By 2022, farmers’ income will double at the least: Radha Mohan Singh
"We have increased import duty on several commodities, raised MSP, widened insurance cover and invested big time in farm modernisation," says the Union minister.
Radha Mohan Singh, Union agriculture minister and four-time MP from Motihari, spoke to ET Magazine on steps taken by the government to alleviate farm distress and increase farmers’ income. Edited excerpts:
What are the NDA government’s biggest achievements in agriculture?
Under Narendra Modiji, we are focused not just on raising agriculture production but also the income of farmers. Farm budget under the UPA in 2009-14 was Rs 1,21,082 crore; our budget in 2014-19 has been to the tune of Rs 2,11,694 crore. Crop insurance cover has more than doubled in terms of insured amount. Budget for mechanisation of farming has been increased more than 10 times. A corpus of Rs 40,000 crore has been created for 99 irrigation schemes; all of them will be completed in a year. The Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana has been very helpful. Drip irrigation is being promoted. Some 20,000 ponds have been dug for water harvesting under MNREGA. Some 10,000 soil-testing labs have been set up.
There were droughts in 2014-15 and 2015-16. Naturally, there was a drop in agriculture growth. Our scientists developed 800 high-yielding varieties in these four years. A contingency plan against drought has been created for all districts. As a result, we have seen record production of not just foodgrains but also horticulture in 2017-18. Milk production (compared to UPA’s) has risen by 23%, dairy farmers’ income 30%, fish production 26%, egg 25% and honey 28%. In the milk sector, under the Rashtriya Gokul Mission, a corpus of Rs 15,000 crore was created for the protection of indigenous cows.
Even allied sectors have seen an increase in not just output but also exports, which means more income for farmers. Compared to the UPA’s, there has been a 95% increase in marine exports, 84% in rice (non-basmati), 77% in fresh fruits, 43% in fresh vegetables, 31% for basmati and 38% for spices.
Agri growth rate has averaged 2.5% annually in NDA years, compared with 3.6% in 10 years of UPA.
We had drought in the first two years of our tenure. Our effort will take time to fructify. They have begun to show in terms of numbers: in the first quarter of 2017-18, we saw 3% growth, then 2.6% in Q2, 3.1% in Q3, 4.5% in Q4 and then 5.3% in Q1 of 2018-19. This shows how the trend will be in the coming years. Had the reforms been initiated 10 years back, the results would have been very different. Efforts have been made to cut input cost and increase income by way of MSP and better pricing via direct selling.
Prices of most crops are below MSP.
Whenever prices fell below MSP, the government intervened and farmers have been compensated. On the contrary, UPA government merely notified MSPs without procurement except in a few cases. Our government has been focused on procurement of multiple crops. From 2010-11 to 2013-14, some 8 lakh MT was purchased under UPA under PSS (Price Support Scheme); till now we have purchased 75 lakh MT. Under UPA, MSP for only three of 14 kharif crops was 1.5 times of input cost. But we have given minimum 1.5 times of input cost for all kharif crops in 2017-18. Having said that, our efforts are aimed at ensuring remunerative prices which are above MSP. MSP should be seen as a fallback mechanism.
The Fasal Bima Yojana has been criticised for poor implementation.
The Fasal Bima Yojana is aimed at saving farmers from natural disasters. Compared with the last two years of UPA rule in which only 6.66 crore farmers were covered, we gave cover to 10.61 crore farmers in 2016-17 and 2017-8. Scale of finance is ascertained and premium is fixed according to estimated production. The insured money per hectare has gone up from UPA’s Rs 17,500 to Rs 38,035. Earlier the premium was high and risk coverage was limited. Plus, there was a cap on actual benefits. Our PM increased cover, removed capping and cut premium as well. Look at Kerala — the premium deposited was Rs 3 crore in 2016 kharif and farmers got benefit of Rs 18 crore. Such has been the case in most states.
What about increase in input costs — of diesel, electricity, labour, urea?
If you compare with the UPA regime, the costs have all come down. Earlier, whatever little relief that was announced was not implemented.
Despite ‘record production’, essential commodities remain costly.
The price of dal has come down. We had dal at Rs 200 per kg under UPA; now it is available at Rs 70. Inflation was 10%-plus during UPA; now it is sub-2%. Na dal mehenga hai, na chawal (Neither pulses nor rice is expensive).
Farm loan waivers have been announced in several states, including BJP-ruled ones. Waivers have been criticised for encouraging the culture of not repaying loans. What’s the Centre’s position on it? Will you announce a waiver like the UPA did in 2008?
The UPA was only interested in scams and eyewash. We are investing big time in farmers’ empowerment. Budgetary allocation has been increased. Not just foodgrain but allied sector has also seen record production.
Despite 585 mandis being linked to the online trading platform eNAM (National Agriculture Market), only 405 are active. How do you plan to fix that?
More than 400 are functional; some 150 will be covered in a year. We are paying Rs 75,000 lakh to each mandi. In 2018-19, we will add 200 and another 225 in 2019-20 taking the total to about 1,000. Then some 22,000 Grameen Haats and agri-market development fund have been set up. All this will increase farmers’ income. Earlier, people were not willing to give their land on lease. In 2016, we asked states to (implement the Agriculture Land Leasing Act) and now they are making changes in their laws to make the process foolproof.
Are there any schemes for cows that are being abandoned?
Farmers invariably abandon cows when they stop giving milk. Hence, efforts are being made to increase their milking period by taking care of their health via Gokul Grams, Kamdhenu Breeding Centres, Semen Centres and Nakul Swastha Patra (cow health card) apart from veterinary hospitals. Earlier the government did not care for the cow. In 2013-14, the per capita availability of milk was 310 gm; it is 375 gm for the last four years.
What is the farm growth rate that we can expect in the coming years?
We have increased import duty on several commodities, raised MSP, widened insurance cover and invested big time in farm mechanisation, irrigation and modernisation. These and other steps that we have talked about will definitely give results in the coming years. By 2022, farmers’ income will double at the least.