Indian farm reforms face pushback


Surrounding the capital city of India, hundreds of thousands of farmers have gathered to protest an overhaul of India’s system of agriculture spearheaded by India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. Modi, wishing to attract more foreign investment for India’s economy, is looking to liberalize India’s agricultural system.

Since the nation’s formation, India’s agricultural economy has been run by the Indian government. The system worked to “protect” Indian farmers from the free market, with the Indian government buying and selling all Indian produce through local Agricultural Produce Market Committees – also known as mandis – which guaranteed a price floor for the nation’s 146 million farms.

Prime Minister Modi spearheaded three bills in the Indian parliament in the hope that market liberalization would modernize Indian agriculture. The first bill allows Indian growers to sell directly to buyers such as supermarkets and online retailers. Growers still have the option to sell to mandis but they now have the option to engage directly with the market. The second bill allows growers to enter into contract-production agreements in which growers make an agreement with retailers to grow a certain amount of crop each year at a set price. The third bill reduces the central government’s ability to intervene in the food supply chain. The new law mandates that the central government only intervenes during times of war and famine. Modi believes these reforms will modernize Indian agriculture and “empower crores of farmers.”

While many economists and government officials believe that India’s agricultural system is in need of reform, many of India’s farmers disagree. Indian farmers are facing many crises at once right now. A 2018 study by India’s National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development found that half of Indian farmers are in debt. This is due to rising costs in agricultural inputs (fertilizer, seeds, etc.) and falling commodity prices. Indian agriculture leans heavily on commodity crops like wheat and cotton. Farmers are afraid that market liberalization will lead to the further rising of costs and falling of prices. In addition to debt, cultural concerns weigh heavily on Indian farmers. Gandhi taught Indians that agriculture was not just a way of making money, but a way of life. For many, the threat of losing their farms to corporations of bankruptcy is unacceptable. “In Western countries agriculture is a source of business, but in India, agriculture is a source of livelihood,” says Abhimanyu Kohar, a protest organizer. Droughts in the Indian state of Punjab, one of the largest in terms of agricultural production have also put farmers under stress.

Currently, the government and farm groups are locked in negotiations. Both sides have accused the other of being uncooperative. Meanwhile, millions of Indian farmers wait to see how their livelihood may change.



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