With the Government’s vision of doubling farm income, establishing Gram Swaraj and Atma Nirbahr Bharat, it is essential to boost sustainable agricultural entrepreneurs, one in each of 6.5 lakh villages
India is generally referred to as a country with “Agriculture Economy — Krishi Pradhan Desh”. Around 70 per cent of the population depend on agriculture and allied sectors and contribute to about 18 per cent of the GDP in the country.
However, there are not many significant numbers of agricultural entrepreneurs in the country. The total number of MSME (Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises) registered in agriculture and allied sectors are less than a few lakhs as compared to about 650 million MSME in the country.
Why has there not been much development and growth of agricultural entrepreneurs in India? Is this due to policy level intervention or on account of less interest by the Indian enterprising youth?
Traditionally most of the activities relating to agriculture have been undertaken by the Government and its agencies namely supply of inputs (seeds and fertilisers), extension services (introduction of new varieties, technology), procurement of farm produce (FCI, Mandis and NCCF). The farmer gets support from the Government and its agencies for most of the activities, including the financial support (PM Kisan Samman Nidhi, Kisan Credit card, Fasal Bima Yojna). The village-level worker (VLW), veterinary assistant, cooperative societies (PACS/LAMPS), Krishi Vikash Kendra (KVK) have extended the services to farmers at the village level.
Even organisations like IFFCO, KRIBHCO have mainly dealt in supply of fertilisers and other input to farmers through co-operatives. Such traditional service delivery structure has not been conducive for growth of agricultural entrepreneurs in India.
NABARD has supported entrepreneurs through financial support largely in agricultural allied sectors (dairy, poultry, etc) but their contribution is not significant. Similarly SFAC, whose mandate is to promote agricultural entrepreneurs, has recently been supporting the Government in promoting “farmer producer organisation” and the focus on individual entrepreneur’s development has not been much encouraged. The focus so far has been to support cooperatives, FPO, SHG and other such societies in delivery of various services to farmers and address the requirement of the farm sector in India.
Schemes like IDEA (Initiative for development of Entrepreneurs in Agriculture), ASPIRE (Scheme for promotion of innovation, entrepreneurship and agro industry), and agricultural clinics (for agriculture graduates only) have not worked as catalysts for large-scale promotion and development of agricultural entrepreneurs in India.
Traditionally at the village level, the agriculture entrepreneurs, one come across, are “AADTHI or Aarthi” (one associated in purchase of farm produce) cooperatives (supplying fertilisers and seeds etc) and agencies for supply of tractors and other agricultural equipment.
There were also entrepreneurs at village level who supplied goods, consumables based on barter trade. With the Government’s vision of doubling farm income, establishing Gram Swaraj and Atma Nirbahr Bharat, it is essential to promote large-scale, sustainable agricultural entrepreneurs, one in each of 6.5 lakh villages.
These local-level entrepreneurs can redefine the service delivery framework to farmers and support employment opportunities for more than 2 million people in Rural India. Of course this will require relooking at existing rules and regulations.
First the licensing requirement for selling seeds and fertilisers need to be dispensed with. As the entrepreneur will only sell seeds and fertilisers to large companies who are otherwise being regulated by the Government, there is no justification for licence requirements for these entrepreneurs. Second, the requirement of “only agriculture graduate” for agricultural entrepreneurs and agencies to sell seeds and fertilisers is not justified. Thirdly the procurement of farmer produce only by Mandis needs to be made optional. The local entrepreneur shall be permitted to procure, store and transport farm produce without any restriction or requirement of licence for the same.
Fourthly, the financial institutions need to make each of these entrepreneurs “business facilitators” so as to enable farmers to obtain credit and lastly the local entrepreneurs should be allowed to support and help deliver the benefits of various government schemes and programmes.
Each village-level agricultural entrepreneur can be allowed and helped to set up a seedling nursery to support farmers in getting good quality seedlings and various varieties, including cash crops. Each agricultural entrepreneur with facility to sell seeds, fertilisers, other inputs, help in spraying of the fertilisers especially the nano urea and DAP, use of drones, hiring station for farm equipment, procurement and storage faculty, transport facility for farm produce, extension of all Government schemes and support in getting credit shall be able to build a sustainable business enterprise.
The agricultural entrepreneur can help and support the Government in advocacy of Government schemes and programmes. Many large private enterprises such as big basket, Reliance Mart, and start up as Agri 10 X, Dehaat can utilise the local agricultural entrepreneurs in accessing the local community for various products and services.
The agricultural entrepreneurs can help the Government conduct the animal survey, soil health survey, groundwater survey and other survey works, including census.
This will not only provide a source of income but also support the Government in getting latest data and thus design appropriate policies for intervention.
Agricultural entrepreneurs at every village can transform agricultural productivity in India thus fulfilling the Government’s vision of doubling the farmer’s income. It is true that Indians, especially rural youths, are inherently enterprising and with little support and operational freedom they can build large-scale sustainable enterprises. The Government needs to rethink traditional service delivery mode to farmers and promote local entrepreneurs in addressing all their concerns.
The offices of VLW, veterinary assistant, KVK and other functionaries need to be relooked at and trust imposed on the local entrepreneurs to deliver all such services and support farmers. These agricultural entrepreneurs can also make and regularly update the village/farm data as soil map, water level map, etc, and involve community participation to address the related concern.
It is true that these agricultural entrepreneurs — one in every village — can transform the agriculture sector and help in exploring its true potential. Farmers will be more actively involved through the local agricultural entrepreneur model in adoption of new technology, change in cropping pattern, adapt to cash crops and engage in growth in allied sectors.
(The writer is a former IAS officer and former Managing Director & CEO of Common Service Centre, Ministry of Information Technology)