2021 was unprecedented for farmers and the agriculture sector across India. First the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown that followed, crippled food supply chains nationwide.
Then came the massive agitation by farmers against the Centre's three new farm laws. With talks with farmer unions deadlocked, the govt is expected to roll out some measures to try and pacify the farming community.
The government aims to double the income of farmers by 2022; so the prime focus is expected to be on infrastructure.
The pandemic hit agricultural operations hard. Farming operations suffered due to infrastructure bottlenecks such as supply chain distortions, non-availability of credit, lack of quality inputs and marketing infrastructure.
So, the govt should rethink its development strategy towards building the infrastructure supporting agriculture and allied sectors.
Allocation of funds towards fast-tracking of existing projects in rural infrastructure development, such as rural roads and irrigation, should be a key focus area.
More allocation is expected towards the development of storage and warehousing facilities such as packhouses, cold storage and vehicles for transportation.
The PM-Kisan Samman Nidhi, an initiative which provides up to ₹6,000 annually to an agricultural household as income security, needs to be enhanced.
The coverage of the scheme should be widened by taking tenants, landless agricultural workers and female farmers, into its ambit. There is also a need to increase allocation towards the addition of more Farmer Producer Organisations or FPOs.
The formation of 10,000 new farmer producer organisations (FPOs) as proposed for fiscal 2021 can cater to only 7% of the farming population.
FPOs have a big role to play in not only building socio-economic resilience of farmers but also in achieving several sustainable development goals.
The govt should also strengthen existing FPOs to improve and establish market linkage for all small farmers. Farmers expect the budget should enunciate strategies that promote new-age technologies, and encourages data-driven solutions for intelligent farming.
The govt could exempt GST on machines purchased for the agricultural sector. Loans to the agricultural sector via NBFCs should also be classified as Priority Sector Lending (PSL) credit.
The govt has already implemented a number of schemes for agriculture, such as direct benefit transfer under PM Kisan, MGNREGA scheme for farm workers, a Rs 1 lakh crore agriculture infrastructure fund.
The govt should look to build on that, in order to allay fears of the farming community.