PHOTO BY: Image by jacqueline macou from Pixabay

Dubai – The farmer’s protest in the India’s national capital of Delhi has caught international attention, with public figures like American pop singer Rihanna and global environmental activist Greta Thurnberg tweeting in support of the farmers.

Image by Dariusz Sankowski from Pixabay

India that takes pride in its farmers and the slogan ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan,’ ironically has to barricade thoroughfares leading to its capital Delhi with barbed wire to prevent the angry farmers and their supporters from entering the city.

At Ghazipur highway, in the biting north India winter and an ongoing pandemic, thousands of farmers from Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh have been protesting since November 26 to show their displeasure at the passing of three farm bills. Talks between the Government and the farmers have been going back and forth without coming to any mutually agreeable conclusion. As I write this, the protests continue, with more farmers joining in from other parts of the country to show their support.

What are the farmers protesting against?

Indian farmers’ are protesting against three farm bills, which the India Parliament passed in September 2020. Farmer unions and their representatives have demanded a revocation of the laws. Farmers fear that the implementation of two recent Bills will end the government procurement process and the MSP. (Minimum support price)

What are the three farm laws?

  • The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020.

New reform- Until 2020, only the mandis of the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) could make the sale of agricultural produce. However, after the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020  it allows farmers to sell outside APMC mandis in India

  • Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020.

New reform – This Bill allows for the setting up of support for contract farming. The farmer and a commissioned buyer can strike a deal before the production happens.

  • Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.

New reform- The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020 removes commodities like oilseeds, pulses, potatoes and onions from the essential commodities list. This will bring an end to forced stock-holding limits except under extraordinary circumstances.

Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar has stated that the new law does not do away with MSP, and neither does it mention anywhere it will do away with it. The Minimum Support Price mechanism will stay, and also the adequate blanket protection . According to the ruling Government, the new law creates a parallel market for the poor farmers, and they have the sole power to choose who they want to sell their produce to.

The Government has said these reforms will promote growth through private sector investment towards creating infrastructure and supply chains for agricultural produce in national and international markets. They intend to help small farmers who do not have the expertise to either bargain for a better price or for investment in technology to improve farms’ productivity. The Bill on Agri market seeks to allow farmers to sell their produce outside APMC mandis to whoever they want.

Farmers will get better revenue through cost-cutting on transportation. However, this Bill could mean states will lose ‘commissions’ and ‘mandi fees.’ These reforms seem to enable the smaller farmers to expand their potential, which the middlemen and the wealthier farmers have long subdued. And that could be unacceptable to the Cartels, the wealthy farmers – hence the protests.

To further elaborate,  the farmers in India can be broadly divided into two types :

1. Small farmers or poor farmers, who can hardly sustain themselves. They do not have any land of their own, and they grow traditional crops using old farming methods. 90 % of Indian farmers belong to this class. The controversial Farm Laws are blessings for these farmers.

2. Farmer traders or rich farmers, who exploit the small farmers. They constitute roughly  only 10% of total farmers covered in this group. The new Bill seems to be a hindrance to their trade. They lend farm equipment and money to small farmers and buy their crops.

Primarily, the fight over this is on both sides—the right-wing central Government and the rural farmers—understanding that the industry is entirely unsustainable. The Government wants to tackle those issues by opening the Indian agro-industry to the free market; the farmers want significantly more government aid and regulation to ensure their survival. Farmers believe that the free market will place power in the hands of corrupt local officials, big business, and middlemen who will drive prices so low as to make small-scale farming impossible.

The Government of India says that the current new agricultural Bill will get expandable market access to farmers and pave the way for economically and ecologically sustainable farming. These changes will empower the small farmers and allow them to sell their produce to whomever they want, not just the Government itself, and that the free market will solve these problems.

Whether the reforms suggested by the ruling Government is good or bad, only time will tell.

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