Strategic Policy Choices for Agriculture toward Amrit Kaal

April 2022 | Vol. I, Issue 4

In February, the Finance Minister presented the Union budget for FY 2022-23 with a view to achieve sustainable growth with a long-term vision for the next 25-years -long leadup to India@100 (Amrit Kaal). The budget rested on the pillars of growth and all-inclusive welfare, promoting technologyenabled development in agriculture but also promoting chemical free agriculture all along the Ganges river, signalling the need for a more sustainable and climate resilient agriculture.

This issue of AF-TAB contains three main articles that are critical for long term sustainable growth of agriculture as also making more nutritious food available to vulnerable sections. This is important for India, to achieve not just food security but also nutritional security for its large population and making agriculture more environments friendly and sustainable. The  first article briey talks about how agriculture research, development and education can transform the agriculture sector by raising the total factor productivity and making agriculture more competitive and resilient. It highlights, how expenditure on development schemes and projects is lagging behind while the safety nets and income support/input subsidies continue to receive a much larger share of  financial resources of the Union government. At the margin, there is a case for India to focus on investments that make Indian agriculture globally competitive by raising its productivity. Such investments are to be in the  fields of agri-R&D, irrigation, roads, and value chain developments. Enhanced agri-R&D can help not only making agriculture more competitive but also climate resilient and more nutritious.

Against this backdrop, the second piece of this issue discusses how budget announcements for agriculture fall short in containing the GHG emissions. It discusses how the subsidization policies of key inputs such as water (power) and fertilizers coupled with assured procurement of paddy and wheat in some selected states such as Punjab-Haryana is playing havoc with their water table and GHG emissions. It also discusses the policy options to get out of this messy and inefficient state of affairs in agriculture.

The third piece talks about the issue of malnutrition and what role has the budget played in making the food basket of the Indian population more nutritious. Despite achieving a high growth rate in the past decade, a large section of the population remains malnourished. India needs to work on striking a balance between demand and supply of major food items being produced in a competitive manner while also targeting the objective of nutritional security. Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his 75th Independence Day speech announced that by 2024, rice distributed through PDS and other schemes will be forti fied. The piece also highlights the innovation and importance of bioforti fied foods and how they can contribute to improved nutritional status. Such bio-forti fied foods can be cheaper and more effective in reducing malnutrition than the scheme of forti fication announced by the government. However, bio-forti fication of staple crops requires higher investments in agri-R&D than are being currently made, but it can go a long way in helping to alleviate malnutrition amongst vulnerable groups.

The government has also proposed interventions in the context of managing natural resources and making agriculture more digitally advanced in this year’s budget speech. This issue covers the existing policies, implementation and long-term vision of the pilot plan for launching a chemical-free natural farming zone by creating 5-km wide corridors along the river Ganga with a view to reduce the level of pollutants in river Ganga. We then move on to the upside of introducing drones in the agriculture sector. This piece captures the steps taken by the government and the way forward for the wider implementation of modern technology in Indian agriculture.

Historically, the policy agenda for the agriculture sector has targeted achieving higher production and attaining food security, but now the Indian agrarian sector is facing second-generation issues like degradation of natural resources (water, soil, and air) and vulnerability to climate change. India needs to come up with technologies and policies which target the core problem of growing burden on limited natural resources and GHG emissions. India could create carbon markets and reward farmers for saving on precious groundwater and lowering its GHG emissions, moving gradually toward ‘net zero’ status by 2070.

I hope this compilation of articles is helpful to policy makers and awakened readers who want India to achieve food and nutritional security while also making it climate resilient