Since the autumn of 2020, Indian farmers have been protesting against new agricultural reforms. Photo: Ananth BS, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons


Indian farmers continue to protest against agricultural reforms

Indian farmers have been protesting against agricultural reforms since last autumn and are demanding that they be stopped. They believe that their livelihoods are deteriorating. The Indian government believes that it is a necessary modernization of the agricultural system.

Agricultural reforms include three new laws, which means that sales and pricing are opened up to private buyers of agricultural goods, according to the government a necessary modernization of the agricultural system. About 250 million Indians are expected to have so far protested or gone on strike against the reforms, which they believe are deteriorating the economic situation of farmers. In August 2020, India was hit by its worst economic downturn in the near future, partly caused by the corona pandemic, which has further aggravated the situation. India's Supreme Court has joined the protests paused the laws and appointed a committee which will review the farmers' demands.

1960s and onwards: Government subsidies

The current system with government subsidies, that is, government subsidies or other support to farmers, was introduced in the 1960s. The aim was to increase wheat and rice cultivation in order to reduce the ongoing famine and increase the farmers' opportunities to sell these products at a profit. However, the system has also meant one-sided production with large surpluses of crops that cannot or will not have time to be sold before they are destroyed. Rice and wheat irrigation also drains groundwater levels in drier areas, affecting future water supply. 

A system in need of change?

Many farmers and also some economists considers that the agricultural system should change slowly and believes that the reforms would only benefit large-scale buyers. The government and other economists believe that the opportunity to sell products on the private market would increase farmers' incomes, and at the same time increase the export of grain and thereby increase the country's economic growth. 

Indian farmers believe that agricultural reforms will reduce their incomes and security. Photo: Ekta Parishad, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Agricultural reforms in other countries

It is not only in India that agricultural reforms have been discussed, but also in the EU and Mexico support for farmers has been debated. The EU has been offering since the 60s subsidies to EU farmers and guarantees them minimum prices for the sale of agricultural products. The purpose of these measures is above all to keep prices and production above the level that a free market would entail. The EU believes that this will enable farmers to support themselves and ensure food security. Critics say that a large part of agricultural support goes to them largest and most successful farmers, that the aid promotes environmentally harmful production, and that the system excludes low-income countries.

The Mexican government launched in 1994 Procampo program for direct payments to farmers. The purpose was to help poor farmers compete with large American producers. Criticism of Procampo is that much of the aid goes to Mexico's large, successful farms, rather than to the most needy farms. 

The peasant protests are likely to continue

Economic downturn, pandemic aggravation of grain sales and major, rapid agricultural reforms, including government proposals for legislative changes not yet approved by protest leaders, are critical points India's farmers are facing at the moment. There are thus many factors that indicate that they will not give up their demands in the near future. 

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