Underlining that more than 80 percent of farmers in the country are marginal and unable to invest due to the smaller size of their landholding, Union Minister of State for Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, Parshottam Rupala, said that the recently enacted farm Acts were an attempt by the Centre to overcome structural hurdles and help farmers realise the true price of their produce by freeing the agricultural produce market.
“Our main problem is the smaller farm size, the smaller landholding by farmers. More than 80 percent of our farmers are small and marginal. They are neither able to do innovation, deploy technology nor invest. While it is not directly linked to the recent Acts, we have a scheme to form FPOs (Farmer Producer Organisations), the objective of which is to encourage farmers to come on a common platform and pool their land,” the Union Minister said while addressing a press conference in Rajkot on Saturday.
“If 100 farmers with one bigha land each come together, the resultant 100 bigha combined farm would allow agricultural practices of global standards. The idea is to facilitate farmers to form clusters, identify the crop they can grow best and then help them put their produce in the international market,” he said.
He added that the Centre has plans to facilitate 10,000 FPOs and has earmarked Rs 6,850 crore to support such ventures.
Last month, both Houses of Parliament had passed the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment & Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill. The President has since signed them into laws.
The first law can be called the APMC bypass law which frees traders from the limited jurisdiction of an agricultural produce market committee (APMC) and allows them to purchase from farmers anywhere in the state, even at farmgate without paying any cess to local APMCs. It also allows private parties to set up their own yards and sub-yards for the trading of agricultural produce. The second law provides a legal framework for contract farming, while the third law mandates that restriction on stocking of agricultural commodities can be applied in extraordinary circumstances.
Rupala said while agricultural production in the country had gone up many folds over the past few decades, farmers’ income had not risen proportionately and therefore. marketing and post-harvest management systems need to be overhauled. “Before Narendra Modi was elected Prime Minister in 2014, farm policies focused on production, seeds, technology, fertilisers, irrigation, etc. However, Modi proposed that with the increase in production, farmers’ income should also increase commensurately and he took decisions accordingly… Everyone agrees that farmers are not getting remunerative prices. Isn’t the present system responsible for it? If the fever doesn’t abate by consulting the same doctor repeatedly and taking pills prescribed by him, shouldn’t we consult another doctor and try new medicine?” he asked. The PM’s vision is to capitalise on exporters’ knowledge of global commodity markets and help farmers avail benefits of free markets, he added.
Opposition parties led by Congress are opposing the new laws, terming them as being anti-farmers. Shiromani Akali Dal, one the oldest allies of the ruling BJP, has also walked out of the NDA in protest of the new Acts.
Rupala alleged that the Opposition is trying to mislead farmers. “They are spreading misinformation that using the new laws, big companies would snatch land away from farmers… All the Acts do is provide a legal framework for contract farming and farmers will be agreeing only to sell their produce to a company at a pre-decided rate in a pre-decided volume… No company can touch their land,” said Rupala.
The Minister, who is a native of Ishwariya village in Amreli, termed the practice of share-cropping as a form of contract farming and said that providing it with a legal framework will attract investment in the agricultural sector. Rupala said that today’s farmers are smarter and therefore allegations that the wealthy would grab their lands is baseless. “This is the farmer of 2021. It is very difficult to get him to agree to such a thing,” he said.
The minister said that the government doesn’t intend to dismantle APMCs by bringing in new laws, but also said that the government is not considering providing legal backing to the minimum support price system. “MSP is not a procedure established by law. It is a decision of the Government of India and the Centre implements it in form of procurement in consultation with state governments,” he said, adding that it was the NDA government which had implemented Swaminathan Commission recommendation to fix the MSP at cultivation cost plus 50 percent profit.
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