Focusing on accelerating the growth of the sector in the future, the Budget focuses on research and technologies
When it comes to agriculture, the Union Budget this year is more futuristic than rooted in the present. Though the total budgetary allocation of Department of Agriculture and Farmer’s Welfare witnessed a decrease from Rs 1,24,000 crore to Rs 1,15, 531 crore this year, the agricultural research budget has increased from Rs 8,514 crore to Rs 9,504 crore in the Budget.
An Agricultural Accelerator Fund is expected to bring innovative and economical solutions for problems faced by farmers. To transform agriculture practices, modern technologies are expected to be discovered under the fund and increase productivity and profits.
Abhishek Jain, Fellow & Director, Powering Livelihoods, CEEW says, "Over the years, we have seen hundreds of agri-focused start-ups bridging the information gap for farmers, but there has been limited innovation on hardcore technologies.” He adds, “I hope that the newly announced Agriculture Accelerator Fund brings an explicit focus on hardware technological innovations to address challenges like pest and weed management, affordable storage and post-harvest solutions."
Digital Public Infrastructure is also to be set up, which will be an “open- source, open standard, and an interoperable public good ”. It will include information ranging from solutions for farmers to plan cropping, improve access to farm components and credit, crop estimation, market estimation and provide growth support to agritech industry and startups.
Computerisation of 63,000 Primary Agricultural Credit societies (PACs) has been allocated an investment of Rs 2,516 crore. A national data cloud is also being created for country wide mapping of cooperative societies. Using 5G services, 100 labs will be planted in engineering institutes to develop applications related to precision farming, among others initiatives. The labs will focus on new canvas of opportunities, business models and employment potential.
Hemendra Mathur, Chairman, FICCI Task Force on Agri- Startups, says, “The development of Agristack and digital maps as public goods can be a game changer for agricultural supply chain. The challenge is to make the data points and maps granular, accurate, real-time and user-friendly with least possible cost through optimal utilisation of technology and resources."
Artificial Intelligence (AI) implementation is an emerging area of attention. The budget states that three focussed artificial intelligence centres will be established by the government. In partnership with the tech companies, the government will develop a landscape to embed AI in agriculture. “Cutting edge applications and scalable problem solutions in the area of agriculture” will add to building human capital of immense quality in the field.
Mathur says, "Indian agriculture needs digitisation to make supply chain efficient, transparent, market driven and traceable. Digital technology can play an important role in enabling access of high-quality inputs to farmers, farmers’ linkages to the market, reduction in post-harvest losses, enabling access of institutional credit, insurance and direct benefit transfer to farmers."
United Nations has declared 2023 as the Year of Millets and India is also promoting it at the G20. In the Budget, millet has been referred to as Shree Anna. Noting that India is the largest producer and second in exporting, India desires to expand its millet landscape further. The Indian Institute of Millets Research, Hyderabad, will be supported as the Centre of Excellence for spreading technology, best practices and research regarding millets at the international level.