As Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched on Thursday, the ambitious centrally-sponsored nationwide “Soil Health Card” (SHC) scheme in Suratgarh town in Sriganganagar, Rajasthan, this brings the focus on the Agricultural reforms of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government.
The cards, that contain all basic information and crop-wise recommendations of fertilizers for different soil type, are expected to help individual farmers in making appropriate use of nutrients or fertilizers to improve productivity. They will cover over 14 crore farmers in the next three years with crop-wise recommendation of fertilisers to check overuse of fertilisers in farm lands.
The launch ushers in a new era of agricultural reforms with a thrust on research. With 14.1 crore hectares of total cultivable land in the country, the government plans to take 2.48 lakh samples from all states and test the quality of soil in three years.
Emphasis on Enhancing Research on Soil Fertility
Ever since he took charge, Modi has stressed the need for a “digitized database” of all agricultural research in the country and has urged agriculture scientists to enhance their research on soil fertility that would be crucial for the country to reduce dependence on import of pulses and cooking oil and to meet the total demand for grain that is projected to touch 280 million tonne by 2020-21. Consider that during 2013-14, the country had produced 264 million tons of grain. The prime minister has been campaigning for this research-based “agriculture revolution” and has given the slogan ‘Lab to Land’ to lay emphasis on the importance of understanding soil fertility for optimum productivity. It also goes with Modi’s call for ‘less land, less time’ approach for a ‘second green revolution’ that could augment grain production in sustainable manner.
It may be mentioned that Indian agriculture over the years has faced a crisis of sustainability and economic viability. As a consequence, about three lakh farmers committed suicide in the past eighteen years and reports suggested that another 42 per cent wanted to quit farming if given a choice.
Hence, Modi’s campaigns in the run up to last year’s general elections raised considerable hope among the farmers as he paid specific enough attention to issues such as farmer suicides, farm prices, as well as crisis in agricultural marketing.
Modi’s Reform Agenda on Agricultural Front a Mixed Bag
Ever since forming his government, Modi’s reform agenda on agricultural front though has been a mixed bag. The government has talked about increasing both public and private investment, especially in Agri-infrastructure; addressing issues of pricing and procurement of agricultural produce; crop insurance and post-harvest management. It has also announced to “incentivize the setting up of food processing industries.” President Pranab Mukherjee, in his first address to the Parliament after the formation of the new government, had further outlined the Modi government’s decision to “adopt a National Land Use Policy which will facilitate scientific identification of non-cultivable land and its strategic development.”
In the first six months though, there has been a very modest increase in the minimum support price offered to farmers. The last minimum support price (MSP) increase by the UPA government, in March 2014, for the kharif crops, was 8.2% versus 6.1% in March 2013. The order of magnitude of the first MSP of the Modi led government in October 2014 was minus 0.3%.
Some major decisions of the new government were with regard to the pricing and marketing of food, especially the release of food grains from the excess food “reserves” in the government’s possession. This decision to reduce the food mountain through large liquidation of stock is a welcome step considering it has its bearing on curbing food inflation. Besides, farmers no longer have to sell their produce in their local agricultural produce marketing committees (APMCs).
A major success of the government was in making the World Trade Organization understand India’s sensitivities to reforms involving the agricultural sector, and to manage a four-year “peace clause” to protect it from WTO sanctions while the country transitioned to a new system. It may be mentioned that certain aspects of India’s food-security programme, like stockpiling grain, currently violate WTO rules.
Yet, a rather contentious issue has been the government’s land acquisition reforms that have come under the scanner and are being criticized for being ‘anti-farmer’. It is being said that farmers may be short-charged for the land acquired from them. It is one issue that has to be tackled with transparency. For the farmers deserve fair and meaningful compensation for their land.
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