India’s agricultural exports have risen to $25 billion to take a share of 9% of its total exports—from 7.1% in 2010-11. Today, a marginal farmer from Heran, a village in Punjab, finds markets in the UK for his produce of baby corn. India ranks second in fruits and vegetables production in the world. Its exports of cereals, spices, fruits and vegetables in 2016 stood at $11.4 billion, accounting for 3.5% of global exports. India enjoys the second-largest arable land size after the US and is home to 14 agri-zones, offering a range of climates and soil conditions conducive to agri produce diversification that can address world markets successfully.
The government’s objective of doubling farmer incomes by 2022 deploys a multi-pronged approach. There is a need to introduce greater linkages between crop production and food processing so that farmers can gain from more stability in prices, less volatility in production and higher incomes.
The National Agriculture Market (e-NAM) scheme is a welcome initiative to offer choice to farmers for identifying best prices. In 13 states, 417 Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee mandis have been unified so far and 168 more will be linked. Over 45 lakh farmers have been registered on e-NAM.
The Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana for crop insurance and Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana for irrigation can help boost security of farmers. The coverage of insurance has been increased to 40%. The irrigation campaign aims to bring 7.6 million hectares additional land under irrigation. A long-term irrigation fund has been set up under NABARD with corpus going up to Rs 40,000 crore. The model law on land leasing could help producer organisations aggregate land from owners to produce certain crops for processing. The idea is to incentivise large food processing centres that would help create new jobs.
Similarly, over 7.1 crore soil health cards have been issued to provide customised crop-specific recommendations for nutrient application. The number of sanctioned soil testing laboratories too has increased from just 15 in 2011-14 to over 9,000 during 2014-17. Mobile apps such as Kisan Suvidha and Pusa Krishi provide farmers with access to critical information about weather, plant protection, market prices and more.
There is a renewed thrust on organic farming and the government’s Mission Organic Value Chain Development for North Eastern Region has seen 176% increment in cumulative area under organic farming in the last five years. Sikkim, the first organic state of India, leads the way. The Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana further underlines the government’s emphasis on quality by providing assistance to farmers for cluster formation, conversion of land to organic farming, creating vermi-compost units, branding organic products, etc. Over 9,100 clusters have been approved under the scheme so far. A seed hub has been established to provide quality pulses to farmers.
While farm productivity is one end of the food supply chain, the other is creating an efficient market for processing farm produce. To reduce wastage and increase value addition, seven mega food parks and 63 cold chain projects have been operationalised in the last three years. The scheme SAMPADA (Supplement Agriculture, Modernise Processing and Decrease Agri-waste) also seeks to leverage investment of Rs 31,400 crore and benefit 20 lakh farmers. The strategy is to build 41 mega food parks, and these facilities are included in the infrastructure sector to incentivise investments.
A campaign to build the India brand for food processing is in progress, under the ministry of food processing industries’ initiative of World Food India to be held later this year. It involves working with different countries on promoting Indian fruits and vegetables and processed foods. With Indian now among the popular cuisines globally, such an effort is bound to deliver significant results. With food quality and safety gaining mindspace of the consumer, it is important to look at standards and harmonise these with global norms. The FSSAI has stepped up its efforts, and the World Food India would take this further.
It’s time we connect our agri system to the food processing industry and through it to the global value chain. More farmers like the baby corn farmer in Punjab need to be linked with global markets if India is to provide higher incomes in agriculture.
Rakesh Bharti Mittal
President Designate, CII; Vice-Chairman, Bharti Enterprises; and Co-Chairman, Bharti Foundation