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New Delhi: The national level task force on agriculture under the NITI Aayog will submit its final report to the prime minister by the end of August. Eleven states have, so far, sent their state-level task force reports to NITI Aayog, the successor of the Planning Commission.

The earlier deadline to submit the report was 30 June.

The task force will chalk out policy recommendations in critical areas like land, national common market, crop prices, fertilizer use, seeds and genetically modified (GM) technology, and will also deliberate on the issue of agrarian distress.

Several states, such as Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Kerala and Maharashtra, have submitted their reports to the NITI Aayog, said an official aware of the developments.

“Many have raised objections to funding cut in programmes such as Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) and the National Food Security Mission (NFSM) and want to go back to the earlier funding pattern where the centre contributed up to 90% of funds," said the official said, adding, “a separate sub-group of chief ministers is looking at this".

The Union Budget presented on 28 February reduced allocations under several programmes, including the RKVY and NFSM, crucial to achieve high growth rates in the past decade.

This is part of the larger plan to make states contribute more for such programmes after the Fourteenth Finance Commission increased share of taxes available to the states.

The NITI Aayog met individual farmers and farmer groups over allowing the controversial genetically-modified (GM) technology in food crops, the official said. “Largely, their view is that if a technology is good, why not allow it? Most of the states are in favour of GM... We have circulated the minutes of our meeting, and no state has raised any objections," the official said.

“Other issues we are looking at is the skewed usage of urea and low efficiency of urea producers," he said, adding, “while price of urea is low and farmers over-apply urea, per kg cost of production varies widely from 12/kg to 40/kg."

The task force is also expected to chalk out policy recommendations on bringing new seeds developed in the laboratory to farmers’ fields.

“We will also provide a framework for a national common market in agriculture. For instance, what should be the policy for price discovery in states like Bihar and Kerala, where there are no registered mandis (markets)? We will propose a new model that has to be backed by legislations," said the official quoted above.

Kavitha Kuruganti, farm activist from non-profit organization ASHA, who attended a meeting of the NITI Aayog on 4 June on GM technology, said: “Only two states (Andhra Pradesh and Punjab) have allowed field trials of GM food crops so far, while Maharashtra has suspended the no-objection to trials in May. Besides, only two farmers came for the NITI meeting and their approval cannot be representative for the entire country. To say that states are okay with GM would be an opportunistic conclusion."

“The cut in funding in RKVY and NFSM is a matter of real concern as even with increased transfers, states can de-prioritize these schemes. To achieve certain development goals nationally, like reducing malnutrition or achieving high productivity in agriculture, the centre has to enforce it with a political will," she added.

The national-level task force on agricultural development, and another on poverty elimination, was formed in March this year. Both are headed by NITI Aayog’s vice-chairman Arvind Panagariya, and has experts and secretaries of related departments as members.

The agriculture task force was the ruling National Democratic Alliance government’s response to the issue of rising farm distress and stressed farm incomes.

A deficit rainfall last year and widespread unseasonal rain earlier this year, ahead of harvesting the winter crop, led to an over 5% dip in production of foodgrains.

The growth rate in agriculture nearly vanished in 2014-15 and is estimated at 0.2% compared to 3.7% in the previous year.

Since last year, there was also a spike in farm suicides among cotton and sugarcane farmers due to a glut in commodity prices.

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