GUWAHATI, June 8 - The State Innovation and Transformation Aayog (SITA) in its �Report on Agriculture & Allied Activities of Assam in the Backdrop of COVID-19 Pandemic�, has suggested formation of an agricultural task force immediately to develop sector and sub-sector wise agri-economy reviving plans, policies and programmes to mitigate the situation created by the COVID-19 lockdown. This report was submitted to the state government recently.
It said the state agriculture sector has incurred a loss of a whopping Rs 4,061 crore, as per the projections made by economists. In view of this serious development, the SITA has recommended that the state should approach the Central government for special permission to utilise part of the Non-Lapsable Pool of Fund meant for the Northeastern states, which is worth Rs 5,000 crore now, to balance the loss incurred by the state�s agriculture sector.
Besides, it said that the loan taken by farmers for Rabi crops last year, may be considered for waiving off, since the amount is not likely to be substantial. This will ease out the economic stress on the farmers, who are reeling under capital inadequacy, and thus help them gear up for the upcoming Kharif crops.
The state government may also request for a moratorium or one-time waiver for the fees, interest and charges to be paid under the Assam Agribusiness and Rural Transformation Project (APART). So far, the government has paid an amount between Rs 135 crore and Rs 140 crore against such fees, interest, etc., under the APART.
Now, the government should also ensure proper monitoring and surveillance of the Autumn rice, so that farmers can harvest a bumper crop and thus get the much-needed economic relief. All steps should be taken on time to procure quality seed and other inputs for the coming Kharif crops and the funds available under Central sector schemes like the Rashtriya Krishi Vikash Yojana (RKVY) may be used with special approval from the Ministry concerned, it said.
Moreover, insurance policies for crop, animal, etc., should be made mandatory since only a small percentage of farmers are covered under insurance policies as of now. This is needed to bring stability in farmers� income against losses caused by crop failure and it would solve the debt cycle problem, which has been plaguing the farming community.
The non-functional cold storages may also be made functional within a reasonable time, not exceeding the length of the Kharif season, and, the state should also attend to the issue of minimum support price, whenever necessary, even by modifying the state�s Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) Act.
Besides, with respect to agricultural produce, the entire North East must be considered as one big market from a competitive advantage point of view. In order to leverage the benefits from the upcoming Act East Policy, agricultural commodity markets in neighbouring countries need to be explored through adequate Market Intelligence analysis, said the SITA.
Again, it said preparations shall also be needed for the coming Rabi season with care taken of technology, planting materials, handling and processing of the produce, including their storage and marketing.