A TIMELINE OF INDIA’S MOST PROMINENT AGRARIAN PROTESTS

The four-month-old farmer’s protests in India took a violent turn on January 26, 2021, when farmers stormed the streets of Delhi, demanding the abolition of the three new farm bills. Farmers were greeted with tear gas, water guns, and abuse as they rode their tractors onto the roads. These agrarian demonstrations, on the other hand, are not the first in India’s history. For a large portion of India’s independent existence, farmers have been protesting. The majority of protests arose as a result of promises of economic growth eluding farmers and general disillusionment with a government that is unresponsive to their plight. “Large-scale protests have been taking place against a background of widespread and growing unrest in India’s vast countryside, often rooted in the discontent caused by agricultural stagnation and unemployment,” writes Alf Gunvald Nilsen, professor of sociology at the University of Pretoria. Here is a timeline of some of India’s most significant and large-scale agrarian protests.

1988, BOAT CLUB PROTESTS, DELHI

The protests of 1988, in which Mahendra Singh Tikait, a Jat farmer from Uttar Pradesh and the chief of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), stormed the Boat Club Lawns of Delhi with a charter of demands, are recounted by writer Rakesh Sinha in The Indian Express. This sit-in drew over 5 lakh farmers who demanded a rise in sugarcane prices as well as loan forgiveness. They were within hearing distance of the legislature and made their voices known just before the winter session began. It was one of the most significant farmer demonstrations in the 1980s and 1990s.

Farmers with tractors, hookahs & chaupar — rare photos of protests at  Delhi's Boat Club – ThePrint

2017, MANDSAUR PROTESTS, MADHYA PRADESH

Five farmers were shot dead in Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh, in June 2017, while seeking higher MSPs for the onion crop and grains, as well as loan waivers for farmers who were experiencing firsthand the negative effects of the 2016 demonetization on the rural economy, according to an article in India Today.

Mandsaur News: Read Latest News & Live Updates on Mandsaur, Photos, Videos  at CNBCTV18.com

TAMIL NADU FARMERS PROTESTS, 2017

Farmers from Tamil Nadu staged a dharna in Delhi in 2017, led by P Ayyakannu. They demanded a 40,000-rupee drought relief package from the federal government, as well as an increase in retired farmers’ pensions. When protesting, they performed grotesque acts such as staging suicides and wearing skulls around their necks. They said that these skulls belonged to farmers who committed suicide because they couldn’t cope with their overwhelming debt. Sunaina Kumar, a journalist, dubbed it the “skull protest,” which was at the time the “longest continuous demonstration of nonviolent demonstrations.” Farmers with half of their faces shaved as a form of protest are depicted in iconic photographs from these demonstrations.

Will the Tamil Nadu farmers' protest in Delhi go beyond theatrics to  translate to action?

THE 2018, KISAN LONG MARCH, MUMBAI

In 2018, 50,000 farmers marched 180 kilometres barefoot from Nashik to Mumbai in favour of drought relief, better minimum support prices (MSPs), and crop insurance. This peaceful protest came to an end after the Maharashtra government gave these farmers assurances, which, according to a Scroll paper, have yet to be fulfilled.

Kisan Long March: Over 30,000 farmers reach Mumbai's Azad Maidan; gherao  Maharashtra Assembly

Why do Indian farmers feel compelled to use violent tactics in protests that began peacefully?
Rakesh Tikait, the son of the aforementioned Mahendra Singh Tikait, is leading the latest farmer protests that have ravaged the country for the past six months. This may reflect generations of farmers’ resentment of India’s deep-rooted agrarian crisis and the negative consequences it has had on the agricultural sector and our Indian farmers. “India’s agrarian crisis—a crisis that has resulted in over 3,00,000 suicides among farmers and farmworkers in the last twenty years,” writes Nilsen.

“To say that protesting farmers are misled or confused is to evade critical issues,” writes Sudha Narayanan, Associate Professor at the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research. She emphasises the importance of farmers being included in discussions about the implementation of new agricultural laws, as well as the role they play in Indian democracy through demonstrations, which are an important way to keep a democratically elected government in check.

THE SUFFEREING OF INDIAN FARMERS

Thousands of farmers from Haryana and Punjab have surrounded Delhi for the past four months in defiance of the three ordinances passed by the Indian parliament on September 14, 2020. This protest, which has gathered thousands of farmers in the capital and set up camp on three major sites in the city, is being dubbed the single largest protest in human history. Farmers are expressing their dissatisfaction with the bills, fearing that they will simply empower big companies and leave farmers at their mercy.

Farmers- The Core of Our Economy

India’s agricultural sector has shown resilience in the face of COVID-induced lockdowns, according to the Economic Survey 2020-2021. Agriculture and related activities were the only bright spot in an otherwise dismal GDP efficiency, growing at a rate of 3.4 percent at constant prices in 2020-21. The agriculture sector employs more than half of the country’s workforce. We must comprehend our farmers’ plight and the difficulties they have faced. Be it colonial-induced famines, landowner exploitation, debt burdens, recent locust invasions, crop destruction due to severe weather conditions, or alarmingly high suicide rates. It is our responsibility to listen carefully and understand their concerns as well as the reasons for their dissatisfaction.

The Modifications has been Simplified

The three farm bills proposed are as follows –

The Essential Commodities Act (which is based on a colonial-era law governing the quantity of produce that can be stored or sold) only provides for the control of particular food products in the event of natural disasters or war.

This amendment restricts the ability of the federal government and states to enforce stock and price limits. These restrictions should only be enforced in an emergency. As a result, large companies now have complete leverage over resources such as cereals, pulses, edible oil, onions, and potatoes.

The Farmers’ Produce Exchange and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, also known as the APMC Bypass Bill, addresses the mechanism that now allows farmers to trade their produce both intra-state and inter-state. Previously, they could only carry their produce to the APMC (Agricultural Produce Market Committee) Mandis, no matter how far away they were. This bill also provides for electronic produce trading and e-commerce. It prohibits the state government from charging farmers or electronic trading platforms a market fee for selling produce outside of the designated mandi.

The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, the third bill, allows farmers to participate in “contract farming,” which allows them to enter into a contract with Agri-firms or large buyers for a specific crop at a predetermined price.

What is the aim of Farmer’s Mobilization

The aim of these bills appears to be to benefit and enable farmers to sell at larger markets without being taxed, engage in e-commerce, minimise interactions with middlemen, and incorporate technology into their farming practises. All of this is made possible by the ruling party’s deregulatory reforms, which encourage privatisation. In India, contract farming is not a new phenomenon. Contract farming has already been tried by the governments of Punjab and Gujarat. Their knowledge will aid us in determining the possible consequences of the new legislation in other parts of the world. Let’s take a peek at the state of Punjab. For more than three decades, PepsiCo has been involved in contract farming and has proven to be profitable. Farmers’ incomes increased as a result of the increased jobs. PepsiCo’s arrival ushered in a potato revolt. Small-scale or neglected producers, on the other hand, are said to be dissatisfied. Sunara Singh, a 15-acre farmer, claims that small-scale farmers who try to sell a few kilos of produce (as opposed to the tonnes sold by large-scale farmers) are not even spoken to politely or given gate passes to PepsiCo’s premises, as stated by Basant Kumar in an article for NewsLaundary in October 2020.

Another issue with the proposed laws is that, in the event of a conflict between a large company and a farmer, most small farmers have little resources in terms of time, funding, or legal skills. Farmers are unable to resolve cases ex post facto in either a civil or SDM (Sub-district magistrate) court due to a lack of documentary evidence to support their claims. The farmer will eventually be at the mercy of the corporate buyer. The bill mentions a Minimum Sales Price (MSP) for the crops, but no concrete legislation is in place to enact it. MSP does not have a statutory backup. MSP serves as a benchmark or signal price for all crop trade in the United States.

“The point is that in a country where 86 per cent of farmers have a land of the size of
fewer than two hectares, you can’t expect the farmer to carry his produce to far off
places to sell. What we need is an assured price for the farmers. If the markets are
saying they will provide a higher price to farmers, the question is a higher price to
what? There must be some benchmark.” Says Davindar Sharma, a food and trade policy
analyst at Al Jazeera.

The Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act, also known as the Mandi system, was repealed by the state government of Bihar in 2006. “The financial situation of 94% of farmers in Bihar — who didn’t go to mandis or weren’t covered under minimum support price (MSP) — should have improved in the past 14 years, but their situation has worsened,” says economist DM Diwakar. This goes on to show that removing and selling agricultural produce outside of the APMC’s jurisdiction has an effect on the MSP that farmers are obligated to earn while trading inside the APMC Market Yard.

Educate, Organize, Agitate and Fact-Check!

Freedom of speech is important in a democracy. It must encourage people to express themselves, whether via social media sites, toolkits, or rallies. Tear gas and water cannons were used on protesters, demonstrators were arrested for standing up for their cause or without overt proof of a foreign plot, and the right to private counsel was denied during remand.

The Indian media has based its attention on the forces that have created instability, losing sight of the true causes of the unrest. Is it fair to ignore or, to put it another way, ridicule the majority of demonstrators who carried out their dissent in accordance with the government’s parameters and routes because a few groups had ulterior motives?

We must educate ourselves from reliable sources and double-check the information we ingest. We appear to equate oppressed people’s rage with their lack of credibility. We must empathise with the agitation and place it in perspective. If we really want to stand in solidarity, we must put an end to the dissemination of misinformation.

WHAT IS FARM BILL 2020?

     We have been hearing the term ‘Farm Bill’ but seriously, What is Farm Bill 2020?  And how it affects the farmers?

     The Farm Bill 2020 refers to the agricultural bills passed by the Lok Sabha on 17 September 2020 and by the Rajya Sabha on 20 September 2020. The bills collectively seek to provide farmers with multiple marketing channels and provide a legal framework for farmers to enter into pre-arranged contracts among other things. The President of India, Ram Nath Kovind gave his assent for the three bills on 27 September 2020. The Farm Bill 2020 includes the three acts

  1. The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Farm Services Act, 2020.
  2. The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020.
  3. The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.

First of all, What is “The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Farm Services Act, 2020? And how it affects the farmers?”

     It provides a legal framework for farmers to enter into pre-arranged contracts with buyers including mention of pricing and defines a dispute settlement mechanism.

     The agreement will outline conditions for the production of farm products and delivery requirements, the farmer then agrees to the supply products based on the quality standards, and in return, the buyer agrees to buy products. The primary purpose of this act is for contract farming whereas the secondary purpose of this act is to provide a nationwide legal framework wherein the farmer produces crops as per contracts and the central government says that it transforms Indian Agriculture and attracts private investment. As we see it does attracts private investment. This act may lead to the exploitation of farmers legally by buyers.

     Now coming to the second bill “The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020”. It allows the trading of farm goods outside the Physical premises of Mandi and APMC Yard.

     As we know all the subjects in India are divided into three lists

  1. Union List
  2. State List
  3. Concurrent List

Agriculture comes under State List, states like Punjab and Harayana could lose a big source of state revenue. We may have seen our parents going to Mandis’ to buy vegetables and other agricultural products. These Mandis’ are spread across the country. Farmers usually sell their products in Mandis’ and these Mandis’ are managed by the state government through APMC ( Agricultural Produce Market Committee).

There are some conditions for the farmers to sell their products outside Mandis’ because the products which have all the minimum support price need to compulsorily go through Agricultural Produce Market Committee (AMPC).

     Otherwise, farmers can directly sell their products to consumers, the small-scale farmers are still doing it now. If a farmer like a larger-scale farmer wants his products to be sold through the government then he has to notify APMC or trade with only AMPC licensed traders. This bill will allow barrier-free trading of Agricultural produce outside the notified APMC Mandis’. With the help of this bill, the state government will not impose any tax on the purchase and selling of agricultural products outside the Mandis.

     This Bill is more beneficial to Large-scale farmers because it gives more options to them to sell their products and this bill makes hardly a difference to the small-scale farmers because anyhow, they are selling outside the Mandis.

      But the other perspective of this bill is it gives a way to the government to get out of the Agricultural business, once the farmers enter the market, their income will depend upon the ups and downs of the market.

The third bill is ‘The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020’.

     This is not a new bill, the government had an amendment to the existing bill. Basically, it is a law that controls the production, supply, and distribution of certain commodities.

What is the essential commodities bill?

With the help of this law, the government can include new commodities to the essential commodities list to make sure that they are available to everyone when the need arises and take them off this list when the situation improves. For example, if someone illegally stores onions to create artificial demand (Hoarding) the government adds onions to the essential commodities list under this act to make sure that onions are available to the people at the right price.

     Recently in March 2020, the Central government added Masks and sanitizers under this act to make sure that all are available to the people in the pandemic situation at the right price and right quality, and again on 1 July 2020, the government removed them from this act.

     The amendment added in this bill is government removed certain commodities like cereals, pulses, potatoes, onions, edible oilseeds, and oils from this act even though they are daily used by everyone. The government will regulate and supply them only in case of Famine, High Price Rise, or Natural Calamities. There are more conditions to add this into essential commodities

  • If there is a 50% increase in the retail price of Non-Perishable items like cereals, edible oilseeds, and oils then only the government will add them back into the essential commodities list.

For example, If the retail price of the rice is 100 Rupees/Kg and it suddenly increased to 151 Rupees/Kg then, the government adds them back into the essential commodities list until the situation improves.

  • If there is a 100% increase in the retail price of Perishable items like onions, potatoes then only the government will add them back into the essential commodities list.

For example, If the retail price of the potatoes is 50 Rupees/Kg and it suddenly increased to 101 Rupees/Kg then, the government adds them back into the essential commodities list until the situation improves.

In one way this act is a good step because it boosts farmer’s income but on another hand, it leads to hoarding and black marketing.

Learning from Ancient Agriculture in India

Our earth can no longer tolerate pesticides and fertilizers, because of the ever increasing demand of food, we must return back to our basics – using age old agricultural practices with the help of modern technology.

The evidence of agriculture practice in India dates back to 9000 BC. The domestication of plants and animals was also reported around this time. Wheat, barley and jujube were among crops, sheep and goats were among animals that were domesticated. This period also saw the first domestication of the elephants. Agricultural communities became widespread in Kashmir valley around 5000 BC. It was reported that Cotton was cultivated by 5000 – 4000 BC in Kashmir. As early as 4530 BC and 5440 BC wild Oryza rice appeared in the Belan and Ganges valley regions of northern India. Agricultural activity during the second millennium BC included rice cultivation in the Kashmir and Harappan regions.  Agriculture was far from the dominant mode of support for human societies, but those who adopted it flourished.

Why should we return to ancient practices? 

Excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides to increase crop production has augmented the deterioration in quality of the yield. Using chemicals in farming destroys natural resources, and wastes a lot of water because it causes soil degradation and soil to become salty. The chemicals are washed from soil into water and also cause water pollution along with soil pollution. Due to the process of biological magnification, the chemicals are being accumulated in our bodies. Due to the above reasons we need to switch to sustainable methods of farming like organic farming.

Ancient practices that can help farmers

  1. Water harvesting should be adopted by farmers. This will irrigate their fields and the water can also be used for domestic use in the farmer’s house. This also will decrease the farmers dependence on borewells and tubewells and thereby save water. The Harappan farmers used to harvest the rainwater.
  1. Trees should be grown along with the crops. It increases biodiversity in the farm and also may be used as an income source. By planting a neem tree in a field, a farmer can sell its leaves and small branches. Also, birds will visit it and eat the pests from crops. Growing trees of medicinal value will help to cure an ill member of the farmers family. 
  1.  The farmers should grow crops with only traditional seeds. HYV seeds (High Yield Variety seeds) appear to be good for a short course of time; but in the long run, they decrease the groundwater table of the area and decrease the productivity of soil.
  1. Manure is a cost effective and an environment-friendly alternative of Fertilizer. Farmers should reintroduce the use of Jiwamrita which has been used for thousands of years in India. The only ingredients in this miracle fertilizer are cow dung, cow urine, evaporated cane juice or raw sugar and water.
  1. Mixed farming was the basis of the Indus valley economy. Indian farmers should also diversify their crops and grow at least two crops in  a year. This will aid in increasing the fertility of the soil.

These were a few ancient farming practices that can help a farmer to increase his income while saving water and energy; ultimately saving the world from food scarcity and pollution. 

MIXED FARMING, A VIABLE AGRICULTURAL SYSTEM

Mixed farming is a type of agriculture in which crop production is combined with the rearing of livestock. The livestock enterprises are complementary to crop production, so as to provide a balance and productive system of farming. Mixed farming may be treated as a special case of diversified farming. This particular combination of enterprises, support each other and add to the farmer’s profitability.

Farming is very intensive and sometimes highly specialized with one portion of the farm being devoted entirely to arable farming and the other portion entirely to livestock.

This system of farming predominates in regions with a dense and highly urbanized population. Mixed farming encompasses much of the eastern USA, Canada, Western Europe, northwestern USA, Central Mexico, southern Brazil, parts of pampas, Central Chile, and South Africa. From Western Europe, a belt of mixed farming extends eastward into the Asiatic Russia through the central part of the European Russia.

Even though this type of farming was first developed in Europe and later spread to Americas, it is gaining importance in the less developed countries of Asia and Africa as a viable agricultural system.

A variety of crops are grown in the mixed farming region. Cereals dominate the crop land use, the leading grain vary with climate and soil. In the temperate regions wheat, maze and oats are the major crops with dairy cattle, sheep or pigs as animals. In tropical regions rice dominates in the humid regions with cattle and goats. Aquaculture and poultry is also integrated to it. In the drier parts jowar, bajra and ragi is integrated with cattle and goats.

“Minimum Support Price”

Minimum Support Price (MSP) is a kind of guarantee of a minimum price for the agricultural produce in India to purchase directly from the farmer. The price of msp is set and announced by Government of India at the beginning of the sowing season for certain in the basis of the recommendations of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) crops to protect the producers i.e. farmers.

Reason behind the idea of MSP is to counter price volatility of agricultural commodities due to the factors like variation in their supply, lack of market integration.

The CACP is an attached office of the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, formed in 1965. It is a statutory body that submits separate reports recommending prices for Kharif and Rabi seasons.

The Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) takes into account several factors while deciding the MSPs of Rabi and Kharif crops. These factors are;

1. A minimum of 50% as the margin over the cost of production.

2. Demand and supply.

3. Changes in input prices.

4. Input-output price parity.

5. Effect on the cost of living.

6. Effect on the general price level.

7. Trends in market prices.

8. Parity between prices paid and prices received by the farmers.

9. International price situation.

The minimum support price of 22 crops is declared by the the ‘Department of Agriculture and Co-operation, Government of India on the recommendations of CACP’.

The list of crops are as follows-

  • Cereals (7) – paddy, wheat, barley, jowar, bajra, maize and ragi
  • Pulses (5) – gram, arhar/tur, moong, urad and lentil
  • Oilseeds (8) – groundnut, rapeseed/mustard, toria, soyabean, sunflower seed, sesamum, safflower seed and nigerseed
  • Raw cotton
  • Raw jute
  • Copra
  • De-husked coconut
  • Sugarcane (Fair and remunerative price)
  • Virginia flu cured (VFC) tobacco

The Minimum Support Prices for all mandated crops is increased by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) chaired by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi on June 1, 2020.

MSP comes out to be major relief for farmers in case of distress sale and procure food grains for public distribution.

How Agri-tech startups can help farmers?

Farmers are facing a bad time in this pandemic. As per IBEF(Indian Brand Equity Foundation) more than 58% of India’s population is dependent on agriculture for livelihood. The reverse migration of migrants due to covid-19 will also lead to more people being dependent on agriculture as a source of income. The government has come up with some reforms that can help farmers. Now, the question is whether agri-tech startups become a ray of hope for farmers and make their lives better.

Farmers have long been exploited by the present system of APMC. They have earned less due to the presence of middlemen. Thus, farmers are left with fewer returns. Farmers require more than policies and this where agri-tech startups come to their rescue.

Ways in which agri-tech startups can help farmers

Removing middlemen

The major problem that farmers face is of middlemen. This increases the cost per transaction which is mostly 2-3% in case of offline transactions. However, this cost can be upto 0.5% in case of online transactions. This is the same as online stock market investments, where people used to pay a lot per transaction before startups like Zerodha came into the market. The result of this reduction in cost is more profit in the hands of farmers.

Health of Crop

India loses around 30-35% crop due to pests. Also, attacks by insects is a major threat to farmers. The recent attack by locusts have created fear among many farmers. Agri-tech apps can help a lot in such situations. They can help in monitoring the health of crops with the help of AI. One such startup is Plantix which is a Hyderabad and Berlin-based startup. It helps farmers to identify plant diseases, pests and nutrient deficiencies. This is done with the help of AI.

Increasing crop productivity with the help of data

Agri-tech startups can store data and measure the performance of crops. With the data, farmers can identify in which conditions the crop yielding is good. These apps can study the history of land and also comment about the fertility of the soil. This data can also be used by other companies who produce agri based products and can lead to newer developments.

Easy availability of finance

The farmers have faced a lot of problems because of non-availability of finance from banks. This led them to borrow money from unorganised sectors at very huge costs. With these apps, the farmers can maintain their data regarding stock sold and inventory. This will help banks in monitoring their performance and thus banks will be more willing to provide money to farmers.

Challenges that can be faced by agri-tech startups

These startups can definitely help farmers but there are some challenges in their way. Their growth depends on the following factors:

  • Support from government.
  • Faster data penetration.
  • Strong financial support from private investors.

These are some of the technical and legal challenges that these startups may face. Apart from these challenges, the acceptance of these apps by farmers is also a challenge. As many farmers are not tech savy, these startups will have to make farmers comfortable with technology. Even with these challenges, agri-tech startups are likely to change the life of farmers.