SPEAKER: I think we'll get started. Good afternoon, everybody, those who are here in Ithaca. And, to those who are joining online, good day, whatever time zone you're in. Welcome again to the fastest hour on campus-- mid-week, Wednesday afternoon seminar.
And now it is my distinct honor and pleasure to be introducing our seminar speaker today. Our speaker today is Dr. Sudha Narayanan. And she's a research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute, also known as IFPRI. Most of you know that as one of the key leading [? CGs ?] working in food policy research globally.
She was previously Associate Professor at the Indira Gandhi Institute for Development Research in Mumbai. Her research interests include agriculture, food and nutritional policy, and human development in India. And, on this topic, she has published widely in both peer-reviewed and popular press outlets.
She holds a PhD degree from here at Cornell University in the Dyson School where I used to be. And she also holds an MPhil and MA degrees in economics in Delhi School of Economics in India.
In the past, she has worked with the Institute of Economic Growth in India and also here at Cornell University with the Right to Food Campaign in India where she provided research support to commissioners appointed by the Supreme Court of India to monitor the implementation of orders issued in connection to the right of food case.
Most of all, I'm delighted that the topic that she's talking about today is one of those topics that we all hear about if you read popular news articles or listen to NPR. It's a recurring topic about farmer protests in India. And it's one of those topics where I have always wanted to hear more and learn more about this. So, today, with that said, I want to welcome Dr. Sudha for your talk. Thank you very much. Over to you.
SUDHA NARAYANAN: Thank you, [? Ed. ?] I'm very happy to be here. And what I hope to do today is to help all of us understand farmers protests in India. It was a long year of protest, very polarized with very partial information coming through. And, as we all know, social media is quite unreliable in terms of giving us news of what's going on there. And that's what I'm going to do today.
I'm an economist by training. And, while I was in India and the protests were unfolding, not many people understood what these farm laws were about against which the farmers had gathered. And so we spoke a lot as economists, delving into the details of the laws.
That's not what I'm going to do today. What I'm hoping to do is to draw on my fellow colleagues, who are sociologists, political scientists, who all each come up with their own perspectives on understanding these farmer protests. And I'll share some of that knowledge with you. So that's what I hope to do.
I'm going to presume that not many of you know what went on. I was actually due to give this talk last semester when the farmers were still protesting. And this delay has been, in fact, interesting because, now, I can conclude because the farmers are no longer on the streets protesting.
So just to give you a background, on June 5-- so remember that this is the time of the COVID-19 lockdown. India had one of the strictest lockdowns and a lot of cases. And that's when these three farm bills were passed as ordinances.
Now, India is a democratic state. Or, in general, it's unusual for ordinances to be passed, which essentially means that the prime minister and his cabinet decide what laws to pass. Normally, we have a due process where it's represented in the parliament. And we have a lower house and an upper house.
It's first discussed and debated in the lower house. It's passed there by vote. And then it goes on to the upper house. And then the president has to give assent.
But here we have this unique route that was taken for these three farm laws. I'll come to the laws themselves later. They were passed as ordinances. And it wasn't until September 20. On the 17th, it was presented in parliament. And, very unusually, it was decided based on a voice vote. Essentially, you ask who's in favor, and it gets passed.
And it went to the upper house. It was passed in the upper house to a voice vote. And the president promulgated those-- approved those laws. And it came into force on September 20-- 27. Sorry. 27, the president gave approval.
Now, even though, in June, there were small protests on a small scale, different farmer unions getting together, talking about these laws, in November 24 to 27, that's the window when it took momentum. And the farmers galvanized into action.
And what you had was a large number of farmers congregating in Delhi. So Delhi has about five arterial highways coming in from different states. And each of those five highways had farmers protesting on the highways leading to Delhi. Their goal was to actually protest in Delhi, but, because of COVID restrictions, they were not allowed into the city. So they just camped there, built tents, and occupied the streets on their tractors and what they call trolleys, which are attachments to the tractors that carry people.
It's not just an agricultural input in India. It's often a transport vehicle. And, if people went to marriages, they would go in these trolleys. So this is essentially what happened.
So you have Delhi as the center for protests. The scale of the protests, just to give you a sense, nobody has done a count, but they estimate that, at its peak, there were about 300,000 farmers occupying these five highways. Now, in December, early December, the government initiated talks. And there were seven rounds. None of them [? factified ?] or resolved any of the issues.
Actually, with just this timeline, I can go on for 1 and 1/2 hours because there are very interesting clues. So, in the first round of talks, for example, the farmers were hoping to meet the minister of agriculture. They went in, and they saw some bureaucrats who were trying to explain to them why the farm laws were good for them. And it put them off. And they said, if this is what we are going to get, we are not interested in the talks.
So, in some ways, the way in which these talks unfolded were not accepted by the farmers. And the farmers had dug into a very strong position of saying, we want a repeal of all of these three. We are not going to negotiate on minor details.
And the government always believed that they had implemented this in good faith and that they were convinced that it would benefit the farmers. So their position was always that we need to get the farmers to understand that this is for their own good.
So, because there was this fundamental mismatch of perspectives, these talks really didn't yield anything. And then, January 12, there was a case in the Supreme Court, petitioning against the farmers protests because they were blocking the highways.
So the Supreme Court essentially-- it kind of evolved, and the Supreme Court stayed the laws, which means it's not going to be implemented. And they formed a committee of four. One person resigned in protest. And the other three were essentially people-- were viewed as people who were anti-farmer protests and pro-farm laws.
So, again, the committee actually went to great lengths to meet a wide range of stakeholders, but the farmers refused to meet any of the committee members because they said, we know what the report is going to look like because we know their predilections already. So this committee was formed, but the farmers still did not really participate in this process. There were farmer movements that were actually for the laws. So they, in fact, met the committee and gave their input, but not the protesting farmers.
The government, in the meantime, said, we'll keep the farm laws in abeyance for 18 months. You tell us the problems that you have with these laws. We'll sit together, resolve the issues within these three acts, and that should help. And they said no. We have a fundamental problem with the laws itself. And we want a complete repeal.
Now, in March, the committee submitted the report. Unfortunately, it's still not public. So it was submitted. The committee submitted the report to the Supreme Court. Nobody knows what it contains. And they are not allowed to speak about it. So that's still there.
And there's a time gap here. So, unfortunately, during this time, a lot of the strategies that the government took were to undermine the motives of the protesters. So, for example, Rihanna, the singer, tweeted. And then there was a huge backlash, saying, this is the internal business of the country. And external foreign citizens have no business telling us what to do and that kind of a thing.
So it acquired three or four different dimensions. One was that the traders who the farmers typically sell to in India, they were engineering these protests via the farmers.
There was another view that the opposition parties were trying to organize these protests because the history of agriculture reform is such that all parties have been trying to reform, but they have been unsuccessful. So the government said, when you were in power, you were trying to reform the system. And we do it. You've mobilized these protesters.
But it also took on a kind of a nasty tone when people started accusing the farmers protests as being anti-national and anti-India. The history goes back to a particular historical moment, actually, in the 1980s when most of the farmers from the Punjab, which is the Green Revolution area in India, are also Sikhs. And they follow a different religion.
And there was a separatist movement, called Movement for Khalistan, in the '80s. And it was apparent to the government that some of the funding and the support was also coming from those movements. And they saw this as a resurgence of that. So there were also these accusations that it actually had nothing to do with the farm laws, and it was actually more than that and, in a way, inimical to national interest.
Now, whatever the case, we don't know the truth, and these are perspectives. The PM came-- sorry, in November on the 19th and announced a repeal on television and to the Press. And different motives are attributed to it.
One is that, if we let the protests continue beyond-- it was close to a year by then-- there is a risk that this is going to blow out of proportion into something that's going to threaten national security. The other was that three state governments are going into elections that's currently happening. And it was perceived that, politically, it's very damaging to have farmers on the street. And there's a loss of political support.
And I don't have a view on these or why this repeal happened. And I don't particularly-- it doesn't matter what I think. But it was repealed.
But, interestingly, it was also repealed in parliament, again, via a voice vote and without any discussion. And, on December 9, they announced-- the farmers announced the end of the sit-in. But they said, we'll continue our demands and our struggles. But we are going home. And they went home in December 11-- on December 11.
So notice that, between the prime minister announcing this and their departure, actually, there's a significant time span. And, actually, it reflects a lot of lack of trust. And the farmers dug in and didn't go home. And then, in fact, the government, on December 8, said, well, we have promised this. We have repealed it. So go home.
And the farmers were still concerned that, as soon as they went home, it would be implemented again. So that mistrust is very much there.
Now, I've already said, at its peak, there's an estimated 300,000 farmers gathered around Delhi. An estimated 700 have supposedly died, either on the site or trying to get to the site. And, just to give you a sense of what the farmers experienced, they started protesting in November at a very strategic moment when the winter harvest had finished. So they knew that it could be a long haul.
And the temperatures in India go down to freezing temperatures, so 32 degrees Fahrenheit. And, in the summer, it went up to 115. So that's the kind of range of temperatures and weather they've withstood through the year.
Now, who protested and where? When we talk about the farmer protests, we are essentially talking about those five highways leading to Delhi.
Now, interestingly, the protests were on the west of Delhi, but the epicenter of the protests actually shifted in January this year to east of Delhi, so one coming from Uttar Pradesh, and the other is Punjab. Punjab, historically, is the traditional Green Revolution area. And the Western UP is an area which has a different history, but a very strong history of farmers movements. I'll have a bit to say about that later.
But, essentially, who were protesting? It's this collection of 32 farmer unions. And they were-- so they're all mostly based in Punjab and Western UP, mostly Punjab. And they were supported by the all-India farmers struggle, movement, struggle, consortium, which has about 400 farmer organizations across India.
Now, the sociologists and political scientists have really been very interested in what happened, A, because farmer movements in India faded when India started liberalizing. So they became weaker. Also, because agriculture's importance in the economy was going down, farmer mobilization around many of these issues had been fading.
There were also very distinct divisions. The farmer movements in India historically spoke of farmers being one homogeneous community, which wasn't the case. The farmer-- land ownership in India is very much mapped to upper castes. And their power derived from their caste position and landholding.
And, in a way, the lower caste participants in agriculture were always excluded from these farmers movements. So the farmer movements were not really a democratic representation of all farming interests. It was, in fact, a representation of a particular set of landed castes.
And so one of the things-- so that's been a critique of farmers movement [INAUDIBLE]. I'm not an expert on this, more a consumer of knowledge that's produced by sociologists and political scientists. But my understanding is that this farmers protest was quite different, A, in terms of scale, in terms of the articulation of demands on the state, which had largely disappeared in the last 20 years in India, but, most importantly, in trying to bring diverse groups together.
And this is not just diverse farmer unions of different political persuasions, but also trying to include the untouchables and the Dalits or the lower castes, also women. Women have rarely occupied an important position here. It was also inclusive of women.
I'll have a little more to say about this if I have the time, but I won't. But one interesting thing is this BKU Ekta I've mentioned is kind of an outlier. So they always had their own set of demands.
So, in fact, in the protest area, each farmers union or a group of farmers unions had their own platforms and invited speakers to talk. They didn't agree on all the issues. Some went further with their demands than others. But, overall, there was this kind of a consensus on some basic issues. And the core consensus was that these farm laws needed to be repealed.
And here's a map. So many people say, oh, but farm protests were only in Delhi. And here's a crowdsourced map that shows that there were many local protests. I won't go into that in detail, but, by far, the largest and the most enduring protest was certainly around Delhi.
Now, a snapshot of Indian agriculture, the details are not so important, but India is a nation of smallholders. And the average size of holding is just over a hectare. I recall a colleague of mine once told me that a Midwest US farmer actually asked him, if plots are this small, what do they farm with? Knives and forks? So they are really tiny.
And, against the global trends where farm consolidation is the norm, in India, these holdings are getting smaller, and there are more of them. So 86% of the operational holdings is less than 2 hectares.
Policies in India are also smallholder friendly in the sense that there are land ceilings. Corporates cannot own land. If I have to buy a land and am not from a traditional agricultural family, in many states, I can't buy land unless I prove that I am a farmer, which means that I belong to a farming family. So these keep the farm sizes fairly small.
And India has also had this peculiar nature of transformation where agriculture accounts for 15% of the GDP. It's come down rapidly, but a large proportion of the workforce are still in agriculture. And, in fact, many people are surprised by how many youth participated in these protests because the youth aspire to leave agriculture.
And the answer lies in the fact that jobs outside the farming sector are very precarious and of poor quality. And, with the COVID lockdown, many of them even lost their jobs. So they've never really lost connect with the land. And, in some sense, these protests galvanized their commitment and connections to land in a way that hadn't. So you had an extraordinary number of youth that were actually participating in the protests.
And the larger issue at the background-- and I'll come to that briefly later-- is these legacy issues. So India had high levels of food insecurity in the early '70s. I'm sure many of that the Green Revolution occurred in the '60s and '70s with the varieties of rice and wheat.
And there was a system put in place where hybrid seeds were adopted alongside input subsidies, subsidies on power, for water, fertilizers, and state involvement in procurement. And what was procured was then distributed in kind, as rice and wheat, to urban consumers. Now, of course, it's all over India, so rural and urban consumers.
Now, this system was put into place and was extraordinarily successful in making India food secure. But that system is still in place. And many actually talk about the harmful effects and unintended consequences of the Green Revolution where monocultures were promoted. So rice and wheat crowded out other grains and other crops. So it's prevented diversification. Water tables have gone down and so on.
So much of the protests happened in these historical Green Revolution areas where the Green Revolution was the most successful. And that's something to keep in mind. That's not to say that India did not have many private sector players. In fact, India has a high degree of state intervention in many crops, but a lot of the new sector horticulture and so on are driven largely by private players.
Now, what was the key bone of contention? I'll talk about the economics of it first. So these three farm laws were passed by the government at the center. I'll call it central government.
Now, the Indian Constitution actually divides powers of the state, the center and the states, as having different jurisdiction over different spheres. So agriculture is a state subject according to the constitution. And markets and fairs within a state are also the jurisdiction of the state where center does not have a right to pass legislation.
The center's role is, however, relevant because there's an article in the constitution that says that the center's responsibility is to facilitate inter-state movement. So, within the national boundaries, it's the center's role.
So essentially-- I'm going to skip. So the center did have a role in some areas, especially trade policy and the procurement policy I told you about for food security. But agricultural markets are primarily the state government's concern.
And, essentially, we don't have many contracts or commodity exchange-driven trade. It's wet markets and people interacting. So farmers physically bring produce. The price is negotiated and sold. And that first transaction is governed by state regulations.
And it's done through a set of acts. So different states have different acts. Not all of them look like each other. So there's a lot of variation.
And they were introduced in the 1960s and '70s for a reason because, under the colonial era, under the British, farmers were mostly left at the mercy of traders. So they didn't have any negotiating power. It was bilateral bargaining. Traders could exploit farmers.
So the idea was that, if you get all of these in one market place, then we can have a proper pricing system through auctions, which is transparent. You can see. You can record. And there's a dispute settlement mechanism, which can protect the smallholders.
Now, it turns out that it didn't happen that way because the traders could collude and still keep the prices down. The other big problem was that the traders and the politicians-- traders often fund a lot of local politicians. So they could keep out new traders from coming in. So there were a host of problems that were unanticipated that plagued this APMC system. So I'm going to call it APMC. So these are physical market yards.
Now, the way it worked, each state has an act. Some of them don't actually. And that act essentially says that here's the market yard. And the state's geographic areas are separated into different market yards. And each market area has a physical yard where farmers are mandated to sell.
So, if you're a farmer in that area, you can sell only at that market. And the traders who buy there or operate there need a license to trade in that market. Now, it was never enforced in that way. Farmers had freedom to sell where they want because the state chose not to enforce all of these.
But, essentially, what would happen is, within the market area, anywhere you transacted, it would get recorded as a transaction in this APMC. And you had to pay taxes to the local APMC. So, essentially, these were regulated markets. And farmers, even though, technically, they were supposed to sell into only that mandi where they were located, that wasn't often the case. There was quite a lot of variation.
The other important thing is different states had different rules. So many states, starting in the 2000s, had significantly reformed these regulations. In fact, Kerala, a particular state in the south, never had-- they had free. It's completely deregulated markets. And Bihar, another state, abolished these APMCs in 2006. So you do have a lot of variation.
The problem has been this idea of collusive traders and the politician-trader nexus. Reform has been extremely hard. And imagine, if a country has to be one unified market, you need all the states to move forward. Otherwise, it's like trying to pull a horse cart where the two horses are going at different paces. You get nowhere.
And this has been a problem. And that's what the government was trying to solve. So the government essentially said, if the states are not going to do it, we'll do it. And so there is a little bit of constitutional questions around whether it's legitimate for the state to do it, but they exploited this article in the constitution that says that central government is still responsible for free trade within that [? area. ?]
So this is a very complex set of laws. But I'm just going to-- there are three laws. They have very large, long names. I'm not going to use these. But, for simplicity, I'll just stick to this as APMC Bypass Act. And this has been the biggest issue that the farmers have had.
Essentially, now, what the law says is-- the central government says, we'll forget the market area and all of that. The APMC physical yard itself will be the only place where the state can regulate. The rest of the area is now free trade area where anybody can operate without a license, no taxes. Anyone can start off electronic platforms and do whatever they want.
So this is deregulation of the extreme kind. It's a bit like saying that New York State only has jurisdiction over transactions in the Ithaca farmers market. But anything that happens outside now suddenly is under the US government. So it's a little bit like that. And so it's quite dramatic. And it's implications for regulation.
The second one is on stocking. So India had a lot of stocking limits to protect hoarding and artificial manipulation of prices. So this was essentially the Essential Commodities Act. They wanted to bring transparency into the system and say it will no longer be arbitrary, and it will be related to some price triggers.
So, if it goes beyond a certain price, we'll put in these laws. So, in principle, it's a good thing that you want to bring in predictable and non-arbitrary laws.
The Contract Farming Act essentially said that you don't have to have a written agreement because, in most of India, they're basically oral agreements. But, if you do have a written agreement, this law will apply in deciding the terms, dispute settlement, and so on.
Now, these three need to be read together. Now, there are several questions about these acts. And that's central to the trigger, why the protests were triggered.
The first is this dramatic change in jurisdiction from state to center. The second thing is the design of these acts itself, the nuts and bolts of what these acts say. And these were very problematic, and a lot of critiques around that came up.
The other thing was, is this an act that was actually needed? Because a lot of states had gone very far with their reform. And so was this the best way to do it?
And then the timing, I mean, COVID happened, and everyone is taking a hit. Was this really the right time to experiment? And not to mention the process by which it was passed in parliament was also questioned. So, on all these counts, there was a lot of-- there was a lot of discontent surrounding these acts from even supporters of the farm laws.
For example, I myself-- we've all been talking for years about the need for market reform. But, in the form that it came, it just didn't seem to work. And I'll just talk a little bit about how.
Now, ideally, you want the market design to work for the farmer. It should strengthen the farmer's right and freedom to sell wherever he or she wants. The disparities and power imbalances in the supply chain should go. And they should get remunerative prices, which, currently, Indian farmers don't.
Now, here, this is the farmers' perspective on what was the problem. Notice that these were called farm laws. And some sociologists actually point out that the emphasis on farm laws is actually to indicate even two of the three farm laws have farmers' empowerment, farmers in the title of the act itself.
And so there was this idea that this is something that you are trying to say is for the farmers, but it's actually very business focused. These are laws that enable businesses to do their work easier. And the underlying premise was that you attract private investments. Businesses come in. And the improvements in efficiency, which are likely to be huge, will be passed on to the farmers in the form of higher prices.
And farmers were saying that we are not buying this. So, in a way, it was like-- there's a Brahms violin concerto, which they say it's not for the violin. It's against the violin. It's a bit like that. This is a law for the farmer, which is actually against the farmer. And this was a key issue.
Then, fragmented systems, now, as soon as you say the mandi is not the site of regulation-- anything outside is completely unregulated-- rather than building a unified national market, you may actually fragment it more because each person is doing their own thing. Rather than fostering competition, it may do the opposite.
And so it makes everything invisible, and prices will, in fact, now be decided bilaterally. And there's no mechanism to set prices in a fair way. So that was the other problem.
And then, centralization, so one of the things critiques of this was that-- they called it DRAMA. One economist said, this is dual regulation. You're essentially splitting the regulatory system into two where one small part is the jurisdiction of the state. The rest is by the center. So you'll see the centralization and, therefore, the possibility of over-centralization in those free trade areas.
Now, one of the odd things is Kerala, which had no regulation at all and had completely deregulated market, overnight, because anything that's not in the APMC would now be under the center, the entire state, any agricultural transaction now goes to the state. So you have this perverse consequence that the most deregulated and free state will now be completely centralized.
And there they saw a danger that this over-centralization can take many forms, especially consolidation and control over data, supply chains, and logistics. And I'm going to give one example of each of these to highlight the concerns.
So two companies have been named explicitly by farmers in their protest. And both are very close to the current dispensation, so Adani and Ambani. So there were a lot of protests outside their warehouses and silos.
And this is a statement in mid-December from their website where Adani has links with the Food Corporation of India, a formal memorandum of associations, where they actually take control over the entire procurement and distribution systems of the state with a 30-year contract with guaranteed post-tax returns. So these are contracts with huge silos, automated, where they claim that they have a vision for transforming the future of food security for India.
Interestingly, if you click this today, it'll say fake news. They've changed the content of their website as soon as the protests started. I managed to capture this just before they did that.
And data stacks, so the other big concern is, with the growth of agritech, which clearly has huge potential in a place like India, there's a concern about data ownership and how it will be used, especially by large businesses. And here the government went into a hurry to say that no private sector companies are involved in developing this AgriStack, which will integrate all the databases.
But, soon after, you will see this notification that says that a few companies have been granted limited access to government databases, which don't have any anonymity. So these are all again-- some of them are credible candidates, others not so.
And here's this idea. What does deregulation do? APMCs were abolished in Bihar in 2006. This is my visit to one of the biggest maize mandis, markets, in Asia, called Gulabbagh. Trader collusion is rampant. And big businesses-- the whole idea is that there's huge scope for larger businesses to come in, invest, and improve farmers' condition. But that's not what you see where it's been privatized.
Big businesses are just using pre-existing institutions, like the traders, who continue to collude. And big businesses are not present directly. Likewise, warehouses have proliferated, but it's still operated by traders. So, on the ground, not much has changed. It's just free, free trade now, rather than APMC.
And there's no dispute resolution and very arbitrary standards. For example, maize, you would think of standards as involving moisture, color, and so on. Here you have RBD, BD.
Essentially, the BD says, it's exportable to Bangladesh. So it's BD. RBD says Bangladesh will reject your lot. So it's RBD. So it's that arbitrary. And this is the private market in operation.
And there is the ominous signs of over-centralization in the sense that the government has been trying to achieve a lot in a short time, but it's often taken the form of very large scaled that are announced, but are pretty impossible to implement-- 1 million farm ponds, 10,000 farmer producer organizations, the fact that each district should focus on one product.
All of them seem very disconnected from local needs. And many of us feel that the states are better placed to understand local needs and come up with policies that fit local needs better, especially in the context of sustainable agriculture.
One very odd thing is this one where the Essential Commodities Act essentially said, we'll be more transparent about imposing stocking limits. And, soon after, just weeks after the laws were passed, ignoring their own laws, they actually implemented stocking restrictions against onions and pulses.
So all of these kind of lead to this mistrust. And I'll wrap up with a few more slides on just saying that the farm laws were the trigger, but this idea of centralization, consolidation of corporate power, and the general opposition to this government comes from a lot of different sources.
There were-- recent years have seen key shocks, which are all mostly policy induced. One of it was demonetization. In 2016, 86% of India's currency was rendered illegal. And our own research shows that it just collapsed-- agricultural markets collapsed by 16% and didn't recover for about eight months.
Then there's been constant increases in prices of fertilizer and fuel. India's fuel prices are well above international rates. And that's a problem.
And many people have been accusing the Punjab farmers who were protesting as being not enterprising enough to move away from state support. My own view is that it's the opposite. In fact, in 1989, when Pepsi came to do contract farming for the first time in India, they chose Punjab. And Punjab farmers have actually been very enterprising, whether in daily or high-value agriculture.
And my own sense is that it comes with their underwhelming experience with big business. And you have increasing instances of that in India where PepsiCo sued Gujarati potato farmers for unauthorized use of seeds. 2016, the Competition Commission of India called out Monsanto for abusing its dominant position. So these are all issues that the farmers are seeing in a way that we are not.
And then I've already said a lot about the Green Revolution and the system. One big worry that the farmers have is that the price support that they are getting-- they're not getting it for all the crops. They're getting it only for rice and wheat. Even that doesn't cover their costs.
The other worry is that a recent report actually suggested a moving away from that system that existed of procurement and in-kind distribution of food. This is, again, a separate topic in itself. I don't have the time to go into it.
I'll conclude with just these last two slides. So it's very interesting. It started off-- the farm laws started as a trigger. I've given some indication of the larger concerns farmers had about handing over agriculture to the corporates. That's clearly a dominant concern. Price, having a support price as a legal guarantee was another one.
But there are these bunch of other things, which have to do with, for example, stubble burning. That's become a big issue as well. And there is this recent ordinance on air quality management, which actually can put farmers in prison for five years and fines up [? $134 ?] for anything that contributes to pollution. And they fear that this will be used against the farmers quite heavily to control stubble burning.
So there are issues like this also that were part of the larger concerns. And, interestingly, I told you about BKU. A couple of demands actually included withdrawal of all cases against all farmers in India, intellectuals, poets, democratic rights activists. And here's actually one of the farmers unions. Not all farmers unions were on board with this demand, but they actually celebrated Human Rights Day on December 10, asking for more democratic freedoms, likewise, decentralization of powers.
So one last comment about these protests is that, when sociologists look at this, they see these protests as a fight against an increasingly authoritarian centralized government that's also increasingly communalized. And, in India, that means fundamentalism associated with religion.
And, in fact, when you look at the Punjab Sikh protests, they have leveraged the Sikh tradition and Sikh slogans to actually-- as very much part of the protest. In contrast, in Western UP where deep divisions between Hindu farmers and Muslim farmers have come up, it's actually been unifying. So there's a rebuilding of secular movements among the farmers.
So many sociologists actually see this as not just about the farm laws, but as a bigger message for Indian democratic traditions as a whole. I have less to say about that. I'm not the expert.
But, to conclude, what next? There are lessons that we can draw from this about democracy, democratic process, and reform. As an economist, I'll get back to my own domain of expertise. Not all of the farmers' demands have merit. We do have a legacy of the Green Revolution that has created a lot of problems. We need solutions for that.
So I, personally, don't agree with a lot of the demands the farmers are making for a minimum support price that's a legal guarantee and so on. But, at the same time, there's a way to do this. The challenge of market reform is not just about getting it right, but also doing it right in the best way possible.
And India has always had a rich tradition of a consultative process. It's often slowed things down, but that gradualism also has benefits because you can correct course midway. And states, I believe, is the site for where reform should happen.
India is like a collection of the equivalent of many sub-Saharan African countries stitched together or the European Union. The contexts are different. The problems are different. The priorities are different.
And, to sum up, the repeal has not solved the problems. Just because of the farm laws are repealed doesn't leave the farmers better off. In fact, there's a huge need to have private investments come in and sophisticated systems in place.
At the same time, private sector is already there. They're already growing at a fast pace. Agtech is there. And we need to see how best to go forward in terms of regulating a change that's already in process. I'll stop there. And thank you very much for this opportunity, and I look forward to discussions.
We have about 10 minutes for Q&A and discussion. So you can raise your hand for those of you in the room here. If you are joining online-- actually, there's quite a lot of people online-- you can either type your question in the chat or raise your hand. And we'll try to get to you.
Kindly, keep your questions brief and to the point so that we can accommodate as many questions as possible. Questions? Oh, sorry. I didn't have the microphone on. I hope the people online could hear me.
AUDIENCE: Hi. Thank you for this wonderful presentation. My question is so, now, this reform process has hit a roadblock. But, I guess, there is a broad consensus that reforms are required because the APMCs are rigged largely. And the procurement system-- there is also debate that procurement system or the MSP system is not very sustainable. So is there a debate or is there a consensus that what ought to be the reforms [INAUDIBLE]?
What kind of reforms will actually improve the conditions of farmers?
SUDHA NARAYANAN: Should I collect questions? Maybe it's more efficient that way.
SPEAKER: Is there are another immediate question? I think we should go one question at a time.
SUDHA NARAYANAN: OK.
SPEAKER: [? That way ?] it's easier for you as well.
SUDHA NARAYANAN: Yeah. So I don't think there's any mystery about what reforms are required, especially with respect to the APMC. When the APMC committee is both in charge of operations as well as regulation, there's a problem.
So you want a separation of powers so that one person is regulating it, and the other entity is actually in charge of operating it. And that division is what we need, along with a series of reforms, which I think, over the 20 years, that have been 10 committees that have all said the same thing.
The issue is also that around 27 or 28 states have already gone far in doing a lot of these little bits. It's about getting more of them to do the same. And the central government should focus on what they need to focus on, which is having a more predictable policy environment for exports, imports, for futures markets, for commodity exchanges, and so on.
I don't think there's a huge mystery on what needs to be done. I think it's just about getting it done.
SPEAKER: Other questions? More questions? OK, I have a question myself. What is it-- aspects of what is playing out here, what part of this is unique to India? Because you'd imagine that farmers have grievances around the world in the interaction with commerce and all that. But it looks like this is playing out a little bit differently.
Is it just the federal versus state dynamic? Or is it the historical context? How is this playing out differently, especially in the case of India? Or is it social media? How much do all these factors play into the case that is unfolding in India?
SUDHA NARAYANAN: That's a really interesting question, and I don't think I have a full answer to that. I think one issue is that India has had a rich democratic tradition of protest, especially around farmers' issues. It faded away in the '80s.
The interesting thing we are seeing-- and maybe it's not unique to India, but it's the fact that India has not successfully got people out of agriculture at a rate that parallels its importance in the GDP. So, economically, agriculture's contribution is shrinking, but too many people depend on it, which means that, just as you-- we can never say in India that farming is becoming less and less important because the nature of our farm jobs is such that farming will continue to be important, and the ties to land will continue to be important.
So the nature of structural transformation in India is perhaps what is unique and pulls in interest in agriculture and dependence on agriculture. In fact, the COVID-19 lockdown has emphasized that, when people lost their jobs, they went back to the land. And agriculture sector saw the highest spike in employment during the lockdown. So land is a fallback option for an economy that's not going right. That may be unique in India.
SPEAKER: We have two questions from online. So I'll ask you to unmute yourself and maybe turn your camera on. The first one is going to be [? Kingsley ?] [? Oriya, ?] and then the next [? after ?] one is [? Bhu ?] [? Kumar, ?] [? Bhupendra ?] [? Kumar. ?] Please, go ahead.
AUDIENCE: This is [? Kingsley ?] [? Oriya. ?] I'm actually joining from Nigeria. And I just-- I have just one question. I wanted-- the presentation was great. I wanted to know how do-- does she actually feel that private individuals will want to invest in the system that is [? retarded ?] to reform or that is not open to reforms?
[? The ?] [? effect ?] [? of ?] this kind of system for private sector, if you are a trader wanting to invest in this space, and it's not open to reform, what is the implications for private investment?
SUDHA NARAYANAN: I think the problem in India so far has been what kind of private investment it's attracted so far. So it's not as if traders are not investing. There's a huge growth in private investments. In fact, if you look at 2000 onwards, state investment in agriculture has gone-- has receded and has ceded space to private sector investments.
So, one, I think it's not in the-- it's the pace of investments that's going to be an issue. It's a little bit like, with reforms, the floodgates open, and there's a huge scale of investment. Large players are going to be deterred investing in the sector because they face different regulatory environments in different states. There's a lot of uncertainty. Political mobilization is very strong. So you see a lot of big players, agribusinesses, being more conservative in investing.
But, if you look at the small-scale sector, the agtech space, for example, the warehousing space, it's filled with small players. And so that investment is continuing to happen.
And, interestingly, because of the economic slowdown, the problems after COVID, agriculture is seen as a safe investment by many people. So most people with money are putting it either into agriculture sector or extractive industries.
So, in fact, now, the agricultural sector in India is attracting a lot of investment from small-scale startups. I think we just need to be aware that it's more likely to drive away large-scale agribusinesses from investing rather than small players. We're also going to have slower investments. But I don't think it's a case of no versus some investment. It's the pace and where it goes that matters.
SPEAKER: OK, we'll go to [? Bhupendra ?] [? Kumar. ?] Please, go ahead.
AUDIENCE: Thank you, Sudha, for this fascinating presentation. I have two questions to you. So one question, first question, is regarding this caste class and across these religious alliances, which you are-- like most of the commentators have been optimistic about. So like how it is going to play into the very democratic politics of agrarian politics in the near future?
And the second question is regarding the very discipline of yours-- like how this political economy of caste plays into the agrarian economy itself and the kind of alliances which global economy is having and the kind of looming crisis of global market, which has been seen as a main threat to the farmers of India. So like there's a kind of threat, which is coming from the global capital markets.
And the second, which I am more interested into, the kind of resistance to this global capital, which is from the transnational solidarity of the social movements itself. So, if we see the kind of solidarity which protesting farmers got across the La Via Campesina and other global farmers' movements, social movements, so how do you see this interplay of capital and counter to it in a very much democratic and global sense? So thank you.
SUDHA NARAYANAN: I guess you have two questions there. The first one, unfortunately, it's not my area of expertise. So I have no sense of how these caste and religious dimensions of these farmers protests is going to play out and how it will grow. So I will avoid answering questions on that because of my lack of expertise.
On transnational capital, I think that's an interesting question because what India is seeing is you look at global transnational capital. You look at local capital, which was controlled by the traders in nexus with local politicians.
India is playing it out differently right now because now you have national capital in the form of big business, families that are very close to the national governments. So there's much more of an inclination of policymakers at the center to keep out transnational capital and support national capital for large players.
So, if you look at the Adani, Ambani, they are good examples of homegrown businesses that have grown in scale who are actually capturing resources outside India. And, with the idea of a new kind of nationalism, transnational capital is maybe less important, and policymakers may actively find a way to make that go away and be replaced by Indian or national capital. I don't have a word for it, but, between global and local, there's something else going on in India right now.
SPEAKER: OK, I'll go to one final question. But, before I do that, let me remind you that our speaker happens to be on Cornell campus for much of the spring semester. So those that want to follow up in the conversation can reach out directly to her.
But we have one last question from [? Apenda ?] [INAUDIBLE] online. If you're still there, do you want to ask your question? [? Apenda ?] [INAUDIBLE]?
AUDIENCE: Hi. Very nice presentation. So I have a question about [INAUDIBLE]. What do you think about peer comments on implementing Swaminathan's report? And what are the hurdles in implementing this?
And, in your presentation, you mentioned that, if I heard correctly, that minimum support prices are not the way to go. But minimum support price is also supported by this Swaminathan report. So how this Swaminathan report is different from these farm laws? And what are the hurdles by the government to implement it? Thank you.
SUDHA NARAYANAN: Yeah, I'll keep the answers short, but maybe we can take this conversation offline. But I'm not for any support price that's guaranteed to all farmers as a markup on the costs of cultivation. There are lots of problems with that. It's unenforceable. It doesn't reverse the injudicious use of inputs. It may also make input businesses actually jack up the prices because they know farmers are going to get a remunerative price.
So I don't think that's well thought out. So I'm not in favor of that. But I'm happy to have a conversation on the details.
The farm laws, actually, by the way, don't talk about MSPs at all. I doesn't figure there. The fact that it figured in such a big way in the protests is one of the remarkable things that the farm laws actually triggered a larger conversation around agriculture rather than just the three acts. So the farm laws have nothing to say about the MSP.
SPEAKER: Thank you very much. And please help me thank our speaker.
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No national occupational group in the world contains more people, or more poor people, than India’s agricultural sector, which recently saw massive farmers’ protests against three pieces of legislation recently passed by the Indian government. In this talk, I examine the grounds of the farmers' fears foregrounding these protests against the transformation of the Indian economy in recent years and the legacy of the Green Revolution in rice and wheat in the 1960s and 1970s. These protests were vilified by some and celebrated by others and came to represent something much larger than the farm laws themselves, contesting the increasing concentration of power and decision making at the federal level as opposed to the states. I conclude the talk with reflections on what lessons the year-long protests offer for policy making for agriculture in India.About the speaker:Sudha Narayanan is a Research Fellow, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), New Delhi. She was previously an Associate Professor at the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research (IGIDR), Mumbai. Sudha's research interests straddle agriculture, food and nutrition policy, and human development in India. She is particularly interested in survey-based research, using microeconometric approaches to understand broader questions of agrarian change and state delivery systems for food and nutrition security. Her current projects focus on agricultural value chains in India and Bangladesh, agritech interventions and farmer producer organizations in India. Sudha has published extensively in high impact journals within India, a strategy that reflects her strong preference for high quality action-oriented research. She has also written for popular dailies such as Mint, The Hindu, Business Line and the Economic Times and has featured in global media outlets such as The Washington Post, BBC World, Deutsche Welle, etc. Her academic work has also been published in international peer-reviewed journals. N