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Thursday, November 26, 2020

Liberating the farmer

Laws and policies of the past focused on increasing agricultural production. Farm laws will help improve the farmer’s condition, also benefit consumers

Written by Fauzan Alavi | October 20, 2020 5:43:31 pm
Punjab farm bills, Punjab farmer protests, farm bills Punjab, farm bills, farmer protests, India news, Indian ExpressProtesting farmers block NH-1 near Ladowal toll plaza in Ludhiana on Friday during a "Chakka jam" against three farm bills. (Express Photo by Gurmeet Singh/File)

There have been protests in the last few weeks against the farm bills passed by the Narendra Modi government. The condition of farmers hasn’t changed in decades. In fact, most of them are forced to become labourers and daily wagers in cities. At the same time, we rave about the country’s number one rank in milk production, the bumper harvests of wheat and rice, fruits and vegetables. If farm productivity is so high, why is the farmer in distress? Governments have always worked on maximising production, and rightly so. But unfortunately, what they missed out — and I wonder why no one thought of it — was in trying to understand why there was so little on the hardworking farmers’ plate. If the earlier laws were so farmer friendly, why is the Indian agriculturist in an abject state. It’s a story of conflict between politics and economics. Things began to change started with the DBT (Direct Benefit Transfer) scheme. Earlier, every scheme meant for the farmer was riddled with corruption by panchayats and middlemen. In the DBT scheme, the farmer saw the hope of a new tomorrow. Can we deny that?

While we continued to work on improving production, we did not realise the milieu of world trade was changing. Non-tariff barriers came up for many of our agri-exports — milk, meat, rice and now even for cardamoms. A programme to eradicate the foot and mouth disease has been initiated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It is sure to have a positive effect on the country’s dairy and meat exports in the years to come. Why did no one think of this earlier? It’s important to have an ear on the ground and set an agenda for the next few decades.

Most critics of the farm Acts do agree — though they do not voice it — that in the long-run, these pieces of legislation would be extremely beneficial to the farmer as well as consumers. Even a layperson knows the cost at which an agri-produce is purchased from the farmer and the price the consumer pays for it. We also feel bad when we see farmers throwing away vegetables, fruits and milk. Yet we rarely try to understand why this is happening. It’s not that food is wasted because there’s a shortage of consumers but because there is an acute shortage of storage, cold chain and retailing facilities. One can’t expect the government to take care of all this. The world-over private players get such supply chains going and governments facilitate with conducive policies. In India, in contrast, we show a strange paradox — on one hand, we complain about too much government in our lives and on the other, protest any move that is forward thinking and benefits a large chunk of society. The farm laws are a huge step forward to help build trust, focus on crops which have more economical value both in exports as well as domestic markets, put in place systems which comply with standards, benchmark against the best in the world and create value and trust for anything produced in India.

Indian Railways has started the Kisan Rail, which will hugely benefit producers of perishables — they are ready to even transport as small a weight as 50 kgs. Keeping the COVID-19 situation aside, we still are a country with a huge economic potential. Smaller countries in Europe are exporting more of their agri-produce than us — these countries do not have the climatic, geographical and labour-related advantages we have. So, what stops us? As a sector engaged in agri-exports, we feel that the target of $100 billion in agri-exports is attainable, provided we revisit our strategy and keep in mind that what got us here will, perhaps, not take us any further. PM Modi’s Aatmnirbhar Bharat call and subsequent changes in farm bills will lead us forward as a nation.

Farmers have suffered long enough. Let’s now not oppose an opportunity for their financial independence and lets support them to produce world class crops through contract farming. The creation of FPOs and a fund for agriculture infrastructure will take care of a lot of teething issues, if at all, and will also create confidence in the arhatias to take on new and greater responsibilities of facilitation — the need of the modern world. While the MSP is such a hot topic in the current scenario, what is rarely mentioned is that less than 10 per cent farmers benefit from it. We have to think of the remaining 90 per cent. Oppose we must if we feel its democratic but let’s for a change handhold the farming community and educate them of the benefits of these bills, especially FTPC and E Nam. Let’s honestly protect the weakest stakeholder — the anndaata .

The writer is Director, Allanasons Pvt Ltd

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