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Reforming Agriculture: “Take Care Of The Land, It Will Take Care Of You”

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Nothing is challenging or problematic for those farmers who are well-educated, technologically-updated, well-informed about markets and possess large landholdings and huge resources. I mean, they can practice vertical farming or hydroponics to increase their incomes, adopt plasticulture to prevent their crops from pests, hailstorms and diseases, and sell their crops wherever they want. Reforms, primarily, are required for those cultivators who don’t come in above category.

As we have seen in part 2 and part 3 of this series how our disorganized marketing system is making reforms in all other segments of farming fruitless. It is not beneficial for both producers and consumers.

As far as marketing of agricultural produce is concerned, any extreme measure in order to bring reforms in the marketing system is going to be a setback. Bihar repealed the APMC Act in 2006 hoping that it would pave the way for private investment in marketing infrastructure and thereby lead to a better price discovery mechanism. Unfortunately, it didn’t work as no investment came, and it only resulted in loss of revenue for the state government.

Indian Farmer's Crisis
It would be surprising to know that even today most of the farmers sell their produce to small-scale and largely unlicensed traders and intermediaries.

Revising the law rather than outrightly repealing is recommended. Since the Act makes the sale and purchase of agricultural produce compulsory for farmers as well as traders, it is against producers’ right to sell. It also creates barriers to the entry and exit of traders. So, liberalization, up to a certain extent, has to be the moving force, without a doubt.

Same is the case with Essential Commodities Act (ECA) which is another hurdle in farmer getting remunerative price. It was established to ensure the delivery of certain commodities or products, the supply of which if obstructed owing to hoarding or black-marketing would affect the normal life of the people. The list of items under the Act includes drugs, fertilizers, pulses and edible oils, and petroleum and petroleum products. The union cabinet has recently given its approval to amend the Essential Commodities Act (ECA), which is a step in the right direction.

Common narrative in the popular discourse remains that producers are forced to sell their produce only to licensed APMC traders. It would be surprising to know that even today most of the farmers sell their produce to small-scale and largely unlicensed traders and intermediaries. The reality is that we have shortage of APMC markets in the country, Dalwai committee reported.

It is imperative for the government to create a large network of mandis. To meet the norms of National Commission of Farmers, India needs 41,000 markets. Dalwai committee recommended that there needs to be at least one gramin haat in each Panchayat. It also suggested modernizing gramin haats under the GrAM scheme.

What states usually do, to make it happen, is repealing the entire structure and pave the way for private investment. But that doesn’t ensure a better marketing system. Devinder Sharma, a food policy analyst, talks about opening up parallel private market network. It will upset strong cartels leading to better price discovery, he argues.

Many states have taken steps to address the above mentioned issues. Maharashtra, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and some other states deregulated fruits and vegetable trade, allowed private markets, introduced a unified trading license and a single-point levy of market fee. Tamil Nadu, in fact, abolished market fee.

Direct marketing system has also been adopted by some states like Uzhavar Sandhai of Tamil Nadu, Rythu Bazaar of Andhra Pradesh and Raitha Santhe of Karnataka. But despite bringing these reforms, the situation is far from satisfactory owing to infrastructural challenges.

We have seen in part 5 of this series that creating necessary infrastructure, wherever possible in the value chain, is the need of the hour. Needless to mention, it includes infrastructure in APMC markets too. It is to be noted that just 15 per cent of the APMC markets have cold storage facilities. Weighing facilities are available in only 49 per cent of the markets. As I said earlier, if infrastructure is created as per our requirements, half of the work is already done.

Another area of marketing reforms includes a legal framework on contract farming, based on a pre-harvest agreement (or forward contracts) between the buyers (such as food processing units and exporters) and producers (farmers or farmer organizations). It will secure incomes of farmers besides enabling private investments.

A farmer sits on a trolley loaded with melons
As far as MSP regime is concerned, diluting or dismantling it, in any way, is not a good idea. REUTERS/Ajay Verma – RTSEY42

Also, to make sure farmers are not exploited in the new system, a strong and effective network of Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) needs to be created to enhance the bargaining power of farmers. The report of ‘Doubling of Farmer’s Income (DFI)’ has recommended formation of 7,000 FPOs by 2022 towards convergence of efforts for doubling the farmers’ income.

As far as MSP regime is concerned, diluting or dismantling it, in any way, is not a good idea. Time and again, open-ended procurement by government agencies, and resulting excess stocks of food grains and the associated problem of insufficient storage system, has made policymakers worry. However, Devinder Sharma argues that it is only the surplus food reserves that have come in handy at these difficult times.

While an increase in MSP is recommended at times, it is not the only thing required from the government. There are also issues like small agriculture surplus, distance to procurement centre, delay in payment, insufficient crop coverage, cumbersome bureaucratic procedure, and lackluster infrastructure, of course. At the same time, FCI should outsource its stocking operations to various other agencies like Central Warehousing Corporation, State Warehousing Corporation, and private sector under Private Entrepreneurship Guarantee Scheme.

Moreover, enhancement of Negotiable Warehouse Receipts System is needed, through which farmers can deposit their produce to the registered warehouse and get about 80% advance from the banks against their produce valued at MSP.

The sad part is that structural issues don’t let reforms to succeed. There have always been instances of collusion and corruption in the functioning of APMC. I have always believed, if we get rid of political interference and bureaucratization, there is no economic goal which can’t be achieved.

If I take example of cooperatives in India, most of them, including AMUL, succeeded because of overcoming bureaucratic hurdles. Those cooperatives, operating in rural areas, are largely ineffective because of excessive bureaucratization. Majority of cooperatives consist of members in their boards seeking private gains. The situation is no different in APMC committees.

Structural issues just don’t include officials, bureaucracy, and political system. We know our lands are getting fragmented but therein lies a deeply ingrained problem, land dispute among families is one such problem. Narrow self-interests are being fulfilled at the cost of land. Blaming government will not solve the problem. As I said earlier, it is more about farming than farmers. It is more about the land than landowners. It is a mutual relationship. You take care of land and it will take care of you.

Read the other parts of the story, beginning with part 1 here.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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