Centre to soon launch one-stop agri data infrastructure

Source: The Hindu Business Line, Oct 08, 2020

New Delhi: The government will soon create a common data infrastructure of all farmers in the country, gleaning data collected for various schemes such as PM Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY), PM-Kisan and soil health cards, and integrating them with land records, said Ashish Bhutani, Joint Secretary at the Agriculture Ministry, on Thursday.

“This will act as a one-stop shop for data, including access to finance by farmers, start-ups and researchers for developing new apps, so that the benefits reach the grass roots,” Bhutani said while addressing a webinar on artificial intelligence (AI) and digital applications in agriculture organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI), jointly with the German Agribusiness Alliance.

‘AI for farmers’

According to Bhutani, developing standards for sharing and improving the quality of data will be monitored closely by the government. “The government is working to provide an enabling environment where private players and the government can work together to bring the benefit of AI to all farmers and consumers. This will also help in bringing down the price for the consumers as well as getting the best price for the farmers,” he said. This common database is expected to be ready by 2022, he added.

He said AI can play a major role in ensuring the targets set for doubling income of farmers, most of whom have very small holding sizes, averaging around one hectare per holder.

Since its launch, PMFBY has been a radical shift in the way crop insurance is implemented in the country. It is the third-biggest programme in the world after the schemes implemented in the US and China, he said. “Technology is the way forward for the implementation of the programme,” said Bhutani, who is also the CEO of PMFBY.

“The entire focus has shifted to using technology for managing food security and other aspects of agriculture. AI can be effectively used in soil monitoring, predictive data analytics and improving supply chain inefficiencies. The National e-Governance project on agriculture, which has been revisited this year, has given focus on using information technology, AI, Machine Learning, etc.”

Gagandeep Singh BediAgriculture Production Commissioner and Principal Secretary of Tamil Nadu government, said the State was one of the first in the country to adopt AI and implement it in farmer welfare programmes. “The impact and utility of digitisation and AI are, perhaps, more beneficial in the agriculture sector than any other sector. Young farmers are taking to digitisation in a big way,” he added.

Sustainable farming

Rajesh Raghavan, MD & Country Manager-India, Husqvarna India Pvt Ltd, said AI is a game-changer to the agrarian community and can play a pivotal role in both the demand and supply aspects of agriculture. AI and allied digital applications can contribute to sustainable precision farming — from crop selection to crop monitoring — thereby improving the profitability of the farming community, he added. A report on use of AI in agriculture prepared by FICCI and PwC, released on the occasion, estimated the global market for AI in agriculture at $0.85 billion in 2019; this is projected to touch $8.4 billion by 2030, with a CAGR of 24.8 per cent.

High on agriculture, rural demand driving up power consumption

Source: The Economic Times, Sept 04, 2020

NEW DELHI: Rural demand is driving up India’s electricity consumption, backed by a 3.4% farm sector growth amid 23.9% contraction in GDP in the first quarter of the current fiscal. Primarily agrarian states in the northern and eastern regions are posting healthy growth in power consumption, while heavily industrialised states in the western and southern regions continue to falter due to sluggish recovery in industrial activity. 

While farm activity largely remained unaffected by the lockdown, factors such as return of migrants to their native places buoyed rural demand. The humid weather also added its bit to boosting domestic consumption on all-India basis as people still largely remain indoors and work from home, prompting households to run air-conditioners for longer. 

Analysis of supply data from the national grid operator by rating agency ICRA shows power consumption hitting nearly 98% of the pre-Covid level in August, up from 97% in July. Demand in northern and eastern states grew between 6% and 13% in July, while those in large industrial states in the western and southern regions fell in the same range on slow recovery in industrial activity and renewed lockdowns

“A combination of factors is driving rural demand. One is agriculture, which was not much affected by the lockdown and grew 3.4% even while the economy shrank 23.9% in the first quarter. The return of migrants to their native places has added to rural consumption, helped by household electrification and improved supply,” Girishkumar Kadam, ICRA sector head and vice-president, corporate ratings, told TOI. 

On all-India basis, the humid weather is also aiding domestic demand. “Families are still largely staying indoors and working from home,” Kadam said, adding that people were running air-conditioners for longer hours. 
“But rise in rural or domestic demand is not enough for discoms (distribution companies) to make up for tepid demand from high tariff-paying commercial and industrial (C&I) consumers,” he said. 

Other analysts said demand for electricity from industry will rise only after the flow of material and products stabilise once ready stocks at factories and supply depots are gone and there are no local lockdowns. 

The decline in demand has adversely impacted revenue and cash flow of discoms, especially when the bulk of the consumption decline has come from high tariff-paying industrial and commercial consumers. 

The countrywide lockdown imposed to check the spread of coronavirus knocked off all-India power demand by 13% in the first four months of the current financial year. While the monthly demand recovered to 112 billion units in July, it was lower than the comparable year-ago period. 

PM Narendra Modi launches Rs 1-trillion fund for agri infrastructure

Source: Business Standard, Aug 10, 2020

New Delhi: Agriculture infrastructure projects worth almost Rs 1,300 crore, to be executed through 2,282 primary agriculture cooperative societies, were launched on Sunday.

This is part of the Modi government’s ambitious programme to extend financing facility of around Rs 1 trillion over the next few years to farmer groups and individuals. The financing will be extended to create viable post-harvest infrastructure in villages and generate jobs.

Launching, the agriculture infrastructure fund, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Sunday that the country does not face problems in farm production but in post-harvest losses. Therefore, efforts are being made to strengthen post-harvest infrastructure facilities and ensure better income for farmers.

Legal hurdles are being removed and major push for agri-reforms are being given to encourage investment in rural India for creating post-harvest linkages, he added.

He also credited the sixth installment of Rs 2,000 to around nine crore eligible farmers under PM-KISAN scheme, amounting to Rs 17,000 crore.

Meanwhile, under infrastructure fund, the government plans to disburse Rs 10,000 crore worth of loans at concessional rates to cooperative societies, farmer-producer organisations (FPOs), start-ups, and others in the current financial year.

Loans up to Rs 2 crore will be provided to entrepreneurs at 3 per cent interest subvention for a period of seven years. The loans will have moratorium on repayment that will vary from six months to two years.

Already, 11 of the 12 public sector banks have signed initial agreements with the ministry of agriculture for disbursal of the loan amount.

The fund, along with the three facilitating Ordinances – on freeing agriculture marketing, amending Essential Commodities Act and framework for contract farming – are aimed at providing an ecosystem to private firms to encourage them to invest in storage and warehousing in a big way. From the second year, under the agriculture infrastructure fund, that is 2021-22 onwards, the government has targeted to disburse loans worth Rs 30,000 crore each over the next three years.

The duration of the scheme will be from FY20 to FY29 (10 years). The PM reiterated that India has a huge opportunity to invest in post-harvest management solutions and build a global presence in areas such as organic and fortified foods.

Among other steps being taken to ensure a better market to farmers, the PM said the government is encouraging creation of 10,000 FPOs, and funding 350 agri-startups to become agri-entrepreurs. The Centre has also launched ‘Kisan Rail’ to prevent farmers from distress sale of their produce. “What’s heartening is that the small farmers are at the core of this Rs 1 trillion agriculture infrastructure fund. It will empower them to take good care of their produce either by creating their own warehouse or giving it to those who pay them the best. Post-harvest losses have been a major bane for small farmers and this programme especially addresses this,” said KC Ravi, chief sustainability officer at Syngenta India.

Amid Covid gloom, farm sector blooms for the most part

Source: The Hindu Business Line, Jun 17, 2020

The Covid-19 lockdown and supply chain disruptions over the past few months have hit many industries. But the farm sector appears to have escaped these with the minimum impact.

While horticulture and dairy farmers did face the brunt of the lockdown, for the farm sector as a whole, it has not been bad at all. Sample these numbers:

Procurement under the minimum support price (MSP) programme in wheat during the rabi marketing season (2020-21) was about 11.7 tonnes by end-April versus 19.6 million tonnes (mt) in the same time last year. However, in the subsequent two months, procurement increased significantly: by June 12, total procurement by FCI and State agencies in wheat touched 37.7 mt (up 11 per cent YoY from 33.9 mt). And, given the MSP was at ₹1,925/quintal this year versus ₹1,840/quintal last year, it was a big relief for farmers.

In pulses too, procurement has been higher than last year benefitting over 8.7 lakh farmers. Since March NAFED has procured about 17 lakh tonnes of gram through 2,395 centres (at MSP of ₹4,875/quintal vs. market price of about₹4,200/quintal). Give that there is one more month left for rabi arrivals to end, total procurement in gram may be significantly higher; in rabi last year, total procurement in gram was 7.71 lakh tonnes.

Similarly, procurement in mustard seed has also been higher. So far, NAFED has procured about 7.53 lakh tonnes of mustard seed from about 2.96 lakh farmers.

Higher MSP procurement and PM-KISAN disbursements that have reached to over 9.5 crore farmers have actually boosted farm sentiment.

Greater liquidity

Farmers are spending more on agri inputs. Fertiliser sales in April and May were up almost 75 per cent over last year. Sales of major fertilisers including urea, DAP (diammonium phosphate), MOP (muriate of potash), NPK and others in the two months were at 60.3 lakh tonne, up from 34.6 lakh recorded last year. Sales of DAP and NP/NPK fertilisers more than doubled YoY. While this may be because of timely onset of monsoon and farmers increasing the area under cultivation, it also indicates liquidity in their hands.

The trend of higher fertiliser consumption has been observed since November — so, one can’t dismiss it off as a consequence of an increase in stocking by fertiliser dealers in anticipation of closure of production units due to the lockdown.

Over the past two months, the demand for seeds and pesticides has also been strong. Ram Kaundinya, Director General, Federation of Seed Industry of India, said: “Seed offtake since April has been pretty strong. Cotton, rice and millets have been picked up by farmers more than last year, showing around 10 per cent growth. In rice, too, we have seen a good uptake of direct sown rice, which needs less labour since there is no transplantation.

Farmers have been a bit reluctant to plant perishable crops like vegetables for fear of not being able to transport and sell them due to lockdowns and also because of lack of availability of labour.”

Tractor sales also were also good in May, recovering from April’s lows.

Tractor manufacturers are pointing to an increasing preference among farmers towards mechanisation. Mahindra & Mahindra, which holds an about 40 per cent share of the domestic tractors market, sold about 24,017 units last month, against 23,539 units in May 2019. Escorts (12 per cent share in tractor market) sold 6,454 units in May while Sonalika Group sold 9,177 units (up 18.6 per cent YoY).

Kharif sowing progressing well

The current kharif season, too, is expected to be strong, with a bumper output. As on June 12, the area under all kharif crops was up 13 per cent YoY at 92.56 lakh hectare (81.74 lakh hectare), per official data. Area covered under cotton was 18.9 lakh hectare (15.32 lakh hectare).

The monsoon so far has been surplus, reports the India Meteorological Department.

Reservoirs also have sufficient quantities of water. Per data, as on June 11, the storage available in 123 reservoirs in the country that are tracked by the Central Water Commission was 54.636 BCM, against 31.372 BCM last year. It is expected that the current season, too, will be good for agri input companies. Farmers may also see an income increase if procurement is high in cereals and cotton like last year.

Cabinet nod to two ordinances on agri trade, modern tech

Source: The Economic Times, Jun 04, 2020

NEW DELHI: The Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved two ordinances on farmers’ engagement with large processors and barrier-free agriculture trade, seeking to help them get remunerative price and attract private investment and modern technologies in the farming sector. It also cleared an amendment to the Essential Commodities Act, to remove commodities such as cereals, pulses, oilseeds, edible oil, onion and potatoes from the list of essential commodities. This will lift any restrictions on stocking these commodities by processors, millers, importers, exporters and traders.

Agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar said the decisions would help transform the agriculture sector in the country.

The Cabinet approved The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance, 2020.

Fruit and vegetable output set to cross record 320 mt

Source: The Hindu Business Line, Jun 02, 2020

New Delhi: Spectacular increase in the production of onions after the severe crop loss during the last monsoon season, together with relatively better yield in potato and banana ,has helped the country to have a record horticulture harvest of 320.48 million tonnes (mt) in the current crop year, according to the second advance estimates of horticulture crops released by the Agriculcture Ministry on Tuesday.

However, there hasn’t been much increase in area under horticulture crops over 2018-19. The total area under these crops this year was 25.66 million hectares as against 25.43 million hecatres in the previous year.

While the production of vegetable is projected to go up to 191.77 mt from 183.17 mt in 2018-19, total fruits output may cross 99 mt MT as against close to 98 mt last year.

Onion production is estimated to 26.74 mt as against 22.82 mt in 2018-19 whereas potato output would be 51.3 mt as against 50.2 mt last year. Tomato output is expected to cross 20 mt from 19 mt in the previous year.

The onion production is significantly high in the later parts of the year considering that many onion-growing areas in the country, particularly in Maharashtra and Karnataka witnessed severe floods leading huge crop loss in the prevous kharif season.

Among fruits, banana, citrus and apple performed bettered their output last year. The output of plantation crops and spices more or less remained at last year’s levels at 16.24 mt and 9.42 mt respectively.

Farm sector may be sole bright spot this year, says govt

Source: Business Standard, Apr 29, 2020

New Delhi: Agriculture may be the sole bright spot in the overall gloomy economic outlook for the country due to the Covid-19 lockdown. The sector may push up the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) for 2020-21 by 0.5 to 1 percentage points, the Centre said on Wednesday.

The government is placing its optimism on projections of a ‘normal’ monsoon for 2020 that addresses 60-70 per cent of the sector’s worries.

It said growth in agriculture and allied activities will not be much lower than the 3.7 per cent expected in real terms for 2019-20.

“We are hopeful that agriculture growth won’t get impacted by the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020-21 and won’t be much below 3.7 per cent expected in 2019-20,” agriculture and rural development minister Narendra Singh Tomar told reporters during a briefing on farm sector and Covid-19.

NITI Aayog member and agriculture economist Ramesh Chand, who was also present at the briefing, said that farm sector may record a growth of 3 per cent which is on par with long-term average for the sector.

Most global and Indian rating agencies and even multilateral funding agencies such as World Bank and IMF have projected the Indian economy to grow by less than 2.8 per cent in 2020-21, Chand said that if agriculture performs well, it is poised to give a 0.5-1.0 percentage point push to the country’s overall GDP.

Tomar said the first economic activity that was allowed by the government after the lockdown was imposed was agriculture and related sectors and the farmers have also responded favourably. This is why despite all difficulties, almost 90 per cent of the rabi crop has been harvested and a significant quantity has also been procured.

He said the forecast of ‘normal’ monsoon has also given hope that sowing for kharif crops, which is due in the next few weeks, will be good and the country will be on track to achieve the targeted 298.3 million tonnes of foodgrains production in 2020-21.

“We have taken all possible measures to ensure that maximum crops produced by farmers are procured so that their income doesn’t come down. We plan to purchase 5.44 million tonnes of rabi oilseeds and pulses from the growers this year for which a sum of Rs 25,637 crore has already been allocated,” Tomar added.

Of this, around 0.5 million tonnes of pulses and oilseeds have already been procured. This is in addition to 11.7 million tonnes of wheat and 1.8 million tonnes of rice, purchased so far.

Tomar said against 1,485 oilseeds and pulses procurement Centres in 2019, this year, their number has been raised by almost 88 per cent to 2,790. More centres will be added as the procurement processes gets underway.

He said to enable farmers get higher price for their produce, 100 new mandis will be added to the electronic-national agricultural market (e-NaM) platform by May first week, taking their total to 685.

The number will be increased to 1,000 by the end of the month.

On MGNREGA, Tomar said an advance allocation of Rs 33,000 crore has been made while all states and district officials have been instructed to provide as much work as required under the scheme to support the rural sector.

“In April 14, when work under MGNREGA was exempted from the lockdown, around 1.7 million persondays of work was provided, which today (April 29, 2020) has risen to almost 17 million persondays,” Tomar said.

He said in 2019-20, around 66 per cent of the work undertaken under the scheme was related to agriculture, while in 2020-21, the target is to undertake around 77 per cent of agriculture-related works.

On the Centre’s ambitious target of Doubling Farmers Income by 2022, the agriculture and rural development minister said that though the Covid-19 crisis has put some hurdles, the government is confident of achieving the same within the targeted time frame.

Meanwhile, Chand said that their assessment shows that mandi prices of wheat, gram, rapeseed, potato and onion is more than last year which means farmers’ realisation is better. “In April 2020 alone, the offtake of fertilisers has grown by 5 per cent as compared to same period last year, while distribution of seeds through the Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) has risen by 20 per cent,” Chand added.

Record fertiliser sales witnessed during lockdown

Source: The Economic Times, Apr 28, 2020

The exemption in agricultural activities during the lockdown has resulted into a record sales of fertilizer during this month.

According to data from fertiliser ministry, fertiliser dealers across the country purchased 15.77 lakh tonnes which is 46% higher that last year’s sales of 10.79 lakh tonnes during first 22 days of April.

The forecast of a normal monsoon this year is likely to increase the crop area and thus the consumption of fertiliser.

“During the first 22 days of April, the sales of fertiliser was 10.63 lakh MT which is 32 percent higher than the last year sale of 8.02 lakh MT during the same period,” said a fertiliser ministry official.

Union Minister of Chemicals and Fertilisers D V Sadananda Gowda has assured availability of fertiliser through out the crop season.

“There is no problem of fertiliser. State governments have sufficient stock of the fertiliser. We are in touch with state agriculture ministers,” he said.
The ministry has been transporting fertilisers through special trains across the country.

“On 17th April, 41 Fertilizer Rakes moved from plants and ports. This is the highest movement of fertilizers during lockdown period in a day. One Rake carries 3000 MT of load at a time. production in fertilizer companies is going on in full capacity,” the official said.

The government, Under Essential Commodities Act, has allowed operation of fertiliser plants in the country so that agriculture sector may not feel the heat of lockdown.

Govt sets record foodgrains production target

Source: The Economic Times, Apr 16, 2020

New Delhi: Amid forecast of a normal monsoon this year, the government has set the production target for foodgrains at a record 298.3 million tonnes for 2020-21 crop year (July-June), comprising 149.92 million tonnes in kharif (summer) season and 148.4 million tonnes during rabi (winter) season.

The targeted production is over 2% more than the last year’s estimated food grains production of 291.95 million tonnes.

“We have targeted the rice production at 117.5 million tonnes and wheat production at 106.5 million tonnes – almost equal to last year’s estimated output. We are focusing on increasing the output of pulses and oilseeds as import bill of edible oil is rising every year,” said agriculture commissioner S K Malhotra during the national Kharif conference on Thursday.

The government aims to produce 25.6 million tonnes of pulses and 36.64 million tonnes of oilseeds in this crop year.

The government has also forecast a pick up in demand of cotton.

“There will be increasing demand of cotton this year. We have targeted to produce million bales – up from last year’s estimated production of 34.89 million bales,” Malhotra said.

He advised cotton farmers to complete sowing operation by May 15 and recommended use of tolerant varieties with proper dose of fertilser and urea.

Modi unveils 10,000 Farmers Producer Organisations to boost farm income

Source: Business Standard, Feb 29, 2020

Lucknow: Aiming to augment agricultural income by helping farmers trade in their produce, Prime Minister Narendra Modi today launched 10,000 Farmers Producer Organisations (FPO) all over the country.

Addressing the launch ceremony at Chitrakoot district in Uttar Pradesh, Modi said the government would spend Rs 5,000 crore in the next five years to strengthen FPOs for the benefit of farmers.

“The farmers have always been producers, but with the help of FPOs, they can now trade in farm produce. They will sow crop and also act as skillful traders to get the right prices,” he observed.

On the occasion, he also laid the foundation of UP’s mega infrastructure project, the 296-km Bundelkhand Expressway, which is estimated to cost Rs 15,000 crore.

The PM said the Central Government had integrated farm policies with the farmers’ income to maximise the benefits even as he referred to the increase in the minimum support price (MSP), soil health card, neem coated urea and reenergising irrigation schemes to buttress his point.

“More than 85 million farmers’ families have been provided with over Rs 50,000 crore under PM Kisan, of which more than 20 million farmers belong to UP, who have been paid Rs 12,000 crore,’ he said adding payments were being made directly into their bank accounts.

Modi said the PM Kisan and other farmers’ schemes were targetted to save farmers from the clutches of the money lenders and to provide them each penny intended for them.

Meanwhile, he announced plans were also afoot to integrate all PM Kisan beneficiaries with the flagship Kisan Credit Card (KCC), so that such farmers could borrow loans from banks.

Under the Fasal Bima Yojana, the Indian farmers had been paid total claims worth Rs 56,000 crore against the total premium collection of Rs 13,000 crore, he informed.

The PM said the Centre was working on a mega plan to upgrade the rural mandis into modern agri retail markets and to further integrate them with the state agro marketing boards and the government e-marketplace e-NAM.

“We are working on a plan so that the farmers need not travel long distances to sell their produce,” he said adding transactions worth Rs one trillion had been done on mandis integrated with e-NAM so far.

He said at least one FPO should be formed at each block level for deeper percolation of the scheme. Nearly 86 per cent of Indian farmers are small and marginal with average land holdings being less than 1.1 hectares. These together with the landless farmers face challenges in accessing technology, quality seeds, fertilisers and pesticides apart from finance, in addition to marketing their produce. The FPOs would provide a platform for ‘collectivisation’ of small, marginal and landless farmers and give them collective strength to deal with such issues.