Prepare the ground for Punjab’s turnaround : The Tribune India

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INFOCUS AGRICULTURE: FARM POLICY

Prepare the ground for Punjab’s turnaround

There is a need for an integrated and realistic policy document addressing immediate concerns as well as medium and long-term perspectives to prepare a platform for devising strategic interventions and also suggesting balanced budgetary provisions for all agri sub-sectors. Besides making the most of Central schemes and having a State Agriculture Policy, there can be the provision of a separate & sufficient agricultural budget.

Prepare the ground for Punjab’s turnaround


SS Chahal

Asteep decline in agricultural growth in Punjab should be a trigger to explore ways and means for making course correction to regain the position which the state enjoyed as a dominant agro-based economy till the mid-1980s. The drop in the spectacular growth trajectory of 5.7 per cent per annum (1971-72 to 1985-86) to 3 per cent (1986-87 to 2004-05) coincided with the waning of the impact of the Green Revolution. Sadly, growth slipped further to as low as 1.9 per cent during the period from 2005-06 to 2018-19, which was greatly due to the unanticipated post-Green Revolution problems experienced by the state. In the process of making the nation food-secure, the state consistently lost its long-established commodity mix as well as heterogeneity in the cropping pattern, suffered depletion of natural resources far beyond the rate of replenishment as well as a decline in the household income, a major share of which comes from net receipts for cultivation and farming of animals. It also caused a major shift by converting self-sustaining village units into market-dependent rural entities which have been overwhelmed by indebtedness, environmental degradation and life-threatening health hazards. Right from the Johl Committee (1) 1986 report to the Ahluwalia Expert Group report (2020) and the views of reputed scientists, economists, experts and institutions, the solutions offered are many but the implementation by successive governments has been dismal.

Considering Punjab’s financial woes, every minor or major effort matters for providing support to good farming and to the youth who want to opt for farming as a profession. However, the Annual Report 2020-21 of the Union Ministry of Agriculture Cooperation and Farmers’ Welfare (MoA&FW) reveals that there is a need to take advantage of the schemes rolled out by the Union Government, as is being done by many other states for the development of agriculture in a sustainable manner. The MoA&FW was the nodal ministry for the NABARD-supported Rs 5,000 crore corpus fund for micro-irrigation that was made operational with the objective of providing additional resources for incentivising its adoption by different states from 2019 to 2021. It helped to expand micro-irrigation to an area of 12.83 lakh hectares involving 10.20 lakh farmers in different states, but not in Punjab, which made no withdrawals from the sanctioned amount of Rs 149.65 crore till March 31, 2021. States such as Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat withdrew 100 per cent, 70 per cent and 33 per cent out of the sanctioned amount of Rs 616.13 crore, Rs 1,357.93 crore and Rs 764.13 crore, respectively. This should have been a priority for Punjab as groundwater extraction, mainly due to flood irrigation, exceeds 90 per cent, which is more than that of any other state.

Similarly, the Central scheme on the formation and promotion of 10,000 Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) has a total budget outlay of Rs 6,865 crore for the first five years (2019-20 to 2023-24). These cooperatives can facilitate vibrant and sustainable income-oriented farming by enhancing productivity, realising higher returns through collective action for better marketing linkages and ultimately becoming economically viable and self-sustaining units. As per MoA&FW data, out of 4,959 FPOs registered in 2020, as many as 1,950 came up in Maharashtra, 654 in UP, 257 in Haryana and only 13 in Punjab. The FPOs are badly needed in Punjab where individualistic farming by small, marginal and medium farmers has proved unprofitable and unsustainable and the contract faming model with corporate participation has been labelled as unacceptable by the farming community.

The Centre has raised manifold the funds meant for startups, under the scheme launched in 2016. As per FICCI-2021 report, Karnataka has the maximum number of agri startups, followed by Maharashtra, NCR, Haryana, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Gujarat, whereas Punjab is not even taking baby steps despite suffering from large-scale unemployment among the educated youth. Further, according to the 2016-17 Annual Report of Industries, states such as Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Tamil Nadu have greater number of registered food processing factories. Punjab could only get a small grant of Rs 10 crore for some projects from the Ministry of Food Processing out of the total investment of Rs 443.5 crore, which is far less as compared to other states. For Maharashtra, it is Rs 1,801.7 crore. Setting up of food processing units near production farming units is the need of the hour for the state for managing glut, reducing enormous wastages and promoting diversification. 

Strategic interventions

Hybrid and GM technologies have tremendously expanded the seed industry. However, the multi-crore spurious seed business is also flourishing in the country, exposing the bottlenecks in the availability of seed quality to the farmers. The state must have an effective seed policy. It may enact the proposed ‘The Punjab Seed and Agricultural Produce Traceability Bill 2021’, even if it is subsumed later under the Seed Bill of the Parliament. It should be a part of the State Agriculture Policy, which this agrarian state does not have so far. There is a need for an integrated and realistic policy document addressing immediate concerns as well as medium and long-term perspectives to prepare a platform for devising strategic interventions and also suggesting balanced budgetary provisions for all agri sub-sectors for holistic and synergistic development. A look at the budgetary provisions of the past few years shows that more than two-third allocation goes for power subsidy, leaving important areas such as animal husbandry, research, extension and infrastructure development, starved for funds. Besides making the  most of Central schemes and having a State Agriculture Policy, there can be the provision of a separate and sufficient agricultural budget. 

The author is former VC, Maharana Pratap University of Agriculture & Technology, Udaipur


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