Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday emphasised on farmers getting more avenues to sell crops and said a food processing revolution was needed in the country for value addition to farm produce and to realise better prices. Addressing a webinar on effective implementation of Budget provisions regarding the Agriculture Ministry, he underlined the need for increased participation of private players in the farm sector, including in research and development (R&D) work.
Without making any direct reference to the three new farm reform laws or to the three-month-old agitation by farmers, Modi said there is a need for expanding options for the country’s farming community to sell agri produce. “Today the need of the hour is that farmers of the country get more and more options to sell their produce,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Punjab Assembly on Monday paid tributes to the farmers who died during the ongoing agitation against the Centre’s farm laws. Several farmers who were part of the agitation against the three farm legislations had died due to varied reasons, including health issues like heart attack. On the first day of the Budget session, the House also remembered former Union Home Minister Buta Singh, former ministers MS Gill, Major Singh Uboke, Bal Mukund Sharma and Satpal Gosain. The House also paid tributes to noted Punjabi singer Sardool Sinkander, bhajan singer Narinder Chanchal and freedom fighters Ajit Singh, Gohal Singh Tur and Balwant Singh. A two-minute silence was observed as a mark of respect to the departed souls.
While the Modi government says the three laws give farmers alternate options to sell their produce, thousands of farmers from Punjab and other states have been protesting at Delhi borders against the laws which they see will end the government procurement at Minimum Support Price (MSP). The prime minister highlighting various provisions for agriculture in the Union Budget, and said agriculture credit target has been hiked to Rs 16.5 lakh crore with priority to animal husbandry, dairy and fisheries sector.
He said Rural Infrastructure Fund has been increased to Rs 40,000 crore and allocation for micro irrigation has been doubled. Scope of Operation Green Scheme has been expanded to 22 perishable products and 1,000 more mandis with e-NAM will be linked, Modi highlighted. The prime minister laid emphasis on the effective and timely implementation of these budget provisions so that benefits reach to maximum people.
“There is a need for post harvest revolution or food processing revolution and value addition in the country in the 21st century, amidst ever-increasing agricultural production,” he said. It would have been very good for the country if this work was done two-three decades ago, Modi said. The prime minister strongly emphasised on developing processing facilities in every agriculture related sectors such as foodgrains, vegetables, fruits, fisheries etc.
For this, it is critical that farmers should have the storage facilities near their villages, he said, adding that there was a need to improve the system for taking agri produces from farm land to processing units. For food processing revolution, the public-private partnerships and cooperative sectors will have to come forward with full strength along with the farming community, Modi said.
He highlighted various initiatives by the government keeping small farmers at the core and said empowerment of these small farmers will greatly help in ridding Indian agriculture from many problems. Modi called for the improvement of the system of taking the produce from the fields to processing units and emphasised that hand holding of these units be done by the Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs).
“We have to expand our country’s agriculture sector into the global market for processed food. We must increase the number of agro-industry clusters near the village so that the people of the village can get employment related to farming in the village itself,” he said. The prime minister said organic clusters and export clusters will also play a major role in this.
“We have to move towards a scenario where agro-based products move from the village to the cities and industrial products reach villages from cities,” Modi said, and added that there was a need to explore ways to leverage One District, One Product scheme to take agri products to the global markets. The prime minister lamented that even though India is one of the world’s major fish producers and exporters, the country’s presence in processed fish in the international market was very limited.
To change this scenario, in addition to the reforms, the government has announced production linked incentives worth about Rs 11,000 crore to encourage products such as ready to eat, ready to cook, processed fruits and vegetables, processed seafood and Mozzarella cheese, he said. Modi talked of Operation Greens, under which the 50 per cent subsidy is being given for the transportation of all fruits and vegetables. He said in the last 6 months alone, about 350 Kisan Rails were operated and about 1,00,000 metric tonnes of fruits and vegetables have been transported through these trains.
Under the Aatmanirbhar Bharat campaign, the prime minister said that emphasis is being laid on creating clusters for fruits and vegetables processing in the districts across the country. Micro food processing units are also being set up, he added. Modi stressed on the need for using modern technology to help small farmers with cheap and effective options for hourly rental of tractors, straw machines or other farm machinery.
Talking about soil health cards, he said increased awareness of farmers about soil’s health would improve crop production and called for creating soil testing network at village level. The prime minister stressed on the need for more private sector contribution towards R&D in the agriculture sector.
Modi said there is a need for crop diversification. “We now have to give such options to farmers in which they are not limited to growing wheat and rice. We can try from organic food to salad-related vegetables, there are several crops,” he said. He stressed on the need to tap the market for seaweed and beeswax and said seaweed farming and beeswax would generate an additional revenue stream for fishermen and bee farmers.
Stating that contract farming has been present in India in some form or the other for a very long time, Modi said there is a need to ensure that contract farming doesn’t remain just a business concept but it should fulfil responsibility towards the land. The prime minister said there should be concerted efforts to find a comprehensive technological solution for agri and allied activities.
Modi said there is a need to promote startups associated with the agriculture sector and connect the youth. He highlighted that the Kisan Credit Card facility has been extended to farmers, cattle ranchers and fishermen. More than 1.80 crore farmers have been given Kisan Credit Cards in the last one year. The provision of credit has also been more than doubled compared to 6-7 years ago.