Stress on improving productivity and ensuring welfare of farmers

The budget presented by Finance Minister K.M. Mani in the Assembly on Friday lays stress on improving agricultural productivity and ensuring the welfare of farmers.

An income guarantee scheme and health insurance for small and marginal farmers, and a programme to promote hi-tech farming were among the major proposals for the agriculture sector in the Budget.

Mr. Mani allocated a total of Rs.964.82 crore for production, procurement, and distribution of crops as well as agricultural research.

The Budget sought to transform Kerala into a hi-tech agriculture State by training farmers to adopt technology for increased productivity. A core team of agriculture and botany graduates would be created in association with the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation to train the farmers. Interest-free loan up to Rs.5 lakh would be extended to farmers adopting hi-tech methods.

Mr. Mani said that at least five poly houses would be set up under each Krishi Bhavan. He promised loan up to 90 per cent of the cost of a poly house, free electricity for poly house farmers, concession in building tax and financial assistance through the Agri Card Scheme. An Agri Mission would be created to identify the beneficiaries.

The Budget promises subsidy to promote vertical farming in small plots of 10 cents.

Income guarantee

The government would foot 90 per cent of the premium for the income guarantee scheme covering 25 major crops. An amount of Rs.50 crore had been allocated for the scheme targeting farmers holding up to 2 hectares of land. Mr. Mani said the insurance scheme would ensure fair returns for famers. The government would also bear 50 per cent of the premium on the health insurance scheme to be implemented through the State Insurance Department.

The Budget proposes interest-free loan up to Rs.5 lakh for farmers cooperatives to improve agricultural infrastructure, procure crops, and market them. Mr. Mani said a family assistance scheme under which the government would foot 50 per cent of the outstanding amount on the loan of a deceased farmer.

Another major proposal is to set up small scale food processing units to manufacture value-added products from crops such as jackfruit, mango, and tuber crops. The Minister said this would generate new jobs, contribute to food security, and avoid wastage of farm produce. Training and financial assistance would be provided under the Entrepreneurship Development Mission.

The Budget proposes an outlay of Rs.25 crore to provide matching grant for panchayats taking up agricultural development activities such as production and supply of saplings and training of farmers. Another Rs.15 crore had been allocated for a project to establish block-level nurseries to produce seeds or saplings of high-yielding varieties.

Market intervention

The Budget promised rubber farmers that the government would intervene in the market to ensure fair price in the event of a downturn leading to a crash in price. It had allocated Rs.1 crore for a project to make value-added products such as packaging materials and bio medical equipment from agricultural waste. An amount of Rs.25 lakh had been earmarked for the Global Agri Meet to be held in Kochi to attract investments in agriculture and food processing.

Mr. Mani announced an initiative to introduce the ‘Made in Kerala — Safe to Eat’ brand as a premium label marketed in association with the Confederation of Indian Industry. He said the State government would tie up with the Railways and shipping companies for an ambitious scheme to market coconut, banana, and pineapple crops throughout India and the Middle East countries.

The budget also included a special package for arecanut farmers (Rs.10 crore) in Kasaragod and a proposal to set up agri malls (Rs.5 crore) with Central assistance.

Allied sectors

In the allied sectors, the Budget proposes a Rs.9.19-crore project to strengthen diagnostic facilities for animal diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease (FMD). A new poultry breeder farm would be set up in Kasaragode (Rs.4 crore).

The fisheries sector would get an allocation of Rs.177.4 crore. The proposals included promotion of aquaculture and a production bonus for fish workers.

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