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Agri reform bills: A picture that opposing parties won’t show you

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We are witnessing mayhem created in the Rajya Sabha by the opposition and turmoil of farmers due to the three Agricultural Ordinances, namely Farmers produce Trade and Commerce (promotion and facilitation) Ordinance 2020, The Farmers (empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price assurance and Farm service Ordinance 2020 and Essential Commodities (amendment) Ordinance 2020 proposed by the Government. Huge uproar is being created by labeling the reforms as ‘Anti Farmers’. However proper analysis of the bills shows that the obstruction of the opposition is primarily political and holds no water.

What is the need of these reforms?

India is predominantly a rural country, with two third of its population residing in rural areas, practicing farming. Thus, if we want to have a sustainable and robust growth model for the country, we should work upon improving economic scenario of rural areas and hence agricultural sector. According to 2011 census, everyday around 2,000 farmers in India give up farming and majority of them decide to migrate to cities in search of labor because income of a farmer is estimated to be one fifth to that of a non farmer. How can we flourish rural areas if these types of numbers continue to appear?

Around 86% of Indian farmers own small chunks of lands and due to unpredictable environmental challenges, they have to invest in irrigation systems, small machineries and fertilizers in their individual limit. These worldly goods empty their small pockets. With some hope of earning few pennies they go to sell their produce and they are again bound by the government to sell at defined prices in the APMCs. Whatever blood that is left within their bodies is further sucked by commission agents who unduly take high share of consumers’ rupees in the value chain, which leaves them with money which would hardly earn them two times of bread. This reflects the distressful state of marginal farmers in our country today.

Real defect in agriculture does not stem from poor farming practices, but because of deficient marketing and supply chain in the country. Thus, implementing these reforms which will grant marketing liberty to the farmers and will reconstruct the obsolete supply chain, is necessary.

Do we need these reforms at this stage?

India is, today, a home for 1.35 billion masses and it is estimated that its population will reach 1.5 billion till 2030. Average age of an Indian is around 26 years but that of an Indian farmer is 51 years, which means doubled. According to a survey conducted in 2017, Only 1.2 percent of 30,000 rural youth wished to continue farming. This shows that we have failed to attract young generation to agricultural practices that are perpetuating in this land since ages. And the obvious reason being lack of reforms in the sector and thus unprofitability for the farmers. Thus if we don’t be vigilant against this now, then there might not be next generation of farmers left to fed huge population of this country.

Will these reforms benefit?

These Farm bills will fetch better prices to the farmers because the bills are designed in a way which allows inter state and intra state trade without limiting the farmers to sell their produce to their state owned APMCs. This will spook local monopoly of middlemen. Thus farmers will get better prices by increase in their marketing capacities, It is like Kashmiri handlooms will fetch sellers more price in Bangalore or Pune than in Kashmir itself. Thus it will help to create ‘One Nation, One Market’.

Moreover, the next bill formulates a framework that allows farmers to engage in trade with private consumers, exporters, companies, etc. which will give them open access to markets and private sectors. This will empower FaaS (farming as a service) as well.

Also, the reforms in essential commodities act by removing onion, potatoes, cereals, oilseeds, pulses from the list of those commodities and not limiting storage of the produce will benefit marginal farmers as it is expected to attract private investments or FDI.

Thus, while presenting stance, priority should be given to Farmers’ interests and not petty politics.

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