Will the new agri laws benefit or harm farmers?

Farmers, farmers' organisations, agriculture entrepreneurs, CEOs of agro companies and experts in organic agriculture spoke at Gaon Connection’s Gaon Cafe.

Arvind Shukla
| Updated: October 17th, 2020

Why are farmers of Bihar forced to till and toil in someone else’s land in Punjab and Haryana, despite having two hectares of land back home? The reason lies in a decision made in 2006, when Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) mandis were scrapped in Bihar, said Abhimanyu Kohaar, spokesperson of Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh at a Gaon Cafe organised to discuss if the new agricultural laws would benefit farmers.

“It was said this would encourage private sector investment and lead to farmers’ progress. The main crop in Bihar is maize and its official rate is Rs 1,850 a quintal. Now, traders are buying it for Rs 500 to Rs 600 a quintal. Is this progress or doom?” he asked.

A special episode of Gaon Connection’s Gaon Cafe discussed the apprehensions and possibilities of the three agricultural laws as well as their possible future implications. The show was attended by farmers, representatives of farmers’ organisations, owners of agro industries, agricultural equipment manufacturers, CEOs of technical support companies, scientists associated with agricultural policies, and leaders of organisations that promote organic cultivation.

“The laws do not mention minimum support price (MSP) anywhere,” pointed out Nitin Kajla, a progressive farmer. “That is why there is resentment among farmers. The real problem is that the government is not listening to them. The union government said that procurement with MSP would continue. But prices are falling despite that. What will happen when the farmer has to directly deal with private players?” he asked.

Another valid point raised was with regard to who decides the price. “Everyone else has the right to fix the price of their product. Only the farmer has to look to the government for pricing. The only rationale behind this practice is that it is being done so since the times of the Raj. Although this practice has been changed, it is not effective, because the underlying problem has become complicated,” said  Mohanji Saxena, the managing director of Delhi-based company, Ayurvet.

“There is a general lack of faith among farmers towards the government. When the Prime Minister and the Agriculture Minister are repeatedly mentioning in their speeches that MSP will continue to exist, why does the government not include MSP in the laws?” asked Kohaar. 

Gauri Sarin, who is associated with the organic farming movement and Bhumi Foundation, said the laws need to be reviewed alongside what the government is actually doing.

Shyam Sundar Singh, the founder of Dehat Company, said the new laws were welcome, but they needed more “enablers”. He also quoted the Bihar example, and said: “The government should ensure all participating agencies function smoothly. This can work only if the farmers are provided transport facilities, so that produce can reach every place, not just one place.”  

Vivek Pandey, a digital consultant who works in the agri business, said that it should be the farmers’ prerogative to grow what they want and sell to whom they want. “As a farmer, I should be given options. In my understanding of the laws, they don’t seem to be talking about dismantling the APMC. Whoever has to sell in APMC will sell there and those who do not wish to will not sell,” he said.

Citing the example of his village, Pandey said that farmers with small holdings don’t go to the mandi to sell. “The middlemen buy it and trade further. The farmer does not earn much, but is okay with the system. So, the existing practice of trade solely through the APMC mandis isn’t justifiable,” he explained.

Read the story in Hindi.

Also Read: Farmers struggle to sell their crops in other states, despite the new agri laws that say they can.

Also Read: Farmers in Uttar Pradesh sell paddy below government rate to repay loans.