Indian government invites protesting farmers for talks today

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IAC Picture by Parivartan Sharma

Indian Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar has invited representatives of farmer union groups for talks on Wednesday to discuss their objections over three key farm laws.

The meeting is scheduled for this afternoon, according to an invitation reviewed by Indoasiancommodities.com.

While a section of the farmers have said they are willing to discuss broad reforms as long as the government  repeals the farm laws, others have said they are open to the new laws so long as certain modifications are made.

Northern Indian farmers have taken a harder stance, while other regional groups appear more open to discussing  reforms introduced under the new laws.

Farmer groups say that three key legislations approved by the government in September would result in private businesses taking over the procurement process of their produce from estate-run agencies at minimum support prices, or assured prices, offered on certain staples.

They are also asking a modification in dispute resolution process over contracts with businessmen which currently limit the appeal process to the office of Sub Divisional Magistrate and not any higher courts.

A section of the farmers want to hold off on talks with the government as the issue is now before the Supreme Court and may issue directions on the matter.

Government officiala have expressed their willingness to talk with farmers and even offered to amend some of the laws through a process of discussions.

The government says the new laws will free farmers from the clutches of middlemen who take away a lion’s share of their profits as well as enable them to sell their produce anywhere in the country — a freedom that did not exist under previous laws.

Though the farm sector accounts for nearly half of India’s workforce, it has seen one of the slowest growth since the country launched economic reforms around three decades ago.

Poor productivity

Even though India has one if the highest arable areas under agriculture, its farm productivity has been among the lowest for most crops.

That has arisen as the majority of farmers have holdings of 1-2 acres and lack both the capacity and knowledge for modern inputs as well as greater mechanization.

Indian industry officials said that farmers needed to reoroient their traditional ways to significantly improve their incomes.

“There was a need to reorient the approach taken towards the farm sector from merely focusing on production targets to creating opportunities for higher income realisation for the farmers. The latter required measures to reduce the cost of cultivation, improve productivity levels and enhance price realisation for agri-produce,” said Uday Shankar, president of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI).

“Over time the government has taken several measures to make farming remunerative and the latest set of reforms only contribute to this effort,” he said.

“The farm sector reforms have been introduced amid one of the biggest disruptions that we ever experienced. The farm reforms are progressive and part of a comprehensive package to bring the nation’s economy and growth back on track,” he added.

The farm sector sector needs to be revitalized by strengthening of market linkage for farmers’ produce, enhancing productivity through access to technology and making agriculture processes more efficient and smarter, said T.R.Kesavan, group president corporate relations and alliances at TAFEtd. 

“It is important that farmers should be empowered so that they can decide on their choices rather than dictated by archaic practices,” he said.

Turning crisis into opportunity

“The Government of India has changed the crisis into an opportunity by taking a positive step towards the long-pending reforms that provide freedom of choice in the hands of farmers. The reforms announced by the government will enable demand-driven value-added agriculture, which is critical for accelerating future growth of the sector,” Kesavan added. 

He further said that giiven the structure and complexities of the agrarian economy of the country, the most important characteristics of which are small and highly fragmented land holdings, enabling policy environment was imperative.  

The farmers who hold small and marginal holdings of less than five acres face challenges on the integration of value chains, distribution due to smaller outputs and fragmented holdings that hinders economies of scale and lead to wastages at different points of the agriculture supply chain – often encouraging middlemen exploiting their weaknesses.  

Biman Mukherji is a columnist and consulting editor at Indoasiancommodities.com. He has worked for international news organisations such as Reuters, The Wall Street Journal as well as for newspapers like The Times of India. He can be reached at biman.mukherji@indoasiancommodities.in

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