In 2016, the Centre aimed at doubling farmers’ income by 2022 when the country completes 75 years of its independence.

Export-led agri-processing clusters present a big opportunity for Indian farmers. Currently, India’s agri-export share in the global market is a mere 2.2 per cent and this needs to be raised to 10 per cent by 2030.

Despite being the second-largest producer of fruits and vegetables in the world, India has failed to tap the global markets. Raising exports of fruit/vegetables, processed cereals, dairy and apiculture products, poultry and fishery would add to farmers’ income.

An Agricultural Export and Farmer’s Income Commission (AEFIC) needs to be formed consisting of farmers, agricultural economists and agri-scientists to explore ways of leveraging technology in the farm and agro-processing sectors.

As per the government’s Doubling Farmers’ Income Committee report, the benchmark household income in 2015-16 was ₹8,059 per month. Doubling this income and taking inflation into account,. the target income by 2022 should be ₹21,146/ month.

At the midway point of the six years, NSSO estimated monthly income of farm households at ₹10,218 in nominal terms. Meanwhile, the cost of agricultural inputs like fertilisers has almost doubled during the last six years, whereas the MSP of wheat has gone up from ₹1,525/quintal in 2015-16 to ₹2,015/quintal in 2021-22, a 32 per cent increase. MSP of paddy has increased from ₹1,410/quintal in 2015-16 to ₹1,940/quintal in 2021-22, up 38 per cent.

Maharashtra, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and UP have promoted export-led farm processing clusters. It is pertinent to mention here that French Fry plants in Gujarat have transformed India from an importer to one of the leading exporters now.

Similarly, exports of mango pulp, especially of Totapuri and Dasheri mango varieties, have grown.

The Lucknow (UP) and Anantapur (AP) clusters for bananas, the Sangli, Nashik and Pune (Maharashtra) clusters for grapes, and the Nagpur cluster for oranges have played a big role in driving farm incomes and investments.

Punjab’s rice cultivation is becoming ecologically unsustainable and the State needs to diversify into fruits and vegetable processing. It must adopt the ‘One District One Product’ model, where infrastructure in district is created to boost exports.

Punjab’s 30 lakh tonnes annual yield of potato can lead processing clusters to ensure handsome returns to growers. An annual yield of 14 lakh tonnes of Mandarin orange (kinnow) can be explored as juice-processing clusters as well as frozen peas clusters.

Initiatives such as ‘Innovation Mission’ can nurture the local ecosystem of start-ups, farmers, private players and the government to create efficient value chains to drive farm incomes.

A cargo export centre with every cluster needs to be set up as value chains develop and cater to international markets. Compliance with food safety standards and norms need to be adhered to.

The way forward

A majority of India’s agri-export commodities like rice, meat and spices are low-value raw or semi-processed products.

There must be a renewed focus on processed agricultural products. The Centre and State governments need to consider the development of Dairy Export Zones (DEZs) and Organic Product Export Zones (OPEZs) for increasing exports in a WTO-compatible manner.

Agricultural exports need to besupported by processing infrastructure, institutional backup, standardisation, packaging, storage, logistics, and connectivity to ports and airports.

Linking of farmer producer organisations with export-oriented food parks for producing processed cereals, fruits, vegetables, fish and shrimps needs to be explored.

The writer is Vice-Chairman of Punjab Economic Policy and Planning Board, and Vice-Chairman of Sonalika Group