Agriculture continues to be a dominant employment sector and contributes a significant part to the country's GDP. Even in the unfortunate pandemic, the sector climbed new heights with record production of various food grains, exhibiting resilience and ensuring food security. Food inflation and volatility in prices continue to be high, causing inconvenience to consumers and uneven income for farmers despite the success in terms of production.
Besides the pandemic destroying substantial physical, social, economic and emotional havoc on all stakeholders of the Indian agricultural system, locust infestation from East Africa to India, natural calamities and depleting natural resources only added to the sector's woes. Even though policymakers accelerated a number of measures and announced reforms to give a boost to the sector, it has reached an inflection point that needs immediate attention. The forthcoming budget offers an opportunity to fix an array of ancillary problems and fast run the wheels of reforms to speed up the growth engine of the Indian agriculture sector.
While the Government is working on the blueprint for India 2047 to be future ready, it is important to speed up India's growth and adoption towards new-age agriculture practices with optimum utilization of resources. The average penetration of micro-irrigation in the irrigated area drip sprinkler is estimated at 17%, which is much less than countries like Israel 90 per cent Russia 78 per cent Spain 75 per cent and Brazil 52 per cent. We need to have an ambitious target and align the execution process to take micro-irrigation coverage to 60 -- 70 per cent in the next 25 years.
The country will climb a newer height of fiscal growth by identifying areas and crops to integrate the benefit of micro-irrigation with structured governance and execution strategy. The government can create a 5 years bucket of an appropriate execution and monitoring roadmap for the next 25 years, backed by adequate budgetary support.
The scheme implementation leaves a lot to desire at the execution level despite the fact that millions of farmers have been benefitted by micro-irrigation coverage. The delay in the disbursal of micro-irrigation subsidies under the PMKSY program is hampering its progress. The end-to- end process execution and visibility, transparency in the process for fund disbursement, adherence to timelines and checkpoints would allow the efficiency in subsidy disbursal and support farmers to be debt-free.
Infrastructure status would help the micro-irrigation manufacturer 95 per cent of which comes under MSME in reduced operating costs, thereby accelerating industry growth and bringing the equipment cost down for the farmer community.
Aligning different schemes together for the exponential benefit of Solar and Micro-irrigation, Agriculture alongside Solar installations, and others.
Focus on renewable energy like solar would ensure energy security in the agriculture sector as well as the rural landscape and address environmental concerns. It would reduce the burden on government energy subsidy bills by making farmers energy-sufficient. Solar installation-friendly agriculture would help farmers with reduced operational costs, increase land utilization and improve overall income.
12 percent of the cropped area under Fruits Vegetables F&V leads to 24 per cent in value terms, compared to 13 percent under oilseeds, which gives only 6 percent in value because of lack of scalability. The demand cycle may be addressed by policymakers by promoting domestic oilseeds and oil palm cultivation with higher productivity measures. Similarly, disrupting rice cultivation that covers more area and water utilization through drip technology would improve yield, save water and reduce carbon emissions. Drip irrigation adoption has the potential to facilitate crop diversification and make a direct impact on farmer incomes.
Climate change has resulted in reduced crop yields and farm productivity. The increased occurrence of invasive pests, weather variability and poor agriculture practices has added to the deteriorating situation of climate change. The agriculture sector is one of the main contributors to the problem of climate. It is currently responsible for 19 29 per cent of total greenhouse gas GHG emissions. A shift towards Climate-Smart agriculture practices is a good way of achieving sustainable growth, according to the right policy and financial outlay.
Focus on creating infrastructures to support innovation and digitalisation in agriculture.
Special attention and funding allocation in the upcoming budget for infrastructure in rural areas would support the digitalisation of agriculture and put the sector on the fast track. India is spending less than 1 per cent of agriculture GDP in R&D. An agri-innovation fund that supports agtech solutions, start-ups, and digitalisation at different levels of the agri-value chain can transform the agriculture economy in the future.
Access to credit is one of the key elements in a growing ecosystem. A sustainable model in agriculture would be built with interest subsidy on agriculture for long-term loans to help farmers with continued investment in farm mechanization and state-of-the-art infrastructure. Credit Guarantee Fund Scheme for adopting micro-irrigation similar to CGTMSE for MSMEs will be helpful where initial support can be provided by the government.
Special budgetary assistance for micro irrigation to State Government to overcome COVID impact.
The financial strain caused by the COVID 19 flu has left many states across the country to slash their budget for micro-irrigation. The policymakers should consider supporting the states through an additional corpus of funds either by a direct special assistance program or increasing the existing Micro Irrigation Fund MIF set up under NABARD to allow the states to mobilize resources for coverage of micro-irrigation.
The author is Netafim India Managing Director, Netafim India and SVP, Netafim Ltd.