The country witnessed severe agrarian distress in the 1990s with farmers – in hundreds – reeling under mounting debts due to continued losses from farming and low agriculture incomes committed suicide. The trend peaked during the period between 1995 and 2004. The steps taken to address the looming agrarian crisis like farm loan waivers failed to generate the desired effect as many of them were piecemeal and ineffective and the benefits of them never reached the deserving candidates.
With no redemption in sight, several farmers, particularly the younger age group, left farming and took up menial jobs in urban centres, posing a serious threat to the future of agriculture in the country. Increasing the income of farmers and reducing the gap between the incomes of farmers and those working in the non-farm sectors were the only solutions to end the agrarian distress. But how to achieve this was a question?
Speaking at a Kissan Rally in Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh on February 28, 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated that his government would work to realise his dream of doubling farmers’ income by 2022, when the country completes 75 years of its independence. Many sceptics dismissed it saying the goal was hard to achieve, given the enormity and scale of the problem.
Even the worst critic of the government would agree that this is the first time since Independence that a government has taken a holistic view of the farm sector with an intention to transform agriculture from being merely a means of attaining food security into a powerful engine of rural prosperity and growth. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasized on transforming agriculture through his government’s policy of Beej to Bazaar – from Seeds to the Market — he was seeking to reveal a bouquet of comprehensive policy initiatives taken for reinvigorating and financing a whole gamut of farm-related activities covering input distribution, irrigation, farming, post-harvest storage and processing, domestic market linkages and exports.
The flagship Soil Health Card scheme has been highly successful and the progress of its implementation has meticulously been followed up by the government. Making neem coating of urea compulsory, the government had curbed pilferage of the subsidized fertilizer to non-farm activities. A study conducted by Bengaluru-based Institute for Social Economic Change for paddy found that application of neem coated urea had propelled a higher paddy output. This move has also helped bring down government’s subsidy bill.
There has been a phenomenal rise in government’s budgetary allocation to the farm sector. The government proposes to invest Rs 50,000 crore through its ambitious Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana, which will help cover 28.5 lakh hectare under irrigation and 26.87 lakh hectare under micro-irrigation from 2014-18. The government has set up a Rs 5000-cr micro irrigation fund.
It has unveiled Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana to provide insurance coverage and financial support to the farmers in the event of failure of any of the notified crop as a result of natural calamities, pests and diseases; to stabilise the income of farmers to ensure their continuance in farming; to encourage farmers to adopt innovative and modern agricultural practices and to ensure flow of credit to the agriculture sector.
Besides, there have been many changes in policy with regard to fixation of minimum support price, procurement of agricultural produce, imports and exports. E-platforms and other market infrastructure have been put in place to remove exploitative middlemen so that farmers get fair prices for their produce. The idea behind all these coordinated initiatives is to double farmers’ incomes by 2022-23 and end agrarian distress thereby ensuring farmers’ welfare.
(Excerpted from Doubling Dreams: Transforming Agriculture in Modi’s New India.)