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.
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.
FARMERS' STRUGGLE AGAINST CORPORATIZATION OF AGRICULTURE INTENSIFIES
UNDER the initiative of Sanyukta Kisan Morcha (Joint Farmers Front)m which coordinates more than 500 farmers’ organizations from all states of India and which includes All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), the famers in India are waging a relentless struggle against the three black Acts enacted by the RSS/BJP government bulldozing them through both houses of parliament, especially through the upper house, the Rajya Sabha where a vote was not allowed even when these bills had no majority support. These three Acts are: 1). Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020. 2). Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020. 3.) Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020. The farmers and all progressive agricultural experts like P Sainath were repeatedly explaining, and the farmers from their experience have learned that these Acts will put an end to government procurement of agricultural products, with frequently reviewed Minimum Support Price (MSP) through Agricultural produce Marketing Cooperatives (APMCs) and will throw them to the mercy of the giant corporates. When farmers are committing suicides in big numbers in most of the states due to economic crisis already, this corporatization, they fear, shall lead to their total ruin.
In India there is a regulatory system for food distribution that has been built up since the 60s. It consists of many Government regulated market yards (APMCs) all over the country. Farmers can take their produce to such market yards to avoid being cheated by the traders. The produce is weighed and sold at a price which is fixed by open auction. Further, the Government had set up the PDS (public distribution system) which provides ration to all citizens. For this the Government had to set a MSP (minimum support price) for each product – rice, wheat, pulses, etc – every year. The Government had to set up a procurement machinery. The FCI (Food Corporation of India) was set up which stores crores or tonnes of grains. Also corporations like the Warehousing corporation etc.
This was still felt to be insufficient both for the farmers and the consumers. For the farmers many commissions were set up. The Swaminathan Commission has suggested that the MSP should be fixed such that the farmer will get 50% profit over the cost of production. In fact the manifesto of the BJP in the last election had promised to implement this. For the consumers, after much struggle, under orders from the Supreme Court the Government of India has enacted, in September 2013 (effective July 2013), the National Food Security Act which promises to provide subsidized food-grains to two thirds of the population of India. All this was also not really sufficient. Farmers in our country are still among the poorest and people are still dying of hunger.
There has always been pressure from imperialist countries, through the WTO and other organisations, on our Govt. to dismantle this system. They wanted that food should be subject to an “open” market like any other commodity. In reality they know that food is the final captive market – human beings cannot live without food – and therefore they want to control this market.
The Modi Government has enacted laws which threaten even the meagre regulatory system. Big multinational food conglomerates are to be allowed to enter the market. The rules of the APMC will now be restricted to the premises within the four walls of the market yard. Outside the market yard the big corporations will be free to enforce their own writ. The effect on the farmers will be devastating. It is not only their produce that will be looted but the big corporates will enslave them by telling them what they should grow, what seed they should use, what fertiliser, etc. These laws were made unconstitutionally by Parliament though “agriculture” is a state subject
This will not only affect farmers (and of course the agricultural workers who are dependent on them) but also workers and the common persons. With the dismantling of APMCs and large corporations like Fci, millions of jobs will be lost. With the removal of price controls food inflation which is already very high will shoot through the roof. And the effect is not only economic. With big corporations controlling our economy the very democratic fabric of our country will be affected. For example, when large Government corporations are closed and private players move in thousands of reserved jobs will be lost. In short, these bills, like the labour codes, threaten the very independence and sovereignty of India – they threaten to obliterate the poor and weak sections of society and remove the very last vestige of democratic society that may exist.
When the Congress-led UPA government had initiated this move under pressure from the corporate forces, the farmers all over the country had started agitating and the UPA govt was forced to stop the move. The corporate like Ambani and Adani within the country, and MNCs heavily funded BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and Modi govt came to power. But, as it had no majority in the upper house, its implementation was delayed. In 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, these three Acts were first issued as an Ordinance, without bothering for consulting the farmers’ organizations or opposition parties. Against this, the farmers, especially from Punjab and Haryana, where the farming is done in developed form and where they are best organized, had started protesting through various forms. Recently this same government has passed four labour codes which basically introduce “hire and fire” and remove many of the protections given to workers. Most trade unions (including those associated with the BJP and its partners) have been agitating against these. These were the cause of the major strike on 26th November.
On the same day in September that Parliament passed these labour codes, the three acts against farmers were also passed. Notably, the opposition had declared a boycott of parliament on that day and had called for a day of protest. All opposition parliament members were outside taking part in the protests. At such a time, these acts were pushed through both houses of parliament and made into laws.
Soon after this the AIKSCC which was formed against the Ordinance, launched state level campaigns and then various struggles while asking the central government to revoke them. At this time, the BJP government gave another blow to the farmers abolishing the subsidy they were getting for the electricity, and introduces the Electricity Bill 2020 which stipulates that the farmers also should give the pwer charges equal to industrialists. So, the agitation against the 3 Farm Acts and the Electricity Bill 2020 soon spread all over the country, and in Punjab and Haryana took massive forms. As the central government has enacted these laws in the field of agriculture, which is a state subject according to Constitution, the state governments led by opposition parties announced that they will not implement it. Still the fascist BJP government was not prepared to re-consider them. So, the AIKSC decided to give a Delhi Chalo call all organizations to send members to Delhi on 26-27 November.
Following all India campaign and public announcements when the farmers’ started marching to Delhi on 25th November, especially hundreds of thousands of them including very large number of women farmers from Punjab, who had already paralyzed the railway services through the state, at the behest of central government the BJP led Haryana govt put strong barricades, dug out the roads, and as the marchers were still moving ahead breaking all obstacles, they were water cannoned, lathi charged and hundreds of tear-gas shells were fired at them. Still, overcoming all these the farmers started reaching the borders of Delhi, the national capital. When they were asked to move to a ground near a Gurudwara (Sikh shrine), recognizing the trap to make it as an open jail, they refused. The very large number of farmers have come with their tractors and trailers with food for six months and cloths and bed to brave the very cold climate. This march by the farmers’ organizations and the general strike of tens of millions of workers on 26th November demanding the repeal of the four labour codes were a big challenge to the RSS/BJP forces.
Though three rounds of discussions took place with the government delegation, as the government is not ready to accept the four core demands, the AIKSC called for a Bharat Bandh on 8th December. All opposition parties, and revolutionary left organizations including CPI(ML) Red Star, along with a large number of class/mass organizations supported this call while large number of workers, students, youth, women and oppressed sections participated making it a great success. Roads into Delhi were blocked upto 3 pm and farmers and workers and youth held demonstrations in various parts of India. Angered by it, the home minister Amit Shah met the leaders of AIKSCC in the night and told them that only amendments shall be accepted, the anti-farmer Acts will not be repealed and Electricity Bill will not be withdrawn. Responding to this arrogant approach, the AIKSCC has called for intensifying the struggle making the protest programs countrywide, boycott all Jio, Reliance and Adani products including Sim cards, to block other roads to Delhi and close down all toll gates. It has become something like a do or die struggle, and in coming days various steps shall be taken to compel the government to accept the farmers’ demands.
What is happening is a mass upsurge of the farmers against the corporatization of agriculture to serve the crony capitalists like Ambani and Adani using Manuvadi Hindutva as an ideological cover. The farmers have decided to go forward with the struggle prepared to face all consequences. From 14th December the BJP offices will be gheraoed by the farmers. This is an all-out move to intensify the movement.
The Central Committee of CPI (ML) Red Star and all class/mass organizations in which party comrades are active, has extended full solidarity with the farmers’ struggle. The All India Krantikari Kisan Sabha (AIKKS). The Central Committee has called for focusing all activities in order to strengthen the farmers’ movement in the coming days also.) politically led by the party is a constituent in the AIKSCC. The Party has mobilized hundreds of farmers, agricultural workers and other sections and actively worked for the success of the Bharat Bandh.
If the corporate fascist government of Modi is thinking that this movement can be suppressed, it is going to be big folly for the RSS/BJP. It will only weaken the unity of the different peoples in this multi-national country. In this critical situation, CPI(ML) Red Star is trying to mobilize all like-minded forces to help the AIKSCC to achieve its demands.
MILLIONS of agitating farmers have laid an unprecedented siege on Indian capital, New Delhi demanding unconditional repeal of the three pro-corporate farm laws – the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020. They have even demanded a special session of the Indian parliament to accomplish this without delay. In spite of the government’s willingness to bring about certain amendments such as ensuring of safeguards against land alienation via contract farming, strengthening state-run mandi system, allowing grievance redress in civil courts, etc., in the absence of a legal guarantee on the part of the Modi regime for strengthening the mandis and minimum support price (MSP) system and safeguards against the entry of corporate agribusiness, the peasants are determined to carry forward their struggle without any let up. Of course, Modi government’s intention to bring out a new set of farm laws was mentioned by Nirmala Sitharaman in May 2020 while proposing the third tranche of the Rs. 20 lakh crore pro-corporate “fiscal stimulus” package of “Atmanirbhar Bharat”. It was in continuation of this that on June 5th 2020 the government issued Ordinances opening up India’s agricultural sector to global corporates and their Indian cronies like Ambani and Adani. And using COVID as a cover, without pursuing any of the established parliamentary procedures, the hurriedly convened parliament meeting in September converted the three Ordinances in to Acts.
Among these draconian laws, the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020, aims at establishing free trade or barrier-free inter-state and intra-state trade and commerce outside the physical premises of the agricultural markets or mandis under the Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMCs) established by state governments. That is, under the Act, freedom is given to farmers to sell outside the mandi area. The government claims that such free movement will allow the farmers to link themselves with the vast Indian and global markets and get a better price for their produce from markets outside the mandi area. However, it would be practically impossible for the marginal and small peasants with per capita land ownership of less than 2 hectares comprising more than 86.2 per cent of Indian peasantry to take their farm produce to different states and markets even at higher prices, as they are devoid of any transport facilities and already being tied up with local money lenders. In such a situation, elimination of mandis in the guise of liberating peasants from “mandi middlemen” is nothing but leaving the local agricultural markets to be pried open by corporate businesses and black marketers. After all, as everybody knows, the mandi system operates only in a few states and majority of the farmers are at the mercy of private traders. However, in spite of many drawbacks, it is the system of APMCs and mandis that have enabled the farmers of Punjab and other states to maintain a minimum standard of living as they are getting stable income through MSPs. What is required is to strengthen the regulatory mechanism rather than demolishing it.
The second, viz., the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020 claims that it will “empower farmers for engaging with processors, wholesalers, aggregators, wholesalers, large retailers, exporters etc., on a level playing field without any fear of exploitation. It will transfer the risk of market unpredictability from the farmer to the sponsor and also enable the farmer to access modern technology and better inputs. It will reduce cost of marketing and improve income of farmers.” The obvious agenda behind this claim is to open up the avenues for contract farming and speed up the corporate take-over of the entire agriculture including corporatisation of land itself. The farmers, on the other hand, will not be able to bargain or compete with the big corporates and eventually turn into their slaves. According to this Act, the farmers are forbidden to seek justice through civil courts from violations of agreement by corporate agribusiness. Instead of involving the judicial system for rectifying legal violations by big companies, the Modi government has entrusted the task with joint secretaries and district magistrates, which is nothing but an ingenious move towards corporate-bureaucrat nexus. Leaving dispute settlement to bureaucracy, in effect, is a violation of the legal system and rule of law itself.
And the third Law, viz., the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020, removes food grains and other essentials of life from the list of Essential Commodities altogether. Abolition of state control over Essential Commodities by this obnoxious law is eulogised by Modi regime as “the freedom to produce, hold, move, distribute and supply will lead to harnessing of economies of scale and attract private sector/foreign direct investment into agriculture sector. It will help drive up investment in cold storages and modernisation of food supply chain.” This Act throws open unfettered freedom for the big corporate houses to hoard and stock food grains leading to artificial shortage and accumulation of speculative profit. This amendment to the Essential Commodities Act will also allow speculative hoarding and future trading of food grains by Ambani and Adani-like speculators. It is not against the farming community alone. Together with government withdrawal from food procurement (FCI warehouses are already taken over by Ambanis and Adanis), even the namesake public distribution system in the country will become meaningless through the first two laws. Abolition of Essential Commodities Act will allow corporate retailers through their nation-wide network of retail outlets to wipe out the 50 million small and petty retailers and kirana shops upon which roughly 200 million people of India depend for their sustenance.
As a facilitator of the most corrupt corporate-crony capital in India, and perfectly in tune with logic of corporate capital, the far-right Modi regime has superimposed the farm laws in a fascistic manner without adhering to the usual parliamentary debates and procedures, or even subjecting them to the standing committees and consultative mechanisms of parliament. No consultation was there with political parties or farmers’ organisations and even the State governments were completely sidelined and their opinion was not sought despite agriculture being in the State list as per the Constitution. As many constitutional experts have pointed out, the farm laws are “unconstitutional” and “illegal”. Demolition of mandis and APMCs till controlled by State governments is tantamount to taking over State’s federal powers. Though in a different form, the same methodology was pursued in superimposing the GST, the biggest neoliberal tax reform that took away the States’ federal right of resource mobilization after entrustingcountry’s economy with corporate big businesses who control the unified pan-Indian market for goods and services.
Today Bihar is a typical example to grasp about the consequences of abolishing APMCs and unleashing private corporate sector on trade in agriculture. It was in 2006 that the Nitish Kumar government repealed the APMC Act in 2006. The declared objective of APMC abolition in Bihar was to ensure better prices for farmers in the state and attract larger sums of private investment in developing state-wide agricultural infrastructure such as cold storages, warehouses, etc. However, contrary to expectations, deregulation led to an increase in storage costs in warehouses owned and operated by private traders, and the prices received by farmers also went down substantially. Often, farmers on account of immediate cash needs were compelled to sell much of their paddy, wheat, maize, mustard and even banana at throwaway prices to private traders, while farmers have completely lost whatever little control they had in the marketing boards of erstwhile APMCs. Earlier, while marketing committees in APMCs could monitor trade, tax collection for government, etc. Though PACS (Primary Agriculture Credit Society) were there for procuring food grains at MSP, the government did not maintain them with adequate support. Money lenders and middlemen could easily take advantage of the situation and often bought crops at prices that was even below 25 percent of prevailing MSP. To be precise, abolition of APMCs has brought back the system of money lending and usurer financing in Bihar agriculture in more intensified manner.
In this context, Modi regime’s superimposition of privatization-corporatisation on agriculture in the guise of farmers’ freedom is in contravention of the perspective upheld by all those who are concerned with the sustenance of Indian farming community. For, the National Commission on Agriculture had in 1976 in its Report suggested that every Indian farmer should have access to a mandi controlled by the respective Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee. It found that only 29 percent of paddy and 44 percent of wheat produced in the country was sold in mandis established by State governments and hence asked the central government to take appropriate steps to increase the number of mandis from 4145 (in 1976, the year in which the Report was prepared) to at least 41000 so as to reduce the average area served by a mandi to 80 sq. km. But India had only 6630 mandis spread across 18 states in 2019 with an average area served of 463 sq. km. In fact, even government circles in 2017 were of the view that India should have at least 10130 mandis. Moreover, though government website claims the prevalence of MSP system for 27 items including 7 cereals, 5 pulses and 8 oil seeds, in practice, only a few items like paddy, wheat, sugarcane, etc. that too only in a few States come under this procurement. Moreover, experience has brought out many loopholes of the existing mandi system since in many cases, payment of MSP for notified commodities even inside designated mandis is not mandatory.
On the other hand, with its far-right economic orientation, since its ascendance in mid-2014, the Modi government has been keen to open up India’s vast agriculture sector to corporate capital. For instance, in November 2019, the Union Finance Minister without any qualm stated that the APMC system has “served its purpose” and the State governments should “reject” and “dismantle” mandis. In continuation of this, when COVID-19 came, taking it as an opportunity, the NITI Aayog had recommended to the government that the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) Act be kept in suspended animation in view of the Covid-19 outbreak. And as noted earlier, Finance Minister’s announcement for corporatizing agriculture as part of ‘Atmanirbhar’ was in continuation of this. The NITI Aayog had suggested its implementation across states even through the ordinance route “to ease pressure on farmers” and ensure smooth supply of farming goods.
It is in tune with this proposal that, the June ordinances came and Modistarted, including in his ‘Manki Bat’, regularly speaking about liberating farmers from the clutches of mandis and APMCs that deny them the higher prices prevailing outside regulated markets. Therefore, whatever be the Modi government’s assurances on support price and mandis, they are only for hoodwinking the farmers. And the agitating peasants are able to realise the essence of his hollow promises (Modi’s promise in 2014 was of doubling farmers income within 5 years; instead what happened was its halving, whereas the wealth of Ambanis and Adanis, Modi’s closest Gujarati friends and the biggest Indian corporates quadrupled during 2014-19), as the stage is already set for unbridled penetration of global and Indian corporate agri-businesses as well as retail giants into all aspects of agriculture including control over land and input-output markets, encompassing production, processing, storage and trade. Once mandis and MSP are demolished, Ambanis and Adanis, for whom Modi had already leased out FCI infrastructures including land and go-downs in many parts of the country, will be in complete control of everything connected with food grains market. Private trains owned by retail giants including Ambanis and Adanis hence forth will carry food grains and essential agricultural items directly procured from farms controlled by them to be hoarded in their go-downs in strategic locations to be sold at inflated prices through commodity markets and retail outlets under their firm control. It is this political understanding on the corporate undertones behind Modi’s Farm laws that prompts the agitating peasants to target the business establishments of Ambani and Adani. Coupled with corporatisation of farming and repeal of 1955 Essential Commodities Act, the unleashing of corporate forces over everything connected with agriculture envisage the death knell for farmers, retail traders, working class and all toiling masses in the country.
The three farm laws—superimposing corporate raj or corporate take-over of the entire Indian agriculture and abolishing even namesake guarantee of minimum prices to farmers, facilitating hoarding and black marketing and speculation/ futures trade in agricultural commodities, laying red carpet for uncontrolled entry of corporate agribusiness to farm sector, eventually leading to corporate land acquisition and hitherto unknown levels of displacement of the peasantry from agriculture—have now become the biggest offensives against Indian people by Modi govt. If the farm laws are not resisted and defeated, there is the likelihood of Modi once again bringing back the notorious Land Acquisition legislation that was abandoned in 2015 in view of people’s resistance. The outcome of all these will be an uninterrupted mass exodus of the displaced millions from the countryside to be deployed at the cheapest wage in informal/unorganised sectors subcontracted by corporate financiers and speculators in urban and semi-urban centres.
Of course, the international dimensions of Modi’s targeting of agriculture are also important. In continuation of the market access provisions and global integration of agricultural markets as per the provisions of the Agreement on Agriculture at WTO, which was further revised in 2015, member countries are bound to remove all barriers to free trade in agriculture. And together with the latest Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) of WTO, World Bank and IMF at the behest of agribusiness MNCs have been pressurising Modi for an aggressive rolling back of all kinds of public intervention in agricultural market including MSP schemes. The US Department of Agriculture is reported to have expressed its happiness over Modi’s Farm Laws as they envisage new opportunities for American agribusiness corporations. While the percent of population depending on agriculture in developed countries where agriculture has already been corporatized now hovers around 2 percent, in India it is still around 50 percent. According to the advice of far- right neoliberal centres, Modi regime is engaged in removing this ‘anomaly’ by forcible transformation of subsistence agriculture to corporate farming.
On the other hand, imperialist powers such as US and EU have their country-specific rules and regulations to protect their agriculture and have even succeeded to incorporate specific clauses to that effect in WTO provisions. However, instead of wholeheartedly uniting with other dependent countries to overcome the unequal set of rules at WTO that favour the big powers, Modi government is faithfully pursuing WTO diktats undermining India’s food security on the one hand, and destitution and displacement of 56. 7 percent of India’s total workforce and 86.08 percent of small and marginal peasants (based on 10th Agriculture Census, 2015-16) who own only 47 percent of the total crop area, on the other. Thus Modi’s farm laws are an ingenious move to superimpose agricultural corporatisation leading to not only pauperisation of the entire peasantry but also the displacement of millions and millions of pauperised peasants from even their small landholdings. That’s, unprecedented displacement of rural people from agriculture, their mass exodus from country-side to urban centres and swelling in the ranks of the informal working class are imminent. Over the past two decades, on account of the crisis in agriculture- due to lack of adequate output prices, crop failure, rising input costs, debt, etc.- more than 330000 peasants had to commit suicide. While the situation under Modi, on account of anti-peasant policies, has worsened further (A source from Oxford University’s South Asia Area Studies puts the number of India’s peasant suicides at 10281 in 2019 alone), the National Crime Records Bureau has stopped releasing data on peasant suicides.
To be precise, the ongoing historic struggle by Indian farmers is not for their sustenance alone; it is for the very survival of the broad masses, for their badly needed food security. By eliminating Mandis and APMCs which are characterised as middlemen by Modi regime, the agenda is to abolish food grain procurement altogether and hand over the existing FCI infrastructure (food is rotting in FCI go downs even as people are starving to death) to corporate retail giants like Ambanis and Adanis who have already started storing food grains in warehouses owned by FCI and leased out to them, as already noted. For instance, today the turnover of Ambani, India’s biggest corporate company, from agricultural trade alone(including commodity futures trade, a euphemism for hoarding and speculation) alone is estimated at Rs. 1.6 lakh crore (which is around 25 percent of Ambani’s current wealth accumulation which also is one component in the sudden shoot up in his wealth during COVID-19 pandemic). At present Ambani’s Reliance Fresh has 625 outlets that sells more than 180000 ton vegetables in a year. Ambani’s Jio Mart has already brought 12 crore farmers, 6 crore small industries and 3 crore traders in its pan-Indian network.
Coming to the case of Adani, who had only 44 projects across India in 2013, increased them to 99 by 2018. Since 2015, like Ambani, Adani also has made huge investments in agricultural processing and now owns 40 units with a processing capacity of 16000 tons per day. Adani Agro Logistics Ltd (AALL) has evolved as the key infrastructure builder for FCI leading to its probable take-over by the former. Along this, futures trade and consequent hoarding in essential agricultural items have been introduced by the regime, even otherwise. If not resisted and defeated, the full-fledged corporatisation of agriculture will form the basis of corporate-saffron fascism leading unmanageable havoc in India.
And, as elsewhere, this no holds barred agricultural corporatisation envisaged is integrally linked up with Modi’s “digital India” or digitisation prognosis that is transforming India into a dumping ground for US digital giants like Facebook and Google through the digital platform offered by Ambani. The entire marketing arrangements under the proposed agricultural regime led by corporate agribusiness will be through digital payments or cashless transactions. Many digital and fintech tools such as Aadhaar, payment apps, debit-credit cards, and digital platforms such as Jio (as junior partner of Facebook), etc. will become mandatory for peasants to enter in to virtual transactions with agribusiness giants (Modi is systematically moving ahead with his effort to wipe out public sector bank branches from the countryside.
During 2014-19 the number of public sector banks has been reduced from 27 to 12 and is to be further pruned to a maximum of 4 as envisaged by the neoliberal banking reforms and green signal for corporate-led private banks is already issued).As in the case of GST, for the smooth functioning of the proposed agricultural corporatisation, the Central government is facilitating a pan-Indian national electronic trade regime with the State governments having little say in it. And the existing mandi system and traditional procurements under State administration, even if allowed to continue, will be wiped out or become insignificant as the digitised “free trade area” facilitated by the Central regime advances further.
To sum up, therefore, the Indian farmers’ agitation is not confined to agriculture alone, it is a political struggle having far-reaching ramifications. It is against corporate fascism as well as against the logic of most corrupt speculative finance capital underlying it. The peasants of India who personally know the exploitative character of corporate-agribusiness better than others have unequivocally rejected Modi’ Farm Laws. They are capable enough to foresee the trap behind them and can comprehend the true essence of the so called virtues of technocratic governance proposed by Modi and his corporate-bureaucratic advisers.
Therefore, it is the solemn duty of the Indian working class and all oppressed to unite and march ahead with the struggling peasants who are repeatedly demanding a full revocation and not an of the anti-peasant legislations.