Delhi, Radha Mohan Singh, Agriculture Minister inaugurated the National Rabi Conference here today. In his inaugural speech Singh proposed to provide finance to 5 lakh joint farming groups of “Bhoomi Heen Kisan” through NABARD in the current financial year. Minister said that, a very large number of landless farmers are unable to provide land title as guarantee, institutional finance is denied to them and they become vulnerable to money lenders’ usurious lending. Minister informed that in order to achieve the targeted growth of agriculture and allied sector at 4%, from the year 2014-15, various schemes of Ministry of Agriculture have been restructured into specific Missions/Programmes. The foodgrains production during 2013-14 as per Fourth Advance Estimates released on 14.8.2014 is estimated at 264.77 million tonnes against 257.13 million tonnes produced during 2012-13. The credit for increased level of foodgrains production goes to the hard work of our farmers. Singh said that cotton, jute and sugarcane are amongst the main cash crops in India and during the year 2014-15 the Government of India has approved implementation of Crop Development Programme under the NFSM (Commercial Crops) by following Cropping System Approach to encourage farmers to improve productivity of these crops. This would be possible through use of proper crop rotation, multiple cropping systems, intercropping, etc. Singh informed that deteriorating soil health has been a cause of concern and leads to sub-optimal utilization of farming resources. Government has, therefore, formulated a Mission to provide every farmer with Soil Health Card. Issue of 3 crore Soil Health Cards in the current year, 5.50 crore Soil Health Cards in year 2015-16 and 5.50 crore Soil Health Cards in year 2016-17 is targeted. Besides, 100 Mobile Soil Testing Laboratories (MSTLs) will also be set up in year 2014-15. Minister further said that there have also been growing concerns about the imbalance in the utilization of different types of fertilizers resulting in deterioration of the soil. Ministry has framed guidelines under Bhartiya Paramparagat Krishi Vikash Pariyojana to promote organic farming and to develop potential markets for organic products. Aim of the project is to maximize the utilization of natural resources through eco-friendly cultivation. Singh also informed that National Agroforestry Policy, 2014 has been approved and it has been decided to take up Plantation of trees on farm bunds in all the developmental programmes of Deptt. of Agriculture & Cooperation, and Government of India to take this Policy forward. He further said that National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture (NMSA) envisages Integrated Farming System (IFS) in which activities like horticulture, livestock, fishery, agroforestry, value addition are to be taken up along with crops/cropping system. Minister said that for Horticulture Development innovative project CHAMAN envisages use of remote sensing to assess production and area of horticulture crops. Further, Under the Indo-Dutch collaborative project, Centres of Excellence have been approved in Jalandhar (Punjab), Baramati (Maharashra) and Thiruvananthapuram (Kerala), wherein dissemination of modern technology for growing fruits and vegetables, awareness generation will be taken up. In order to make available fruits and vegetables at reasonable rates to consumers in Delhi, Kisan Mandi is in the process of being established. In the meanwhile direct sale of fruits and vegetables by Farmer Producer Organisations (FPO) has also been started. Minister also said that Union Finance Minister in his Budget Speech, 2014-15 has rightly proposed to make farming competitive and profitable by stepping up of investment, both public and private, in agro-technology development and creation and modernization of existing agri-business infrastructure. Government has decided to establish two new institutions of excellence in Assam and Jharkhand with an initial grant of Rs.100 crore in the current financial year. In addition, an amount of Rs.100 crore has also been provided for setting up an “Agri-Tech Infrastructure Fund”. Further, it is also proposed to establish Agriculture Universities in Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan and Horticulture Universities in Telangana and Haryana for which an initial grant of Rs.200 crore has been allocated during 2014-15. Singh said that Crop insurance schemes presently under operation suffers from several deficiencies and operational difficulties. Suggestions have been sought from Chief Ministers of all the states/UTs in this regard. Suggestions have already been received from some States. The matter has also been discussed in the recently held meeting with the concerned officials of the States. It is proposed to roll out new crop insurance scheme for ensuring the production, productivity and income risk faced by the farmers. Minister informed that Banks are providing strong credit support to the agriculture sector. A target of Rs.8 lakh crore has been set for agriculture credit during 2014-15. Further, under the Interest Subvention Scheme for short term crop loans, the banks are extending loans to farmers at a concessional rate of 7%. The farmers get a further incentive of 3% for timely repayment. Singh hopes that with concerted efforts, we would be able to achieve the target of additional production of 25 million tonnes of foodgrains envisaged during the 12th Five Year Plan Period. Earlier highlighting the monsoon pattern and interventions by Government, Minister said that ‘this year India faced the challenges posed by delayed and aberrant monsoon with ‘deficient’ rainfall and in the wake of shortfall in sowing of major crops during Kharif Government took a series of interventions through implementation of Diesel Subsidy Scheme; enhancement of ceiling on seed subsidy; implementation of drought mitigating interventions on perennial horticulture crops under Mission for Integrated Development of Horticulture (MIDH) with an allocation of Rs.700 crore; implementation of Additional Fodder Development Programme (AFDP) with an allocation of Rs.100 crore as a sub-scheme of Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) for ensuring availability of fodder; waiver of duty on import of de-oiled soya extract, groundnut oil cake, sunflower oil cake, canola oil meal, mustard oil cake, rice bran and palm kernel cake to increase availability of feed ingredients. Further, to deal with the situation arising out of weak monsoon/deficient rainfall, Central Research Institute of Dryland Agriculture (CRIDA), in collaboration with State Agricultural Universities and State Governments, had prepared crop contingency plans for 565 districts of the country’. Minister expressed hope that Rabi Conference 2014 would provide a platform for discussion, deliberation and sharing of experiences in charting the course of action in the ensuing Rabi Season. Secretaries in the Ministry of Agriculture ( Ashish Bahuguna, Anup Thakur, Dr. Ayyappan); other officials of the Ministry and Agriculture Production Commissioners, Principal Secretaries, Secretaries, Commissioners, other officials of Agriculture and allied departments of various States and UT Governments were also present on the occasion.