Agriculture and Nationalism – India holds the card to economic recovery, waiting to be flipped!
I was on a five-minute Facebook break in-between my classes when I chanced on a recent story regarding the plight of farmers in India. The headline read, “UP farmer dumps 10 quintals of cauliflower on the road after traders offer INR 1 per kg”. And I knew then that I would start my article with this piece of information because it’s an honest portrayal of the plight of the average Indian farmer. The individual “was offered the trivial price by the licensed traders on the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) campus in Pilibhit” .
Despite the retail value of a kilo being INR 14 (or much more in urban areas), the concerned farmer was offered INR 1, which is one-eighth of what he expected. And, this isn’t just an isolated incident, one can find many similar media reports, and YouTube videos focusing on the plight of the farmers in India.
Jai Kisan, Jai Bharat? Doesn’t feel like it!
Our country is going through monumental shifts right now as it is witnessing one of the largest protests in the documented history of mankind. The spirit of brotherhood is on test right now as the entire country is divided on the ongoing farmer protests. From a neutral, apolitical viewpoint, this protest that has kept the national capital of New Delhi on its heels since November 26th, 2020 is massive opposition to the recently passed Indian Agricultural Acts, 2020.
Given that India is the largest secular democracy of the world, protesting falls under one of the basic rights of the citizens; the ongoing stand-off has propelled the central government to fortify the borders using harsh methods, with the global media calling out the desperate attempt of the government to suppress the protest. Why is the nation divided?
A part of it believes that the farmers are well within their rights to protest, while another portion believes that the protesters are terrorists, much fewer farmers. Then, there comes the third portion, the extremely thin wedge in the pie-chart consisting of individuals like me – between the right and the wrong, I am worried about the widening distrust between the government and the citizens, and the long-drawn effects it will have on our agro-industry.
However, it is a fact indeed that with the government preparing to fend itself from peaceful protestors in a visible manner, does it believe in “Jai Kisan”? No, I can’t say so. But, let us move ahead with dissecting the agrarian landscape of India, and try to equate it with the concepts of Nation, Nation-Building ad Nationalism. Nation & Nationalism – the Indian Identity. I had, in an earlier essay, written –
“What is a nation? Can it be defined as a conglomeration of communities indigenous to the land or migrated, enclosed within a boundary that’s decided by global geopolitics? Or is it an Idea – an identity that’s guided by common morale and a spiritual principle based on the collective past? Does the nation encompass all that’s tangible – the geographies and the life that reside within its boundaries? Or is it the manifestation of the intangible principles and identities that the individuals it consists of hold dear, and live by? A practical definition unites both of them – the intangible gives shape to the doctrines that the tangible lives by, thereby creating a unified entity – a Nation.” 
I will stick to this. While defining a nation is straightforward, nationalism is a much complex phenomenon that presents us with multiple strings to pull. One shouldn’t at the outset, confuse nationalism with patriotism. Patriotism is simple, unfazed love for one’s country. Nationalism, according to me is patriotism with a side serving of national agenda, mostly political.
A relatively new concept, nationalism is an emotion that places one’s nation at the top with the concept of superiority ingrained into it. For me, it is the undying love for my country coupled with the desire to work towards the holistic development of my nation, in the interest of all its citizens. Nationalism, in my opinion, is one’s love for his country, is the democratic right to freedom of expression, and is devoid of blind faith towards any particular ethnicity, sect, state, or political entity.
The Agrarian India – Farm Bills 2020 and the current state of affairs
With the 10th largest arable lands in the world, multiple agro-climatic regions and a huge variety of soil types, India’s agrarian potential runs prime. It holds the topmost producer positions for food grains, pulses, milk, fruits, and vegetables, with an approximated Gross Value Added of US $ 275 billion and an estimated 4% growth in Financial Year 2020.
Having a yearly food-grain produce capacity of 300 million tonnes, India is one of the top five agro-produce exporters of the world. With approximately 60% of the Indian population dependant on agriculture for livelihood and the agro sector contributing roughly 17% to India’s GDP, it wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that India is an agrarian economy still, sic, Krishi-pradhan Desh! Despite these promising statistics, Rural India, engaged primarily in agriculture struggles to survive.
With inflation biting away farmer wage gains and savings, farmer incomes have been on a steady decline, thanks to the steadily rising price of seeds, fertilizers, and associated services, and the slow decline in the MVPs of the harvested crops.
“In 2017, a government committee reported that incomes for farmers would need to grow by 10.4% each year from 2015 for them to double by 2022. That’s not been happening.” 
How should we be proud of our agrarian identity if the farmers are the ones who are left at the mercy of market forces exploiting them for their mutual gain? The high levels of debt have led to farmer suicides skyrocketing in our country in the last few years.
“An official government survey carried out in 2016 by the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development, found that in the three years up to this point, the average amount of debt that farmers were liable for had more than doubled.” 
Multiple direct-cash-transfer schemes have been rolled out by both central and state governments, however, their efficiency is under question in the absence of any solid data proof. As such, will the farm bills do any good? At this juncture, there are more questions than there are solutions. Opinions are divided with The Farm Bills 2020. Many believe these bills to be a watershed moment for Indian Agriculture, whereas, many believe that this is a nail to the coffin for the farmers.
In the face of it, these bills appear progressive, so, why are they being contested so harshly? Agriculture being on the State List of subjects, the Centre doesn’t have jurisdictional authority to pass legislation on the same except in some specific cases, which isn’t the case. It is a direct abuse of the autonomy of the State legislatures. With this, it is imperative to note that proper procedures haven’t been adopted while getting these bills passed in both the Lower and the Upper House of Representatives.
Along with these, the universal apprehension regarding crony privatization of agricultural industry is present – the provisions of all the three bills combined paves way for the corporate giants to establish a market monopoly in the long run. This means the slow death for small-scale agri-businesses, cooperatives, and fringe elements which now are a majority in this realm. Along with this, the bills specifically deny farmers the right to legal support in case of conflicts, something that Article 32 of the Indian Constitution guarantees. These are the primary causes of concern.
APMC Mandis, Minimum Support Price, and One-Nation-One-Market
Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMC) is synonymous with agriculture in India. Guided by state laws, the APMCs overlook procurement of agro-produce from farmers by providing them with prices above the government notified Minimum Support Prices (MSP). And since the last few decades, these APMCs have been instrumental tools for the government to buy produce from farmers. However, things aren’t that smooth with all APMCs.
As with the incident mentioned at the start of this piece, these APMCs which were originally designed to protect the farmer’s interest by offering them the MSP have now become tools of oppression against farmers. With the middleman culture rolling in, farmers have mostly been left at the mercy of these crooks who tip the balance off to their side, leaving the farmers to fend for themselves. Clearly, in the absence of any legislature that oversees the administration of MSPs to the farmers, the APMC structure is failing because of routine exploitation.
With each state regulating the purchase of agricultural products according to their laws, the overall scenario has become highly unequal, fragmented, and thus, hard to regulate. Attempts to unify these volatile state-wise markets led the government to propose the Electronic National Agricultural Market (E-NAM) in April 2016. The goal was to create a One-Nation-One-Market, and it aimed to reduce injustice on farmers by bypassing the local APMCs and procuring goods directly from the farmers.
The Farm Bills 2020 seeks to propose procurement on some similar lines; the high level of reliance on private players to act as supply chain mediators and facilitators compels on to think of the advantages the corporates will gain out of it, and what percentage of this gain would go directly to farmers and towards their welfare. However, enough on what has been, and is the status. Let us now look at the future of the agrarian economy of India.
Nation Building – hopes and prospects for Indian Agro
As discussed previously, agriculture is India’s joker on the deck to maintain an international strategic foothold. Be it the heavy reliance of Indians on the agro-economy for survival, or our huge amount of exports, cashing in on agriculture is perhaps our strongest bet to maintain our charts on the global leader board. And if one remembers, even during the lockdown, the agro-industry managed to maintain relative stability, thus displaying its resiliency in the face of adversity.
This reinforces the fact that agro is a bankable sector for India, especially in its path towards economic recovery from the pandemic. Building India on agriculture is a sustainable choice, economically as well as functionally. Apart from the huge money, it gets the government, food is something that will be in need for as long as we humans manage to survive.
The question is, how to enable this growth, and more importantly, sustain it?
Pre-harvest vs Post-harvest: the debate that should be
With all the fire around related to the farm bills, I wonder, at times, about the underlying motives of the people, and the government that the people elected.
As a nation, we are facing a crisis that will be the bottleneck for all other parameters – population boom. With our population, all set to stabilize by 2050, is the Food Corporation of India confident of India’s present and future food security? With India lagging behind global averages in the production of major crops, I silently wonder why pre-harvest discussions and policies aren’t getting any importance as opposed to post-harvest policies that deal mainly in marketing the produce.
With India lagging behind the USA, France, Brazil, and China in per-hectare yield, it is time that the government focuses on pre-harvest policies and interventions to ensure our yields increase. With the current scenario, it only feels a hollow attempt towards mobilizing our dwindling produces to get the maximum benefits off it, that too with the corporate giants getting an upper hand. The question stands – how to do it? We aren’t technologically advanced enough to adopt state-of-the-art methods of cultivation, and yet, the necessity is paramount. As such, our focus must be on strengthening our human resources to enable this growth.
Problems that lie within
Let us now look at the roadblocks that the farmers of India face before we can finally look at suggestions that will ensure long-term sustenance and growth of the Indian agro-industry:
- Lack of market research – With our lands producing what grows best and sells best, we have invested pretty little in getting to know, understand and analyze our market forces.
- Lack of technology – The alarming fact that we haven’t integrated new tech into our farming processes is a red flag.
- Lack of Machinery – Save few parts of the country, cultivation is still majorly dependent on small tools and animals, bringing down efficiency by vast margins.
- Fragmentation of land – The small landholdings make farming expensive and inefficient. This, in the future, adds to the problem when lands get divided to follow inheritance laws.
- Depleting land quality – Extensive farming using unsustainable means has exhausted soil quality and broken down the natural soil fabric, pushing down the yield.
- Increased reliance on chemicals – With depleting soil quality, fertilizer and pesticide use has shot up, reducing the soil pH, and depleting natural biomass further.
- Poor seed quality means extra effort to get a good harvest out of it.
- Erratic monsoons and climatic uncertainty have heavily affected the farmers as crop yield fluctuates immensely with these variations.
- Insufficient irrigation investment has led to vast areas relying solely on nature for water, which has been a major cause of concern.
- A sizeable chunk of the crop is lost in-transit owing to inefficient transportation and storage and poor supply-chain links, pulling the per-hectare yield down.
Need to strengthen pre-harvest & immediate post-harvest foundations
The major problems with Indian agriculture lie while the crop is on the field. As such, it is the onus of the authority to concentrate on policy formulations enabling farmers to increase their yield. While achieving best-of-the-world yield is a long shot for us, even pushing these numbers to above the global averages will get us to harvest enough to satisfy both the private and the public players.
- Consumer-focused farming is essential. As a nation, we need to produce crops that are high in demand.
- Integrating IoT concepts and smart technologies into the cultivation timeline will enable easier farmland management, judicious use of chemicals, and optimal harvest times, thus saving big on time and money.
- Increasing levels of mechanization are paramount to reducing harvest times and losses.
- Investment in advanced agricultural research is essential for coming up with new methods of sustainable farming, better GMO seeds, and for promoting concepts like Zero Budget Natural Farming and bio-fertilizers and bio-pesticides.
- Investing in creating a climate and disaster-resilient supply chains is mandatory. Setting up efficient storage hubs, building end-to-end logistics and distribution channels and building process capabilities are essential towards maintaining benchmark standards.
- Investing in a nation-wide irrigation network infrastructure will in the long run prove beneficial as this will reduce reliance on natural monsoons for water, thus pulling our farmers out of the mercy of local climatic factors.
- Mobilizing our people into coming together as cooperatives and mass-scale training to inculcate new farming techniques is perhaps a priority one. India as a country has always regarded its human resources highly, and empowering our farmers with knowledge is perhaps the greatest gift in their journey towards self-sufficiency.
C-P-P Model of agriculture – Cooperatives are the future
Our future lies in bringing our farmers together. Punjab and Haryana have seen roaring success because they understood the benefits of #farmersunited decades before, and look where they are at present. If a hundred farmers come together with their lands and agree to crop it together, it becomes much more efficient and cost-effective, allowing for mechanization and technology to step in. In comparison, the marginal farmers of the Central and East India struggle to stay profitable with the fragmented farmlands that they till with their bullock carts, sow with hands, and harvest using the sickle.
Coming together as agricultural cooperatives in the face of rising atrocities against the farmers is a viable solution – it provides them with the benefits that Punjab has enjoyed since the Green Revolution, and also gives them a strong bargaining stage. When a hundred farmer sings in unison via a cooperative, the demands are bound to be met. Perhaps that is why the might be a way forward. There are two ways of looking at it – Cooperative Public Partnership, or Cooperative Private Partnership, whichever suits the bill for the stakeholders. If the produce at hand is surplus with minimal harm to the environment, selling wouldn’t be a big hurdle.
All the government needs to do is create an exhaustive list of crops produced in the country and create regional parameter-based MSPs. The onus of selling to the government or corporates lie on the farmer cooperatives then, a decision that wouldn’t be too hard to take. At this juncture, I would like to end by quoting on this issue –
“This is especially important because at a time when much of the developed world is re-evaluating the sustainability of their agrifood supply chains, India, as a nation of smallholders, has an opportunity to create a model of agriculture that at its core strengthens collective farmer organizations and small and medium-scale local enterprises, as opposed to behemoths that control entire supply chains.”
Agro-Nationalism – is that even a thing?
Yes, it is. It’s when a nation decides to empower itself by turning around on its heels with agriculture as the major yardstick. It’s when we the citizens of India decide to give farmers their due when the government stops using vote-bank phrases like “double farmer income by 2022” and starts implementing policies that will solidify the bases of Indian agriculture. Nationalism is all about action, and it’s high time we, the citizens take heed and start to act in the interest of our farmers. Because a civilization that hasn’t given its anna-data his due is no civilization of humans at all, much less a country as inclusive, secular, and sacred like (the idea of) India.
– Shubhayan Modak
The author, Shubhayan Modak, Institute of Rural Management, Anand (IRMA) is the winner of 5th National Essay Writing Competition on Nation and Nationalism 2021.
- The Logical Indian Crew; UP Farmer Dumps 10 Quintals of Cauliflower on Road After Traders Offer ₹1 Per Kg; Available Here
- Shubhayan Modak; Architecture and Nation Building – Integrating Regional Sentiments into a National Identity; Available Here
- Shruti Menon; India farmer protests: How rural incomes have struggled to keep up; Available Here
- Sudha Narayanan; The Three Farm Bills – Is This the Market Reform Indian Agriculture Needs; Available Here
Keywords: Farmer welfare, Farm laws 2020, Indian agro-industry, Agricultural Produce Market Committee, Farmer suicides, Agrarian India, Minimum Support Price, One Nation One Market, E-NAM, Pre-harvest policy, Post-harvest policy, Consumer-focused farming, Market & Consumer demand research, Mechanization, Nationwide Irrigation Network, Cooperative Public Partnership, Cooperative Private Partnership, Green Revolution, Agro Nationalism.