As a farmer who comes from a family of farmers of many generations, I oppose the new farm laws of the Modi regime. If implemented, the laws will damage the lives and livelihood of farmers.
It is true that these measures were discussed right from the time of Prime Minister Narasimha Rao when he liberalized the economy. At that time finance minister Manmohan Singh spoke about them. For nearly 20 years, Congress has been talking about bringing in such laws. But that doesn’t make the laws right or beneficial to farmers.
In India, there are 70 crore farmers. At that time Manmohan Singh said we don’t need so many farmers. It is enough if there are fewer than 10 crore farmers in villages. Others can leave villages, Manmohan and his advisor Montek Singh Ahluwalia said at that time. The three farm laws aim to bring those ideas into reality.
Changing to an ultra-modern, technology-driven, corporate-owned agriculture in India is the motive. Central government officials and rulers have no answer to the question what will happen to the remaining 60 crore farmers. What about their livelihood?
In the last 40 years, India’s population has multiplied. Lands belonging to middle and rich peasants have been distributed among their children and have fragmented. In Tamil Nadu, for instance, landholding is less than 2 hectares.
The BJP government had promised that it will increase farmers income by 1.5 times in 2014 while coming to power. But input costs such as for fertilizer, pesticide and seeds have ballooned over the years, reducing farm incomes. In this situation, using the disruption from the pandemic, the central government has forced the laws on the people.
Farmers are not just producers but also consumers. The laws have to be seen from this perspective. This means there are 70 crore consumers that the law affects. If their incomes are impacted, consumer spending will be heavily impacted, too.
Already, in the last 50 years, farming has been turned into a production process for the market. Monocropping has been encouraged to serve the market. Farmers’ production and consumption have been integrated into the market.
We have to see this as the context for the following aspects of the laws:
1. All agricultural produce is being removed from the essential goods list
2. In the name of getting rid of middlemen, attempts are being made to forego the minimum support price mechanism and integrate Indian market integrate into the global market
3. Force farmers to do contract farming for their produce
Onions, tomatoes, pulses and other produce used in everyday life are being removed from essential goods list. The argument is that this will help farmers get a good price in the market. But the reality is also that the laws allow big corporates to construct massive cold storage and godowns. Cartels can easily form and control prices, skewing the market. Not just common people but farmers, too – there are 70 crore farmer-consumers in India – will be affected. The paddy farmer has to buy other produce from the market by paying a price. The same applies to producers of other goods like tomatoes, onions and so on.
While farmers have been demanding the expansion of Minimum Support Price, the laws want to remove it from even existing ones, saying small and medium farmers can get better prices by selling across India.
When fuel prices are so high how can small, medium farmers arrange to transport their produce anywhere and make a profit? They will have to sell it to a corporate that will arrange to transport and sell it wherever the price is higher.
Contract farming, which is at the core of the laws, sets up an unequal playing field.
The farmer doesn’t have the resources to aggregate and store his produce. It is easier for corporates to refuse to procure the produce saying quality is not being addressed. We see that last year apple procurement price was at Rs 88 per kg but this year it is Rs 72. But storing the apples will help stockists trade the apple at much higher prices whenever prices rise.
Now, the Food Corporation of India of central government, Tamil Nadu Civil Supplies Corporation and other procurement agencies procure produce from farmers and sell through government shops, ration shops and so on. This produce is also used to provide free or inexpensive meals at noon meals centers of Amma Unavagam. These schemes will take a hit if the new farm laws are implemented.
The real alternative to the problems that the laws purport to address is cooperative farms in which small, medium as well as rich peasants participate. Union, state government support and subsidies are required to support cooperative farming. Inputs and farm equipment should be subsidized for cooperative farmers. Cold storage should be established to support cooperative farms. There should be minimum support price for various produce so these farms are helped. When the government can support corporates why not support cooperative farms better.
Farmers markets brought in by the DMK government were very helpful for farmers as well as consumers. Farmers were able to sell the produce directly to consumers without middlemen. Cold storage to support these farmers markets will help. Instead of such measures, handing over agriculture to farmers is not the right way to go.
The new farm laws that the Modi government has sought to bring in will benefit farmers. I, as a farmer, welcome them and am already preparing to make use of the opportunities that will arise when the laws come into effect. The reforms were proposed by Manmohan...