The agriculture sector is facing grave challenges like yield stagnation, climate change, fast depletion of natural resources like water and soil organic matter and unprofitable farming. Agriculture has to grow at 6-8 per cent per annum consistently for transforming the sector. Setting up an ambitious agenda backed by investments in research, infrastructure and technology is required. The new government could consider the following agenda for the first 100 days.

Farm council

One, there is a need for formation of a National Agricultural Development Council (NADC), akin to the GST Council, consisting of the agriculture ministries of the Centre and States, NITI Aayog, political parties, researchers, farmer bodies, industry, academicians, economists and others. This council can formulate a national agriculture strategy with an implementation and tracking mechanism.

Two, the government should consider stepping up investments in agricultural research from the current 0.61 per cent to 1 per cent of agriculture GDP. Well-defined high priority research projects in select areas need to be implemented over the next 3-5 years with active investment by both the public and private sectors. Crop improvement through seeds and planting material will play a key role in meeting the challenges faced by agriculture.

A policy framework for recognising research-based seed companies through a national research register and incentivising them to invest in priority areas and protection of their intellectual property will be the key.

Three, deployment of modern cutting-edge technologies in seeds, crop protection chemicals, crop nutrition products and biological products will not only help in increasing yields but also in reducing the environmental impact. A clear-cut technology deployment plan in critical crops like cotton, oilseeds, maize, fruits and vegetables is required.

Four, repurposing all current subsidies in agriculture towards promotion of sustainable practices, crop diversification based on agro-ecological zones, water and soil conservation programmes, and cultivation of climate resilient crop varieties is key. Carbon credits and green credits systems need to be brought to the doorstep of farmers on digital platforms for ease of adoption profitably. Incentivisation of these practices is needed to arrest the adverse effects of carbon footprint of agriculture.

Five, promotion of demand driven agriculture needs end-to-end solutions for each of the important crops. Farmers should be encouraged to produce particular crops of required specifications to cater to the demand from each of the sources. A multi-stakeholder dialogue involving end-user industries may provide the direction to the policy.

Farm competitiveness

Six, global competitiveness of the Indian farmer must be enhanced. Mapping our cost and quality parameters against those in competing countries will help address higher cost and lower quality issues through technology deployment, agronomic practices, input management, labour costs, etc. Private funding of clusters for cultivation of crops for export, value chain development, and managing quality and traceability will have to be taken up.

Seven, drip irrigation, sprinklers and hose reel system of irrigation can drive water conservation. Therefore, annual budget needs to be scaled up to at least three times the current levels. Free power and water programmes, which have caused considerable damage to the environment, should be stopped. Farmers following water conserving practices like direct seeded rice and grow crops that need less water should be incentivised through direct benefits transfer.

Eight, the importance of liberalising markets cannot be overlooked. A regulator to oversee the functioning of the market can be put in place.

Nine, capacity building among FPOs (farmer producer organisations) should be encouraged. Special guidelines by the RBI for lending to FPOs will be of great help.

Ten, development of digital infrastructure and digital public goods to support farmers is critical.

Financial services for farmers including credit and insurance and multiple other services can be enabled through digital means.

Digital agricultural output management will be key for farmer profitability, inflation control as well as minimising post-harvest losses. Standardisation of output parameters, creating a large network of digitally enabled micro warehouses will help the government formulate an exim policy.

A mission mode approach is needed to improve competitiveness and profitability of our agriculture.

The writer is Advisor to Federation of Seed Industry of India