By Vinay Karwa*
March 9th 2021
Roti, kapda and makaan are the basic needs of mankind and India is a country with more than 50% of its workforce employed in agriculture to cater to the need of food. This makes the recent three farm laws extremely important for every individual in the country.
Interacting with farmers in Marathwada region of Maharashtra and social activist Yuvraj Gatkal, I found, there are many apprehensions amongst the farmers regarding the farm laws. Regarding the contract farming, the farmers are expected to use the raw materials (seeds, fertilizers, pesticides) at their own cost and the ones recommended by contract firm.
There is no clear mention about whether farmers will be paid in advance to buy them or they have any decision stake in crop choice, irrigation methods, fixing the prices. The security or insurance in case of calamities or unfavourable weather conditions is ambiguous.
The farmers are more aware about soil quality and fertility, crop rotation patterns of their land based on years of experience. A sudden interruption by a contract firm might lead to conflict or decline in productivity (as the firm’s recommendations will be based on market research and theoretical knowledge)
Raghu Pawde, a farmer in Maharashtra, said, “What if the mechanisation in our fields increase, that raises the cost for small farmers and creates unemployment for many villagers, for whom harvest season is the only source of income?”
Regarding the Minimum Support Price (MSP) another farmer said, “What if the farm produce is hoarded for a season, and artificial scarcity is created raising the price bar for essential cereals and pulses? How can we afford it? Or the hoarded stock is brought to market next season, lowering the prices for current harvest?”
It can basically be a case of supply more than demand or vice-versa. There were also questions about viability of a small scale farmer to travel to different states for selling his/her produce. There is further risk of carrying cash from distant places. (many still don’t use the existing banking services for agriculture transactions).
As there are no economies of scale and there are transportation costs involved, will it really benefit small farmers? Moreover, the illiteracy and lack of technological resources (smartphones, internet penetration, digital banking) create hindrance for farmers to know the prices on national level.
Around 25% farmers in India don’t have their own land and work on other’s land on agreement basis popularly known as bataai (sharecropping) system. (many a time it is verbal and non-documented). Having contractual farming will add one more level of authority and communication which may create more confusion and chaos for them.
Around 74% farmers produce only for self-consumption and prefer barter system for grains their counterparts/other farmers in village produce. Understanding these new laws and implementing them will be a challenge for them.
Considering all the data and interactions, it seems, these laws should be explained in detail to farmers answering their “What If” questions, like clarity on one and a half times the cost of production, contract farming clauses on both parties, security to farmers if MSP system is removed and so on. Also majority of this community is here to seek a basic livelihood. So it’s extremely important to ensure the farmers are benefitted.
I believe the laws are still in nascent stage (two laws are merely eight pages each and the third law is just two pages) and information transfer till the common man is not so clear and transparent. Also there needs to be a sequential implementation and in phases. This will let the government measure the impact appropriately and make necessary amendments at the earliest. There needs to be more documentation and in detail explanation for these laws.
Also, “collective farming” should be promoted, where farmers in neighbourhood are farming together, reaping the benefits of “Economies of Scale”. Clusters and Cooperatives (FPOs) of farmers should be formed, agro-based small industries can be started at village level to strengthen the “Anna-Data” of this nation.