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Doubling farmers’ real incomes

Doubling farmers’ real incomes

While industrial policy has adopted production-linked incentives (PLI), agriculture should have production- and diversity-linked incentives. For this, encouraging region-specific diversity is crucial.

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Last Updated : 27 June 2024, 23:22 IST
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Doubling farmers’ incomes has long been a persistently unmet goal. To achieve this, it is essential to incentivize agricultural production, productivity, and diversification constructively. Unfortunately, despite efforts, higher incomes for farmers and agricultural labourers remain elusive.

There is also a persistent scarcity in the production and availability of region-specific pulses and oilseeds. These nutrition essentials are often imported, draining foreign exchange and stunting rural employment growth, contributing to high food inflation, which is currently at 9.1 perc cent, and overall inflation.

While industrial policy has adopted production-linked incentives (PLI), agriculture should have production- and diversity-linked incentives. For this, encouraging region-specific diversity is crucial.

The country has a long tradition of focusing on oilseeds and pulses as an integral part of planned development, which needs revival through micro-level initiatives for land development, improved seed supply, irrigation, rainwater harvesting, and water body refurbishment programmes.

In this context, there are proposals and demands to broaden and diversify the scope of the minimum support price (MSP) system to encourage farmers. Regular enhancements of MSPs for various crops at the beginning of agricultural seasons, coupled with technical recommendations from the Agricultural Costs and Prices Commission (ACPC), should be complemented with diversity or a multi-crop bonus system.

For instance, farmers delivering two crops could get a 5 per cent additional bonus, and those delivering three crops could get a 10 per cent additional bonus. These bonuses should be quantitatively monitored or determined according to local geo-agricultural productivity norms.

This system will not only increase farmers’ incomes but also generate additional employment and elevate wages for farm labour. It promotes multi-farming, local nutrition for humans and livestock, and soil health. Multi-farming or diversification of agriculture acts as built-in crop insurance; if one crop fails, another may flourish, making farmers’ income less vulnerable.

The incomes and employment generated through multi-farming, the production of local-specific pulses, oilseeds, minor millets, vegetables, and livestock, will enrich the village economy. This will help prevent the migration of villagers to cities and metropolises, leading to a more even development of rural regions and the hinterland.

Increased rural incomes and demand will gradually spur investment in industry, trade, transport, warehousing, services, and housing in villages and nearby towns, leading to a systemic deceleration of the rural-urban exodus of productive capital.

To sustain this, existing infrastructure for local manpower training needs strengthening; rural schools, polytechnics, industrial training institutes, and colleges require further investments. This strengthening is but a part of the process of reaping India’s demographic advantage, and the country is blessed with a progressing reduction in birth rates and a lowered total fertility rate (TFR) among all sections and regions.

This effort to increase rural productivity and land development concomitant to it can be financed using the recently announced Rs 2.11 lakh crore RBI dividends to the central government in 2024.

This money can be earmarked for developing about six lakh village tanks, both small and large, across the country’s villages and hamlets within a time frame of 3–4 years. The associated effort will improve roads, culverts, and water vents all across the country.

Existing activities can be integrated with land and water body development, environmental upgradation, and the greening of road precincts and hill slopes locally. Thus, there is scope or prospect for restoring village commons, a boon for the furtherance of the livelihoods of the local poor and their cattle and other livestock.

Any exercise in development and augmentation of income and manpower training must be aimed at preserving the livelihoods of people at the grass-roots level.

Rural activities led by the augmentation and diversification of agriculture will lead to a furtherance of village-level employment and manpower training and development.

We are increasingly confronted with a preponderant regimen of labour displacing capital use. Preservation of livelihood and employment in rural areas and relevant manpower training at the grass-roots level will take the country closer to the goal of an equitable spread of regional development, income distribution, and overall opportunities. These incomes and opportunities will intrinsically enhance the sense of agency, initiative, and self-worth among the people of India.

(The writer is a retired professor, Maharaja’s College, University of Mysore)

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