Budget 2023: For agriculture the budget is good in part; lacks an overarching vision for tackling Climate Change impact
The emphasis on millets is welcome from both a climate change perspective and from the point of view of inclusive growth as they are grown in dryland areas by small and marginal farmers
Vivian Fernandes Last Updated:February 01, 2023 16:25:59 IST
Representational Image. AFP
The Agriculture Budget lacks the overarching thrust of the Union Budget which is on capital expenditure. Instead, it has addressed specific areas, not all of which are pressure points.
This is the international year of millets. India is the largest producer of these socially-useful crops which are not only nutritious but also low in water use. The emphasis on millets is welcome from both a climate change perspective and from the point of view of inclusive growth as they are grown in dryland areas by small and marginal farmers.
Currently, the country produces about 50 million tonnes of millet, which is about a fifth of the combined production of rice and wheat. They are known as coarse cereals. But about six years ago, Karnataka rebranded them as “Siri” or rich to position them as those in urban areas suffering from lifestyle diseases like diabetes.
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No monetary allocation for millet production
The finance minister in her speech referred to millets as Shree Anna. She has said that the Indian Institute of Millet Research, Hyderabad will be developed as a centre of excellence. But she has not made a monetary allocation. Millets need action on the demand and supply fronts. Production must be responsive to increased demand. Currently, their average productivity is low at about 1.3 tonnes per hectare. They also do not have a long shelf life.
Outlay for horticulture, a good move
The Rs 2,200 crore allocation for making available quality and disease-free planting material for high-value horticulture crops is a good move. Horticultural crops are much more paying than cereal crops. The allocation is also aligned with the increased consumption of fruits and vegetables.
The Rs 6,000 crore allocation for value-addition in the fisheries sector gels with the government’s thrust on it. Fisheries have grown annually at 7 percent and contribute 6.7 percent of total agricultural GVA.
Curious announcement on PPP for cotton fibre
The Budget’s promised support for enhancing the productivity of extra-long staple fibre cotton by adopting a value chain and cluster approach in public-private partnership (PPP) is rather curious. India is not a big producer of Egyptian cotton as it is prone to pest and disease attacks. The hybrid is grown on a limited scale in Tamil Nadu and Telangana. Again, there is no allocation.
Mission Mustard needed, but not announced
One would have expected the finance minister to launch something like Mission Mustard given the country’s dependence on imported edible oil. This would have meshed with the oil palm mission launched in August 2021. Among oilseeds, mustard has the largest oil content of 37-42 percent. In 2018, the Solvent Extractors’ Association (the grouping of edible oil processors) urged the government to launch Mission Mustard in Punjab and Haryana by incentivising the displacement of some areas under wheat.
No allocation announced for agri-startups
Building on the success of digital payments, the government says it will support digital public infrastructure in agriculture for crop planning, output estimation, assessment of plant health, and improved access to farm inputs, credit, and insurance. An agriculture accelerator fund for agri-start-ups has been promised but no allocation has been made.
Natural farming is a fad
There is also the customary – ideological – homage paid to natural farming. About one crore farmers will be trained in natural farming, the finance minister said. Natural farming is a fad. What we need is sustainable intensification with judicious use of chemical fertilisers and the adoption of earth-friendly cultivation practices.
The finance minister also did not make bold and elaborate on a policy change that we saw last year with the government easing the regulations for genome-editing technologies, and the approval of genetically-modified mustard, the first GM food crop.
No allocation for agri R&D
My annual grouse about the agriculture budget remains the low allocation for agricultural research and development (R&D). This year’s Budget allocation for the department of agricultural research and education is Rs 9,500 cr – about Rs 800 cr more than last year. The outlay for the agriculture ministry is Rs 1.16 lakh cr, about Rs 5,000 cr more than the revised estimates for 2022-23. With the fertiliser subsidy outlay of Rs 1.75 lakh cr and Rs 60,000 cr outlay for PM-Kisan (the annual payment of Rs 6,000 per farming family), there is little public investment in agriculture. Little wonder, that private investment, mainly by households, accounts for 84 percent of the total capital investment in agriculture.
The writer is a senior journalist; and editor www.smartindianagriculture.com He tweets @VVNFernandes Views expressed are personal