The right to choose -Ashok Gulati
-The Indian Express
Government could give fertiliser subsidy directly to farmers and let them decide if they want to practise zero budget natural farming or use chemical-fertilisers.
The Narendra Modi government completed 100 days of its second term (Modi 2.0) last week. On this occasion, most cabinet ministers spoke of the achievements of their ministries. The headlines in newspapers were, however, about the abrogation of Article 370, or the biggest slump in auto sales in the last two decades, or the slowing down of GDP growth. I tried to search for bold moves in agriculture as it affects the largest number of people. But I couldn’t find any. Some already-announced schemes were tweaked and a few new ideas were offered but without solid scientific and financial backing.
The PM-Kisan Yojana (PMKY) — an income support of Rs 6,000 per year to small and marginal farmer households — was announced before the parliamentary elections. Modi 2.0 has extended the scheme to the families of all farmers. The 2019-20 Union budget has provisioned Rs 75,000 crore for this scheme. This is the first step towards direct cash (income) transfer to farmers’ accounts. As I have argued earlier, this scheme will be meaningful if other subsidies — such as those on food, fertiliser, power and irrigation, and agri-credit — are clubbed with the PMKY and given directly to farmers. The move should be complemented by allowing market forces to set prices. Else, PMKY may come at the cost of investments in agriculture, which have fallen from a peak of 18.2 per cent of the agri-GDP in 2011-12 to 13.7 per cent of the agri-GDP 2017-18. With such a fall in investments, the dream of doubling farmers’ incomes by 2022 cannot be fulfilled.
In this article, I want to focus on something new and interesting that the prime minister talked about in his Independence Day speech. He repeated the same in his address to the 14th Conference of Parties of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) in Greater Noida. The PM’s key message was to reduce consumption of chemical fertilisers and promote zero budget natural farming (ZBNF). The concept, fathered by Subhash Palekar, uses dung from desi black cows, their urine, adds jaggery and pulses’ flour in certain proportions and deploys that, as jeevamrit, to augment microbial activity in soil. This is supposed to make our soils healthier and augment productivity in a sustainable manner. Incidentally, ZBNF was also mentioned as the future of Indian agriculture by Nirmala Sitharaman in her maiden budget speech.
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