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Prime Minister Modi calls experts to discuss how govt can solve agriculture crisis

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called for a brainstorming session with experts, including economists and academics, and policymakers to identify ways in which the government can quickly address the ongoing agrarian crisis and work towards doubling the income of farmers according to a government official familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified.

The meeting is scheduled for February 18 and 19 at the Pusa Agricultural Complex in New Delhi and signals the government’s desire to address the prickly problem of agriculture before the next general elections in 2019. Poll-bound Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh (assembly elections in the two states are scheduled for later this year) have already unveiled several sops for farmers. Many states have also announced farm-loan waivers to address a crisis brought about by a combination of a bountiful produce and low prices in most cases.

Last month, the Prime Minister’s Office asked the Radha Mohan Singh-led agriculture ministry to bring together a broad range of experts who could recommend policies with a short turnaround time, the government official added. “The PM wants conclusive solutions on which the government can get rolling right away. He wants to be briefed then and there on what can be done. The focus is of course on doubling farm incomes,” the official added.

According to the official, the Prime Minister has also invited representatives of farmers. “He wants to get the real stories from the ground from farmers’ representatives.” The initiative comes after a wave of farmer protests in key BJP-ruled states such as Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. Angry farmers dumped produce on streets to protest poor returns. This prompted the government to announce — in the Union budget presented on February 1 — that it would set minimum support prices for 23 crops at 1.5 times the cost of cultivation. This will effectively mean 50% profits, which the BJP promised in its 2014 election manifesto.

The PM will sit through presentations from experts drawn from agricultural universities as well as the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs). “The invitees will give national-level inputs to the PM in a structured way. The agriculture ministry will then be required to select the most realistic solutions for implementation,” the official said. The “modules” or areas marked out for discussions include agricultural marketing, farm technologies, seeds, productivity patterns and allied sectors, such as livestock.

One module each will be presented by Niti Aayog member in charge of agriculture Ramesh Chand and Ashok Dalwai, a former bureaucrat, who heads the committee on doubling farmers’ income by 2022.In the 2016-17 budget, the government had said it would raise farmers’ incomes by 100% — or double it — by 2022. That isn’t easy with small landholdings and low yields. According to calculations of the Committee on Doubling Farmers’ Income set up by the government, real or inflation-adjusted incomes of farmers’ need to grow at a compound annual rate of 10.4% for earnings to double. Compared to this, farm GDP growth is forecast to grow 2.1% in 2017-18, against a 4.9% rise in the previous year.

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