The Prime Minister, on February 28, 2016, exhorted the nation to double farmers’ income by 2022. A three-pronged principle is at the heart of achieving this goal. Farmers’ income increases when yields rise, cost of production falls and when they receive remunerative prices.

Through a three-year action research project in five aspirational districts, it was found that farmers’ income goes up when site specific farm models are evolved and executed through participatory methods.

On an average, each project encompassed nine villages and 1,400 volunteer households. The originally envisaged project cost was about ₹35 crore, financed through convergence grants from existing programmes (₹19 crore, 55 per cent), beneficiary contributions (₹5 crore, 14 per cent) and bank loans (₹11 crore, 31 per cent).

However, the actual project cost was ₹20 crore, with convergence grants at ₹6 crore (30 per cent), beneficiary contribution ₹7 crore (35 per cent) and bank loans ₹7 crore (35 per cent). Farmers’ baseline annual income, which was about ₹64,000 (range ₹41,000-1,13,000), got enhanced by 40-80 per cent (₹71,000-1,86,000).

Each project began with the selection of improved crop varieties, crop combinations and adapting appropriate agronomic practices; regular seed replacement, farm bunding, mulching, moisture conservation and lifesaving irrigation. Introduction of dairy cattle and goats based on the farm size and ability of the farmer, effective utilisation of farm machinery, and collective input purchase and output marketing also helped.

Wide-ranging activities

The activities chosen were wide ranging — crop husbandry, seed production, animal husbandry, horticulture, nurseries, low cost shade houses, bee-keeping, vermi-composting, shallow tube-wells, farm ponds, solar pumpsets and custom hiring of farm-implements.

Agricultural universities and the agriculture departments were co-opted for providing technical inputs, backstopping and capacity building. The underpinning of the project was ‘convergence’ with the existing government programmes and involving banks for providing loans. But convergence happened to some extent only because the implementing agency and community persisted.

But why are these exceptions and not the norm? Each agency is used to working in silos and there are no empowered agencies to converge, integrate and run missions.

The idea of capacity building appears simple but designing and running such a programme, which funnels community’s awareness and forges their energies, requires perseverance and resources. The line departments typically implement standardised programmes. ‘Doubling farmers’ income’ is a special programme requiring freedom to make necessary changes suiting emerging requirements.

Farmers face several risks — crop failure apart, receipt of compensation continues to be an arduous task. The availability of comprehensive farmers’ data at one place is an issue. Typically, in most villages, farmers sell their agricultural produce immediately. Primary grading, primary processing and creation of storage facilities help. This is where the role of banks, NBFCs and FPOs (farmer producer organisations) kicks in. The FPO programme is a building block for doubling farmers’ income. Most farmers secure their living through off-farm sources as well and helping them diversify properly is of paramount importance.

There are many companies that are involved in manufacturing and marketing of agricultural inputs. Requisitioning them to design and implement projects that will help double farmers’ income under their CSR (corporate social responsibility) initiatives will be a game changer. Only if farmers’ income enhances, the private sector can make money sustainably and only with private sector efficiencies farmers’ income can be enhanced. These are intertwined and a nudge can set in motion a virtuous cycle and throw open new solutions.

The writer is Deputy Managing Director, NABARD. The views are personal