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Farm Law Protest – Is the Green Revolution responsible for Farmers Protest in India?

Farm Law Protest – Is the Green Revolution responsible for Farmers Protest in India?

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  • GS3 || Economy || Agriculture || Green Revolution

Why in the news?

The Parliament has enacted three farm laws which aim at reforming Indian agriculture. The laws were boycotted by a large section of farmers contending that the intended reforms would allow privatisation of agriculture and eventually removal of the Minimum Support Price (MSP) system.

Background:

  • The Indian agriculture has been suffering from serious problems such as low investments, abysmal productivity, rural debt problems, fragmentation of lands, increased emission, etc.
  • In 2017, the central government brought in Model Acts suggesting essential reforms for states to implement in the agriculture sector. However, not much of these reforms were implemented by the states.
  • The central government therefore brought into effect three reformatory laws as the implementation of reforms by the States were found to be less than satisfactory in the farm sector.
  • A committee consisting of seven Chief Ministers was set up in 2019 by the NITI Aayog to discuss the implementation.
  • Accordingly, the central government promulgated three ordinances in June 2020, which dealt with agricultural produce, their sale, hoarding, agricultural marketing and contract farming reforms among other things.
  • These ordinances were converted into permanent laws in September 2020 when the President of India signed on them.

Crisis in Indian agriculture:

  • Fragmentation of land: The Agriculture Census in India, 2014, identified that farmers in India have small land holdings, one of the reasons they are not able to meet their needs. Two-thirds of the land holdings in the country are less than one hectare
  • Increasing farmers suicides: India reported a total 296,438 Indian farmers suicides between 1995 and 2017. In 2019, 10,281 people who work in the farming sector committed suicide.
  • Slower growth of rural economy: India’s most of the farming is done in rural parts of the country. The slower growth of economy, lack of employment opportunities in the rural sector etc. have also been plaguing the farm sector of India. A 2014 survey by Lokniti showed that around 40% of farmers were dissatisfied with their economic condition.
  • Lack of provisions for irrigation: Total irrigated area has been around 63 million hectares and constitutes only 45 per cent of the total area sown in the country. India has increased its capital expenditure in major projects by 3.5 times, while the investment in minor irrigation increased by 2.5 times only.
  • Sick fertiliser industry: Unpaid fertiliser subsidy bills to the industry have reached beyond Rs 40,000 Cr, and will likely reach Rs 48,000 Cr by the end of this fiscal year.
  • Dependency on Monsoon: In India, most of the agricultural areas are un-irrigated. Thus, it remains vulnerable to weather vagaries. The government has implemented the insurance scheme Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) but its implementation has been found less than satisfactory.
  • Impacts of Climate Change: Climate Change has taken a serious toll on the Indian agriculture. Reducing biodiversity, proliferation of crop diseases, increasing emission from agriculture, dropping productivity, etc, are some of the common problems in Indian agriculture.

Green Revolution: Is it responsible for the current crisis?

The Green Revolution in the 1960s was concerned mainly with increasing food grains production. The method of green revolution focused on three basic elements, that are:

  • Using seeds with improved genetics (High Yielding Variety seeds).
  • Double cropping in the existing farmland and,
  • The continuing expansion of farming areas

While the revolution indeed has been a major success as it did increase the food grains production in significant manner and made the country self-reliant in food production increasing the per hectare yield in the case of wheat from 850 kg per hectare to an incredible 2281 kg/hectare in its early stage, the revolution also caused germination of some problems in the Indian agricultural sector which still persists.

Problems caused by the Green Revolution:

  • Retardation of agricultural growth: The green revolution helped create an agricultural system which was not sustainable in the long-run. The over emphasis on input factors such as government subsidies based fertilisers, HYVs, ignorance towards traditional farming methods etc. have made the agriculture system more vulnerable to natural factors such as climate change, disasters etc.
  • Regional dispersal of the evolution created regional inequalities: The benefits of the green revolution remained concentrated in the areas where the new technology was used. Moreover, since the revolution for the number of years remained limited to wheat production, its benefits were mostly accrued only to wheat-growing areas
  • Interpersonal inequalities between large and small scale farmers: The new technologies introduced during the revolution called for substantial investments which were beyond the means of a majority of small farmers. Farmers having large farmlands continued to make greater absolute gains in income by reinvesting the earnings in farm and non-farm assets, purchasing land from the smaller cultivators, etc.
  • Rural debt problems: Due to lack of access to affordable credit for the small and marginal farmers which are the majority of farmers in India, they were depended on local money lenders for agricultural debt often with exorbitant charges. This created a huge rural debt problem which is manifesting in increasing incidences of farmer suicides.
  • Environmental damage: The environmental damage done by the green revolution is often under highlighted. The increases achieved by the Green Revolution have created several environmental problems, viz. deforestation, waterlogging, salinity, alkalinity, soil erosion and decline and rise of the ground water table linked to brackish water, etc.
  • Restrictions in the agriculture sector: The present problems such as the APMC Acts, politicisation of MSP, etc. are caused by the green revolution itself. During its early days, MSP and APMCs were required for the implementation of each other. While the MSP assured farmers a certain price and buyback guarantee by the government, it also allowed the government to procure food-grain for its food security programmes.

These problems are not just affecting the agricultural sector but also compounding it over a period of time. The states quo was thus sought to be changed by the government through the recently enacted three farm laws, which allow farmers to:

  1. buy and sell grain outside the designated APMCs,
  2. enter into contracts with firms to sell their harvest, and
  3. stockpile grain without being prosecuted for hoarding.

Why are the farmers protesting then?

  • Political distrust: While the farm laws aim at introducing greater flexibility in the agricultural marketing system, the manner and timing of the Acts reflects greater political distrust between government and farmers. The three key legislations were passed with voice votes in Rajya Sabha.
  • Fear of losing the existing buyback agricultural guarantee system: The farmers fear that the MSP will become ineffective in the absence of a mandatory APMC-based procurement system. Since the Acts prohibits the State government from imposing any tax on markets outside the APMCs, the farmers fear that without government agents, private actors may not honour the MSP on flimsy pretexts
  • Protests against corporatisation of agriculture: The farmers have been vociferously protesting against full subversion of agriculture to corporates because they fear that in absence of government intervention, the corporates can exploit them on artificial grounds.
  • Lack of understanding: While the farmers groups have been opposing the farm laws, nothing in their demands suggests any plans to alter the cropping status quo. They want the Green Revolution model to be maintained, just with more subsidies.

Way out:

  • From various empirical studies, it is clear now that the green revolution model of Indian agriculture is not sustainable anymore.
  • The stakeholders have to explore other ways for sustainable agriculture in a consensual manner.
  • Government needs to address the underpinned socio-economic maladies such as poverty, low per capita income, gender inequality, social inequality, inequity, etc. first before embarking upon the key reform policies.
  • Technology should also be utilised effectively to increase the farmers income and mitigate the emission in the agriculture sector.
  • Traditional farming methods such as Koraput Farming (A Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System) must be encouraged. Organic farming should also be promoted for sustainable agriculture.
  • International cooperation is must to ensure greater agricultural-industry makes linkages.
  • Overall, the ground has to be prepared first before one seeks to change the status quo in as critical a sector as Indian agriculture where nearly half of the Indian population is involved for their livelihood.

Model Mains Question:

  1. Critically discuss the reasons behind the ongoing farmers protests in India. Do you think the Green Revolution is majorly responsible for the problems in Indian agriculture sector?