The protesting farmers, with the support of the broader community in India, are fighting for the security of government-regulated markets for their produce.
The All India Agricultural Workers Union says that the ongoing struggle by farmers in India is to save Indian agriculture and food security from the claws of agri-business. Dr. Vikram Singh, joint secretary of the union, made the statement during a virtual seminar organised by the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) on the current Indian farmers’ protest.
Farmers in India have been protesting since November last year, calling for the total repeal of three laws passed in September 2020. With the support of their families, trade unions, activists and consumers, thousands of people have come out against the changes that were made in the, (1) Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, (2) the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, and (3) the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act.
According to Singh, the farmers say that the bills have been passed without consultation and give complete power to corporates in agriculture by deregulating the sale, pricing and storage of crops.
“These laws will deregulate the whole market and will lead to a complete withdrawal of government from the agriculture sector and the farmers who are majority marginal farmers, will be exposed to the cruel laws of the market and they will become completely dependent on big agri-business and corporates,” said Singh.
The Indian government argues that the changes to the law will allow farmers to sell more produce to more places and encourage private investment in agriculture.
Dr Siddhart Joshi, an independent researcher based in Bengaluru, the reforms that were passed by the Modi regime were presaged by the Green Revolution in India in the mid-1960s. “During that time the government instituted the MSP regime. Essentially what the government does is it calculates the cost of cultivating 22 to 23 crops every year/season and then based on the cost of cultivation and keeping in mind the terms of trade, it then announces the minimum support price. These are supposed to be the minimum prices the farmer is supposed to get at the market,” said Joshi.
Indian farmers sell their produce to licensed middlemen or buyers either through auction or tenders done via an Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) and the State of Punjab, which was one of the first states where protests started, has the most intensive penetration of regulated markets.
“The APMCs used to be a point of sale for the farmers and there were attempts to reform them as recent as 2017 by the government but the idea has always been that even if there is a private sale it had to be by the rules of the structure. What the new law does is that the private sales would be completely out of the regulated structure. So any private entity can set up a market and there won’t be any regulations on prices,” Joshi said.
Shirin, a peace educator from Peace Vigil, says that the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce Act will take the power away from the farmers and hand it over to bureaucrats who will be in favour of the corporations.
“All the disputes between the farmers and the corporates will be settled by bureaucracy and not by courts. If you have a problem you can longer go to the district court. You will go to … a bureaucrat and he or she will be deciding on a dispute between an impoverished, debt ridden Indian farmer versus a huge corporation which are among the richest in the world,” she said.
The second law will, according to Joshi, make way for contract farming and farmers fear that contract farming will lead to loss of land. “Even though the law specifically says that there should be no transaction of land, there are stiff grades and standards that the farmer has to abide by. The farmer has to pay the company that it has a contract with and in the event he’s unable to pay the company, he will have to sell the land.”
The third law deals with supply chains. “Previously there were limits placed by the government on the land holdings of various actors in the food chain. The new regulation takes the power away from the government and any supplier in the food chain can hold as much as it can or has capacity for and they can decrease prices and increase prices and will lead to losses by farmers,” Joshi explained.
Shirin said that there is a need for working people around the world to show solidarity to the protesting farmers as it will send a strong message to governments and corporations that people will jealously guard what power they have. “It is clear as the day that the corporates are running the states and the states are only working as agents of these corporates. We need to challenge that in our own countries.”