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Opinion

Four key aspects of the farmers’ protest

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The current standoff between the Union government and protesting farmers shows no sign of resolution at the moment. Farmers, especially in Punjab and Haryana, have protested against the three agricultural laws enacted by the central government. The argument is that these reforms will abolish intermediaries and improve farmers’ incomes, but farmers argue that this is a precursor to the large-scale withdrawal of government support for agriculture and will only replace existing intermediaries with more powerful corporate entities. .

These bills essentially pave the way for a greater role for market forces and the private sector in agricultural value chains by enabling contract farming, removing restrictions on the movement and storage of food, and allowing trade in food is made outside of government-controlled markets. .

The protests have now escalated to a stage where thousands of farmers threaten to block all routes to the national capital. Interestingly, some aspects of the debate between bills in favor of agriculture and groups against the laws deserve clarification.

1 India is not a country with surplus food

The roots of state intervention in agriculture, from public procurement to rationing and restrictions on private traders, which is what current reforms seek to abolish, lie in recurring food shortages in the post-independence period . The Green Revolution, which involved the widespread use of high-yielding seed varieties, was successful because the state provided dual incentives (input subsidies and remunerative prices through Minimum Support Prices (MSP)) to farmers to adopt this technology.

Many commentators believe that these incentives are not necessary today because India is now a food surplus country. The sharp increase in Indian agricultural exports is often cited as proof of this fact. However, when read with the fact that the average nutritional intake in India is much lower than not only in developed countries, but even in China and Vietnam, the alleged surplus of food appears to be the result of inadequate consumption. of food by the local population.

2 Most Indians don’t eat enough; they can’t afford

Why are Indian diets bad when there is no shortage of food? Most of them cannot afford a good diet. A recent article by Kalyani Raghunathan of the International Food Policy Research Institute and others, the findings of which were reported in these pages, found that 63.3% of people in rural India could not afford what the authors describe as the cost of a recommended diet (Cable).

Four key aspects of the farmers' protest

This proportion increases to 76.2% if it is assumed that a third of their spending would go to non-food items. The CoRD has been calculated for a food basket that includes broad categories of cereals, proteins (legumes, meat, fish and eggs), dairy, fruits, vegetables, dark green leafy vegetables, and oil and fats.

3 Farmers in Punjab, Haryana are better than the rest

Farmers protesting outside Delhi’s borders are among the wealthiest among their peers in India. Data from a 2013 survey by the National Statistical Office (NSO) shows that farmers in Punjab and Haryana had the highest incomes in the country. A disproportionate share of public procurement in the MSP plays an important role in this.

In 2019-20, 65% of the wheat and 30% of the rice were purchased from Punjab and Haryana. The participation of these two states in the production of wheat and rice in the country was 28.7% and 15.9% in 2017-18, the latest period for which data is available for all states. States where there are no large-scale MSP operations also tend to have lower prices in private markets. That encourages wealthier farmers to push for the continuation of the status quo.

4 Richer farmers inflicted more environmental damage

The skewed nature of the MSP acquisition, especially for rice, has not been an unequivocal boon for Punjab agriculture. The state is not in an agroclimatic zone suitable for growing rice, which is a water-intensive crop. Large-scale rice cultivation has caused farmers to sink private wells, leading to a drastic depletion of groundwater levels.

A 2011 Economic and Political Weekly article by Anindita Sarkar found that Punjab’s wealthiest farmers were a bigger reason for the depletion of water tables, sinking deeper wells everywhere, even in villages already facing trouble. of groundwater. Since resorting to environmentally damaging agricultural practices promises short-term monetary rewards, it is difficult to get farmers to abandon them. Even the roots of the burning of stubble in Punjab that suffocates Delhi for a few weeks each winter can be traced back to water management.

THE CURRENT DIFFERENCE WILL WIDE THE DEFICIT OF CONFIDENCE BETWEEN FARMERS AND THE STATE

Although Punjab and Haryana are not as important to the country’s food security as they were a few decades ago, they are extremely important in India’s agricultural economy. Decades of high farm incomes also mean that the peasantry in these two states has much more in terms of material resources to fight for their interests. Therefore, the fact that the government’s attempts to undermine its interests by enacting recent farm laws have sparked a strong political backlash is not surprising. No matter what the outcome of the current conflict is, the confidence deficit that will result from this confrontation is likely to erode the credibility of the state to persuade farmers to switch to more environmentally sustainable practices in the future.

Hindustan Times

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