step, on April 14, the 125th birth anniversary of B R Ambedkar, the Prime Minister launched an electronic trading platform,- eNAM for farmers. The e-NAM trading mechanism initially had 21 Mandis covered but had a target to integrate 585 regulated wholesale markets or agriculture produce market committees (APMCs) within a couple of years. The new platform was to help farmers sell their produce to the highest bidders.

Launched with a budget allocation of Rs 200 crore, as many as 25 key commodities, including wheat, paddy, maize, onion, jowar, bajra, groundnut, potato, soyabean and mustard seed, were selected 
for e-trading. The e-NAM platform on first phase covered crucial agrarian states of Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Telangana,  Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Jharkhand and Himachal Pradesh. 
The initiative was lauded by various stake holders. Even private sector seemed to endorse the move. 
Krish Iyer, President & CEO Walmart India, found the eNAM initiative forward looking and said his company “will continue to strengthen our direct farm programme to complement government vision to make a difference to the lives of farmers”. On June 20, in another far-reaching step, the government allowed 100 per cent FDI in Animal Husbandry (including breeding of dogs), Pisciculture, Aquaculture and Apiculture.

The pulse shortage and high prices often kept government under pressure. Both the Ministries of Food and Agriculture besides government crisis managers like Mr Jaitley were on their toes most often holding conclaves to deal with the situation. On June 15, 2016 the central government in a major move decided to enhance buffer stock of pulses from 1.5 lakh tonnes to 8 lakh tonnes. The Prime Minister himself kept an eagle's eye views on the developments as growing prices of essential item potatoes grew dearer by 60 per cent in wholesale markets and pulses getting costlier by 36 per cent over the past year. These pushed up India's annual wholesale inflation for the second month in May to its highest levels in nearly two years.
        In July, the decision on pulse was reviewed and the ministerial committee decided to increase the buffer stocks to whopping 20 lakh tonnes from the 8 lakh tonnes.
        The government had also set up a committee headed by Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian to consider reasonable increase in Minimum Support Price for pulses and bonus for the farmers for producing pulses.The Centre also decided to provide additional pulses to the states at Rs.66 per kg  for Tur and at Rs.82 per kg Urad for retail distribution. During the year, the government also decided to import of pulses from countries like Mozambique and Myanmar.


       With pulse shortage remaining an issue as the domestic demand was around 23-24 million tonnes, in September, Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh urged states to promote pulses even in the winter or Rabi season, beginning October. 
       But breakthrough in developing a new “short duration variety of Arhar Dal” developed by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) is expected to be a game changer vis-a-vis pulse production. On October 31, 2016, after the Finance Minister and the Agriculture Minister visited IARI, it has been announced that the new pulse variety, PUSA 16, is currently undergoing field trials in eight locations across the country. This variety matures in around 120 days against at least 175 to 220 days taken by other Arhar varieties. 
       The Finance Minister also announced that this variety of Arhar will be released commercially in the next kharif season 2017. “We will put this new Arhar variety for commercial use soon. Once we put for commercial use, certainly it will have great impact,” he said.

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       According to scientist with IARI, this variety is likely to encourage farmers in Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh to shift to pulses cultivation from water intensive paddy. 
       As regard drought management, the Prime Minister himself held a series of high-level meetings with state agriculture ministers and also at the central level and in May a series of measures were advised for the states. 
He also met Chief Ministers of drought affected states like Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Gujarat and Maharashtra and said action ought to be taken for short term and long term mitigation. 
States were also asked to prepare an Action Plan on a weekly basis to tide over challenges like shortage and scarcity of drinking water, conservation efforts and usage of existing water resource optimally. They were requested to undertake a major drive for construction of farm ponds, adopt micro irrigation and diversify into crops requiring less water.

The year also saw government pushing yogic farming. The government said yogic farming will be promoted via Parampragat Krishi Vikas Yojana (PKVY), under which organic farming is also being given an encouragement. Asserting that positive thoughts yield rich dividends even on nature and livestock, Mr Singh maintained that the NDA regime's target of doubling the farmers' income by 2022 remains a feasible target and yogic farming can play a major role in this.
      In order to achieve higher yields for farmers and help them double the income by 2022 as envisaged by government in the budget, Mr Singh said the government will promote the idea of 'yogic farming' to increase the country's farm production.
      "Positive thoughts have an impact on nature and even livestock and people around. Some people don't believe in it but there is a scientific truth. ...We are going to support this idea of yogic farming," Mr Singh said addressing an event on traditional organic farming.
      This year also saw Sikkim emerging as the country's full fledged organic state.
(Source - UNI)
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