Home » Editorials » Agri reforms: The disjunct between the right ends, wrong means – analysis

Agri reforms: The disjunct between the right ends, wrong means – analysis

The protests by the Opposition over the farm bills, and Punjab’s decision to bring in a new legislative framework, brought to mind an apocryphal story. A politician was ship-wrecked, and found himself on an island. One day, he spotted a passing ship and waved. When he met the captain, he asked, “Are you the government? If so, I am in the Opposition!” That would seem to be the parties in the Opposition today.

The farm bills are a fait accompli. It is clear that all those concerned must meet farmers’ representatives and agricultural experts to examine how they can be carried forward.

There are many progressive steps in the farm bills that will benefit small farmers, who comprise 85% of the farming community. One bill helps farmers evade the clutches of the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) mandis and from the cartel of brokers and traders who are often in league with government inspectors. The other pertains to essential commodities and does away with many of the restrictions on crops that were there earlier. The third bill is aimed at contract farming directly with farmers and encourages start-ups that will help innovate and create new markets.

This will attract massive investments by corporates in procurement and processing, cold storages and supply chain from end-to-end. These bills will result in better prices for farmers by reducing the wastage of perishables and by increasing consumption and competition among buyers. They are not aimed at dismantling APMCs or eroding the Minimum Support Price (MSP).

These reforms will impact farming practices, livelihoods of farmers and labourers, supply chain linkages from farm to retail shelves and agri-start ups to giant corporates, and the millions of small-time traditional buyers, wholesalers and agents. Only a limited number of crops that come under APMC. There are other crops, fruits and vegetables, flowers and livestock and dairy products, which are not eligible for MSP.

These bills have several benefits, but also a few loopholes. Government monopolies, such as APMCs, are moribund and prone to corruption, and can be inefficient and indifferent to customers. But private sector monopolies, while being efficient, can also be rapacious. Many fears of farmers may be unfounded, but there are also legitimate concerns about corporations, which the government must address. Cooperative federalism was a dictum that the prime minister promoted in his time as the chief minister of Gujarat. It is now clear that he must implement the Swaminathan Report: National Commission on Farmers on agriculture which he had promised to do within a year of coming to power.

Writer Aldous Huxley talks of what happens when people act out of hubris. Here is a story: Some scientists alarmed at the poaching of rhinos in Africa for their horns — considered aphrodisiacs that fetch a huge price in the smugglers’ market — advised a solution. They recommended that the horns of all the rhinos be sawed off under anaesthesia to prevent them from being killed by poachers. It was a simple silver bullet. They later discovered, to their surprise, that the rhino population dwindled for many reasons. One of them being the female rhinos did not mate with males without horns.

Often, our noble intentions have unintended adverse consequences which we cannot foresee when we do not discuss, debate and deliberate on issues before we enact laws. What Ralph Waldo Emerson said, 150 years ago, still holds true: “The first farmer was the first man. All trade rests at last on his primitive activity… This hard work will always be done by one kind of man — the farmer; not by speculators nor by soldiers, nor professors or readers of Tennyson; but men of endurance.”

Captain Gopinath is founder, Air Deccan

The views expressed are personal

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