I will be talking about
- Indian Agriculture in general
- The issues there in
- The Farm Laws
- The Farmer Protests
- What can we do
India, as a country is anything but monolithic. It is rich in diversity. Be it the culture, the tradition, the language, the religion and the food that they grow and the food that they eat. And it is no surprise why Agriculture was deemed as a state subject in the Indian Constitution.
India, over the decades, has experienced a tremendous shift in agriculture. It can broadly be classified into 4 phases - the first phase from 1947, when India got her independence to the 1960’s, where major land reforms took place, along with development of major irrigation projects, credit institutions etc. Land reforms ensured the cultivators got the land ownership. To encourage crop diversity through incentives, India formed the Agriculture Price Commission (similar to the Commodity Credit Corporation in the US)
The 2nd phase was from mid 1960s to the 1980 where in India went through the Green Revolution, which I believe is widely known, how it, no doubt ensured higher yields in the beginning years, but at the cost of moving Indian agriculture to chemical based, input intensive and expensive form of agriculture. The ill effects of which Indian farmers are still reeling under.
The 3rd phase was from the 1980s to 1991 where an effort was made to diversify non-food grains such as milk, poultry, vegetables, fruits etc. More govt funding was allocated to develop these areas
The 4th phase, of course, began with the economic liberalization policies in 1991. While agriculture was not directly involved in this process, the liberalization did open the doors for trade, export, imports, WTO, trade agreements etc.
But did all these developments or shifts in agriculture help the sector and most importantly, help the small and medium farmers, who constitute 86% of the Indian Agriculture. I will let the statistics speak to that
Agriculture contributed to 52% of India’s GDP in 1950’s and now its down to a mere 15-16% as of 2017 and continues the decline
The average income of the farmer (small and medium farmer) hovers around 6400 Rs a month (i.e. about 90 $), as per the National Sample Survey Organization, 2013 report. It may have increased by a few thousand rupees but nothing significant
The number of farmers who died by suicide is an average 15,000 farmers from 1995 to 2015. Subsequently, the government of India stopped publishing the data and eventually when they
did, the official reporting was changed, to indicate the number of suicides declined but in fact, the categorization had changed.
There have been several govt committees in an effort to understand the suicide crisis and every single one of them highlighted Indebtedness, Drop in income leves, crop failures, Marriage, Health Expenditure - (Read More)
They are always at the mercy of the government, mercy of the local traders, the weather, the market prices and it is no exaggeration when I say that Farming is a risky profession. Farmers have been reduced to mere election campaign subjects. As the income levels of the farmers suffered, the production levels saw record highs. India is among the leading producers in several agricultural commodities such as milk, rice, cotton.
- From the seeds to irrigation facilities to crop insurance to storage to processing to market access, there is no transparent and accountable support structure that exists for the small and medium farmers.
- People depending on agriculture has come down from 69.43% to 54.6% in last 60 years
- Number of cultivators is lower than agriculture workers
- Between 2001 and 2011 about 8.6 million people have left farming in India
- And this is not a natural migration out of agriculture but rather a forced migration
- 63% of all women workers in India (74% of rural female workforce) is in agriculture
- Only 13% of women have access to land
- More than 82% of agricultural households own less than 1 ha of land or 2.3 acres
- The average monthly income is 6426 per month and average monthly expenditure 6223 per month (as per National Statistics Survey Organization)
It is in this backdrop that the 3 Farm laws are being introduced. The 3 laws can’t be viewed in isolation but as a combined tool, that allows greater and unregulated market access to the private players, including everyone from the small traders to the large corporations.
The 3 Farm Laws (The original text can be found here)
Law #1: The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020 THE APMC BYPASS BILL 2020 - 8 pages long
The first law talks about establishing a parallel market system with less to no regulations, no market fees and allows anyone with a basic identification card, to be authorized to buy from the farmer.
Law#2: Farmers (Empowerment & Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020 Contract Farming - 8 pages long
Provides a framework for contract / corporate farming. But the law doesn’t mandate the need for written contracts. The law explicitly prohibits the farmers from approaching the courts in case of any disputes. The contract equates inputs (seeds, fertilizers, chemicals etc.) with services such as training etc. The law doesn’t mandate ecological balance in other words there is no mention of protection against monocropping or growing crops that are not conducive to the local environments or using highly chemical intensive agriculture.
Law #3: Essential Commodities Act Amendment - 2 pages long
It has been established that when there is a price rise in the retail market, the benefit is not passed on to the farmers, but when there is a price fall, the loss is passed on to the farmers. Read about, “Pulses scam of 2015”
If you put all these together, it becomes pretty clear that the goal of these three laws are to open up the markets, deregulate them and lower the barrier for the entry of private players. But these laws do nothing when it comes to solving the issues faced by the farmers directly. For e.g. farmers never had any restrictions when it comes to storing the produce or any restrictions as to who they can sell and where and how. The restrictions were always on the traders. And these laws remove the restrictions.
What are the other issues with the laws?
What about the Farmer Protests?
The farmer protest began all the way in June 2020 as the three laws were first introduced as ordinances (similar to executive bills), which have a validity of 90 days and are bound to expire if the parliament doesn’t introduce them as bills and pass them as laws. So the protests began then. The media didn’t notice it. There were awareness events held, webinars conducted, several activities on the ground started to happen. As the parliament sessions began in september, the protests intensified further and once the laws were passed, the farmer agitations became more widespread. Of course, the majority of the protests were started in the two northern states in India (we could talk about it if anyone wants me to) but other states also joined to add their voices.
And since the Indian Media, which is heavily Delhi centric, the capital city of India, the farmers gave a call to March to Delhi in November. Ever since hundreds of thousands of farmers have been on the Delhi National Highways - some in temporary shelters, others made their tractors their homes, some slept under the tractors, some on the roads. The Sikh community is a very strong tradition of feeding the needy people and so they set up these makeshift community kitchens by the sides of the roads and have been feeding the farmers.
Small libraries were opened up, medical attention was provided to those who needed them but there is also a great deal of risk the farmers have taken and continue to do so. They left their homes, they left their families, their farms and their livelihoods. Some got sick and died, some died in accidents enroute to Delhi, a few died by suicide, some had aggravated their health issues and an unfortunate 150 or more farmers martyred thus far. But even in the face of the adversity, farmers are resolute. They have not moved an inch from their demands
- Repeal the three laws
- Make Minimum Support Price part of the law
Tomorrow, Jan 26th, the Republic Day, when India adopts its constitution, the farmers are holding the biggest tractor rally in the country, asserting their right to protest and right to a decent livelihood.
What could we do?
- We can act as a pressure group, a support group and we can also stand in support with the farmers. Farmer groups and unions here can issue statements in solidarity with the farmers.
- Use Social Media to show their support
- Write to the media
- Write to the senators, the congress and seek their attention in these matters
The consolidation of agriculture in US :
Other links about Farm Laws can be found here: https://sureshe.wordpress.com/farm-laws/