Liberalising Indian agriculture is not in sync with other countries


In the US, the agriculture sector is expected to receive $46 billion in federal subsidies this year while the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy spending has averaged €54 billion annually, write Christophe Jaffrelot and Hemal Thakker.

  • The three contentious farm bills, which received the President’s nod on September 27, essentially change the rules around the sale, storage and pricing of farm produce. 
  • The bills have been touted as a watershed moment for Indian agriculture by the Prime Minister, as the government claims that the reforms would remove the shackles from the agriculture sector and free farmers from the stranglehold of middlemen by creating one market. 
  • However, farmers’ unions and groups have concerns about two major issues: First, since the Minimum Support Price (MSP) is not mentioned in the bills, they fear that they will lose the assured option of selling to the APMC mandis and that this will lead to corporate exploitation.
  • Second, they apprehend a process of corporatisation of agriculture in the absence of regulation, as agribusiness firms might well be able to dictate both the market conditions (including prices) and the terms of contract farming as small farmers do not have the same bargaining power.
  • Similarly, the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy spending has averaged€54 billion annually since 2006.
  • Without some support from the state, the smallest of Indian peasants would be even more vulnerable. According to provisional numbers from the 10th Agriculture Census 2015–2016, in India, “smallholder and marginal farmers” (those with less than two hectares of land) account for 86.2 per cent of all cultivators — that is, almost 126 million people. For them, it is inconceivable to carry their produce to other states or far- off places to sell. They will not easily resist the deals “proposed” by agribusiness firms.
  • This promotes agro-ecological principles with the use of locally produced, ecologically sustainable inputs, focusing on soil health, instead of depending on chemical fertilisers. This model is more resilient as well as more biodiverse in nature and provides a safety net to farmers.
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