If one takes a dispassionate view of the three farm laws, that Narendra Modi has promised to roll back, then a few nagging questions remain. The idea that the laws will introduce free market forces and allow farmers to benefit from those, freeing them from middlemen, needs to be examined closely.
I am no agriculture expert but I do not understand the role of the middlemen when the government is supposed to buy grains and agricultural produce at the minimum support price (MSP) from the farmers? P.Sainath, the activist journalist who supported the farmer agitation, said that despite states announcing MSPs they did not procure the grains.
Making Farming A Viable Profession
The problem, therefore, is not about MSP, but the government stepping in to support farmers with the right price so that they did not have to sell at distress prices. Farming is not a viable profession in India, and yet 60% of the population of the country is engaged in agriculture.
The real problem and I am not an expert, should be to make farming an attractive occupation for young people, as attractive as the information technology or financial services professions are. Modern technologies like the Internet of Things, Drones, Accurate Weather Forecasting, the use of organic fertilizers like bio-slurry, reintroduction of farm animals to generate bio-inputs, could be an integrated approach to modernize Indian agriculture production.
Supply Chain Solution
Along with production, an entire supply-chain that includes high-technology storage, to prevent wastage (one-third of India’s agricultural produce is wasted), transportation, and ways of reaching the end-consumers, that could be the large food processing organization or the retail outlets, must be tied up seamlessly. Finance is the other element that has to be organized for all points of this chain. Crop insurance to protect farmers from natural disasters, climate control measures are all crucial moving parts of this integrated farm-to-fork system.
If the entire value chain is redrawn and appropriate technologies introduced at every point of this chain, to make it efficient, and transparent, only then will farmers benefit, buyers gain and new value unlocked that makes agriculture a technologically attractive profession.
Research & Development
Research is the other part of the agriculture value chain. Though some highly interesting research going on in places like Rice Research Institute, those are not being implemented at the field level due to the internal politics of these departments. Without research and continuous development of new techniques of farming, we cannot hope to feed our hungry millions.
Agriculture needs an integrated approach across production, sales, marketing, branding, research, and education. This should be a policy that must be created jointly with farmers to create trust with all stakeholders. The Modi government’s failure is its inability to generate trust with the farmers.
A Track Record Of Colossal Failures
The Himalayan failure of Modi’s previous decisions like demonetization, a scrappy GST, a disastrous lockdown, the delay in ordering Covid19 vaccines, have shown him as an inept administrator. Perhaps this is why the farmers remained unconvinced about his ability to deliver something worthwhile with his farm laws.
Worst was the attitude of thrusting laws down the throat of the farmers which increased this mistrust. It’s India’s tragedy that we have a leader who has zero trust among a large swathe of the population. Each day it is becoming apparent that Modi and his team lack administrative skills and above all empathy to govern such a hugely diverse country like India, despite his party enjoying an absolute majority.
Previous governments with far fewer numbers in the Parliament could transform the country when Modi is turning out to be a miserable failure, simply because he has lost the tremendous trust he enjoyed when he first formed the government in 2014.