Farmers play a vital role in our lives. Apart from ensuring food security in a world ravaged by conflict, farmers also gain 37% of their income from farm activity. Hence, a strategy focussing on increasing farm incomes is only right as it prepares ground for sustained and robust growth of the entire economy.
This strategy has received an affirming push from Prime Minister Narendra Modi ever since his government took to service in 2014. The Modi government has undertaken a bouquet of measures to fix various ends of farm activity, leading to greater stability and economic viability of farms. In this direction, the government set up a committee in 2016 to suggest measures to double farm incomes, and has acted on its recommendations thereafter with sustained effort and ease.
At the head of these measures is Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-KISAN). Touted as one of the largest Direct Benefit Transfer schemes in the world, PM-KISAN provides an annual financial support of Rs. 6,000 to all landholding farmers across the country. This support is playing a vital role in making agriculture not only remunerative but also productive. Till now, benefits amounting to over Rs. 2.61 lakh crore have reached more than 11 crore farmers in the country.
Apart from this direct support, the Modi government provides a host of subsidies to farmers, cushioning them against rising input costs and securing reasonable incomes from farming. It is worth noting that fertiliser subsidies alone cross a budget of nearly Rs. 2 lakh crore annually. However, as much as the government wishes to stabilise farm incomes, it is also conscious of promoting sustainable agriculture along with maintaining fiscal discipline. An initiative like One Nation, One Fertiliser, apart from neem-coated and sulphur-coated urea, is a concrete step in that direction. It not only increases transparency and affordability of fertilisers but also leads to input-use efficiency in the agriculture sector.
State governments also add on to these initiatives by supporting farmers with abundant power subsidies, especially on irrigation. Yet schemes like PM Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY) and PM-KUSUM intend to make this support inclusive and effective. Per Drop More Crop under PMKSY intends to increase water use efficiency by promoting micro irrigation technologies like drip and sprinkler irrigation. A Micro Irrigation Fund has been established for this purpose even as the data reveals that an area of over 78 lakh hectares has been covered under micro irrigation since 2015-16 with the release of central assistance of over Rs. 18,000 crore to states. This not only reduces input costs for farmers but also increases overall farm productivity besides ensuring resource health.
PM KUSUM, on the other hand, provides solar alternatives to the extensive power consumption in agriculture. It promotes solarisation of existing diesel pumps at farms, setting up of small solar power plants on agricultural land, among other things—promoting use of renewable energy and providing additional income avenues to farmers. Nearly 2.46 lakh farmers have benefitted under the scheme as of August 2023.
The biggest motif of the Indian farm story is the Indian monsoon. Agriculture in our country is largely rainfed, extensively prone to droughts and floods. This problem is further compounded by extreme weather events revitalised by the problem of climate change. For example, government studies indicate that in the absence of adaptation measures, rainfed rice yields in India can reduce by 20% in 2050 and 47% in 2080. These events not only impinge on our nation’s food security but also impact the farmers negatively.
In a bid to make farming risk-free, the government launched the PM Fasal Bima Yojana in 2016. The scheme secures farmers, both prior to sowing and post harvesting, from crop loss due to factors including natural calamities, pest attacks and diseases. Insurance coverage under the scheme along with financial assistance to farmers ensure their continuance in agriculture apart from encouraging them to adopt innovative and modern farming practices. Since 2016-17, over 5.5 lakh farmer applications have been insured with Rs. 1.5 lakh crore paid out in claims.
Broadening the safety net for farmers, the Modi government introduced a new Minimum Support Price policy in 2018. The new policy raises MSP for kharif, rabi and commercial crops by at least 50% over the cost of production. Further, farmers are ensured better prices through e-NAM, a unified national market for agricultural commodities. As of today, a total of 1,389 APMC mandis are integrated to the platform across 23 states and 4 UTs, facilitating trade in nearly 209 commodities. Over 1.76 crore farmers are enrolled in this platform as of December 2023.
These efforts have been decorated by multiple other initiatives like mechanisation of agriculture and use of technology at a wider scale. Mechanisation is essential to reduce input costs, modernise agriculture, and give a futuristic outlook to farm activity.
Towards this end, the Modi government has disbursed funds over Rs. 6,000 crore to states between 2014-15 and 2022-23 towards a spectrum of activities like testing, training, establishment of farm machinery banks, development of hi-tech hubs et cetera under the Sub-Mission on Agriculture Mechanisation. In addition, a commendable 15.24 lakh units of farm machinery and equipment, including tractors, power tillers and automated machinery, have been distributed at subsidised rates via state governments.
PM Modi has often urged innovators and researchers to think about ‘an inch of land and a bunch of crops’. This is a call to find instant technological solutions to farmer problems. In this regard, the government has come up with National e-Governance Plan in Agriculture. Under this, funds are made available to state governments for projects involving the use of modern technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, robotics, block chain, among others. Additionally, a Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) for agriculture is also being built to enable farmer-centric solutions through relevant information services including around farm inputs, market intelligence, credit, and insurance. Efforts are underway to mainstream drone technology for use in agriculture. The government provides financial aid covering 100% of drone costs and associated expenses for on-field demonstrations. A total of Rs. 138 crore has been made available for farmer-centric drone initiatives. Recently, Rs. 1,261 crore have been allocated towards the NAMO Drone Didi scheme—aiming to train 15,000 women SHGs to offer rental services to farmers for activities like application of fertilisers and pesticides.
Helping farmers with their short-term working capital needs, the government has enhanced their access to institutional credit, taking it from Rs. 7.3 lakh crore in 2013-14 to a targeted Rs. 18.5 lakh crore in 2022-23.
These efforts have been supplemented by incomparable initiatives like Kisan Credit Card, the benefits of which have now been extended to farmers engaged in animal husbandry and fisheries. The total number of operative KCC Accounts as of March 2023 is 7.35 crore with a total sanctioned limit of Rs. 8.85 lakh crore.
Logistically, unique initiatives like Kisan Rail and Krishi Udan traverse the agricultural landscape with ease and accessibility, taking the Indian market to the farmgate.
Evidently, the government has upped the ante by taking an all-inclusive approach towards advancing the cause of farm incomes. Other initiatives like Soil Health Card, promotion of organic farming, formation of Farmer Producer Organisations, pursuing additional income generation through ethanol production, and promotion of agri-exports are some of the many dedicated efforts that the Modi government has launched to enliven agriculture as a remunerative activity.
Besides over 1.60 lakh PM Kisan Samridhi Kendras act as central hubs, helping farmers with vital information around soil testing, fertilisers, seeds, farming techniques, and all government schemes, among other things.
The commitment of the Modi government towards enhancing farm incomes is unmatched. Besides increasing the budget of agricultural and allied activities by more than 4.35 times, from Rs. 30,223 crore in 2013-14 to over 1.3 lakh crore in 2023-24, the government is providing an average of Rs. 50,000 to every farmer in some form or the other. The results are for each of us to see. According to the latest Situation Assessment Survey of NSSO (2018-19), monthly agricultural household income has increased from Rs. 6,426 in 2012-13 to Rs. 10,218 in 2018-19.
Apart from these programs and policies to make farming remunerative, Prime Minister Modi’s government has in fact worked admiringly to reorient the entire sector towards inclusivity and sustainability. Promotion of environment and farmer friendly crops, like millets, is a shining example of this approach.