Finance Minister P. Chidambaram’s budget for 2013-14 will be remembered not only for its strategies to stimulate economic growth and control fiscal deficit, but also for the importance given to the needs of the underprivileged sections of our society.

In the field of agriculture, he has adopted the following three pronged strategy:

1. Defend the gains already made in the original green revolution areas like Punjab and Haryana: For this purpose he has proposed crop diversification in a manner that both farm ecology and farm economics are safeguarded. It is well known that in this region, the water table is going down and soils are getting salinised. The budget provides Rs.500 crore to start the programme of crop diversification. I hope this will be used by the concerned State governments to introduce ecologically desirable practices like cereal-legume rotation.

2. Extend the gains to new areas: Mr. Chidambaram has provided Rs.1,000 crore for extending the yield revolution to eastern India, particularly in Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal, where the schemes introduced by Pranab Mukherjee are making their impact felt.

3. Make new gains: He has provided Rs. 200 crore to start on a pilot scale a major initiative for marrying nutrition and agriculture by establishing Nutri-Farms. Nearly 60 per cent of the consumers are also farmers. The widespread malnutrition prevailing in our country can be overcome only if farm families are also enabled to have a balanced diet. The new programme proposed will involve introducing in the cropping system, bio-ortified crops which are rich in iron, zinc, vitamin A, Vitamin B 12 and other micronutrients as well as those which are rich in protein like quality protein maize. It will be taken up in the districts which are suffering from a high burden of hidden hunger caused by micro-nutrient deficiencies.

In the area of technology development, the Finance Minister has provided funds for a National Institute of Biotic Stress Management at Raipur and for a Centre of Excellence in Agricultural Biotechnology at Ranchi, Jharkhand. He has also proposed the replanting and rejuvenation of coconut gardens in the whole of Kerala. Among other initiatives, mention may be made of the emphasis given to farmer-producer organisations, including farmer-producer companies for the purpose of increasing income and market share of small farmers. Livestock and livelihoods are closely related in our country. He has proposed the organisation of a National Livestock Mission and provided Rs. 307 crore for this Mission. The Mission will pay particular attention to animal nutrition by increasing the availability of feed and fodder.

I particularly welcome the initiative for the provision of foodgrain storage godowns at the level of panchayat. I hope that the waste into energy project will cover agricultural biomass which is often wasted in rural India.

Obviously every aspect of farming and every problem of the farmer cannot be dealt with in the budget particularly since agriculture is a State subject. I only wish Mr. Chidambaram had also included in his allocation a programme for farm mechanisation. There is already a scheme with the Ministry of Agriculture in this field, but it needs to be strengthened particularly since after the advent of MGNREGA, farmers are having difficulty in getting labour at the right time and place. We need also gender sensitive farm equipment since the role of women farmers in agriculture is increasing.

Finally, he has rightly placed emphasis on translational research for converting scientific findings into field application. For this purpose he has provided Rs.200 crore for conversion of innovation into practical use. For example, there are enormous opportunities for improving the efficiency of the use of urea by placing the fertilizer at a few centimetres below the soil. There are special equipment available for this purpose and such innovations need popularisation. Rural India affords immense untapped opportunities for the integration of innovation and machinery in field operations.

(M.S. Swaminathan is a Member of the Rajya Sabha)