The budget signals a decisive shift to high-value agriculture with allocations for crop diversification in the Indo-Gangetic belt, nutri-farms for growing fortified food crops, Farmer Producer Organisations to facilitate contract/lease farming, ‘green revolution’ in eastern India and setting up of Indian Institute of Agriculture Bio-Technology that will research among other things genetically modified crops.

There has been a 22 per cent hike in the planned budgetary allocation for the agriculture sector — Rs. 27,049 crore in 2013-14. Of this Rs. 3,415 crore will be for farm research.

Farm credit has been enhanced to Rs. 7,00,000 crore from Rs. 5,75,000 crore. As part of the interest subvention scheme, for timely repayment of short-term crop loans, farmers will get credit at four per cent not only from public sector banks, Regional Rural Banks and Cooperative banks but also from private sector scheduled commercial banks within the branch’s service area.

To wean Punjab and Haryana farmers off water-and-labour-intensive paddy crop to maize, cotton, vegetables and fruits, an allocation of Rs. 500 crore has been made for crop diversification. A programme will be launched to promote technological innovation and encourage farmers to choose crop alternatives. Declining water table, soil salinity and stagnation in productivity in the Indo-Gangetic belt are the reasons for this initiative, The Hindu has learnt.

The loss in paddy yield in this region is sought to be offset by enhanced cultivation of the crop in eastern India specifically in Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal. For enhanced rice production in this belt, an allocation of Rs. 1,000 crore has been made.

In districts most affected by malnutrition, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram has set aside Rs. 200 crore for launching pilot projects in nutri-farms with new crop varieties rich in micro-nutrients such as iron-rich bajra, protein-rich maize and zinc-rich wheat. According to agriculture scientist M.S. Swaminathan, this programme will help districts suffering from a “high burden of hidden hunger caused by micro-nutrient deficiencies.”

The Finance Minister also proposed matching equity grants to registered Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) up to a maximum of Rs.10 lakh per FPO to enable them to leverage working capital from financial institutions with an outlay of Rs. 50 crore. At the same time, an initial corpus of Rs. 100 crore has been set aside for a Credit Guarantee Fund under the Small Farmers’ Agri Business Corporation. However, the programme is incumbent on amendments to the Agriculture Produce Marketing Act by the State governments.

Recognising that the improvement in foodgrains production in the last two years is largely due to the flexible Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojna and the National Food Security Mission, the Finance Minister provided Rs. 9,954 crore and Rs. 2,250 crore respectively for the two programmes.

Institute at Ranchi

He announced the setting up of the Indian Institute of Agriculture Bio-Technology at Ranchi, Jharkhand, as well as a National Institute of Biotic Stress Management for addressing plant protection issues at Raipur, Chhattisgarh.

A pilot project to replant and rejuvenate coconut gardens in some districts of Kerala will be extended to cover the entire State for which an additional sum of Rs. 75 crore has been allocated.

The National Livestock Mission which awaits the concurrence of all States has been provided Rs. 307 crore with a sub-mission for feed and fodder.

The integrated watershed programme got a fillip with an allocation of Rs. 5,387 crore from Rs. 3,050 crore in 2012-13 budget estimates.

“Why no support for mechanisation?”

The budget, however, did not provide the expected support for farm equipment and mechanisation, a point commented upon by Dr. Swaminathnan. He said: “I wish Mr. Chidambaram had allocated something for farm mechanisation particularly since after the advent of MGNREGS, farmers are having difficulty in getting labour at the right time. We also need gender sensitive farm equipment since the role of women farmers in agriculture is increasing.”

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