Giving top priority to agriculture as part of the “Saptarishi” that will guide the Narendra Modi Government, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s budget for 2023-24 fiscal tabled in Parliament on Wednesday attempts to make agriculture future-ready and inclusive, encouraging rural youth and employment.

The budget has focussed on technology, start-ups, agri infrastructure and “green” growth in the most crucial sector of the country’s economy.

The importance accorded to agriculture can be gauged from how the Finance Minister has included it in inclusive development, experts said. 

Push for IDEA

The budget attempts to build digital public infrastructure for agriculture as an open source, open standard on a mission mode and “an interoperable public good”.

Sitharaman said this will help in crop planning and facilitate easy access to inputs and credit for farmers, apart from supporting the agtech industry and start-ups in crop estimation and market intelligence activities.

With the Centre set to digitalise the agriculture sector using machine learning, artificial intelligence and digitising land records under IDEA (Indian Digital Ecosystem for Agriculture), these measures will go a long way in meeting their objectives. 

Crucial role for start-ups

Acknowledging the crucial role start-ups are expected to play in the agriculture sector, particularly on the technology front, the Finance Minister announced an Agriculture Accelerative Fund (AAF) to encourage agri start-ups. 

Young entrepreneurs in rural areas will help farmers get innovative and affordable solutions to their problems through this initiative. It will usher in modern technology to raise productivity and profitability, she said.

Giving importance to millets with 2023 being observed as the “International Year of Millets”, Sitharaman termed the nutri-cereals as “Shri Anna”. She announced that the Hyderabad-based Indian Institute of Millet Research will be made a “Centre of Excellence”.

To reduce the dependence on imports to meet the demand for extra long staple cotton, she said a cluster-based and value chain approach will be adopted through public-private partnership (PPP) mode for input supplies, extension services, and market linkages.

Agri credit target up

The government has allocated ₹2,200 crore to provide disease-free quality planting material for high-value horticulture crops. The tenure of the allocation was not announced, though.

In another far-reaching move, the agri credit target has been increased to ₹20 lakh crore from ₹18.5 lakh crore in the current fiscal. The focus will be on dairy, fisheries, and animal husbandry.

The Finance Minister announced a  new sub-scheme for PM Matsya Sampada Yojana with a targeted investment of ₹6,000 crore to expand the market and increase value chain efficiency.

One of the key proposals for the agriculture sector is the massive decentralised storage capacity to be set up through a scheme in the cooperative sector. This will help farmers store their produce and sell at appropriate times to get a better price, she said.

Among other proposals, the one to check imports of natural rubber as compounder rubber will buoy domestic rubber production. A push to increase biogas is another positive for the sector, while natural farming gets additional focus.