• By 2025, water for agriculture may fall to 12% of current level

    Water availability for agriculture was estimated to go down by up to 12% from the current level by 2025 if remedial measures were not taken, Indian Council of Agricultural Research director general Mangala Rai warned. "The water availability for agriculture is projected to be 10-12% of what is now available,' he said while inaugurating the Krishi Vigyan Mela here. Mr Rai said farmers would, in fact, require 25% more water in 2025 than what they are consuming currently to produce food grains for feeding the domestic population.

  • DG (Forests) to be member of court-appointed forest panel

    Move hopes to end acrimony between Govt panel looking after diversion of forest land for developmental projects and Central Empowered Committee NEW DELHI, FEBRUARY 21: In the light of repeated acrimonius exchanges between the Central Empowered Committee (CEC)

  • India hotspot for new infectious diseases

    Man-Animal Conflict Source Of Rising Infections, Says Study India is a hotspot for emerging infectious diseases (EIDs), a study by an international team of scientists which recently published its findings in the journal

  • Add value to farm products to survive

    Add value to your agricultural produce if you want to survive in the globalised market. Countries with inefficient agro-industries are likely to be left behind those with modern and efficient agroindustries. While high-income countries add, on an average, $180 of value by processing one tonne of agricultural products, developing countries generate only $40 of value per tonne. This is the starting theme of a global conference to be held in India in April. India will host the first global conference on agro-industries, to be held in New Delhi from April 8 to April 11. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will inaugurate the forum along with director-general of UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Jacques Diouf, United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) director-general, Kandeh K. Yumkella and Inter national Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), president, Lennart Bage on April 9. The conference is jointly organised by the FAO, the UNIDO and the IFAD, in close collaboration with the government of India. The Global Agro-Industries Forum will promote the importance of agro-industries for economic development and poverty reduction. Around 500 senior representatives from the agro-industry, governments, technical and financing institutions, civil society and United Nations agencies will discuss the potential of agro-industries and the challenges they are facing. Increasing the market opportunities, particularly for smallscale producers in rural areas, by improving their production, processing and marketing capabilities, will be one of the main issues of the conference. Delivering better products at lower prices could be beneficial for poor consumers and could also create employment opportunities. The Forum will also encourage dialogue between the private and public sector in order to foster partnerships for developing competitive agroindustries. Rapid globalisation, market liberalisation, and urbanisation have created new opportunities for countries to trade agricultural and food products. However, they have also created challenges and increased risks.

  • Centre extends validity of ECA with states for six more months

    With the Rabi season entering its last phase, the Centre on Thursday decided to extend the validity of power it had granted to state governments under the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 for six more months to enable them to take action against hoarding of wheat and pulses by private traders. At the end of the season, the Government will begin its wheat procurement operations. The decision, taken during a meeting of the Union Cabinet headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, comes under the backdrop of firming up of domestic prices of pulses and higher global prices of wheat, which the Government has found difficult to import. Following the recent fuel price hike, the decision also aims to keep tab on inflationary pressure by controlling hoarding of wheat and pulses by the private traders. Under the Act, the state governments can register cases against persons engaged in hoarding of agricultural commodities under which the offenders can be imprisoned for a period of up to six months. The Centre had first issued the notification to this effect on August 29, 2006 for a period of six months, which it had continued extending under the worries of inflation that had even crossed the 6-per cent mark last year. The Cabinet also gave approval to a bilateral agreement between India and the Russian Federation on cooperation to combat illicit trafficking in narcotics, psychotropic substance and their precursors. In another decision, the Cabinet approved an agreement between India and Luxemburg that will help both countries in avoiding double taxation and fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income and capital.

  • Diversity in calorie sources and undernourishment during rapid economic growth

    This paper compares the experiences of India and Vietnam in dietary diversity and undernourishment from the early 1990s to the middle of the first decade of the new millennium. Feb 23-29, 2008

  • Role of Planning: A Comment

    A review of the role of planning should look at the possibility of expanding its role to municipalities, districts and panchayats rather than limiting it. Feb 23-29, 2008

  • Focus on farm sector

    By Devinder Sharma Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram should address the woes of those ailing farmers in the budget. General elections are around the corner. It is therefore more of a political compulsion than the requirements of a prudent fiscal policy that should have automatically diverted public funds for the ailing agrarian sector. Unfortunately, the game plan all these years has been to ignore agriculture and instead pamper the bloated rich of big business to grow richer. No budget is complete without the Finance Minister reminding the country, with possibly a catchy phrase thrown-in, the Herculean task his budget will perform in addressing the agrarian crisis. P Chidambaram is no exception. He often quotes a couplet from the writings of some of the best-known poets, saints and thinkers of south India. After all, 60 per cent of the population is still directly engaged in farming. Despite all these efforts to rescue agriculture, the annual budget has truly been a carnival for the rich and beautiful. As the veteran economist Kamal Nayan Kabra reminds us: "Indeed, the corporate income tax foregone by the government is trivially less than the total amount spent by both the central government and the 28 state governments on all rural development schemes.' Accordingly, in 2004-05 Rs 2.06 lakh crore was the revenue loss from the numerous tax concessions, exemptions and incentives, the total excise, customs and personal income tax and corporate income tax exemptions. In 2005-06, these exemptions amounted to Rs 2.35 lakh crore. For the debt-ridden farmers, and despite reports of farmers suicides regularly pouring in from various parts of the country, the Finance Minister will gloat while announcing that he has managed to meet the target of providing Rs 2.25 lakh crore as farm credit in 2007-08. Ironically, this is less than the total revenue loss of Rs 2.35 lakh crore incurred a year earlier from tax exemptions for India Inc. Isn't it therefore strange economics? What millions of farmers get is simple gratitude (and credit), whereas a few hundred rich walk away with almost an equal amount as direct income (money saved by way of tax exemptions is like money earned). Why can't the industries be asked to avail more credit, and let the direct income be for the farmers? I have often wondered as to how does the economist justify more credit to farmers who are already reeling under the burden of non-repayment of credit. Well, everyone knows that farmers are committing suicide because they cannot repay back the loans. Mounting indebtedness is the reason behind the death toll on the farm. Why can't the Finance Minister make an honest effort to pull these farmers from the credit trap? Why can't the Finance Minister actually provide farmers with more steady and assured monthly income? After all, like all of us what the farmers too need is a monthly take-home income package. The first step that needs to be taken is to write-off the outstanding dues of small and marginal farmers owning less than 5 acres of land in irrigated areas and 20 acres in un-irrigated regions. There is already a talk of writing-off Rs 65,000-crore, including Rs 25,000-crore, which the nationalised banks fear would be the non-performing asset. The accumulating losses that the farm sector has been incurring year after year are much higher than this amount. Such bad debts need to be immediately struck off so as to provide a new lease of life to the debt-ridden farmer. In fact, the UPA government should have done this soon after it came into power in May 2004. At the same time, lowering the interest rate for farm loans to 4 per cent across board is also required. In China, the interest rate for credit to small farmers has been abolished. Along with this, what is more important and does not require any fiscal outlay is the need to abolish the draconian law that was enacted during the British Raj. Between 1904 and 1912, the British had framed Public Demand Recovery Act, under which farmers could be jailed for defaulting the State for a paltry sum. So much so that even the jail expenses were to be borne by the farmers. The banks have very cleverly used the same provisions for debt recovery in agriculture. Striking out the bad debt needs to be accompanied by a new farm policy that guarantees against making this a recurring exercise. Unless the government ensures that the National Food Security Mission and the Rs 25,000-crore fund it has set aside for agriculture as per the recommendation of the National Development Council are diverted to a nationwide Low External Input Sustainable Agriculture (LEISA) programme, the cycle of mounting indebtedness and then writing-off loans will not end. Replacing the current system of fertiliser subsidy wherein the government reimburses the industry for production expenses can make a beginning. Fertiliser subsidy, which is expected to touch Rs 50,000-crore in the near term, should in future be provided directly to farmers. What is acting as a roadblock for implementing this recommendation is the lack of political consensus. Farmers should be encouraged to utilise this subsidy for shifting to organic means of production. Such an initiative will drastically reduce the cost of production, rejuvenate the soils, provide income to farmers and also reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Focus may be on NREGA, debt relief for farmers

    Chidambaram may try to shift attention from high prices of essentials If everybody, including political parties, is talking about farmers it must be election time. Close to election, it has become more or less a trend for the government of the day to announce sops for the agriculture and rural sectors in its budget proposals. So even while the common man has to swallow the bitter pill of the "inevitable' petrol and diesel hike before the 2008-09 budget, there is a promise of a "populist budget' for farmers and the aam garib aadmi this year. Low growth rate With several States going to the polls this year ahead of the next year's Lok Sabha election, there may be an attempt to shift the attention from the high prices of essential commodities, low growth rate (2.3 per cent in the 10th Plan) in agriculture, the disconnect between a high Gross Domestic Product and the rural sector, with problems of displacement, migration, unemployment, suicides by farmers and impending food crisis. This budget is most likely to convey the last ditch attempt of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government to redeem itself from the scars caused in the countryside by farmer suicides and dispossession of rural families on account of Special Economic Zones and other industrialisation projects. Without doubt, the Debt Relief Package for Institutional Loanee Farmers (as reported first in The Hindu) and the expansion of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) Programme will be at the centre of Finance Minister P. Chidambaram's budget proposals. Fertilizer policy Besides, it is expected that he will unveil a rationalised fertilizer policy to encourage balanced use of fertilizers, especially muriates, to revive farm soil. Some succour is also essential for the wives of indebted farmers who committed suicide. There is a growing demand to strengthen the National Agriculture Insurance Scheme (NAIS) and to have a Health Insurance Scheme for farm households, as various surveys showed that most the credits in the informal sector were not only farming related but also to meet the requirements of health, celebrations and even life-style. From all accounts, the pilot weather-based crop insurance may be expanded. Fund requirements It is estimated that the total fund requirement for the expansion of the NREGA from the present 330 districts to 600-odd will be about Rs. 16,000 crore. On the other hand, the debt relief, covering an estimated 35 per cent farmers who had availed themselves of bank loans, is estimated at Rs. 40,000 crore in the first year. The Union government will pay off the dues to banks. A Price Stabilisation Fund is also proposed to be set up with contributions from the government, banks and farmers. Well-placed sources hinted that the Finance Minister may cull out unspent funds from social sectors such as rural development, education and health to partially meet the requirement of the Farmers' Debt Relief Package. It is anybody's guess if the Minister will reduce the interest rate on farm loans from the current 7 to 4 per cent as recommended by the National Commission on Farmers. There is also a demand to raise the credit limit under the Kisan Credit Card scheme. There is an expectation that enhanced budgetary support will continue for the flagship rural programmes, including the swarozgar yojana (self-self groups), Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, Indira Awas Yojana and the Drinking Water Supply programme. The highest increase, however, is expected in the Land Resources Programme under the Integrated Wasteland Management Programme. In the agriculture sector, allocation has to be enhanced for the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana to enhance production and productivity and to the National Food Security Mission to increase the output of rice, wheat and pulses. Both schemes are new and yet to take off. Irrigation schemes, horticulture mission and agriculture research will get the customary support, as growth in farm "allied sectors' comes from these areas. The National Rainfed Area Authority is most certainly likely to get financial support. Food subsidy The food subsidy bill is likely to cross the Rs 30,000 crore-mark. This is due to the wide difference between the minimum support prices (MSP) paid to farmers and the central issue price of grains sold through the Public Distribution System, as well as on account of the food grains import bill. The subsidy bill to go up further as the food grain stocks are expected to dwindle by April 1, possibly resulting in more imports. With apprehensions of an avian influenza pandemic, a comprehensive rehabilitation package for the poultry industry and bird flu-affected farmers, as part of a Bio-Security Policy, will be announced in the budget, if not earlier. However, the package may include only such poultry farmers, who get linked to institutional poultry farms and the industry. It remains to be seen how the government's packages will play out for the thousands of those in the informal sector who do not have the income and the collateral to avail themselves of institutional loans. Funds utilisation It is expected that in this last year of the UPA government's regime, the emphasis will be on consolidation, with focus on better implementation, monitoring and utilisation of funds. In particular, the Congress has shown signs of being zealous of taking credit for the central funds made available to States, to reap a harvest during election time. The biggest challenge, however, is making agriculture viable for the 82 per cent small and marginal farmers and bailing them out of the clutches of the informal system of borrowing.

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