In April 2019, #BoycottPepsico trended in India, the reason was simple and shocking- the company sued farmers in Gujarat over potato crops. These farmers were small-scale farmers who were dependent on farming for their livelihood. India’s economy is mainly dependent on the agriculture sector. The sector is widely unorganized, many big and small farmers work in collaboration and many farmers are landless who work on fields of big farmers to earn their daily bread and butter. Approximately 10% of suicide cases in India are of farmers, farmers die by suicide every year in large numbers. The common reason behind farmer suicides is loans, losses due to less or unfair minimum support prices, crop failure, the feudal character in unorganized farming, irrigation issues, etc.
In 2019, 10281 farmers died by suicide as stated by the National Crime Records Bureau. During the coronavirus lockdown, these cases have been increased as farmers across the country were left with their crops to fend themselves as there were least concerns related to transporting farm produces, the increase in fuel prices also surged the transportation costs leading to further problems for those who could try to transport theirs produces. Many workers who worked in bigger farms loss their jobs as the big farmers were unable to generate income leading to further unemployment and chaos among the most marginalized sections of farmers.
Most of the Indian farmers are dependent on nature for their crops, droughts, flood, reduction of natural water resources add to crop losses and these factors are often not considered during loan waivers which causes them distress. Three Bills related to farming have been passed recently in the parliament which was supposed to “empower farmers”. However, the reality of these bills makes one skeptical as it has many problematic stances which could lead to further chaos for the agricultural sector in India.
Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (AMPC) mandis are essential parts of the trading system in the agricultural sector of India. The current three bills were passed without any discussion and consideration of farmers. The state governments used to have more power to regulate the markets before these bills were passed. The bills which claim to empower farmers have created chaos as it allows corporate farming to enter widely in the Indian Agricultural Sector, the private players will be allowed to buy farm produce at a much cheaper price and the government would not have any regulation in this regard.
Along with this, farmers could produce crops for corporates but there is no discussion on contracts which both parties are supposed to sign, in the absence of contracts, it would become difficult to sue over breach of contracts. According to one of the bills, essential commodities like wheat, pulses, etc have been removed from the essential commodities lists. Due to the widening of the market, the problem related to bargaining power and lower price for products will remain the same, now more corporations will enter the farming market and anyone with a PAN Card could be a trader leading to further cases of fraud, low cost of crops as farmers will not be able to control the price of their crops just like before.
Instead of fixing APMC, a flawed structure, new structures have been introduced which are if not more, equally problematic for farmers. Most of the farmers are small scale and couldn’t decide their crop value unless it is cultivated, the transportation cost is also unaffordable for them making them push out of the market with new bills.