Farmer and the budget

Huge figures of expenditure on infrastructure projects are quoted all the time. When the government lays electricity wires and sets up electric poles, one naively believes that the task of rural electrification is accomplished, even though electricity is not consistently delivered to the farmers. The farmer is then forced to use diesel for power generation, increasing the fuel subsidy bill.

The government has also set up Krishi Vigyan Kendras and rolled out the Agriculture Technology Management Agency (ATMA) network, which does not deliver on the training and advice that it is supposed to give. So farmers are forced to take advice from shopkeepers selling agrochemicals, who have vested interests. This leads to the overuse of inputs. Infrastructure expenditure is not the critical parameter; delivery of services is. It is this physical delivery of services that must be measured in innovative ways.

The routine highlight of every finance minister's budget speech is the disbursal of agriculture credit, but most farmers in the country have no access to institutional credit. This is why moneylenders rule the roost, while farmers continue to suffer because they are denied access to credit. It is time the government focused on collecting correct data and tabulating the real disbursal of funds. Even the data collected for tabulating the minimum support price by the Commission for Agricultural Cost and Prices is often incorrect.

How one measures returns on investment is important for planning a better future. The extension of roadways into rural areas has been an excellent indicator of rural economic upliftment and serves as a good example of what works. A less positive indicator is spending on research and development in the farm/rural sector. Every rupee spent on agriculture R&D yields a more than 13 times return to the rural economy and adds to farmer prosperity. Yet government spending on research and development is insufficient and private investment is urgently required to supplement it. However, while private sector partnerships will be an integral part of any successful future strategy, they can at best complement government initiatives, not replace them.

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