PM Modi urges industry to invest in agriculture amid farmer protests

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Prime Minister, Narendra Modi; Photo PIB

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday urged the domestic industry to increase their investments in the agriculture sector and voiced confidence that recently-launched reforms would enable farmers to increase their income.

“The amount of investments that should have come from the private sector in agriculture has not happened. If you look at infrastructure such as cold storage, it  has been very limited,” Modi told the 93rd annual general meeting of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI). 

“The government has been working tirelessly to promote such infrastructure. We need your support for such investments in this sector,” he said.

His remarks come in the midst of massive protests by farmers against three key farm laws at the national capital. After disrupting cross border movement at the boundaries of the national capital, the farmers have threatened to block railway tracks as well.

Earlier in September, the government had approved three key legislations to drive through farm reforms —  Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020 and the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020.

While the aim of these laws are to facilitate barrier-free trade of produce outside the markets notified under the various state Agriculture Produce Marketing Committees (APMC) laws, farmer groups especially from northern India have railed against them over concerns that minimum support prices (MSPs) will be dismantled. 

Farmers say that the new laws would strengthen the hands of private traders and enable them to manipulate market prices, but the government has said that these concerns are misplaced and MSPs won’t be removed.

Prime Minister Modi said the new laws would only give farmers more freedom to sell their produce and they would be able to transact outside wholesale markets run by Agriculture Produce Marketing Committees. 

Until the recent legal amendments, farmers were required to sell their produce at nearby notified markets and through licenced traders or middlemen. Government officials say that the recent reforms will eradicate multiple layers of middlemen who skimmed of famers’ profits.

“Many companies are doing good work in agriculture, but that alone is not enough. The more there will be from the industry, the less will be the losses of farmers and their  incomes would increase,” Modi said. 

“The conditions are ripe for investments in agriculture. There is a lot of scope for agro-based industries,” he added.

India’s agriculture sector has been a laggard in three decades of economic reforms with annual growth ranging between 2%-4%, though it comprises the largest section of the workforce.

Modi said other sectors have to work in tandem with the agriculture sector even as there are green shoots of recovery in the economy, following the devastation wrought by the pandemic.

The Prime Minister said the recently-announced Production Linked Incentive Scheme announced for as many as ten sectors had the potential to transform the manufacturing sector and each of the industry segment could emerge as global champion.

Modi praised the domestic pharmaceutical sector for its role in maintaining supplies for the global chain through the pandemic. With the world now moving towards manufacture of covid vaccines, India will not only be able to cater for its own citizens, but also the world, he said. “We have to move forward with iron determination. Irrespective of whatever speedbreaker came in our economic progress due to the pandemic, we have to move forward resolutely for national progress,” he added.

Biman Mukherji is a columnist and consulting editor at Indoasiancommodities.com. He has worked for international news organisations such as Reuters, The Wall Street Journal as well as for newspapers like The Times of India. He can be reached at biman.mukherji@indoasiancommodities.in

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