The Optimist Citizen
Farmers protesting against the new Farm Laws

[OPINION] The Way Out of the Farming Crisis & Farm Laws

The new farm laws must go. However, even if they are repealed, the crisis of agriculture will continue. Here’s the way out!

Costs of chemical artificial input agriculture are mounting continuously while the yields are declining. This agriculture was introduced in the 1960s by giving huge subsidies to make the inputs, like water, electricity, fertilisers, hybrid seeds, pesticides, farm equipment, agricultural research and extension, and credit either cheap or free. However, with time the capacity of the central and state governments to give these subsidies has gone down. Simply because the contribution of agriculture to the GDP has gone down from 40% in the 1960s to just 16% in 2019. Therefore, it is more profitable for governments to provide subsidies to the services and industry sector. The associated problem is that while in the 1960s the population dependent on agriculture was 75%, currently it is still 50%. Thus, the contribution of agriculture to per capita GDP has come down from 53% to 32% considerably decreasing individual incomes from agriculture as a profession.

The new farm laws are nothing but an attempt by the Centre to lessen its outgo in the form of subsidies to the farm sector under the rhetoric of liberalisation – markets do better allocation of resources than governments. They just formalise what has been going on for quite some time now. The Mandis were bypassed by traders even before the new laws were enacted as they would go directly to the farmers and collect their produce both under weighing and underpaying them. They would then sell some of the produce to the Government procurement agencies at the minimum support price and the rest they would sell on the online commodity exchanges like NCDEX and NCMX to the big corporate players. 

The open market prices for all agricultural produce is determined on these exchanges where the big corporations deploy huge funds and use algorithms to trade. These big players have their agents in every market who are all connected in real-time online to the corporate servers. What the new farm laws have done is removed the taxes that needed to be paid to the APMCs, and also removed the restriction on storing of agricultural products. So now the transaction costs resulting from these have gone. Similarly, corporate contract farming was already going on, but there was some amount of regulation of it. Now the new farm laws have made it easier and so reduced some of the transaction costs. It is farcical to say that these farm laws are farmer-friendly. Most farmers being small producers are in no position to dictate prices on the markets and are in most cases so burdened with debt that they have no holding power whatsoever. It is only some big farmers who have become traders, agri-processors and aggregators who will benefit from these laws by aligning with the corporations.

Thus, even after repealing these laws, a lot more needs to be done. Research has shown that organic arable production is about 35% more energy-efficient and organic dairy production, about 74% more efficient per unit of output than non-organic production. Since the pH of the soil is intact in organic farming techniques, the use of energy-intensive lime is also minimal or non-existent. The use of organic matter also increases carbon content in the soil, storing up to 75 kgs of carbon per hectare per year. The combined effect of all the different benefits of organic farming produces a Global Warming Potential that is only 36% that of modern external input farming.

Therefore, sustainable internal input agriculture is more energy, water and nutrient efficient, and results in lower greenhouse gas emissions than modern external input agriculture per unit of crop produced, which is a crucial parameter, given the need to feed the world population. It is also community dependent rather than market dependent and so will revitalise the local economy. Last but not least, it opens up great possibilities for women to play a decisive role in agriculture and so in society.

A Rural development programme based on the above-mentioned principles is what we call as Survival Edge Technology. This new terminology combines and gives visibility to the various simple technologies being implemented by communities across the world through collective action to conserve the environment sustainably and equitably. The new term can be defined as follows – “Decentralised and communitarian work in soil and water conservation, sustainable agriculture, afforestation, and renewable energy that needs to be done to survive the deepening water, food, energy and climate crises. Moreover, since these crises most affect the poor who live on the edge of survival in rural areas, the decentralised communitarian technology required to mitigate these crises can appropriately be called Survival Edge Technology”. The various components of Survival Edge Technology are as follows –

  • Afforestation – Growing forests are the best sequesters of carbon and producers of oxygen. Therefore, afforestation is an important activity.
  • Soil and Water Conservation – Ideally, this should be done in micro-watersheds to drought and flood-proof the catchment of a stream. The work should start from the ridges of the watershed along the contours and come down to the main drainage line.
  • Renewable Energy – Centralised energy generation and then its distribution is a costly affair both in economic and environmental terms and a major reason for the low per capita energy consumption in India. Therefore, renewable energy is an important area of work.
  • Water Supply and Sanitation – Augmentation of groundwater through recharging and water harvesting are of the utmost importance. Simultaneously the treatment and reuse of wastewater and the generation of manure and energy from the faecal toilet and organic kitchen waste are also necessary, both to improve sanitation and cater to some of the demand for water and energy.
  • Sustainable Agriculture – Reorienting agriculture towards the use of organic resources such as mulch, compost and indigenous seed varieties and water harvesting. Simultaneously the cropping has to shift towards less water-intensive varieties which are also higher in nutrition.
  • Communitarian Cooperation – Decentralised technologies can be properly implemented, only if there is active communitarian cooperation through collective action.
  • Gender-Based Action – Patriarchy stifles the creativity and freedom of women and girls, and so without gender-based action to counter it, collective action cannot be effective and sustainable.

The overall framework of the implementation of Survival Edge Technology encompasses work at the grassroots level with policy and legal advocacy at higher levels up to the national and global. The underlying principle is that of subsidiarity which has been defined as – “the central level of authority shall act only if and in so far as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved either at the regional or the local level, but can rather, because of the scale or effects of the proposed action, be better achieved at the central level”. Thus, this emphasises a trickle-up theory as opposed to the failed trickle-down theory that is the basis of modern development practice. 

This sustainable development model will also enable farmers to provide ecosystem services which will benefit the whole of society through the mitigation of climate change. The most important aspect of this model is that it is designed to make the rural people self-sufficient over time and does not envisage providing them with doles indefinitely. After six decades of chemical agriculture, both farmers and consumers are reluctant to adopt sustainable agriculture. A massive campaign needs to be carried out to convince both farmers and consumers to switch to organic food production, and consumption and subsidies need to be provided across the board for this to be possible instead of promoting the interests of corporations and enacting laws to benefit their profit-making. 

A complete switch to the above model is probably the only way we can achieve equity and sustainability in rural areas and come out of the farming crisis worsened by these farm laws. 


About the Authors:

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Rahul Banerjee is an apostate from technology and an anarchist working among the Bhil Adivasis and Dalits in  Madhya Pradesh for socioeconomically equitable , gender just and ecologically sustainable development. He blogs at anar-kali.blogspot.com

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Subhadra Khaperde is a Dalit feminist activist working for reproductive and sexual health and rights of women and sustainable agriculture. She blogs at subhadrakhaperde.in
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The views expressed in the article are of the author.

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