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.
Delhi Police And Those Criminal Elements Who Infiltrated In The Rally Are Responsible For The Violence!
Do Not Allow Modi Government, RSS Parivar And Godi Media To Divert Attention From The Central Issue, Repeal Of Three Farm Acts, To Vandalism, For Which They Are Responsible!
Rally In Support Of Repeal Of The Three Farm Acts And The Farmers’ Struggle Till It Is Achieved!
CPI(ML) Red Star extends revolutionary greetings to the hundreds of thousands of farmers and supporters who organized a mighty rally along with thousands of tractors through the streets of Delhi reiterating their demand for repeal the 3 farm laws for corporatization of agriculture.
Earlier, after the Supreme Court asked the Delhi police to take decision on allowing the rally, the Delhi police and central home ministry under Amit Shaw were consciously creating confusion, repeating that permission will not be allowed either inside Delhi or through the outer ring road, forcing the Kisan Sangharsh Morcha to declare that whether permission is given or not they will organize the rally. It was at this stage, Delhi police came forward announcing permission for the rally and through mutual discussion three routes were agreed upon. The KSM and AIKSCC leaders made all arrangements accordingly.
But from 26th morning the police tried to create problems by not removing the barricades as agreed upon; instead they strengthened the barricades in the night and erected numerous other barricades on the way. Enraged by it the farmers who had endured all difficulties for last 61 days in the bitter cold conditions during which more than 150 of their comrades became martyrs, decided to break the barricades and march in to Delhi.
By 9.30 they broke the barricades at Singhu, Tikri and Gazipur borders and started the march with the farmers on foot in the front and tractors next. But the police and other security wings created provocations lathi charging and firing tear gas shells on the farmers near Azadpur by-pass and Nangloi, and killing a farmer in police firing near ITO. Along with this some criminal elements infiltrated the rally and tried to create disturbances allegedly with the knowledge of police and RSS parivar.
Because of these disturbances some of the farmers were provoked, forcing them to march up to ITO, Red Fort and some other spots in the city. Utilising these incidents the spoke persons of Modi government, RSS parivar and Godi media have started malicious propaganda that farmers resorted to vandalism, diverting attention from the fact that in spite of the participation of so many lakhs of people, vast majority of them maintained discipline as instructed by their leaders, and it was the provocation from the police and the acts of the criminal infiltrators responsible for whatever disturbances happened.
There is a conscious effort by these forces and Amit Shah to use these disturbances in order to divert attention from the central demand of the many lakhs of people who rallied in Delhi and the many more lakhs who rallied in Mumbai, Kolkata and other centers calling for repeal of the three farm laws for corporatization of agriculture.
We appeal to the working class, all oppressed classes and sections of people to reject this conspiracy of the corporate fascist Modi government to malign the farmers movement against corporatization and to firmly stand behind the demand of the farmers for the repeal of these farm laws with the slogans given above.
Today (5thJanuary) is the 41st day of the historic farmer’s struggle for repealing the 3 farm acts which will lead to corporatization of the entire agriculture sector, devastating not only the farmers’ life, but also lead to collapse of food security, winding up of the Food Corporatization of India and to the end of the Public Distribution System. According to latest reports already 50 farmers have become martyrs during this bitter struggle in extreme cold days, the situation made worse by the last two days’ heavy rain. The indefinite hunger strike by two farmers have reached the 22nd day. Many women are participating in day hunger strike. Still, braving cold and the heavy rains the struggle is continuing and more and more people are joining it.
Though Modi is pretending that he is not perturbed by the farmers’ struggle and treat it with contempt, recognizing the seriousness of the steps to be taken to disperse such a large number of people. So, the discussion drama is repeated in meaningless form, in which the farmers’ organizations repeat their demands to repeal the 3 farm acts and the Electricity Bill 2020, and Modi’s men repeating that clause by clause discussion is needed. It is a dirty tactic of Modi to prolong the agitation and thus forcing them to withdraw the struggle. Modi and the RSS/ BJP goons are meanwhile spreading more lies and slanders against the movement. Now it is abundantly clear that Modi is not ready to repeal these black acts and the struggling forces have to force him to do so. It calls for intensification of the struggle, not only at the borders of Delhi, but all over India.
When Modi is repeating that the struggle is by farmers from Punjab and Haryana only, we have to make the ongoing district and state level programmes more powerful exposing his lies. It is in this context we are appealing to all forces opposed to corporatization of agriculture to convert the 23rd January Netaji Day March to all Raj Bhavans to March followed by Gherao of the Raj Bhavans till 26th January, when the farmers and supporters shall break the barricades and march to parliament. Let us expand the resistance and the siege continued heroically so far around Delhi in to a resistance at state level also.
CPI (ML) Red Star
5th January 2021
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.