Paradox of poor farmers in food-rich India

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Posted in Opinion

Kamal Baruah

Agriculture is the primary source of livelihood for over 60% of the population. Farmers here suffer more in marketing their produces than in raising their crops or harvesting them season after season. Markets are not farmer-friendly. Will the new farm legislation help farmers get a fair price for their produce? This remains to be seen.

Notably, India started facing severe shortages of food material during World War II. The Essential Commodities Act (ECA) was enacted way back in 1955 to regulate the production, supply, and distribution in order to make food grains and cereals available to consumers at fair prices. The nation went through severe droughts in 1965-66 which led to import food grains. We overcome such grim situations by ushering a green Revolution under the guidance of agriculture Scientist MS Swaminathan. By now Indian food and grocery market is the world’s sixth largest. The nation produces 298 MT of food grain. India has the largest livestock population some 31per cent of the world total.

While farming plays a vital role in India’s economy, the irony is that there is a glut in the production of vegetables and crops, there is a shortage of the same in the market. Prices shoot up due to a severe supply shortage. Profiteers and black marketers take advantage of the government’s failure to intervene. Farmers switch to new crops due to hardship, uncertainties of pestilence, and low yields. Bio-engineered seed varieties are susceptible to virus attacks. Indifferent weather conditions spoil their Rabi crops, but rain is good for Kharif crops.

India has the largest population of hungry people in the world even as there is abundant food production. India is among the 15 leading exporters of agricultural products. But there is flip side to this great Indian agriculture story. Foodgrains are rotting in the warehouse. It’s time to accord priority to addressing the causes of food storage and problems in distribution. It’s a huge paradox that Indian farmers are poor in food-rich India.

The local administrations try to control or keep low the food price to satisfy the urban population at the cost of farmers’interests. In the name of subsidies for fertilizers and free power, the government helps well-off farmers instead of ordinary ones who form some 80 per cent of the farming community. As Mahatma Gandhi said, India lives in village and all weather roads still do not connect rural habitations with cities. Lack of cold storage and transport facility, inadequate post-harvesting safeguards, bias in procurement policy, and inadequate food processing avenues have all resulted in a huge waste of food.

The Agricultural bill 2020 promotes intra/inter-state trade of farmers’ produce beyond the physical premises of APMC (agricultural produce market committee) and MSP (minimum support price) and also facilitates electronic trading e-NAM (The Electronic National Agriculture Market).E-NAM was launched to create a unified national market for agricultural commodities by networking existing APMCs. It has 16.6 million farmers, 131,000 traders registered on its platform wherein some 1000 mandis are already linked. The state governments are prohibited from levying any fee on farmers, traders, and e-trading platforms.

The bill empowers farmers to protect contract farming under a three-level dispute settlement mechanism. The new law stipulates that the stock limit on agricultural produce must be linked to prices. Essential Commodities (Amendment) now allows regulating the supply of certain food items only under extraordinary circumstances. The government is also allowed 100 percent FDI in marketing for food products in E-commerce. The government says the reforms will help farmers get connected to big traders and exporters, thereby bringing them more of profits. Another promise is that the new law will rid farmers and the farm sector of middlemen and other bottlenecks. Yet, farmers have their apprehensions as to what fate awaited them.

Farmers in Punjab and Haryana are up in arms against the law, saying this would hit the functioning of APMC. Ironically middlemen (APMC) run the show by buying farmers’ produce in mandis/local bazar at prices even below MSP and take high commission. Poor farmers have no choice. Investment in agricultural infrastructures such as warehouses and cold storages is likely to improve a lot of Indian farmers.


Disclaimer: Views are personal


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