Union Budget 2023-24: India’s farmers can take to organic agriculture with proper support

Meagre allocations to organic/natural farming is negligible compared to huge funding towards chemical-based farming

By Vineet Kumar
Published: Friday 03 February 2023
Farmers face various challenges while transitioning to organic/natural farming, including a lack of knowledge, non-availability of quality organic and bio-inputs, as well as a lack of market support to get fair and remunerative prices. Photo: iStock.

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, in her budget speech on January 1, 2023, made some announcements related to the agriculture sector, which can help upscale organic/natural farming in India.

If translated into actions with adequate budgetary support, these announcements can help farmers transition to chemical-free agriculture.

India currently has 4.43 million organic farmers, according to the Economic Survey 2022-23. The Union Budget 2023-24 aims to help 10 million farmers to adopt natural farming over the next three years. 

Read more: A question of sales: Natural farming faces challenges in Himachal; here is how

As we know, despite all the big announcements by the Centre and a few states over the last few years, chemical-free farming is still struggling to be a part of mainstream agriculture.

Despite all the talk, the meagre allocations to organic/natural farming is negligible compared to huge funding towards chemical-based farming.

About 5.91 million hectares of land in the country are under organic farming, which is around four per cent of the net sown area, according to the Economic Survey 2022-23.

The budget allocation to National Mission on Natural Farming is still unclear, as it is not mentioned in the budget.

The latest budget announced the establishment of Bhartiya Prakritik Kheti Bio-Input Resource Centres. Under this, 10,000 bio-input resource centres will be set up to create a national-level micro-fertiliser and pesticide manufacturing network. 

Farmers face various challenges while transitioning to organic/natural farming, including a lack of knowledge, non-availability of quality organic and bio-inputs, as well as a lack of market support to get fair and remunerative prices, according to a study by the Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment.

The study titled State of Biofertilizers and Organic Fertilizers in India highlighted the poor state of organic and bio-inputs in the country. Bio-input resource centres are very much needed to support farmers in upscaling organic/natural farming. It will be impressive if an adequate budget is allocated for this imitative. 

Also read: Restore by use: Regenerative agriculture can help save water; here is how

The second important announcement is about PM-PRANAAM — PM Programme for Restoration, Awareness, Nourishment and Amelioration of Mother Earth. Under this scheme, states will be incentivised to reduce chemical fertiliser consumption.

The idea is to encourage states to save chemical fertiliser subsidies — a proportion of this would be given back to states and organisations to promote alternative fertilisers. 

The third important announcement is about GOBARdhan (Galvanizing Organic Bio-Agro Resources Dhan) scheme. Under this, 500 new ‘waste to wealth’ plants will be established to promote a circular economy.

These will include 200 compressed biogas plants and 300 community or cluster-based plants at Rs 10,000 crore. Fiscal support will be provided for the collection of bio-mass and distribution of bio-manure. This will support promoting organic fertilisers in India. 

An announcement has also been made to make India a global hub of ‘Shree Anna’ — a term used for millets. Indian Institute of Millet Research, Hyderabad, will be supported as the Centre of Excellence for sharing best practices, research and technologies.

Millets are known for their lower water and fertiliser requirement as well as health benefits. However, no specific budgetary allocations are mentioned in this regard and it is not clear if adequate funds will be allocated.  

Another announcement that came from the minister was regarding an Agriculture Accelerator Fund to bring innovative and affordable solutions for challenges faced by farmers.

It also aims to bring in modern technologies to transform agricultural practices, increase productivity and profitability. However, specific provisions should be made for promoting chemical-free sustainable agriculture under this fund. 

An announcement made about the cooperative sector also deserves some discussion. A national cooperative database is being prepared for the country-wide mapping of cooperative societies.

Computerisation of 63,000 Primary Agricultural Credit Societies (PACS) is initiated with an investment of Rs 2,516 crore. Model bye-laws for PACS were formulated, enabling them to become multi-purpose. The plan is to set up massive decentralised storage capacity.

The need of the hour is to engage these decentralised multi-purpose cooperatives in providing market support to organic/natural farmers.

Earlier, it was announced by the government that the cooperative AMUL would engage in the marketing, distribution and testing of organic/natural farming produce in the country to help farmers. 

Read more: Community-managed pond offers sustainable solutions to arid Barmer village

Another initiative announced under the budget is regarding Digital Public Infrastructure for Agriculture. However, civil societies have raised serious concerns about the misuse of ‘digital agriculture’, which can adversely impact farmers.

Atmanirbhar Horticulture Clean Plant Program, with an outlay of Rs 2,200 crore, is also announced. A cluster-based and value chain approach through public-private partnerships to enhance the productivity of cotton crops is also announced.

A new sub-scheme of PM Matsya Sampada Yojana with a targeted investment of Rs 6,000 crore is also announced. 

The promotion of chemical-free sustainable agriculture in India is the need of the hour. However, mere announcements are not sufficient, and much more work on the ground is needed with adequate budgetary allocations and effective implementation of programs on the ground.

Farmers will be ready to move that extra mile if proper support and handholding are provided for transition and fair and remunerative price for their chemical-free farm produce is ensured. 

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