BENGALURU: Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai recently announced Karnataka would be the first state in the country to double farmers' income. Projections are easier, the road to achieving it is fraught with major challenges.
The Narendra Modi-led BJP government, which came to power at the Centre in 2014, set an ambitious goal of doubling farmers’ incomes by 2023-24, taking 2015-16 as the base year.
As per the estimates of the Doubling Farmers' Income (DFI) Committee, the average annual income of agricultural households in Karnataka was Rs 96,718 in 2011-12, which went up to Rs 1,54,399 in 2015-16.
The target now is Rs 2,84,888 by 2023-24, with a focus on improving crop and livestock productivity, efficiency in resource utilisation, savings on production costs, increasing cropping intensity, diversifying towards high-value crops and enhancing real prices received by farmers.
According to a senior officer in the Agriculture Department, the main challenge is to sharpen the focus on post-harvest practices. The focus will be on "Secondary Agriculture", which means everything after harvest – aggregation, processing, branding, marketing and even exports, he says.
This means that the department, which mainly focuses on production, has to take on the responsibility of assisting farmers till the agricultural produce is marketed and farmers get a good price for it. "We have almost become self-sufficient in production, and millions of tons of foodgrains are stored in Food Corporation of India (FCI) godowns. Now, to increase incomes of farmers, the focus has to shift to secondary agriculture," the official pointed out.
"As regards fruits and vegetables, nearly 25-30 per cent is wasted, and in foodgrains, the post-harvest loss is around 8-10 per cent. This amounts to nearly Rs 95,000 crore worth fruits, vegetables and grains wasted across India. There is a need to stop this," the official says.
With milk, the "post-harvest" loss is less than 1 per cent, as there is a cold chain from production to consumer. But, in fruits and vegetables, which are perishable, the losses are high due to lack of proper system and infrastructure.
In many ways, the lack of robust post-harvest infrastructure is affecting production. Gopal, president of the wholesale merchants' association in Hassan, says farmers would come forward to cultivate land scientifically if the government provides proper market facilities and minimum support price (MSP) for the produce, without which they are losing interest in agriculture.
The government purchases a few crops at minimum support price, while there is a big gap between production, supply and demand. Dejected farmers destroy standing crops on many occasions due to fall in prices, and are reluctant to go ahead with the next round of cropping, fearing further losses.
SKEWED PLANNING NEEDS CORRECTION
Land allotted for food parks have no road connectivity. "It's almost like opening a car garage on the second floor without access to it," said an official who is familiar with agro infrastructure developments.
For instance, the PM inaugurated a food park in Tumakuru in September 2014, which has remained a non-starter. The farmers in the region, and those from relatively faraway places like Kolar and Hassan, expected the park to procure their produce, but to no avail. The cold storage plants remain under-utilised.
Sudharshan, a young farmer from Srinivasapura in Kolar district, says there is no cold storage facility in Kolar district, which is the need of the hour. Hassan has five cold storage facilities on the outskirts of the city, including one government facility with a storage capacity of 1,000 tonnes at Doddamandiganahalli on Sakleshpur Road. But, only wholesale potato and fruit merchants are using these facilities.
Besides, a majority of cold storage facilities are available for large farmers who are close associates of political leaders, and not for small landholders. There is a need to form farm clusters of adjoining villages and storage facilities developed accordingly.
Lack of infrastructure, such as adequate cold storage facilities, is the main challenge in doubling farmers' income, says Suresh Patil, Dean, Agriculture College, Kalaburagi. "Inadequate storage facilities will compel farmers to sell their produce immediately after harvest at prevailing market prices, which are bound to be low," he says.
Other challenges faced by farmers are small and fragmented land-holdings, lack of access to markets where they can get good prices, market fluctuations and lack of adequate mechanisation, he says.
Kurubur Shanthakumar, president, Karnataka Sugarcane Growers' Association, says the State Advisory Price (SAP) for sugarcane needs to be fixed on time by the government. Delaying it after sugar mills start crushing will have an adverse effect.
"The government must also ensure that sugar mills make payment to farmers within 14 days of procuring the crop and ensure that transportation costs are borne by the mills," he says, adding that these challenges needs to be addressed first.
There is a need for aggregators who will pick up agricultural produce at the village level and take it for processing. While primary processing can happen at the village level, secondary and tertiary processing should be in bigger towns and cities before the final produce hits the markets.
A lot of money is being pumped under the Centrally-sponsored Pradhan Mantri Formalisation of Micro Food Processing Enterprises Scheme and One-District-One-Product (ODOP) to promote processing units, for which 35 per cent subsidy is given for setting up processing units. But there is a need to see it through project completion and plan implementation.
Farmers seem unaware of post-harvest technologies, processing and suitable markets and prices despite the government spending crores on different schemes and programmes. They are only taking advantage of agriculture equipment given on rental basis, while they lack interest in food-based home industries or smallscale industries using by-products and local produce due to poor market facilities.
Prakash, a small agri-based industrialist in Hassan, says the government should give importance to home industries by extending all benefits to boost the local market.
Coffee growers are dejected due to price crash. A string of demands of coffee growers, including waiver of interest on crop loan, is pending before the Centre. Since Kodagu is a major coffee-producing district in Karnataka, Manu Somaiah, Kodagu district president of Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha, says the price of coffee beans has remained the same over past 26 years.
"The first step towards doubling the income of coffee planters is by declaring MSP. However, the state has failed to do so despite many requests from growers," he says. Also, coffee growers do not get free electricity supply for up to 10 HP pump sets, he noted.
SEEDS FOR A PLAN
Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai has announced the constitution of a committee headed by Agriculture Minister BC Patil to exclusively look after all post-harvest and processes. Patil told The New Indian Express that they are looking into secondary agriculture occupations such as dairy, fisheries, sericulture, bee-keeping and more. "We will encourage farmers to take it up along with traditional farming. This will help them get additional income," he says.
To get better markets for crops, the State Government is planning to start processing units with help of Farmers Produce Organisations (FPOs). There are over 750 FPOs in Karnataka. "We are basically looking at each district for processing of produce. We have already given a week's training to 500 farmers at Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI). This will be similar to private-public partnerships, where we involve farmers as private partners. If 500 farmers come together investing Rs 1,000 per head, it will come to Rs 5 lakh and we will give this FPO a sum of Rs 10 lakh. We will help them get all the required help, thus providing a market for their produce," the minister says.
State government is also adopting modern technologies. "The government will provide subsidies to buy modern equipment for harvesting. Besides, there is provision for Rs 8 lakh per farm bank wherein a group of 20 farmers can apply. Under this, they can buy tractors. With this, we are empowering them," he says.
On cold storages, Patil says there are 32 facilities in Karnataka. By the end of the financial year, they will add 10 more under National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD). There is also a proposal to set up cold storage facilities by the Horticulture Department to give farmers a confidence boost.
Doubling farmers income by 2022-23 (2016-17 to 2022-23) with 2015-16 as the base year
According to DFI (Doubling Farmers Income)/ Committee’s estimates, the average annual income of agricultural households in Karnataka was Rs 96,718 in 2011-12. It went up to Rs 1,54,399 in 2015-16
The target now is Rs 2,84,888 by 2022-23
All-India average was Rs 70,118 in 2011-12, which increased to Rs 96,703 in 2015-16
Improvement in crop and livestock productivity; efficient use of resources
Reducing production cost
Improvement in prices received by farmers
Focus on processing, branding and marketing
Setting up of agro processing units
Cold storage facilities and other infrastructure, especially in rural areas
Ensuring better price for produce as good yield does not necessarily mean a good price
Reducing input costs
(With inputs from Ramu Patil and Ashwini M Sripad in Bengaluru, Vincent D'Souza in Mangaluru, Karthik KK in Mysuru, Udaya Kumar BR in Hassan, Prakash Samaga in Udupi, V Velayudham in Kolar, Pramodkumar Vaidya in Hubballi, Prajna GR in Kodagu, Ramachandra Gunari in Shivamogga, Devaraj Hirehalli in Tumakuru and Ramkrishna Badseshi in Kalaburagi)