Agriculture & Indian Budget 2012-13 – ASHA’s demands

Agriculture is the foundation of the rural economy which supports nearly 70% of our population and the basis of food security for the entire nation and its citizens. At this juncture, India is in a precarious situation both in terms of the economic condition of the farming community, especially the small and marginal farmers, tenant farmers and those dependent on rainfed agriculture, and the ecological condition in terms of poor soil health, abysmal groundwater situation, poor crop diversity and extent of chemical poisoning of our farm ecosystem and our food.
The Budget should give the highest priority to strengthening Indian agriculture, with the focus on sustainable livelihoods, especially for the small, marginal and medium farmers, and agricultural workers who together constitute more than 90% of the farming community. The need of the day is for the nation’s economic policies to focus on providing dignified livelihoods to these 700 million people and making agriculture and allied sectors economically vibrant and ecologically sustainable. Without this, the nation cannot hope to achieve poverty reduction or human development goals meaningfully – whether in the realm of food and nutrition security, health, rural employment, tribal development, Dalit empowerment or reducing the alarming rural-urban disparity.
Our immediate demands for the Indian budget are as follows, and we hope that this will mark a new beginning towards an economic policy focused on sustainable rural livelihoods.
• Public investment in agriculture is very low, with a large portion of it going towards subsidy for chemical fertilizers. As a sector which provides livelihood for about 60% of the population, at least 25% of the Indian budget should be allocated to agriculture and allied sectors.
• The prices for farmers produce are not increasing commensurate with the rise in inputs costs and living costs. The Minimum Support Prices for the food crops are kept on a leash due to possible impact on food inflation. The National Farmers Commission recommended that farmers should be paid at least 1.5 times the Cost of Cultivation C2. The Government should set up the ‘Price Compensation mechanism’ which will directly pay the farmers the gap between the Target Price (C2+50%) and the MSP (or the average Farm Harvest Price if lower than MSP).
• Government should set up a Price Stabilisation Fund to address the market fluctuations in commercial crops
• Special program to support expansion of ecologically sustainable agriculture should be initiated by the government as a pilot in 100 districts, with at least 50% of these being in rainfed areas. This program should integrate ecological management of soil fertility, pest control, crop diversity, water conservation and livestock.
• Ecological Services bonus to farmers who practice ecological agriculture and cultivate eco-friendly crops like millets.
• A major mission should be taken up to identify and record tenant farmers, and to provide them access to crop loans, insurance, compensation for crop loss, and all government subsidies and programs. Tenant farmers form the most vulnerable section of the agrarian community and constitute a majority of farmer suicides.
• A concerted program to update land records should be taken up in a time-bound manner, especially with a view of implementing land reforms and ensuring that the benefits of government programs and compensation for land acquisition reach the real cultivators.
• Drastic increase in outlay for Disaster Relief Fund for farmers, which should provide timely compensation for crop loss due to any disaster such as floods, drought, cyclone and untimely rains – at Rs.10,000 per acre on the lines of recommendations of the Hooda committee.
• Adequate crop insurance should be provided for all crops in all regions. Expanded outlay for crop insurance program should ensure doubling the number of farmers and acres covered during this year, and should subsidize the premium payments which have become unviable for many small farmers.
• Labour subsidy of 50 person-days/hectare for agricultural operations on private lands of farmers to compensate for the steep rise in labour wages. This should be in addition to the 100-day entitlement of labour work under NREGS and should be operationalized through a pilot program involving farmer and worker collectives.
• A rural livelihoods program should be introduced that focuses on agro-based processing, storage and marketing facilities to be set up in rural areas, managed by farmer collectives.

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