Growing Trend of Farmers Quitting Agriculture?
Agriculture, especially food production, is facing a structural crisis globally. World food demand is growing in absolute terms. For instance, world's population is increasing rapidly at a rate of 1.05% per year, i.e., 81 million people per year reaching up to 9.7 billion by 2050, as noted by World Bank (according to UN population projection, it could reach only 9.15 billion by 2050). Hence, taking the insufficient availability food at present into consideration, a minimum 70 percent increase in global food production (along with its doubling in poor countries) within 30 years is required to meet the emerging demand. However, as of now, almost one-third of the food produced globally is either lost or wasted, which is more than enough to feed world’s 690 million (8.9 percent of world population) most poor and starving people, while nutritious and healthy diets are still unaffordable to more than 3 billion people.
While farming and food demand are growing in general, world is also confronting an existential question as to who (and how) will produce the food for people’s sustenance. For, according to global and country-specific studies, large number of farmers are quitting agriculture even as the new generation is increasingly becoming disinterested in farming. Or, as the elder generation is to retire from cultivation, it is not being replaced by the next generation, and the stark reality at a global level is that even rural youth is reluctant to resort to farming as a profession. Even where agriculture is the dominant means of livelihood, for majority of the youth there, it is only a default source of livelihood simply by inheritance. Consequently, agricultural population across the world is ageing without an adequate replacement by the next generation. For instance, in Japan, within a decade, around 40 percent of farmers will quit agriculture without being replaced, and the average age of farmers there is 67 now; in Europe it is 65 and 58 in US. In view of this grave situation, imperialist governments like Japan have reportedly embarked on a massive plan including the provision of a series of material incentives to encourage people below 45 years of age to remain in farming or become farmers.
India is widely held as an agricultural country as almost half of the population is still depending on agriculture and allied activities. The average age of operational land landholders in the country is around 55. Though majority of India’s youth have rural/agricultural background and still live in rural areas, they also, in accordance with the general global trend, are not interested to pursue agriculture as their principal means of livelihood. At the same time, based on available data, rural India is also becoming less and less ‘agrarian’ in terms of income. For instance, while around three-fourths of rural households’ income came from farm sources in 1970, today, after half-a century, it is much below one-third, and major part of rural earnings now comes from non-farm sources. And the average income of a farmer is estimated at around one-fifth of that with people having non-farm sources of livelihood. Obviously, today agriculture’s share in India’s GDP is reaching around 15 percent (compared to an average 4 percent in western imperialist countries) compared to 43 percent in 1970. In US and EU, on an average, only less than 2 percent of the population works in agriculture, On the other hand, with around 50 percent of the population still clinging on to agriculture, the dependency load on agriculture is probably the heaviest for India. However, India is no exception to the general trend towards large number of people leaving agriculture. According the last Census (2011), with the dawn of the 21st century, the number of Indian farmers giving up agriculture has been 2000 per day, in addition to tens of thousands of peasants forced to end their life every year.
Corporatisation as the Neoliberal Panacea
Taking note of this emerging trend of large number of farmers leaving agriculture, corporate think-tanks and neoliberal ruling classes along with agencies like World Bank and WTO have proposed replacement of peasant/farmer farming with corporate farming as an alternative. In the process, capitalist farmers who may withstand in agriculture will be transformed as junior partners of agribusiness MNCs. The idea is to convert agriculture as a multi-million profit-oriented business and to replace the entire conventional farming with high tech agriculture ranging from “smart farms” to “digital food activism” involving investors and high-tech youths. Up-scaling conventional farming to digital platforms, extending digital solutions to farming practices and use of specific crop models, collection and exchange of farm data that cover a host of multidimensional tasks such as prediction on crop health, soil quality and water availability, provision of aerial imaging data on weather conditions even using drones, information on market linkages, and online/digital trading, banking and financial services and so on, which are frequently lauded by neo-colonial-neoliberal institutions such as World Bank and WTO, are the striking features of emerging corporate agriculture. “Agri startups” with cross-border links akin to that in industrial/service sectors have also started on a flourishing basis.
For instance, a 2019 report by the Delhi-based Maple Capital Advisors has estimated an investment worth $244.59 million in agri startups oriented towards smart-farm based premium quality fresh fruits and vegetables through efficient marketing and supply-chain management. These emerging but fast-growing initiatives are inalienable subsets of the multi-billion dollar empire of agricultural-corporatisation led by agri-business MNCs that embrace everything from farming to retail trade through specialised corporate structures controlling input factors like seeds, irrigation, chemical fertilisers and electricity cost, management of output and product pricing complex networks of both offline and online trading. Of course, this macro aspect connected with agricultural corporatisation as embodied in global agricultural policies, the manner in which corporate boardrooms are dictating policies, how corporate lobbyists work in government institutions and influence policies and direct agricultural research, etc., being widely discussed issues, are not taken up for discussion here. Obviously, corporate control over agricultural means of production (including land through contract farming) and chains of marketing and trade and tariff policies are already known to all concerned people.
This multi-dimensional high-tech, corporate-financed farming has already proved to be highly profitable and lucrative for investors. In the liberalised input-output market, it became easy for agribusiness giants to impose high input prices on farmers on the one hand, and to pressurise farmers to accept low prices for their products on the other. While corporate MNCs make super-profits from rising food prices, the farmers bearing all risks associated with cultivation are denied even reasonable prices, forcing many of them to ‘get out’ of agriculture at the earliest, while the poor are either being unable to buy adequate food or forced to set apart the whole of their earnings to purchase food. Meanwhile, the corporate agenda is to bring the entire agriculture under its firm grip as its appendage through such methods as ‘contract farming’ and finish off farmers as an independent category or class. As is obvious, and as already discussed, the three black Farm Laws promulgated in India are envisaged to fully accomplish this corporate task.
The concrete Indian situation needs to be evaluated amidst the emerging general global trend of replacing peasant agriculture by high-tech corporate farming. Though the general trend towards large number of farmers quitting agriculture is visible in India too, for the vast majority of Indian peasants, together with its role as the sole source of livelihood, on account of historical, social and cultural factors, agriculture is a way of life too. The most decisive role of agriculture in India’s sustenance has been brought to the fore during the pandemic. While all other sectors of the economy collapsed on account of the utter mismanagement of the ruling regime, agriculture with a ‘positive growth rate’ remained as the only saviour of the country and the last resort for the millions of migrant workers, amidst many adversities most important of which are the anti-farmer policies of Modi government. However, the social devastation and economic distress of the rural India including peasants that lay behind this positive macro-level agricultural data still remain unreported by official statistics. Despite being stamped as unproductive and inefficient by neoliberal ideologues, Indian peasants are still in a life-and-death struggle to cling to land even in the midst of superimposed neoliberal- corporatisation policies that have undercut the economic viability and sustainability of peasant farming. In this context, it would be in order to reiterate certain crucial issues relevant to peasant farming today with specific relevance to India which are applicable to other non-western societies too.
- Large scale shift of people from the primary (agricultural) sector to secondary sector composed of industry and to tertiary sector (even bypassing the secondary sector) or service sector is part of the mainstream conceptualisation on capitalist development that evolved mainly in the west. For instance, while the percent of population in western imperialist countries on average vary within 1-2 percent, in imperialist China, the economy of which is world’s largest in terms of Purchasing Power Parity, 35 percent of the population is still depending on agriculture. Hence the theory of an absolute ‘sectoral transition of population’ from agriculture to industry and then to services, and the consequent prediction on the demise of peasant farming as an indicator of economic advancement is a western notion having little relevance to non-western societies such as India.
- Another crucial question is linked with the much trumpeted efficiency and productivity of big farms. The criteria based on which productivity is measured with respect to mono-crop/ single crop farming as practiced in corporate agriculture are inapplicable to multi-crop, inter-crop or mixture-crop cultivation pursued by traditional farmers. Small and middle peasants unlike corporate farming follow an integrated system of farming with crop rotation, often combining cropping with livestock breeding, all of which serve replenishment of soil fertility, better quality air and water and overall maintenance of the eco-system. Hence, from the perspective of eco-friendly farming that makes efficient use of soil, inputs, and above all labour, peasant farming should be considered as more productive, and the quantified definition of efficiency and productivity as usually applied to mono-crop agriculture becomes totally irrelevant here.
- Thus, if we take all the various factors, both tangible and intangible, that involve in agricultural production, then the ‘total factor productivity’ in small farms could be seen as larger than the corporate-controlled mono-crop farms where everything is mechanised. Labelling of small peasant-farms as inefficient/unproductive and as obstacle to development has no scientific basis. On the other hand, for sustaining the livelihood of large sections of the population as well as for the production of staple food crops and for serving community food needs, peasant farming plays a central role in Afro-Asian-Latin American countries. One of the immediate consequences of the penetration of corporate capital into agriculture at a global has been the sky-rocketing prices of food. Hence, prediction on the imminent demise of small and family farms in dependent countries is part of a propaganda blitzkrieg intended to lay red carpet for the corporate penetration into their agriculture.
- According to recent farm studies by well-meaning scholars, small/ family farms are the safest route for sustainable agriculture avoiding loss of biodiversity. Equally important is its importance in respect of broad-based economic development and community empowerment that are well-nigh impossible in the case of corporate-style agriculture. The common/public gain from peasant farming in terms social and institutional factors are not generally discussed in mainstream development discourse. For instance, an immediate outcome of corporate onslaught on agriculture is the growth of absentee land ownership, loss of employment for rural population, the draining off of income and wealth to urban centres, neglect of rural towns, wiping out of local trading shops, and all civic amenities such as rural roads, water supply, etc., leading to large-scale migration to urban centres, growth of slums and consequent social tensions.
- The ultimate of outcome these and other trends will be horrific concentration of land and rural assets in the hands of a few corporate agribusiness companies and their local junior partners. It will result in hitherto unknown levels of pauperisation of the peasantry, rapid rise in the number of unorganised/informal workers and slave labour and above all an unprecedented growth in unemployment and underemployment throughout the country.
The Political task
The historic farmers’ struggle in India against the three Farm Laws becomes significant in this context. While an all-out offensive to repeal these pro-corporate laws is the immediate need of the hour, in view of the emerging agricultural trends and consequent strengthening of both market and political power of corporates with far reaching consequences, progressive-democratic forces should go beyond that and should have an objective evaluation of the emerging scenario based on which a pro-active political approach against agricultural corporatisation should be put forward. That’s there are so many covert moves for surrendering agriculture to agribusiness which is the dominant trend today. What requires is a comprehensive initiative for sustaining peasant farming, focussing on the most challenging task of production of adequate food, protection of environment and ensuring quality of people’s lives.
To be precise, moving away from text-book oriented formulations and stereo-typed perspectives on agriculture on the one hand, and avoiding both establishmentarian and sectarian solutions on the other, the task is to develop a political alternative based on a comprehensive evaluation of the corporate threats that are multifarious and complex that cannot be resolved at the individual-farmer level. The core of such a people’s alternative is public/community intervention resolutely isolating the pro-corporate sections who are the logical enemies of a pro-people, pro-nature and sustainable agriculture. Instead, a scientific approach to peasant farming, focussing on the most challenging task of production of adequate food, protection of environment and ensuring of quality of people’s lives is to be evolved as part of a program of democratisation of the society. Discarding the mainstream model of development, a program of generating adequate employment in agriculture and allied sectors, including ‘professionalisation’ of agriculture for attracting youth, is to be put forward
Essential component of such a public intervention is removing the reactionary pro-corporate sections from land-ownership and assign it to landless peasant farmers whose principal means of livelihood is agriculture, along with the use of such land as ‘model farms’ under state supervision according to the concrete situation. Appropriate credit facilities and required input-output marketing linkages so as to eliminate exploitative are also required. In the present context where corporate-market forces are dominant, instead of leaving everything to individual farmers, they may be organised under cooperatives/peasant committees backed by the technical and financial support from the state which should also ensure adequate and appropriate agricultural-scientific research. Along with this urgent political intervention should be initiated to thwart superimposition of all World Bank and WTO dictated neoliberal agricultural policies that out-rightly serves corporate-agribusiness MNCs.
In brief, taking in to account these and related fast-moving developments in agriculture (of course, intertwined with other sectors), it is necessary to appropriately update and refresh the agrarian program.
May 26: Observe May 26 as Black Day, against the corporate fascist Modi government, declaring solidarity with the struggle of the farmers to oppose corporatization of agriculture, and with the people who are facing increasing agony under a government which do not bother to help them in this critical period, but use this also for increasing monopolization, making the divide between the rich and poor widest ever.
On this occasion joining with like minded forces organize all forms of protest possible according to present difficult pandemic conditions. At state level webinars can be organized to plan for advancing the movement against corporate fascist Modi in coming days.
As the Farmers’ Struggle to Repeal the 3 Farm Acts for Corporatization of Agriculture Gets Increasing support through Maha Panchayats, Modi Government Hatches More Conspiracies and Uses Fascist Terror to Oppose it!
Even after completing four months, the farmer’ siege of Delhi by the farmers’ movement is continuing more vigorously than ever. During this period the corporate fascist government of RSS/BJP led by Modi-Shah has used every weapon in their anvil to divide, defame and suppress it. It used Supreme Court also to intervene and weaken it. It used the isolated incidents during the massive rally of lakhs of farmers and lakh tractors on 26th January to unleash violence and to throw away the struggling farmers from around Delhi. But, when the farmers retaliated by expanding the scope of the movement by organizing Maha Panchayats all over the country, trying to involve all the farmers and other struggling sections of the people in the country in the movement, people effectively boycotting the BJP leaders in Punjab and Haryana, Modi found the second wave of the pandemic, forcible collection for Ram temple and raising Jai Sri Ram as the war cry of the RSS parivar are not sufficient to divert attention from his war of attrition with the farmers. So, he has decided to move out of Delhi, engaging fully in the campaign for the elections to the five state assemblies, especially in W. Bengal, to divert attention of the people. He is not leaving any stone unturned to win the elections especially in Bengal and to use it as a trump card to unleash another round of fascist terror to weaken and suppress the farmers’ movement. This is a great challenge, and the AIKSCC and SKM have decided to meet the challenge. They have given the slogan: No Vote to BJP and appealing to defeat it in all the states. This slogan which was already raised and popularized by the revolutionary left and struggling forces in these states got a further boost with the farmers’ leaders going to all the states and calling for the people to defeat BJP and its allies as a sign of solidarity with the farmers’ movement.
The RSS/BJP led Modi government is in desperate situation. It does not mean that it will lay down its arms and surrender. History teaches that the fascists shall try all heinous means to prolong their rule till they are hanged by the people or forced to shoot themselves. But in the present Indian situation, the Manuvadi Brahmanical fascist forces are still having the upper hand ideologically, culturally and politically within the ruling system. They have penetrated all sectors of administration through the domination of the Brahmanical upper caste sections who control more than 75% of the top layers of all departments, police, judiciary, armed forces. Their domination is more in the corporate sector and media. All institutions where the progressive elements had a say are entirely saffronized. All central agencies like CBI, ED, NIA etc are under RSS control and are used to win over, to terrorize and silent the opposition, or to throw them in to jail. Besides, as the RSS chief often boasts, RSS is not only working through the BJP, it has penetrated almost all the mainstream parties and even the leaders of the minority religions, the Savarna sections as I now happening in Kerala. It was easy for RSS to create this situation as not only Congress or other ruling class/regional parties, even the parliamentary left, all of whom pursuing soft Hindutva for vote bank politics, have never launched any campaign against RSS and its ideology; on the other hand all of them still pursue an appeasement policy towards RSS. So, the evolutionary left and struggling forces while mobilizing their full force to strengthen the farmers’ movement and for its victory, have to intensify the campaign and politicization against the RSS ideology and practice, the main prop of neoliberal corporate politics wielding political power in our country.
In the present situation, not only to mobilize the masses more widely and to make the farmers’ struggle victorious, besides helping to initiate movements of the working class and other sections to beat back attacks on them, the most important task is to build the broadest possible anti-fascist united platform of all forces opposed to BJP and its allies. At the same time, the revolutionary left and struggling forces have to wage an uncompromising campaign against the RSS ideology and practice, while putting forward an alternative program and line of action, to polarize the revolutionary forces. With this clear perspective let us rally as many forces as possible and spread the movement at all India level so that conditions can be created for the victory of the farmers’ movement against corporatization of agriculture.
Delhi police under central HM Amit Shah has a notorious of protecting the RSS goons who have openly called for butchering Muslims and political opponents during the anti-CAA movement, Delhi assembly elections, before Northeast Delhi riots and after the farmers denied permission to enter Delhi and present their demands to government started siege of the capital from 27th November. As a cover up for the sabotage planed by Amit Shah with top cops of Delhi and RSS goons to infiltrate and create violence including a raising of a religious flag at Red Fort, keeping its doors open and removing the military guards protecting it for a day, creating all the disturbances that happened by diverting a small fraction of the rally to this area by erecting barricades at strategic points, these criminals in Khaki, top bosses of Delhi cops have come out with a cock and bull story that it is a team of environmentalists in India, Disha Ravi, Nikita Jacob and Shantanu sharing a tool kit from Greta Thunberg who lead an environmental movement internationally, had conspired with Khalistanis to create disturbances and vandalize Delhi and its Red Fort on the rally day!
After creating all the disturbances that happened on 26th January killing a truck driver in police firing also using the RSS goons till afternoon, and then attacking the rallyists in its name, the Delhi police, which has the record of the horrific attacks on the Jamia and JNU students last year, and has not filed any FIR against anyone still, which had alleged the whole farmers movement as Khalistani led, and filed FIRs against all farm leaders for instigating all the criminal incidents on rally day, has now come out with this story and abducted Disha from her home and now searching for the other two who have sought bail from Mumbai High Court, to escape from Modi-Amit Shah teams’ fascistized police.
History teaches that, those who follow Hitler and Mussolini will definitely face the fate decided by the people. As it is the people who create history as they are already on the move in our vast country, no force on earth can save the fascists and their mercenaries from the fate going to be drafted by the great people of this country. Fascists always commit blunders which dig their own graves. Turning against the students and youth who are fighting for a new world, defeating the efforts of these fascists who are leading the earth to an ecological catastrophe, they have challenged all the students and youth of this country. Along with the struggling farmers and the working class who are also going to join the farmers soon, the new generation shall dig the graves for these enemies of humanity. We appeal to all compatriots to come out to oppose this fascist reign of terror; let us demand our voice against the witch hunt against the environmentalists; Let us demand immediate release of Disha Rawi!
CPI(ML) Red star
15th February 2021
Sunita Narain, Down to Earth (CSE)
As Indians break into 2021 with the fervent hope that it will be different from last year’s devastating pandemic, we have angry faces staring us down. Farmers — many thousands — have gathered peacefully at the doorsteps of the nation’s capital, demanding that the government repeal the recently formulated agriculture-related laws. There is a lot of noise on who is right and who is wrong. But this protest should challenge us to think — not as researchers or academics or even policy wonks, but as consumers of food that farmers grow.
The question we need to ask is why does the food that we consume need to be subsidised? Why are farmers, not just the ones camping in the bitter cold at the capital’s borders, but also the voiceless silent majority, demanding price support? Are they unproductive and lazy?
The fact is that across the world — even, and especially, in the rich world — agriculture is heavily funded by governments. Paris-based inter-governmental think-tank Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimates support to this sector through what it calls producer support, as a percentage of gross farming receipts.
It finds that in rich countries like Japan, South Korea, Norway and Iceland, producer support ranged between 40 and 60 per cent of the gross farming receipt in 2019. In the United States it is roughly 12 per cent and in the European Union (EU) it is 20 per cent.
But in India, the producer support — what the government pays as a percentage of the farming receipt — is actually negative (-5 per cent). In other words, the farming sector, owned and managed by some of the poorest people in the world, subsidises what we eat.
But that’s not all. Rich countries are also innovating fast to support their farming sector in the time of growing climate change risks — the payment is not paid directly for production, but is conditional to the farming sector adopting practices that are more sustainable.
The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy will now be directed towards ecosystem services payment to farmers. So, more subsidy, but with new names. In this way, almost all large food-producing countries include subsidies as part of their social and environmental welfare measures.
The subsidy may be given through direct payments to farmers or through support pricing for certain crops, or through investment into key agricultural inputs like water, fertilisers and seeds.
It is in this world that farmers of the poorer world — including those from India’s rich states of Punjab and Haryana — have to compete.
First, they are disadvantaged because they do not get the financial support needed to make farming lucrative. Second, when their crops become costly due to either extreme weather or other reasons of scarcity, the government steps in to import cheaper food. Our farmers suffer at both ends.
It is for this reason that farmers are demanding a minimum support price (MSP) as an insurance against price volatility. At present, there is no doubt that the system is broken. While MSP is fixed for 22 crops, in reality, it is used only for a few crops — wheat and paddy, where the government has a procurement system.
It is this reason that the farmers of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh are up in arms, fearing that the system will be disbanded. They grow wheat and rice that is mostly procured by the government.
But for the remaining crops, MSP is an empty promise. As my colleague Richard Mahapatra has analysed in his recent article on the farm support, the market does not end up paying the price that is required to the farmers.
According to the government’s own data, almost 70 per cent of the market transactions for 10 select crops in 600 wholesale markets were at prices lower than MSP.
The key issue is what should be the price of food? The fact is that the cost of inputs is increasing — from seeds and water to labour. Then there is the fact that the risks are increasing because of extreme weather due to climate change. In this way, farmers need to be paid both for the increased cost of growing food and for the increased risk of loss of crops.
Indian farmers invest huge amounts of private capital into building infrastructure for their operations, unlike any private company or industry. They pay to build irrigation facilities — more than half of the irrigated land uses groundwater. Some 19 million wells and tube wells have been built with private capital.
Nobody pays for this — in fact, the computation of MSP is rigged against the farmer because the government needs to ensure that the cost of food is cheap for its procurement system and stays affordable. The worst fear of any government is food inflation, as consumers then fret and fume.
This is when government imports food to drive down prices — food from rich countries, where food growing is subsidised and against whom our farmers cannot compete. It is time we talked about the real cost of our food, about how to benefit farmers who grow our food. This is not a business we can afford to lose.
This is what the farmers at our doorstep want us to discuss. Let’s not let them down.