Wednesday, April 20, 2016

All agriculture subsidies will be transferred directly to farmers: Prof Sudhir Panwar

Agriculture is the mainstay of Uttar Pradesh's economy and the largest employer in the state. The had declared the last two financial years as 'kisan varsh' to emphasise its focus on the agricultural sector, its schemes to improve the condition of farmers and its goal of making farming more lucrative. Member Prof Sudhir Panwar discusses the way forward in agriculture, in an interview with Virendra Singh Rawat. Edited excerpts:

has been facing deficit monsoons over the last two years. How has this impacted the state's agricultural sector?

A major part of the state suffered due to sub-optimal monsoon rains and consequent drought and drought-like situation for two consecutive years along with unseasonal rain and hailstorms during the last rabi season. It affected farmers' income and productivity to a large extent. The gross state domestic product for agriculture was in the red (-1.8 per cent) in 2014-15. The state government took several measures to help farmers like doubling of relief amount, subsidised seeds and enhanced work opportunities for landless labour in drought-affected areas. The Kamdhenu Yojna played a big role in insulating farmers' incomes from drought and weather disturbances.

The central government aims to double farmers' incomes by 2022. In this context, where does the UP farm sector figure and how well- or ill-prepared is the state's farm infrastructure?

I do not think that the measures announced by National Democratic Alliance government in the central budget will double farmers' income. The budgetary provision for irrigation and soil health cards are aimed at increasing productivity, but income is an outcome of production and market value. Doubling of income in five years would require an annual growth rate of over 12 per cent for five continuous years, which is difficult to achieve and sustain. Agricultural prices are determined by Minimum Support Price (MSP) policies and the market. The NDA government checked inflation through suppression of commodity prices and rural wages, and increased MSP nominally - just 3.2 per cent in the last two years. The prices of domestic produce like sugar, rice, vegetables and fruits plunged and resulted in lower margins to farmers. The price stabilisation fund was used mainly for protecting consumers, not farmers.

Are credit flows to the farm sector in UP over the last four to five years adequate, or are there still areas of weakness that warrant attention?

UP being a big state and the largest producer of many commodities, is well-equipped to take advantage of schemes announced by the Centre. In the past also, the performance of the state agriculture department in centrally sponsored schemes like Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana and others had been good. The credit flow and penetration of institutional credit in UP is quite satisfactory. The Institutional Finance Directorate in UP is coordinating well with banks on different activities. The cooperative bank expansion and its credit policies helped farmers to a large extent.

The weak area is the agro-processing industry. However, the state government has now formulated an attractive agro-processing industry policy, which is gaining momentum. In Sikandrabad (Bulandshahr), the state-of-the-art Sunshine Agri-Processing hub with 16,000 tonnes capacity, which was commissioned by Agricultural Production Commissioner (APC) Pravir Kumar, is an example of the friendly policies of the state.

The domestic sugarcane sector has been facing multiple challenges, and UP is the largest sugarcane producer among states. What is the way forward for the sector, such that all stakeholders - farmers, sugar mills and consumers - receive the best deal?

Sugarcane is the principal cash crop in UP, amounting to Rs 26,000 crore. Due to unilateral acceptance of the Rangarajan Commission recommendations by the central government and excess sugarcane production, cane farmers and the sugar industry are under stress. When sugar prices had fallen to Rs 2,400 per quintal last year, the state government bailed out the industry and farmers through a package of Rs 2,800 crore. The situation is better this year and the government is determined to pay farmers the State Advised Price (SAP), which is high in comparison to other large producing states such as Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

The Centre still holds the key, since market intervention in sugar prices is required so that prices are maintained at the level where farmers get fair if not remunerative prices. The domestic sugar industry can cope through diversification and the state and central governments may extend help. Due to adoption of new varieties and technology at farmers' end, the productivity and sugar recovery has been increased considerably. In several areas it has touched 12.5-13 per cent.

Could you throw some light on the flow of funds to the agricultural sector during the incumbent regime in UP and how this compares with the previous Mayawati dispensation?

The declaration of two consecutive years as 'kisan varsh' (farmer years) shows the priority of the Akhilesh Yadav government towards farmers. In its first year, the regime had made irrigation free, waived cooperative loans of farmers, initiated the Kamdhenu scheme, framed and implemented new agriculture policies, etc. In 2015, when drought occurred, the state government doubled the relief amount despite the meagre assistance of Rs 2,800 crore from the Centre. Recently, the chief minister had announced an innovative scheme to provide ration packets to the Antyodaya families of Bundelkhand containing 'Deshi ghee', edible oil and milk powder, along with other food items.

The budgetary allocation for agriculture sector is beyond comparison to previous governments and even other states in the country. The allocations exceed 50 per cent of the total outlays. After a long time, there is a state government which is not pursuing a symbolic agenda for any caste or creed. The programmes and policies are for the benefit of the general population.

What more can UP's farmers expect from the government in terms of credit flow, improvement in farm infrastructure, marketing support, new farm schemes and in 2016-17?

This year, we have planned to transfer all agriculture subsidies directly to farmers' accounts. The thrust area for this year is diversification, processing facilities, marketing network and extension services. The Chandra Shekhar Azad University, Kanpur, in collaboration with the Netherlands Institute, is working on potato-growing areas and horticulture. The perfume industry will get a new thrust with the collaboration of French institutions.

Besides, the government will provide financial assistance to agriculture graduates in setting up agri-junction, which will serve as an interface between farmers and best practices in agriculture, including input supply and advisories. The agriculture department engaged Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur alumni in preparation of an e-platform for digitisation of all the farmers' needs on one platform.

How has the UP Planning Commission been contributing to the progress of the state's agricultural landscape?

The state Planning Commission is an advisory body to the government. Since the chief minister is its chairman, there are ample opportunities to raise issues pertaining to the rural sector. Because of my farming background, he has provided me with an opportunity to put farmers' perspective in the highest policy advisory body. 

Source : Business Standard

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