Emphasizing on rural infrastructure
The budget 2018 has not only given much emphasis on creating infrastructure for agriculture sector, but also has announced a lot of measures for the development of rural sector as a whole, says Naresh Gupta, MD, NABCONS in an interaction with SMART AGRIPOST.
- What is your first reaction on budget 2018?
Ans: The first reaction is that it is obviously a budget which is rural centric and farmer centric.
- How will it support the agri-logistics and infrastructure in the country?
Ans: We have heard in the budget the finance minister has announced a number of steps for boosting infrastructure, in particularly talked of setting up micro-irrigation fund. Then he has talked about animal husbandry, fisheries funds of about 10,000. So it will give a great boost to the activities particularly when we think in the context of doubling farmers’ income.
When we are discussing doubling farmers’ income, it is not that the income of the farmer will be doubled from the farm only. Alongside he takes animal husbandry activities.
There is some income from farming, some from the animal husbandry. We see that in the last couple of years, a lot of focus has been given to fisheries and it is also leading to income generation. So setting up this fund to boost infrastructure in animal husbandry and fisheries sector will obviously help that process. So this budget is strongly backing the creation of infrastructure.
- How this budget is different from the last three budgets?
Ans: We have seen in the last budget also a number of steps for the farmers particularly the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana and the long time irrigation fund of about 20,000 crores under NABARD were announced.
So what I would say it is different in the sense that much more focus has been given on rural and agriculture sectors than the last year. From the rural point of view, it is not only the farm or the farm-based activities that have been focused in this budget, but also in totality the whole life cycle of the farmer.
It means if you talk about housing, a lot of emphasis has been given to housing, there is an emphasis on hygiene i.e. toilet, there is also an emphasis on health because lot of poor people will be benefitted from the Rs 5lakh health insurance. So it is talking of housing, it is talking of hygiene by Swach Bharat , it is talking of health and also it is talking of income generation and expanding the framework of irrigation fund declared last year and also expanding the coverage of Fasal Bima Yojana. So, it is a holistic budget when you see it from the rural sector point of view.
- What are the challenges before the government?
Ans: To my mind, challenges are essentially to be able to translate the announcement into actual implementation in the ground level. The first challenge is to create awareness and implement the policies because agriculture is a state subject.
Therefore, announcements by the government of India need to be executed by respective state governments. So the challenge really is how to achieve the desired result within a year or so.
It will be how to fast forward the whole framework so that the effect will be seen at the ground level.
To my mind, the challenge is how to improve capacity building at the farmers’ level. Farmers have to diversify the traditional crops. The traditional method of cropping and agricultural practices will not result in doubling the farmers’ income.
If the farmers’ income has to be doubled, then a lot of emphasis has to be given on capacity building of farmers and also of those involved in the extension activities. So that is the real challenge.
- As you mentioned, we need to further focus on creating awareness and improving extension activities and services. How could it be done?
Ans: I would tend to agree, on the state to state basis, separate assessments can be made. Because if you see for example Madhya Pradesh, we have seen there has been dramatic progress in agriculture year on year basis for more than 5 years now. The growth in agriculture sector in Madhya Pradesh has been consistently high. So it is the extension machinery, which has been able to take up and translate policies into actions. But on the whole, I feel that some efforts are required to be done to revamp the extension machinery.
The silver lining is that in last couple of years I have noticed that a lot of startups have come up and are approaching the farmers through various apps and the expansion of the internet activity and the ability of the farmers to have mobiles have also helped this process and a lot of inputs in extension also and also awareness and capacity building and resolution of issues with respect to pest disease and attacks etc are being handled through mobile apps also.
However, they have not reached to all the farmers at the ground level. So extension machinery in physical form will have to play its own, there is no doubt about.
- What do you say on the role of media and ICT?
Ans: Yes, that is a very good idea in fact and the media today has a wider reach. The print media already has a significant reach, and with the expansion of mobile, now a lot of channels are available in mobile platforms also.
The government of India has launched Kisan channel also. Media definitely plays a great role by capturing the best practices across the states, across farmers, across various type of farming activities whether you say floriculture or poly house techniques or animal husbandry or commercial rearing and fisheries etc. So media can definitely help in creating awareness, connecting people who are doing the best practices. This is a very good idea.