On the 12th of May 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the nation to convey an important message to 1.3 billion Indians. The message, in his own words, was very simple: it is time for India to realize the fact that twenty first century is truly India’s century, as has been said for years by several people. A rise of New India is essential not just for India but for the world, and this can come through only when we can build up a self-reliant nation.
With this, the Prime Minister gave the clarion call for the Aatma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan to make India a world player on multiple fronts. Within a couple of days the Finance Ministry started to announce a meticulous, detailed plan on how they intend to create a self-reliant India. The roadmap, put out over five days, identified several sectors that would be guided, assisted and nurtured with the right support system to transform this vision into reality.
Of special interest and import in this package of reforms was those related to the agriculture and farmer welfare sector.
Farmers in India have been trapped for long in a vicious cycle, and a deep sense of need for actual reform in the sector had been felt. Such simple steps as the choice of buyer had become a vexed issue.
In any sector anywhere, it is unheard of that the producer should sell only to specific buyers but not to the buyers of their choice. But farmers were forced to do so for decades. This hurt price realisation and kept farmers mired in poverty. Over the years cartels of middlemen created a cycle of buying for very low prices from farmers while selling at much higher prices to consumers, thus siphoning off money, while both farmers and consumers got a raw deal. This cartel has been dealt a massive blow with the reforms in agricultural marketing.
Farmers can now sell anywhere as per their will. This in turn will enable better price realization for farmers, attracting investments and make agriculture competitive, thus becoming a key contributor to the promise of doubling farmer incomes.
The announcement to amend the Essential Commodities Act also comes as a bold step. This reform aimed at deregulation in various commodities such as vegetables, cereals, pulses, etc, enables greater price benefits for farmers.
These reforms were big bold steps that actually go a long way to free farmers.
Further, the boost given to investment in farm-gate infrastructure and food processing industry creates newer avenues of growth, jobs and entrepreneurship at a large scale, while inter-state trade creates the win-win situation through a better price discovery both for the farmer and the consumer.
One of the key reforms announced is with respect to ensuring better prices for farmers. The government has announced that it will finalise a facilitative legal framework to enable farmers to engage with processors, aggregators, large retailers, exporters and corporates in a fair and transparent manner.
This will reduce risks in farming, ensure that farmers have the option to enter into arrangements where their returns are assured. It will also enable industry to bring latest technology into farming, and thus help farmers.
Moreover, the Rs. 2 lakh crore concessional credit enabled through the Kisan Credit Card alongside the Rs.30,000 crore fund to provide additional emergency working capital to farmers via the NABARD network address a big issue that has worried farmers. Farmers need credit support to invest in the agriculture cycle for the kharif season. With this move, one sees how the government has kept its ears on the ground, and goes a long way towards ensuring greater protection of the farmers during this period of crisis and after.
On the front of allied activities, the government has decided to move deftly. The immediate implementation of the PM Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMMSY) is a big moment for India’s fisheries sector, as it sits on the cusp of a Blue Revolution. Providing ban period support to fishermen, personal and boat insurance help address important issues that have limited growth of fisheries in India for long now. Further, with a specified focus on islands, Himalayan states, north-east and aspirational districts, a boost to local job creation and entrepreneurship has been generated. Moreover, the Rs. 1 lakh crore allocation for strengthening farm to gate infrastructure, and the Rs. 15,000 crore Fund for developing dairy infrastructure will help the dairy sector allied activity and address important gaps in the sector. The schemes aim to create affordable, financially viable post-harvest management infrastructure, thus improving the price received by farmers, thus taking a big step towards the promise of doubling farmer incomes.