‘They will have to, or else we won’t move’ says an elderly Sikh gentleman at Tikri Border. Thousands of such voices respond the same when asked about whether the government will accept their demands or not. According to the government, let us have a look at the model, which will increase farmers’ income.
Can Markets Alone Succeed in Providing Higher Income to Farmers?
In the US, where the open market in agriculture has been operative for the last 60 years, farmers are still in crisis. The nation has everything which the new laws state, including contract farming, commodity trading, and no stock limit. But yet, farmers’ income has been on a steep decline since the 1960s. If markets were so efficient, then why the agriculture sector is in a terrible crisis?
China is currently, the world’s largest subsidizer of agriculture. The country spent USD 212 billion on agricultural subsidies in 2016, significantly more than the USA’s USD 33 billion and EU’s USD 100 billion subsidies. China’s government contributes a considerable amount to farmers’ revenue and accounts for 38%, 29%, and 32% for wheat, corn, and rice.
MSP- a Must
‘The government announces MSP for 23 crops every year. Then why we see its implementation only for two crops- wheat and rice?’ ask farm union leaders protesting at Delhi. Why hundreds of trucks loaded with paddy come every year to Punjab from UP and Bihar to sell?
Balbir Singh Rajewal mentions the government data highlighting that only 6% of farmers in the entire country are benefitting from MSP. To be more precise, these are the only farmers who can sell at MSP. This doesn’t mean that the rest of the 94% of farmers are happy with the trade they do. He further explains that though the government has set an MSP of Rs 1850 per quintal for corn (alternative to paddy), nobody is willing to pay more than Rs900 to farmers. Doesn’t this call for strengthening the MSP and marketing system for crop trading?
Sharad Pawar, former agriculture minister, reported that 71% of farmers in India are unaware of the concept of MSP. Perhaps, this is why only 7.3% of farmers in West Bengal and 3.6% in UP procure their output in APMCs. Also, this explains why the majority of farmers in the protest are from Punjab and Haryana.
India Needs its Own Model for Reforming Agriculture
Though the new laws haven’t touched the MSP and APMCs, farmers claim that the laws would gradually dismantle the APMC mandi network. No one is denying that there are flaws in APMCs. But those should be taken care of by bringing professionalism in their operations and not straightaway dismissing them. Now, if the government promises a better future through increased income to farmers, how difficult is it to bring in a new law that gives a legal right over MSP to farmers. After all, the corporate is intending to provide prices higher than MSP.
Devinder Sharma, an expert on Indian agriculture and a food policy analyst, has highlighted that India needs its model to develop agriculture. Just blindly following the open market model of the West will only bring misery to farmers.
To sum up, farmers know what they are protesting for. They are very well aware of what lies ahead if these laws are implemented. MSP is not a barrier to farmers’ way of getting more income. Instead, it assures farmers that wherever they sell, they will not be offered less than that. Hence, there is a need to consult experts on the subject and the representatives of the actual tillers of the soil to make suitable policies that work for the upliftment of farmers and not leave them to the mercy of corporate giants.