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India Budget 2020: An opportunity to promote efficient farming ideas

01 Feb 2020

India accounts for 7.39% of total global agricultural output. The contribution of the agriculture sector to the Indian economy is 15.4% much higher than the world average of 6.4% as it employs nearly half of the workforce in the country

VADODARA, 1 February 2020: India accounts for 7.39% of total global agricultural output. The contribution of the agriculture sector to the Indian economy is 15.4% much higher than the world average of 6.4% as it employs nearly half of the workforce in the country. India’s requirement for food grains is projected to be 300 million tonnes by 2025, which implies that the crop output needs to grow at an annual average of 2%, which is close to the current trends.

Despite the high levels of production, agricultural yield in India is lower than in other countries. This has impacted farm incomes as well as farmers’ ability to take credit for investing in their landholdings. Key issues that have added to the agricultural distress include imbalanced use of soil nutrients resulting in loss of fertility, decreasing sizes of land holdings, uneven access to modern agrarian technology, continued dependence on monsoons, inadequate access to irrigation and formal agricultural credit.

The policymakers have been giving considerable attention to the sector and providing impetus through various national-level programmes like agricultural land leasing laws, promoting micro-irrigation techniques to improve efficiency in water usage and introducing a national agricultural market to allow the trading of agricultural produce online amongst others. The forthcoming Budget, thus, is a window through which the government can actively identify and bridge these crevices through policies such as higher allocation for irrigation, higher accountability, better monitoring and a new direction in agriculture sector policies.

Improvement in agricultural productivity through micro-irrigation

As of 2019, out of the 141 million hectares of cultivated land used, about 51% have access to irrigation. Within this, only about 15% (10 million hectares) have access to modern irrigation technology. Indian farmers largely adopt flood irrigation, which is highly inefficient and leads to the overuse of groundwater sources. For a country like India that currently uses 2-3 times as much water to produce one tonne of grain as opposed to countries like China, Brazil, and the United States, the adoption of micro-irrigation technology is the need of the hour. Moreover, this is especially useful while growing water-intensive crops such as paddy.

Having recognized the increasing fragmentation of agricultural land and scarcity of water sources, the government has been promoting micro-irrigation technology through the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana (PMKSY). The current target is to popularize the use of micro-irrigation technology by covering an additional 10 million hectares of land in 5 years. To achieve this ambitious target, it becomes imperative that the government emplaces a mechanism to ensure the smooth flow of funds, thereby ensuring their adequate utilization by the end beneficiary.

Process streamlining measures in irrigation subsidy

The delays in the disbursal of micro-irrigation subsidies, under the PMKSY programme, are hampering its progress. Online portal for an end to end process execution and visibility, Transparency in the process of fund disbursement, ensuring checkpoints at various stages and adherence to timelines can encourage more investment by prospective competitors, thereby benefitting farmers. District wise annual progress and percentage of penetration of micro-irrigation can be a very instrumental measure. The installations can be geo-tagged to get real-time data during the year. Hence, the upcoming budget can be used to conceive such ideas to guarantee the availability of funds on time as well as simpler funding norms.

Awareness programmes in micro-irrigation projects

Information should be made available and accessible to all stakeholders for regular monitoring and completion of these projects within deadlines. This can be ensured by seeking greater accountability through the introduction of relevant policies or conditions in the existing guidelines. Additionally, digital media (website, promotions through Facebook, mailers, portals, SMS, etc.) in all states should be strengthened for amplified information sharing. Additionally, to create more awareness about the benefits of micro-irrigation technology in states where digital media is not that proactive, the government should incentivize such programmes.

By Randhir Chauhan, Managing Director, Netafim India

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