Funds for horticulture still below the mark

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S. Sivakumar

``WITH about two thirds of the population dependent on agriculture, and the sector producing only 21 per cent of GDP in 2003-04, it is imperative that we address the problems of our farmers with a sense of urgency.

In agriculture, we shall enhance public and private investment in the infrastructure required to support expansion, diversification and value addition.''

These two statements of the Finance Minister set the tone and direction to the agriculture section of Budget 2005-06. The 35 per cent growth in agricultural credit during the current year and 70 per cent increase in allocation for Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme next year match the pace.

The Government's strategy to actualise diversification and value-addition objectives through an end-to-end approach of the National Horticulture Mission and the scheme to strengthen agricultural marketing infrastructure are perfect.

But I am not sure if the funds allocated for the purpose measure up anywhere close to the enormity of the task at hand. Linking the agricultural infrastructure scheme funds to amendments in the APMC Act by States will hopefully trigger the much-needed reform in this area.

The National Fund for Strategic Agricultural Research is a welcome intervention. Similar focus is required on agricultural extension services also. Only that can help improve farm productivity.

Financial package given to the sugar industry will facilitate revival of this sector. Marine products reeling under the pressure of tsunami and the anti-dumping duty imposed by the US is also looking forward to a restructuring scheme.

(The author is CEO, ITC International Business Division)

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated March 2, 2005)
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