Agriculture experts on Thursday asked the government to boost investment in the sector, upgrade farm technologies and issue bonds to fund incomplete irrigation projects, besides focusing on market reforms in the budget.
In a pre-budget meeting with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, the experts suggested timely implementation of the BJP's election manifesto promises to fix higher support prices.
They also favoured a Kissan TV channel, an efficient procurement policy, priority for farm mechanisation and the linking of rivers.
"Several experts made recommendations to improve the sector.
“Some of the points of the BJP manifesto came for discussion. “We listened to all the suggestions," Jaitley told PTI after the meeting.
In opening remarks at his first pre-budget consultation with representatives of the agriculture sector, Jaitley said that "the concerns of the agriculture sector are high on the priority of the government." He said that despite constraints on the economy, the government will try its best to boost this sector, according to an official statement.
Minister of State for Finance Nirmala Sitharaman and senior officials of the finance and agriculture ministries were also present at the meeting.
"The BJP manifesto on agriculture is very comprehensive and it calls for greater investment," said agriculture scientist M S Swaminathan, who attended the two-hour meeting.
Emphasising the need to conserve soil, water and biodiversity in the backdrop of climate change, he recommended mandatory harvesting of rainwater with the support of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.
He recommended setting up soil-monitoring centres with modern equipment in every block and conserving indigenous animal breeds like cattle and buffalo. He also suggested a special fund to help develop gender-specific skills.
Consortium of Indian Farmers Association Secretary General Chengal Reddy mooted the issue of bonds to fund about 300 incomplete irrigation projects and the setting up of a National Water Authority and River Valley Authorities.
He also suggested a long-term agri-trade policy, an efficient procurement policy and boosting farm income by fixing higher support prices to encourage the farming community to continue in this profession. He also sought effective backward linkages to check food inflation.
Ramesh Chand, Director at the National Centre for Agricultural Economics and Policy Research, a body under the ministry of agriculture, emphasised the urgent need to bring market reforms in the farm sector.
He suggested that the government promote the formation of producers' companies, reform the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee Act and improve the entire value chain.
He recommended upgrading of farm technology in areas such as rainwater harvesting.
The Indian Agricultural Research Institute suggested that the government increase the allocation to farm research to Rs 8,500 crore (Rs 85 billion) from Rs 5,700 crore (Rs 57 billion) currently.
It sought declaration of the institute as one of national importance and a one-time grant of Rs 200 crore (Rs 2 billion).
Sharing the problems being faced by cooperatives, National Cooperative Union of India Chief Executive Dinesh suggested that the government exempt primary agriculture cooperative societies from income and service tax.
He recommended recasting the National Policy on Cooperatives to make it more relevant and strengthening the education and training of cooperatives to enable them to function professionally.
Experts who participated in the meeting were from International Water Management Institute, Watershed Organisation Trust, NAFED, Federation of Oilseeds Cooperative Growers of India, United Planters' Association of Southern India, All India Spices Exports Forum and Cargill India, among others.