This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Ankita Marwaha. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Farmers’ Protests Against Agriculture Policies Started In 2017, Not Last Week

More from Ankita Marwaha

The farmers’ movement against public policies and laws on the agriculture sector did not begin last week. In truth, protests that started two months ago found the media’s attention last week when farmers from Punjab and Haryana decided to enter Delhi.

In further truth, farmers have been sitting in dharnas and marching in protest since 2017 in various pockets of the country after the droughts of 2014 and 2015.  However, the three farm laws brought by the government in September earlier this year were the straw that broke the camel’s back.

After a week of agitation, with the farmers demanding a repeal of the three laws (among other demands), the Central government officials met with the Punjab farmers and rejected all demands. The ministers, however, offered to set up a small expert committee, which was refused by the farmers’ groups.

“This is a fraud being played by the government,” said MG Devasahayam, Former Chief Secretary, Government of Haryana, who was a part of a High-Powered Committee on Agricultural Policies and Programmes in 1990 and recommended on the pricing of agricultural commodities. “The issue has been known to the government for over 40 years now and since then, many committees on agriculture policies have come and gone. At the height of the agitation, the demands of the farmers are plain and simple – i.e. repealing of the three laws – and the proposal of setting up another committee must be rejected,” he added. He was speaking at the press conference organised by a gathering of civil society groups on December 2, 2020.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Akshay Kapoor🌍 (@akshaykapoooor)

Also present at the conference was P Sainath, journalist and founder of People’s Archive of Rural India. “For the past 15 years, governments have been sitting on the MS Swaminathan Commission report and haven’t dedicated even a single day in the Parliament to its outcomes. How will another small committee make a difference,” he said. Submitted in five reports over six volumes in October 2006, the Committee’s Minimum Support Price (MSP) formula has been recommended widely by experts.

The farmers have made it clear. A withdrawal of the laws is what they want, not another committee to have their anger muffled. But why is it that the farmers are not open for a negotiation? What do these laws have that the government was shy of taking their opinion on?

a) Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020

What the government claims the Act will do: The Act will allow farmers to sell their produce directly to corporates or private individuals instead of relying on Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) mandis set up by the government. This will invite private investment in agriculture and farmers able to get a higher price for their produce due to the disappearance of middlemen.

What the Act will actually do: Farmers already have the freedom of choice to sell to anyone without having to go to AMPCs. In fact, most farmers directly sell their produce to private traders and not mandis, said R Ramakumar, professor of developing economies at Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS). He said that opening up trade doesn’t guarantee private investment and Bihar is an example. In 2006, Bihar abolished its AMPC system. Since then, unregulated and unscrupulous traders have taken over agricultural trade, leading to difficulties for farmers.

In 2020, wheat farmers in Bihar reportedly received 10-12% lower than the MSP. Many of them had to take their produce-laden trucks to Punjab and Haryana, which have a good AMPC system in place, to receive the MSP, said Ramakumar at the press conference. Because this pan-India Act will not guarantee MSP to the farmers, once implemented, farmers will this time have nowhere to drive a good bargain.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by tanushree bhasin (@ichakdaana)

b) The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020

What the government claims the Act will do: The government had initially put a stock limit for traders on essential commodities including pulses, onions and potatoes. It was enacted in 1955 to ensure that these commodities are not black marketed or hoarded to manipulate price. Due to this regulation, there was a lack of private investment in storage and warehousing in India. The government maintains that this amendment will remove stock limit on storage, allowing corporate companies to enter this arena of agricultural trade as well. This will lead to higher farm incomes.

What the Act will actually do: According to Ramakumar, there is a shortfall of private investment in storage and warehousing not because of stock limits but because of the structural issues in Indian agriculture – predominance of small and marginal farmers, lack of adequate surplus and aggregation in rural areas and absence of homogeneity in the cropping pattern. What the sector actually needs to strengthen its storage and warehousing infrastructure is more public investment.

c) Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020

What the government claims the Act will do: Most farmers currently rely on government-run mandis for MSP. By encouraging farmers to enter into contract farming, the Act will allow them to directly tie up with large buyers and exporters before sowing. This will get farmers a more suitable price, along with access to high quality seeds and fertilisers.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Akshay Kapoor🌍 (@akshaykapoooor)

What the Act will actually do: Contract farming can only work in the favour of farmers if the government ensures good regulation to protect them against the exploitation and malpractice of corporate companies. However, Ramakumar said, this Act includes negligent regulation and doesn’t keep the interest of the farmers at centre.

There is no evidence that contract farming liberate farmers from their poverty-ridden state. In fact, contract farming, as put by Shalmali Guttal, Executive Director, Focus on the Global South, is designed to create dependency by locking those with much less negotiating power with those who have the power of both capital and legal support. There have been instances of companies coming into a contract with a small farmer, giving them particular seeds as per its requirement, and later annulling the contract after the crops have grown, leaving the farmer with no buyer.

Thus, the protest against the reforms are not taking in presumption but in fact, with hindsight.

Putting The Farm Reforms In A Global Context

In the 1980s, the ratio of income per individual in agriculture and non-agriculture sector was 1:2. Today, this ratio is 1:6. Jha explained that this shift happened when India opened doors to privatisation in the agriculture sector in 1991, it cut public spending in social sectors and rural areas. And the present farm reforms are one step further towards free trade. “The plight of the farmers is not a humanitarian crisis or an agrarian crisis, it’s a public-policy-driven crime,” said Jha.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Danish Siddiqui (@danishpix)

In the past 30-40 years, agricultural reforms all across the developing world have come under the umbrella of neo-colonialism and imperialism. Developed nations including Europe and the US coerce agricultural nations to free trade for global corporations to feed off their land, while ensuring protection of their own farmers.

At the September 2018 meeting of the WTO’s Committee on Agriculture, several countries questioned India for its MSP policies, high subsidy to farmers and an increased import duty. The US even pointed out India’s public stockholding of foodgrains, which has been removed with the recent reforms. In the same year, Jha pointed out, the US gave $90 billion in subsidy to its two million farmers, i.e. $45,000/farmer.

A similar pressure on developing countries to deregulate the agriculture sector and reregulate in favour of corporate interest has proved to be disastrous to farmers and their families across the world, believes Guttal.

In 2002, Malawi faced a famine, leading to thousands of hunger-related deaths, the reason behind which was the sale of the national strategic grain reserve in 2001 on the advice of the International Monetary Fund. Similarly, Guttal said, corporate farming in Thailand, Philippines, Cambodia and many African countries has driven small-scale farmers into severe debt to corporations, moneylenders or banks. They are forced to sell their lands and find work in factories, entertainment industry or sex industry, to name a few, to repay their debts.

What Can Be Done Instead?

These farm laws, Guttal argues, must be seen as part of an overall over-intensification of disinvestment from public sectors and privatisation of public enterprises that are critical to public interest, which includes railways, airports telecommunication, energy, banks and so on.

However, handing over agriculture in the hands of corporates would mean quarrelling with your bread and butter. The laws must be scrapped and instead, the following steps must be taken to strengthen the income of our farmers.

Implementation of a fair MSP: This is the first step to ensure a fair earning to farmers. Despite an existing MSP, only 10-15% of the wheat and paddy farmers are able to access the MSP price at the government mandis. The rest are forced to sell their produce at a lower price. Thus, what is needed is an expansion and institutionalisation of the MSP system. The current government’s own committee has previously mentioned a need for at least 3,000 mandis, in addition to the 7,000 functioning mandis, in order to reach maximum farmers. Unfortunately, not even a single mandi has been opened in the last few years, Ramakumar stated.

Consultation of states: The establishment of a private market already falls under the purview of state legislation. This makes the three farm laws unconstitutional. Agriculture in Haryana and Punjab is not the same as agriculture in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and so, a committee sitting in Delhi shouldn’t be framing a single law for all. Hence, the Centre must reframe these laws in consultation with states.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Sara (@sarah_ather__)

Strengthening of FPOs: Farmers must be encouraged to form farmers collectives, called Farmer Producer Organisation, so that they can bargain with corporate companies for a better deal.

Income-support model: India must adopt a minimum-income model or improve its minimum price model to support the deteriorating income of its farmers.

Addressing women farmers: There is no recognition of the existence of women farmers and agriculture workers in any of the three farm reforms, Annie Raja, General Secretary of National Federation of Indian Women, pointed out. Even during the protests, the agency of women protests is being ignored by falsely claiming that they are getting paid Rs 100 to participate in the protest.

All three introductions in the legislation are intricately linked together to enable a corporate takeover of the agricultural market, leaving farmers to the mercy of corporates. The Indian civil society must unite with the farmers and protest for their demands.

Note: All inputs and quotes have been taken from a press conference by Nation for Farmers on December 2, 2020. 

Featured image credit: Getty images
You must be to comment.

More from Ankita Marwaha

Similar Posts

By IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute

By Shraddha Iyer

By Sushil Kuwar

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below