The uproar and eruption of protests exhibited by the Indian public has been the subject of much media coverage; the gravity of the issue has been felt on a global scale. The outcry began following the proposition of three unwanted legislations, which are supposedly aimed at reforming and rejuvenating the district of agriculture. This is imperative as, although agriculture makes up only an estimated 14% of India’s economy, it serves as employment for a startling 42% of citizens. This revelation encapsulates not only the significance of an agricultural revitalisation, but the detrimental consequences should these changes be unsuccessful.
Although the disturbance among farmers began with the announcement of the ordinances on June 5, their objections proceeded throughout the course of the year. Critically, the proposition outlined in The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act and The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, is an alternative to regulated market wholesales (known as mandis). It is thought this will facilitate farmers selling directly to private corporations and buyers, as an alternate to modulated transactions with assured minimum support prices (MSPs). MSPs are a government mandated guaranteed price for certain crops, which is not subject to change. This means that even if the price for a particular crop falls substantially, it will be bought by the government at the assured price. The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act (EC Act) is a change to the EC Act of 1955, which will serve to remove crops no longer deemed to be essential from government regulation.
It is stipulated by the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that the bills will be revolutionary for the agriculture sector, allowing for more widespread free trade between farmers and their buyers; eliminating the ‘middle-men’ and eventually expediting technological advance and greater investments. However, the legislations have been a major source of apprehension, particularly for farmers in Punjab and Haryana, where the mandi system is successful in delivering a fair price for the magnitude of produce. This offers security for the farmers, which private buyers cannot fully extend. It is widely thought that the imposing of such statutes marks the beginning of the end of the mandi system and MSPs keeping many farmers afloat. If the system is ushered out it may in the future, prove disastrous when negotiations with private traders go awry.
Over fears of their livelihood falling prey to privatisation and corporate greed, agricultural workers stood in rebuke of the laws, and began to mobilise in grievance. Although protesters remained peaceful, they were met at the border of Delhi with ‘tear gas and water cannons’. It is this expression of brute force against the ‘hands that feed the nation’ which inspired the controversial interjection of Justin Trudeau on behalf of the farmers, and their constitutional right to a peaceful protest. More specifically, Trudeau’s disaccord with the use of ‘physical force’ against them. Trudeau’s expression of solidarity with the protesting farmers, a majority of which are Sikh, is suggestively a political stand as much as it is humanitarian. Canada’s House of Commons comprises more than 5% of Sikh MPs compared to just over 2% in India’s House of the People, Lok Sabha which is charged with selecting the Head of Government.
Trudeau’s show of unity with the Sikh farming population in Punjab and their ongoing nationwide protests, is one of many instances in which this issue has called on the global community for support. Along with Canada, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand have held demonstrations to advocate for the farmers. This is quite rightly so, as India is also one of the largest producers of milk, rice, and cotton.
To transform the agriculture sector in India, would be a huge step towards economic development and stability for upwards of 20% of farmers who are battling to rise above the poverty line. For such a reform to be successful it must also be sustainable, to ensure long term revenue and high productivity. The most notable attempt in achieving such reform being the ‘green revolution’, utilising various chemical fertilizers, developing infrastructure and introducing seeds which offer a higher yield for farmers. However, economically this proved a costly investment in terms of start-up; environmentally also leading to parts of land left essentially barren after excessive use of pesticides. The push towards contract farming and private trade deals, while possibly attracting greater investments early on, may also facilitate monocropping by farmers to meet specific demand. Achieving crop diversity is an imperative step towards a sustainable source of income for the farmers. It therefore stands to reason that the bills proposed may not be as promising for economic growth in the long run. Leaning towards a more ‘organic agriculture’ approach could drive the Indian agriculture industry to success and preserve the livelihood of farmers through the health of their soil. Diversifying crops also decreases the likelihood of large ‘crop failure’ which could land farmers in debt.
Advances in farming underpin financial growth in the region, but this is facilitated by investment. As many farmers depend on loans or the dissemination of credit to maintain and sell produce, the offering of private short-term credits with high interest rates will do little to fund technological and infrastructural upgrades. The inflated input costs and inability to repay loans have been major playing factors in the high rate of farmer suicides in various Indian domains. The introduction of the green revolution for instance, saw much success in Punjab, but is undermined by over a thousand suicides in the area since 1995.
It stands to reason therefore, that introducing policies to further develop the agricultural sector is a much more necessary step, than attempting to diversify the relations between farmers and their buyers, in an industry where its workers are barely able to stay afloat. Offering support which goes beyond debt cancellation waivers and leads more towards development will encourage a generation of self-sufficient farmers. Focusing more of the proposed 36-billion-dollar agriculture budget towards advances in irrigation, necessary pesticides and ‘skill development’ will go much further in solidifying a sustainable agricultural sector for India’s more than 100 million hardworking cultivators.
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