What Farmers are facing?
The standoff between the farmers and therefore the government reflects deeper structural problems during a key sector that contributes about 15% of India's Gross Domestic Product. It shows that economic processes aren't operating in sync with rural infrastructure development, ecological reforms, or political will. At the guts of the protests is the fear that the new laws will end in the dismantling of the system under which the govt. procures key crops from farmers at a minimum support price.
The government, for its part, says that these laws will allow any buyer to get crops directly from the farmer, thereby eliminating the middleman. Creating a pan-India open market, the authorities contend, will encourage competition and truly ensure higher prices for the farmers.
But so far, the govt has done nothing to ensure a hard and fast minimum support price, which is why the protests have continued.
To those that observe Indian agriculture, some key challenges are evident.
Firstly, yield per hectare should instantly be augmented to support India's growing requirements consistent with the statistics from the Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers Welfare, the entire grain yield per hectare in India grew at but 1% within the five years from 2012, from 2,129 kg per to 2,233 kg/hectare in 2017-'18. To understand the government's aim of doubling farm income in five years, the net yield must improve substantially.
Second, there's an enormous disconnect between farm and market. On one hand, there are excess buffer stocks of grain within the warehouses, while on the opposite, customers every so often face a shortage of staple vegetables (for e.g., Onions).
Third, there's barely any political will to deal with the big ecological challenges being experienced at the bottom. No parties have framed policies to deal with problems just like the falling water level, pesticide overdoses, and increasing erosion.
Fourth, the farming sector is under deep financial stress because the worth at which produce is sold doesn't match the sector's growing requirements for investment. The falling per-capital landholding with each successive generation is exacerbating things.
Fifth, rural infrastructure like warehouses, cold storage facilities, and processing units are insufficient or just don't exist. This widens the space between rural farms and concrete tables, leading to wastage.
None of those problems are addressed by the new farm laws not would they be resolved by the laws being rolled back. These challenges have built up over the past few decades when the MSP (minimum support price) system has been handy.
According to the Food Corporation of India website, the food grain stock within the central pool has surged from 514.42 lakh metric tons in December 2016 to 811.11 lakh metric tons in September 2020. A big quantity of this stock is rotting within the warehouses. This limits the government's capacity to get more grain from farmers.
On the opposite hand, the anxiety among the farmers that the govt will stop procuring grain at the minimum support price without having put an alternate system into operation has given an already distraught farming community a great surprise.
To some, it looks like the govt has tried to diagnose disease through a postmortem. It is like saying, "Let’s dismantle the existing system first and appear at what is frequently through with its components later."
At present, Agricultural Produce Market Committees – marketing boards established by state governments – are charged with guaranteeing that the perhaps a reason that has not had much success in Bihar, where these were tested. Farmers are paid the minimum support price on key crops that they carry to mandis. The government buys this grain at the minimum support price with the assistance of middlemen referred to as arthritis.
To provide an alternative, the government aims to line up 10,000 new Farmer Producer Organizations by 2023-'24 to encourage farmers to return together as shareholders to extend production and to plug their crops more effectively. The finance ministry has put aside Rs 1 lakh crore to disburse easy loans to those Farmer Producer Organizations.
The government wants to flinch from grain procurement at the minimum support price – an important part of India's food security system. This is often yet one more initiative that weakens the thought of a state.
So how should the states like Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh proceed if they need to nurture the agricultural economy?
The supplementary guidelines within the government's farmer producer organization scheme are excessively wide in their vision. They fail to determine stepping stones to succeed in the desired destination If they're to be implemented, it's essential to possess precision, concreteness, and a phased roadmap.
Besides, farmer producer organizations can only work when there's a robust infrastructure to carry, store, and process food supported market conditions. This is often possibly a reason which hasn’t been a much success in Bihar, where these were tried.
States should rapidly readjust their strategies with productive and creative operational changes which will fit within the broader scope of those guidelines and at an equivalent time strengthen the dwindling agricultural sector.
Improving the connection between rural and concrete India could help create a market-driven agricultural system.
Small steps could help achieve this. As an example, midday meals at schools around the country could add extra vegetables or dal to feed the undernourished kids. This can encourage farmers to diversify and begin growing more pulses and vegetables.
Besides, governments should take steps to take a position in food processing and cold storage units closer to villages. They ought to also consider subsidizing machinery and equipment to establish a robust infrastructural base where farmer producer organizations are located that would be phased out after five years.
Lessons from overseas
Countries like Cuba offer important lessons for handling similar situations. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, in 1991, the sudden interruption of fertilizer supplies from Russia forced Cuban farmers to discontinue sugarcane farming.
The Cuban government took measures to supply a support mechanism to its farmers to require organic farming. This ultimately became a bonus for its largely agricultural economy.
Likewise, Mexico is making heavy reserves in cultivating cactus both as a food and a substitute for fuel from its bye-products. This has been instrumental in helping large-scale conservation and avoiding a food crisis that would emerge from Mexico's eroding soil conditions with intensive agricultural practices.
The Mexican government has worked with the farmers to encourage them to adopt new crops while ensuring that the farmers aren't taking success on their basic income.
Such samples of farmer-government partnerships provide an inexpensive lens to refresh our outlook and to spot practical possibilities for urgently required agricultural reforms in India.