Farmers' groups, agricultural economists and scientists on Thursday recommended a series of measures to finance minister Arun Jaitley on boosting investment in the sector, setting up an efficient grain procurement system and completing pending irrigation projects.
Jaitley, at the pre-Budget consultation, assured the experts that the concerns of the agriculture sector are high on the government's priority.
“Despite constraints on the economy, the government will try its best to boost this sector,” a finance ministry statement said, quoting the minister. The meeting was attended by senior officials of the finance and agriculture ministries.
Experts also pressed for timely implementation of BJP's manifesto promise of fixing higher support prices. Farmers' organisations suggested fixing of the target for foodgrain procurement by state agencies like FCI, keeping in mind the requirement of the public distribution system and buffer stock norms so that the private sector could enter the grain purchase system. They also proposed setting up a National Irrigation Authority on the pattern of the National Highway Authority for completion of pending irrigation projects.
“For improving productivity in rainfed regions, we need to create irrigation facilities on an urgent basis,” P Chengal Reddy, secretary-general, Consortium of Indian Farmers’ Association, told FE. According to a water resources ministry official, about 300 major and medium irrigation projects are pending.
As part of reforms in marketing of agricultural produce, Ramesh Chand, director, National Centre for Agricultural Economics and Policy Research, suggested formation of producers' companies and reforms in the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee Act.
KV Prabhu, deputy director, Indian Agriculture Research Institute, a premier research body under the ministry of agriculture, called for augmentation of the annual allocation for farm research to R8,500 crore from R5,700 crore at present.
Noted agriculture scientist MS Swaminathan recommended mandatory harvesting of rainwater with support of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. He also supported setting up of soil-monitoring centres with modern equipment in every block and conserving indigenous animal breeds.
The BJP had, in its election manifesto, promised creation of a single national agriculture market, unbundling of FCI operations into procurement, storage and distribution for greater efficiency and creation of an agri-rail network for perishable farm commodities. The party had also promised ensuring a minimum of 50% profits over the cost of production for farmers and introducing farmers' insurance schemes.