The government has selected the areas to be developed as ‘super zones’ and ‘zones’ for the execution of Prime Minister Agriculture Modernisation Project envisioned in fiscal budget 2016-17 to boost agricultural productivity in the country.
The areas were selected based on the proposals of district-level committees led by local development officer and comprising representatives of political parties, line agencies under Ministry of Agricultural Development (MoAD) and Ministry of Irrigation and Ministry of Livestock Development, according to Yogendra Kumar Karkee, joint secretary at the MoAD.
The MoAD has envisaged pockets, blocks, zones and super zones for agriculture products to address the fragmentation of arable land, which is considered to be a major barrier for agriculture commercialisation and mechanisation in the country.
As per the MoAD, at least 10 hectares of land is needed to identify it as ‘pocket area’; 100 hectares to be considered a ‘block’; 500 hectares to be termed as ‘zone’, while a ‘super zone’ would make up of 1,000 hectares of land mass.
Smallholder farmers can participate in the land-pooling for development of specific crop in one area to get recognition of pockets, blocks or zones, as per Karkee. “Government believes that with the implementation of the project, domination of smallholder farmers won’t remain as a constraint in agriculture commercialisation.”
The government’s policy is to promote smallholder farmers to enter the scheme by consolidating landmasses through cooperatives. The private sector players could also reap benefits by setting up agro-processing industries and developing markets based on the specific crop production areas, as per Karkee.
The fiscal budget has allocated Rs 5.78 billion for grant distribution and agriculture extension services in the pocket areas, blocks, zones and super zones. Through all these schemes, the government has tried to lure farmers’ cooperatives in production sector and private sector in processing, setting up warehouse facilities and agriculture input factories.
MoAD has drafted the guideline for effective distribution of grant to the pockets, blocks, zones and super zones of agriculture products and is preparing to submit it to the Cabinet for approval.
“The project will kick start the mechanisation and commercialisation in agriculture sector and growth of the sector will accelerate in the coming days,” said Karkee, adding, “We are expecting to start implementing the project by mid-September after getting the guideline approved by the Cabinet.”
He further stated that the MoAD has initiated the process to hire around 300 staffers for the project. The project will run for next few years. The government has envisioned of being self-reliant in agriculture products that can be produced within the country as the import of agriculture products has been surging every passing year. In addition, the government has aimed to tame inflation caused by spike in food prices due to supply-side constraints in the country by boosting domestic productivity.
The government will offer quality seeds, seedlings and fishlings, additional grants for chemical fertilisers, irrigation facilities and agriculture extension services for farmers in the identified pocket areas. Apart from all the facilities extended to the pocket areas, farmers in block areas will get additional facilities like 50 per cent cash grant on purchase of agriculture inputs and 85 per cent cash grant for development of agriculture production collection centres, weekly local markets, primary processing centres, warehouses and agriculture production and processing training centres.
Similarly, zones will get additional facilities, including the facilities extended for pocket areas and blocks. The fiscal budget has offered 85 per cent cash grant to set up seed, seedlings and fishlings production centre and 50 per cent cash grant for processing centres, warehouses and cold storage facilities. The government will establish technical and vocational schools for agriculture entrepreneurs in the zones.
Likewise, super zones will get further facilities from the government, including all the facilities extended for pocket areas, blocks and zones. The budget has announced 85 per cent cash grant on seeds, seedling and fishlings production, organic fertiliser factories, and production of bio-pesticides. The government will extend soil testing facility and other required agriculture extension services in super zones. In addition, the fiscal budget 2016-17 has announced 50 per cent cash grant for modern agriculture processing centres, agriculture marts, cold storage facilities and warehouses and agriculture input factories in the super zones.
The MoAD will promote pocket areas along the Postal and Mid-Hill Highways so that farmers will get easy access to the market. The government aims to develop around 2,100 pocket areas and 150 blocks (at least two blocks in one district) in current fiscal, apart from 30 zones and seven super zones — one per province.
A version of this article appears in print on August 02, 2016 of The Himalayan Times.