From the spices in your cabinet to the clothes in your closet, chances are that many of the things in your house were produced in India.
India’s massive exports of products like cotton, rice, and milk have earned it a spot as a top supplier of farmed goods. However, the recent farmers’ protests in India may deal a devastating blow to the global agricultural economy.
At the end of November, tens of thousands of farmers in India took to the streets to protest new laws that could devastate India’s small farm industry. The new legislation could put farmers out of business by giving more flexibility to companies to sell crops at low prices.
Farmers in India have rejected the proposed laws and vowed to continue protesting until their demands are met. So how did the situation escalate to this level?
Farming Economy of India
It is safe to say that agriculture is the backbone of India’s economy - over half of the country’s workers are employed as small farmers. They help feed a country of over a billion and contribute to billions of dollars of exports.
Despite being an important part of the country’s economy, India’s farmers historically have not had it easy. When India was under British rule, Indian peasant farmers were forced to grow only cash crops such as opium and tea. The growth of these plants profited the British and put many farmers in debt.
The Green Revolution of the 1960s and ‘70s led farmers to abandon their traditional farming methods in favor of more efficient methods. This also created a need to access underground water to irrigate the new crops that required more water. Buying costly equipment to find this groundwater pushed farmers even deeper into debt.
Other factors such as climate change, an invasion of locust bugs, and the recent pandemic have further impacted the farmers. And so the news of the proposed legislation infuriated many.
Why are Farmers Going on Strike?
Previously, farmers would have to sell their goods at a government-run wholesale markets at guaranteed prices. Each state’s Agricultural Produce Market Committee would essentially act as middlemen between farmers and private businesses like grocery stores.
However, the proposed legislation would open India's farmers to the market economy -- in other words, they can sell directly to private businesses. While this may sound good, the farmers are concerned that they will be at the mercy of big businesses who can dictate the prices they would be willing to pay.
The new laws would also require farmers who clear their fields by burning, to pay a penalty. This decades-old practice of burning fields has contributed to some of the country’s worst pollution and worsened the COVID situation, sparking a heated response from the government.
In response to the proposed laws, farmers are staging nationwide protests and burning their fields in defiance. They are angry that the Indian government has taken steps without consulting them. Despite the Prime Minister’s promises that the new laws would double the incomes of farmers, they are pushing back and demanding that they be repealed.
With protests against the “anti-farmer” laws intensifying, the world awaits the Indian government’s next move.
Sources: BBC, Foreign Policy, NY Times, Reuters, Al Jazeera, Slate