More than 50 per cent of the population in India depends on agriculture for their livelihoods. Agriculture is also the 3rd most significant contributor to our GDP and will always attract attention in the Union Budget 2023.
However, unlike previous years, we are moving into 2023-24 with a cautious and uncertain outlook owing to challenges like a looming recession, the Russia-Ukraine war, threats of climate change, falling export numbers, global inflation in crude, edible oil, and wheat prices. A separate budget allocation to improve crop production efficiency and enhancement of the supply chain can improve benefits to the farmers.
Supporting technology adoption and digitisation of agriculture
Technology interventions, mechanisation, GIS, internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data, blockchain and drones can act as critical drivers to propel growth, farm efficiency, and improve production efficiency at scale. The government can expand the existing measures like Digital Agriculture Mission (2021-2025) to include these technological interventions that help deliver market and mandi prices, supply chain visibility and food security.
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Furthermore, the government should support the creation of an open ag ecosystem that acts as a public data library wherein all parties can share and access information and insights around soil health, pests and diseases to help fast-track the change. The government can look to promote and open opportunities for PPP (public-private partnerships) to improve accessibility and truly bring in digitisation at the grassroots level.
Incentives and investments to solve climate change
A clear definition of climate change needs to be drafted. The Union Budget 2023 should give special impetus on incentives and tax benefits for domestic companies that focus on solving climate change. There is a need to create a well-regulated voluntary carbon markets framework with policies and incentives that help India meet its Net Zero goals. Policies that encourage farmers to implement sustainable and precision farming practices can be drafted and implemented. Financial benefits and subsidies for the farmers set aside by the government can be routed via agritech companies and organisations promoting sustainable agricultural practices at a grassroot level to propel a shift towards climate-smart farming practices at scale.
Solving market linkage challenges
The key objective of introducing the Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce Act 2020 was to facilitate agricultural produce trade outside APMCs (Agricultural Produce Market Committees) mandis. However, measures are yet to be taken to allow trade based on the PAN card outside APMCs. Furthermore, despite the government allocating funds to improve the infrastructure at APMCs for installing testing and drying machines, the availability of these machines could be much higher.
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Similarly, increasing the number of APMCs, introducing digital platforms to help farmers sell produce at a fair price, delivering market price information, and regularly offering advisory, financial assistance, and best practices. Setting up marketplaces focused on farmer producer organisations (FPOs) can also help drive demand and improve farmers’ price realisations. The industry is looking for rational reforms in the Union Budget.
(Dhruv Sawhney is the COO and Business Head of nurture.farm. Views expressed in the article are author’s own.)