size of the services and corporate sectors has further marginalised India’s agriculture sector.
In India, in September 2020 the farm laws were passed by Parliament and the government did not seek advice from farmers’ organisations. There three laws associated with agriculture regarded issues such as hoarding, minimum support prices, and contract farming. The growing size of the urban middle class, and demand for processed food has risen sharply in recent years. Also, processed food could also be exported to other countries. The ruling elites have considered the neo-liberal policy to be the best option and a desirable solution for Indian agriculture. It is hoped that it will increase corporate investment in the agricultural sector.
The ‘new farm laws’ will gradually remove the government regulation of agricultural markets and will remove limits on stockpiling of agricultural commodities, and deregulate minimum support prices. In agriculture, the withdrawal of government support prices will dampen prices of agricultural commodities during the harvest period and the hoarders will be able to raise prices later on. Not only the farmers have to sell at lower prices, but consumers have to buy food at higher prices from the market. As a result, this will leave the agriculture sector at the mercy of corporations, and undermine, if not destroy, the public food distribution system and small scale family farms cultivation and will have long-term severe consequences on India’s rural population.
Naseemo Kaur (left) shouts slogans during a protest in the Moag area of Punjab, India, on Oct. 1.
Moreover, nearly 70% of India’s 1.3 billion people depend on agriculture for their livelihoods and 800 million of them have relied on public food distribution during Covid-19. India’s agrarian economy has already been in crisis for over a decade due to rising farmers’ suicides, and indebtedness of farmers to banks and private money lenders. The agriculture sector is also currently severe under-invested and suffers from low farm prices. Under neoliberal reforms, the government started reducing support to the agriculture sector gradually. The reforms also reduced the support to health and education, which affected farmers as well. When agriculture became capital-intensive, the fixed costs for mechanised agriculture increased sharply. The small farmer could not afford this and went into a debt crisis.
The main reason for high indebtedness in rural Punjab seems to be the increasing gap between incomes and costs. For small farmers the main source of income is what they receive after agricultural produce is sold at the MSP, but because the produce is usually not procured at the ‘guaranteed’ prices, farmers’ tend to face losses. While withdrawal of government subsidies has led to the increase in the prices of agricultural inputs. And if the government regulated MSP is removed, the recent study on small farms (Wire 2021) notes: “this will affect the incomes of the farmers. With a rise in input costs and a fluctuating income, farmers will be forced to take more loans... Big corporations may not snatch land away worldfinancialreview.com 55