Agri budget: Farmers in some states to benefit from millet focus, rice & wheat farmers disappointed

Agri budget: Farmers in some states to benefit from millet focus, rice & wheat farmers disappointed

Synopsis

The increase in agri credit by 11.11% to Rs 20 lakh crore for the next fiscal year will help reduce dependence of farmers on local moneylenders who often charge usurious interest rates, as they could take credit from the formal banking channels. Experts also see the proposal on the Agriculture Accelerator Fund for supporting startups in the agriculture sector as a positive.

Small and marginal farmers in Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka are expected to benefit from the finance minister’s proposal to popularise millets, but those from states like Punjab where rice and wheat are the main crops said they did not see much for them in the union budget.

The increase in agri credit by 11.11% to Rs 20 lakh crore for the next fiscal year will help reduce dependence of farmers on local moneylenders who often charge usurious interest rates, as they could take credit from the formal banking channels. Experts also see the proposal on the Agriculture Accelerator Fund for supporting startups in the agriculture sector as a positive.

Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s budget seeks to make India a global hub for millets, which are seen as a healthier alternative to rice and wheat and require lesser water and other inputs for cultivation compared with other staple crops. She announced that the Indian Institute of Millet Research in Hyderabad would be made into a centre of excellence so as to further improve local production of the cereal grains.

India produces more than 50.9 million tonnes of millets, accounting for 80% the output in Asia and 20% of the global production. India’s average yield of millets is 1,239 kgs per hectare, compared with the global average of 1,229 kgs.

In India, millets are primarily a kharif crop, mostly grown in rainfed conditions.

“The small and marginal farmers, who have less money, cultivate this crop which is emerging as a super food. The FM’s initiative to promote millet will benefit these farmers as acreage will increase and their earnings will increase, too,” said Yashwanth Chidipothu, national spokesperson of the Federation of All India Farmers’ Association.

India cultivates nine varieties of millets: foxtail, finger, barnyard, browntop, litte, kodo, pearl, proso and sorghum. Tamil Nadu cultivates at least seven kinds of these, while Karnataka grows at least five varieties.

But the small and marginal farmers from Punjab are not happy about the budget. Bhagwan Dass, secretary-general of the Young Farmers Association in Punjab, said: “There is nothing for the small and marginal farmers of Punjab in this year’s budget. The farmers here grow rice and wheat, and millet is not grown by them.”

However, the Agriculture Accelerator Fund has been lauded by experts. Soumyak Biswas, partner – management consulting, at BDO India, said the fund would act as a catalyst to spur growth in the agriculture tech ecosystem and address challenges relating to input-output linkages, precision farming, ensuring traceability and quality of production, and higher value addition.

Biswas added “Increase in agriculture credit is expected to channelise the farmers to formal banking channels however the crux of the fact that there has to be awareness among the small and marginal farmers who are a large majority of the farming community and would be the biggest beneficiary of this credit facilities – as they lack scale, have hardly any bargaining power with the input suppliers and intermediaries whom they depend upon largely for transportation and/ or selling their produce.”

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