New Delhi: Although rising food prices remain a critical concern, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee is counting on better supply management, improved output of pulses and rice, better access to rural credit and strengthening of existing agricultural schemes to bolster India’s farm output.
The rural economy employs about 60% of India’s work force, contributes about 17% of gross domestic product, and is expected to post 5.4% growth over last year, according to advanced estimates by the annual Economic Survey.
The government has allocated Rs14,744 crore for agriculture and allied sectors in Budget 2011, an increase of 2.6% over last year.
Mukherjee said removing production and distribution bottlenecks for fruits, vegetables, milk, meat, poultry and fish—the key drivers of food inflation—would occupy his attention.
The focus of most of his initiatives seem to be in strengthening existing programmes rather than creating new avenues of budgetary support.
For instance, the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana, an initiative to help farmers bring their produce to the market, received an extra Rs 1,000 crore, or about 16%, over last year.
Mukherjee hiked interest rate subvention—a scheme in which banks provide short-term crop loans to farmers at 7% interest—by one percentage point . This, he said, would also push banks to disburse Rs 4.75 trillion, a nearly 25% jump from last year.
Mukherjee also emphasized that enhancing the nutritive value of agriculture produce was as important as increasing farm production.
“While we ensure food for all, we also must promote balanced nutrition. Bajra, jowar, ragi and other millets are highly nutritious and known to possess several medicinal properties,” he said in his budget speech. The minister provided Rs300 crore to encourage farmers to intensify production of these crops.
Among the few new initiatives—again with a focus on improving the nutritive quality of food—was a National Mission for Protein Supplements to be launched later this year. Its primary focus, the finance minister said, would be to promote animal-based protein production through livestock development, dairy farming, goat rearing and fisheries in selected agricultural blocks.
To be sure, some analysts said the plans for agriculture were insipid and left out key issues,such as employment.
“It’s a disappointing budget in relation to what the Economic Survey has projected in the agricultural sector,” said M.S. Swaminathan, agriculture scientist and a Rajya Sabha member. “There is no particular vision and no strategy to make agriculture an attractive option for youngsters.”
Industry experts largely welcomed the plans.
“This will motivate farmers to be more efficient with farming practices and optimize use of labour as well as new labour-efficient technologies,” said D. Narain, India region lead, Monsanto (India). “However, the opportunity and challenge will lie in the implementation of the announced reforms.”