Agriculture is in dire need of research investment to fight climate change, to conserve natural resources through seed and new agronomic practices, to enhance yields of cotton and oilseed crops, and to bring nutrition-enhanced crop varieties. Micro irrigation and mechanisation of agriculture need to be supported to save water and to improve farmers’ profitability. Strengthening of farm gate infrastructure, establishing shorter supply chains and connecting farmers to markets need investments to improve farmers’ income.

Against this background, the interim budget has touched upon a couple of important points.

It is heartening to see the emphasis on a strategic approach to oilseed crops such as mustard, soyabean, sunflower, sesame and groundnut. This covers developing high-yielding varieties and adoption of modern farming techniques, market linkages, procurement, value-addition and crop insurance. This is a good intent to step up edible oil production.

While the details of this project and its Budget allocation need to be looked into, the seed industry working in oilseeds will be happy if research investments are encouraged through this programme. The seed industry also believes that modern technology, through GM and non-GM technologies, should be deployed in oilseeds such as mustard and soyabean. Time-bound regulatory processes and political and administrative support for such deployment is critical.

The seed industry has been requesting restoration of 200 per cent deduction for research investments in income-tax, a facility which was available since 2011, but was withdrawn in 2017. The industry would look forward to restoration of this incentive, which will help in increasing investment in oilseeds research.

The emphasis on post-harvest management to reduce losses and to add value through processing is a welcome announcement. The announcement that the Govt will encourage private investment in post-harvest activities such as aggregation, modern storage, supply chains, processing, marketing and branding is good news. This has to be implemented at the ground level in the states.

Points missing in the Budget

Some positive incentives to promote sustainable agricultural practices such as crop diversification, direct sown rice and minimum tillage would have helped in a big way. We should not hesitate to provide incentives for such agronomic practices in view of the threat from climate change. Hopefully, we will find this when the regular Budget is presented. The Budget is silent on investment required in establishing infrastructure for green credits markets, very critical for promoting sustainable agriculture.

Cotton is in dire need of support in order to support cotton farmers and bring cotton productivity and production back on track. From the status of the largest exporter of cotton, we are in danger of becoming an importer. Budget allocations towards promoting research, HDPS cultivation, and mechanisation was expected. This needs to be corrected in the regular budget.

Overall, the budget announcements could have gone further in announcing some of the critical support measures required by agriculture. Actual money allocation for oilseeds and post-harvest management would reveal the expected impact of these announcements.

(Ram Kaundinya is the Director-General, FSII)