Wednesday, April 24, 2024

The Farmer Protest for MSP is Pro-national and for General Good

by Dr. Sukhdev Singh

“The farmer is the only man in our economy who buys everything at retail, sells everything at wholesale, and pays the freight both ways”, said John F. Kennedy. Agriculture is the mother of all human cultures and all modes of man-made production. Agricultural production and its consumption are primarily guided by values of human existence, health, and welfare; the values of the market are superimposed on it. Agriculture, thus, is not only a source of income and livelihood for many farmers but also a way of life and identity. Agriculture is a springboard to food security, rural development, cultural heritage, and landscape preservation and, thus, requires mechanisms to safeguard it from the post-industrial market economy founded on the principles of profit rather than exchange of goodwill and well-being. The market creates a conflict between the economic and social objectives of agriculture. It is for the social objective of ‘food security’ and the livelihood of farmers that justify the Indian farmers’ protest for a legal guarantee on minimum support price.

The system of minimum support price introduced in 1966 to help India fight the food deficit has been a productive driver for development and food safety for the Indian population; a system to determine minimum support price has evolved through the years which yet needs improvement and support.

At present, the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP), Government of India calculates the paid-out costs on seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, hired human and machine labour, and leased-in land rent etc (A2) and the imputed value of unpaid family labour (FL), and adds 50%  of its total to recommend minimum support price (MSP) for Cereals (Paddy, Wheat, Barley, Jowar, Bajra, Maize and Ragi), pulses (Gram, Arhar/Tur, Moong, Urad and Lentil), oilseeds (Groundnut, Rapeseed/Mustard, Toria, Soyabean, Sunflower Seed, Sesamum, Safflower Seed and Nigerseed), Copra, De-Husked Coconut, Raw Cotton, Raw Jute and Sugarcane every year. Then, keeping in view the production costs, fair remuneration for farmers and affordability for consumers and the market conditions, the CACP recommendation is approved by the parliament of India to notify the MSP  before the sowing season. In its recommendation the CACP does not consider the ‘Swaminathan National Commission for Farmers’ recommendation fully to include capital assets and the rentals and interest forgone on owned land which the protesting farmers demand.

Another cause for farmers’ protest is the demand for legislation providing farmers ‘the Right to Sell at MSP’ which the CACP itself had suggested in its price policy report- 2018-19.  The farmers are demanding the same legal entitlement for their produce insulating it against the market pressures of ‘demand and supply’ as the markets can be subject to manipulation by the private traders and corporate, a concern shared by the CACP in its 2018-19 report.

The crops are unlike industrial production that can be controlled with resilience to the market pressures; the cropping patterns are not so easy to shift. The biological nature of agricultural produce makes it vulnerable to unpredictable and uncontrollable weather conditions, pests and diseases on the one hand, and its ‘all at once’ yield makes it vulnerable to the market players if left for itself to guard. To enhance its resilience to the negative market pressures, the legal guarantee for MSP is required.

Unlike the corporate, the small farmers can not store and service ‘value addition’; they have to sell the entire yield immediately. So, it is reasonable for the farmers to expect a guaranteed MSP announced by the government.

The legal guarantee for MSP is not about the procurement of entire crop by the government but about its purchase at a price not less than the minimum remunerative price declared by the government itself. In the absence of legal guarantee, the traders purchase the agriculture produce at prices lower than the MSP, yet they sell it to the consumers at the prices much higher than the MSP without passing on the benefit  to the consumers.

Agriculture produce is for survival while all other industrial or service products are for additional comforts. To keep the farmers growing sufficient for the people to survive, it is well within the reasonable sense for the government to compensate the gaps in case ‘demand and supply’ forces the sale of crop at prices lower than the MSP following the principle it employs in its intervention to support the corporate failures.

The Indian government has implemented a comprehensive array of initiatives aimed at bolstering the agricultural sector and supporting farmers across the nation. From the expansive Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-KISAN) program, which disburses annual financial assistance to over 11 crore farmers amounting to Rs. 2.81 lakh crores, to targeted schemes like the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Maan Dhan Yojana (PM-KMY), ensuring pension benefits for vulnerable farming households, the support network is extensive. Moreover, measures such as the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) for affordable crop insurance and financial aid initiatives like the Interest Subvention Scheme and Kisan Credit Card drive have significantly enhanced access to credit facilities and streamlined administrative processes, marking a concerted effort to fortify the backbone of India’s economy.

However, some of the farmer unions feel a legal guarantee for all crops in all states can act as an instrument for organic farming and diversification as the farmers will have no insecurity of price fluctuations. If left unguarded and subject to the ‘demand-supply’ principle, it may lead to food insecurity and compromise social values inherent in agriculture. Leaving agriculture to the market is neither desirable nor pro-national; it is only pro-corporate and anti-nation.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Khalsa Vox or its members.

Dr. Sukhdev Singh

Retired Professor

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