Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Insights into Editorial: Grain and chaff: On farmer protests

grain_chaff

 

Context:

With the farmers’ organisations calling for a blockade of Delhi’s highways to Jaipur and Agra by December 12, tensions may escalate further.

Both sides unrelenting in their contradictory positions, an agreement between the Narendra Modi government and the agitating farmers on the question of three controversial Farm Bills appears elusive.

A large number of these farmers from the neighbouring States of the national capital are camping at locations around it for two weeks now.

After several rounds of talks, the Centre has now offered a written assurance that government procurement at minimum support price would remain, along with proposals to amend the laws to deal with farmers’ concerns regarding parity between State-run and private mandis, registration of traders, and dispute resolution mechanisms.

These assurances are in response to the concerns being raised by the farmers, but they find them inadequate and half-hearted.

They have decided to intensify the strike, demanding complete repeal of the controversial laws. The government has ruled out their repeal, setting the stage for a showdown.

Complete market forces exists in no country till now:

  1. Farmers, howsoever politically empowered they might be in some parts of the country, are at the mercy of market forces and government policy all the time.
  2. The Centre appears willing to brazen it out in the face of stiff opposition from the people most affected by the laws.
  3. In this battle of unequal’s, the government should look at a just settlement, not a political compromise.
  4. The underlying premise of the Centre that farmers will be better off in an open market needs to be qualified.
  5. No country serious about food security can leave farming and marketing of produce entirely to market forces.

Even the most free market countries and the WTO acknowledge this.

 What are the farmers’ concerns?

Farmers are apprehensive about getting Minimum Support Price for their produce.

Other concerns include the upper hand of agri-businesses and big retailers in negotiations, thus putting farmers at a disadvantage.

The benefits for small farmers from companies are likely to reduce the engagement of sponsors with them. The farmers also fear that the companies may dictate prices of the commodities.

What farmers need and are asking for is legally guaranteed remunerative prices, that the government should commit within the same legislation to maximum procurement of various commodities tied with local food schemes, market intervention from the state, agri-credit reforms to benefit small and marginal holders and particular neglected regions, as well as reforms in crop insurance and disaster compensation.

It is also important to empower FPOs as enabled players in the market and keep them out of the purview of overzealous regulation.

Export promotion would help strengthen agricultural economy:

  1. The Rajasthan government is examining the scope for increasing the export of agricultural commodities after strengthening agro-processing units amid the limited opportunities available during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  2. The State agro-processing, agri-business and agri-export promotion policy, released 2019, encourages agricultural exports and seeks to increase farmers’ incomes.
  3. The policy also seeks to promote the capacity of agro-processing sector to upscale the operations through capital infusion, technology transfer and hand holding support.
  4. The State government has tried to accelerate capital investments in value and supply chain of agriculture and allied sectors while implementing the policy.
  5. The policy has made a provision for a ₹500-crore fund in the Rajasthan State Cooperative Bank to disburse loans to farmers and allocated a grant of up to ₹20 lakh every year on the export of organic farm produces.
  6. The State Agricultural Marketing Board will help the farmers in the export of cumin, oilseeds and isabgol.
  7. Export promotion would help strengthen agricultural economy, which in turn would enhance productivity and employment.
  8. Attempts would be made to promote the outreach of ethnic food items, organic produce and value-added farm products in the international market.

Need of reform in Agricultural Marketing:

  1. India’s agriculture marketing and its crop pattern both undoubtedly require reforms. And reforms do trigger resistance.
  2. The way forward is not by questioning democracy itself but the Centre must be more cognisant of the fact that the farmers and the farm sector are both under its protection, and they cannot be free market actors.
  3. They do not have enough leverage to protect their own interest in negotiations with big corporations.
  4. There is no point in replacing existing distortions in the agriculture sector with reforms that do not inspire confidence among the farmers.
  5. As a start, the Centre must go ahead and fulfil all the promises it made to the agitating farmers, rather than use those as a negotiating position.
  6. It must legislate the guarantee of MSP and reassure farmers on procurement and subsidies.

About one third of the increase in farmers’ income is easily attainable through better price realization, efficient post-harvest management, competitive value chains and adoption of allied activities.

This requires comprehensive reforms in market, land lease and raising of trees on private land.

Most of the development initiatives and policies for agriculture are implemented by the States. Therefore, it is essential to mobilise States and UTs to own and achieve the goal of doubling farmers’ income.

Conclusion:

To secure future of agriculture and to improve livelihood of half of India’s population, adequate attention needs to be given to improve the welfare of farmers and raise agricultural income.

It is essential to mobilize States and UTs to own and achieve the goal of doubling farmers’ income with active focus on capacity building (technology adoption and awareness) of farmers that will be the catalyst to boost farmers income.

Since India is a diverse country where majority of agriculture is monsoon dependent therefore interventions are needed which includes research, technology promotion, extension, post harvest management, processing and marketing, in consonance with comparative advantage of each State/region and its diverse agro-climatic features; and then the Country can indeed achieve the goal of doubling farmers’ income by the year 2022.