The AP government in 2020 set up Rythu Bharosa Kendras (RBKs) (Farmer Assurance Centres) in all the panchayat villages (10, 778 covering 70 lakh farmers) of the State with the objective of addressing all the problems, except credit, of farmers at one place.
RBKs, established at a cost of ₹21.80 lakh per unit, are termed as ‘one stop shop’ that provide solutions to farmers from ‘seed to sale.’ The services of RBKs include: soil testing and advisories, seed certification and supply, quality input supplies (chemical as well as organic) at fair prices; crop and climate advisories; e-crop registration; promotion of modern technologies and crop practices; supply of farm machinery; livestock and fishery services, procurement of produce at Minimum Support Price (MSP).
The NITI Aayog has proposed to replicate the model in other States. After three years, it’s time to review this scheme.
This assessment is based on our first-hand information and observations from 15 RBKs in Guntur district.
In our assessment the functioning of RBKs has been disappointing. Some of the important observations from our assessment include:
Awareness about RBKs at the village level is quite high. But this has not translated in to active participation of farmers. Hardly 3-4 farmers walk into an RBK on a normal day. RBKs could not revive the dwindling extension services, as they failed to provide the important services on soil health and agronomic practices.
RBKs failed to take their scale advantage (more than 10,000 villages and 70 lakh farmers) to negotiate with input industries for the supply of quality inputs at competitive prices. RBKs are selling same brands of seeds that are available in the market at higher prices.
RBKs do not have enough financial resources, nor are they equipped to supply fertilisers in required quantities. The kiosk information in the RBKs is neither up to date nor provides any market analysis that help farmers. Even the weather information is inadequate.
The much-needed procurement of farm produce has not taken off. Only marginal quantities of low value produce are being procured. Given the resource constraints, looking for procurement from RBKs is too much of an expectation. RBKs and the state nodal agencies like Markfed require substantial financial allocations coupled with infrastructure (storage) to manage procurement at the mandated scale in an efficient manner. So RBKs are not adding any real value in terms of meeting farmers requirements.
In fact, RBKs have more than they can chew on their plate. The approach of including all the functions of the existing institutions has proved ineffective. Despite the involvement of consultants like KPMG in every step of execution, regular monitoring of senior administrators and engagement with series of line departments, RBKs are not able to deliver even 10 per cent of the mandated services.
Instead of strengthening the existing institutions, promoting new systems for political gains is resulting in wastage of resources. It is surprising how NITI Aayog can certify RBKs as a model.
RBKs can be effective if only their mandate is narrowed. RBKs should keep off market activities — supply of inputs and procurement of output. They should focus on extension services, which are in a sorry state. RBKs should strengthen and modernise extension services. These services include: soil and water-based crop planning; provision of accurate climate information at the village level, promotion of sustainable farm practices, etc.
Market operations may be left to FPOs with support of state agencies. PACS need to be strengthened for delivery of credit services.
The writers are with Livelihoods and Natural Resource Management Institute, Hyderabad