Editorial✍ Financial Express Prelims cum Mains

Double farm incomes by investments, not subsidies

Government’s huge expenditure plan to boost agriculture:

  • The government has fixed itself the target of doubling farmers’ income by 2022.
  • The government plans to spend Rs 25 lakh crore on agriculture and rural development to this end.

But should be in sync with WTO rules:

  • But this cannot be spent through sharp hike in farm subsidies or in PM Kisan-type income transfer schemes.
  • Otherwise, it will be in breach of WTO rules.

 

WTO cap on government support to agriculture to prevent distorting export markets:

  • The WTO principle is that government policy shouldn’t distort export markets.
  • For example, due to the high MSPs fixed by the government, FCI accumulates stocks far in excess of what is needed.
  • In order to clear the stock, FCI usually sells them at a discount later.
  • If this stock is bought by traders who export it, this gets counted as distorting export markets through subsidies.

India’s agriculture support already crosses WTO caps:

  • India’s WTO commitments put a cap on how much farm support the government can give.
  • WTO norms have 10% subsidy/support cap in crops like wheat and rice.

India’s support looks high due to poor WTO methodology:

  • India is already in breach of that. For example, current support as per WTO methodology is 26% in the case of rice.
  • However, agriculture economists like Ashok Gulati have pointed out that the WTO is not taking into account inflation since the agreement was signed.
  • If inflation is taken into account, India’s support levels for rice fall dramatically, from 26% to 2.9%.

But for now India needs to respect the caps:

  • However, for this to be implemented, WTO will have to accept India’s interpretation.
  • Till then, India will feel the pressure to reduce subsidies to agriculture.

Alternate ways to boost agriculture without breaching WTO commitments:

  • Increasing subsidies—such as those on MSP-based procurement—is not the only way to boost farmer income.
  • If spent wisely, the Rs 25 lakh crore plan can coexist with India’s WTO commitments.

Investment in agriculture:

  • Public capital formation in agriculture fell from 3.9% of agri-GDP in 1980-81 to 2.2% in 2014-15, before recovering a bit to 2.6% in 2015-16.
  • Meanwhile, during the same time, input subsidies rose from 2.8% to 8%.
  • So, if the government switches expenditure from subsidies towards investment, that would help raise farmer incomes while not affecting the WTO equation.
  • This is because investment in infrastucture and R&D does not count as subsidy as per WTO rules.

R&D spend:

  • According to some estimates, every rupee spent on agricultural R&D adds Rs 11.2 to agriculture GDP.
  • In comparison, the same amount spent on on fertiliser subsidy  just adds 88 paise.
  • That means if the government spends on R&D instead of on various input subsidies, doubling farmers’ income while staying WTO-compliant is achievable.

Freeing agriculture produce prices:

  • Governments in India, by not allowing farmers to get global prices, has caused a loss in farmers income by 14% (of gross farm receipts) for the years 2000-01 to 2016-17 (as per ICRIER-OECD study on agricultural policies in India).
  • This means, for the mentioned period, farmers lost Rs 45 lakh crore (at 2017-18 prices), or around Rs 2.6 lakh crore per year.
  • In this regard, the push for a pan-India electronic or eNAM market was welcome, but so far has not been successful.
  • If prices of produce are freed up, farmers can get 10-14% more income right away.

 

Collateral benefits of cutting subsidies – better cropping practices:

  • There is another advantage of supporting farmers the smart way.
  • For instance, if subsidies aren’t given on water and electricity, and MSPs are not used to dictate what farmers grow, this will also ensure farmers don’t grow the wrong crop.
  • As a result, with less damage to the soil, overall productivity will rise.

 

Conclusion:

  • Agriculture reform is a big agenda item for the government, and, if is done right, the impact on farmers and the economy will be huge.

Image result for double farm income

Importance:

GS Paper III: Economy

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