Budget 2023 | Natural Farming, AI, Green Growth: How Centre is making agriculture get greener roots

Budget 2023 | Natural Farming, AI, Green Growth: How Centre is making agriculture get greener roots

The green growth policy outlook is definitely progressive as it doesn’t see agriculture in isolation but as a holistic system.

When it comes to agriculture, the union budget 2023-24 was quite unexpected. Moving away from convention, the Finance Minister unveiled a new policy outlook- Green growth where agriculture and environment come together for the ‘Amrit Kaal’. Creation of natural farming and AI infrastructure seemed to be the top priorities of this agri-budget.

The big announcements included the plans for transitioning 10 million farmers towards natural farming, creation of natural farming infrastructure like 10,000 bio-input resource centre, setting up agriculture accelerator fund for agri starts-up, 20 lakh crore funding for animal husbandry, fisheries and dairy, creation of digital public infrastructure, making India a millet hub for the world and more.

Under the green growth agenda, the government also announced a coastal mangrove scheme MISHTI – ‘Mangrove Initiative for Shoreline Habitats & Tangible Incomes. Now mangroves earn one of the highest carbon revenue and the government wants to promote it in all coastal land available. If done right, this alone can create additional carbon revenue for the government and communities involved.

But is the government thinking of carbon dollars? Both the FM and the recent economic survey report mention carbon stocks of our forests, and FM even mentioned a new scheme for optimal wetland use program called Amrit Darohar, which fits right into the carbon bandwagon. In the next three years, this project “will enhance biodiversity, carbon stock, eco-tourism opportunities and income generation for local communities”.

And a GOBAR-dhan scheme announcing the 500 new bio-waste collection and processing centres. The FM has galvanised the biogas program by adding 200 compressed biogas plants to this year’s budget and also made bold announcements towards carbon neutrality through natural based solutions.

The FM also announced a Green credit program to incentivise environmentally friendly actions of companies, individuals and local bodies, and provide additional help to expand their scope. This could be a precursor to compulsory carbon compliances.

Now for AI and agriculture, three new AI centres of excellence will begin soon to understand how AI can be integrated with Indian farming. The government intends to create an open source digital public infrastructure for agriculture to have relevant information for crop planning, farm inputs, etc together. In short, an agri-data stack that can then be fed into the AI systems.

Moving back to crops, cotton also figured in the union budget for cluster development. Ambitiously, the government announced that a special cluster will be developed between industry, farmers and suppliers to grow long staple cotton.

Heavy tax concessions were also made for ethanol. The government can encourage diverting excessive sugar into biofuel production. The current decision impacts sugarcane farmers and industry at large.

As for seeds and post-harvest storage, the winds seem to sail towards decentralisation. Government has shown intent to create smaller grain storage centres across the hinterland, to empower the farmers against price fluctuations. Potentially, this scheme can be implemented best by providing DBTs (Direct Benefit Transfers) to farmers for storage building or renting grains storage. FPO (Farmers Producer Organisation) can also play an important role here.

For seed, there is a design to create seed villages, which help in seed breeding and become local seed hubs. For most crops, seeds cost 5-8 per cent of the total farm input kitty, and if some it can be recirculated into rural economy by farmers’ owned seed co-operatives, economy and biodiversity both stand to benefit.

Another big step was the 2200 crore allotted to the clean plant program for good planting material. Given the new changes of climate change, India needs to have higher genetic diversity and disease resistant plants and germ plasm to develop healthy trees. And improvement of horticulture genetics and add many folds to the farmers’ incomes.

On natural farming the government’s intention seems clear. Natural farming had lacked infrastructure and farm supplies. Empowered by DBTs the farmers instead of chemical fertilisers can also choose organic inputs. This policy push will not only help ease the fertiliser subsidy bills, but also help India meet her carbon needs much faster, while encouraging a healthy diet.

Although more energy is needed to strengthen the Indian organic certifications. Recently, the USDA cancelled the equivalence of Indian certifications like NPOP or PGS, organic exporters were hoping the budget provides additional funds to improve on certification mechanisms.

The other big challenge to natural farming comes from GM mustard, if India loses its non-gm tag, our organic exports and organic farming could really suffer. The budget also makes new allotments for beekeeping, and the GM threat could undermine current efforts. The same applies to long staple cotton projects. The Herbicide tolerant (HT) Bt cotton is spreading wilding across the Indian cotton belts. And if the project clusters are also contaminated, we would risk this project too.

Now let’s review the numbers. Agriculture budget has been reduced from 151,521 crores (2022-23) to 144, 214 crores in 2023-24. Even flagship schemes like PM Kisan and PM Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) haven’t been spared and had their budgets chopped by about 12 per cent and 13 per cent respectively.

The overall share of agriculture in the total budget has plummeted to 3.20 per cent from the previous 3.84 per cent. The government has also been silent on demand of its very own RSS affiliated Bhartiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) who were expecting a fair price system for farmers, after their recent protest in New Delhi. It may be cumbersome for the government to run so many programs on a reduced budget.

The AI vision for agriculture may also be headed for some roadblocks. First would be economic viability. Farm inputs are already rising each day, so how will the marginal farmers be able to avail expensive AI based softwares? Or even run a smart phone with this complex softwares? India has many languages and lower rural literacy; it would be interesting to see how many people or farmers can avail benefits of this new technology. Even if this AI can predict weather and untimely rain, farmers would make huge savings.

But moving to sweeter things, the bio-fuel agenda of the government also needs careful introspection because we have limited land, and diverting the more fertile sugarcane growing areas for biofuel and ethanol could bring down land under grains and other food essentials.

Now if we really want to make India into a millet hub, we need to reintroduce nutritious millets like ragi, sava, ramdana, etc back in our diets. The mid day meals around the country should include the local millets. PDS systems should have millets along with rice and wheat and the government should procure summer millets like jowar and winter millets like bajra for the PDS systems and also as an alternative to wheat and paddy. Through these steps, we can have additional food security and also encourage millet production and farmers, especially in the rain fed areas.

Creation of millet Mandis and financial incentives can support millet farmers, increase our nutrition quality and also reduce our water and agri-inputs use.

Overall, the budget is making agriculture get greener roots. The green growth policy outlook is definitely progressive as it doesn’t see agriculture in isolation but as a holistic system. Time will be the best judge, if this path leads us to the Amrit Kaal or not.

Content Source :https://www.firstpost.com/opinion/budget-2023-natural-farming-ai-green-growth-how-centre-is-making-agriculture-get-greener-roots-12089772.html

No Comments

Post A Comment

eleven − 7 =