40 years ago, the US threw open farming to the corporate sector, something now India wants to do. Now, with the new Indian Farm Laws, India wants to walk on the same path as Americans did. But, how did that worked out for the American farmers – the fate that now awaits Indian farmers?
Corporate Farming in America
An IITian Bedabrata Pain, national award-winning filmmaker and an ex-NASA scientist decided to document the farmer’s story, so he set-out on a road trip across rural America. He was accompanied by 2 young physicists pursuing their Ph.Ds – Sristy Agrawal and Rajashik Tarafder and a theatre artist – Rumela Gangopadhyay.
Roads were covered with snow when they started their road trip. They also faced several challenges while shooting during the pandemic. However, they were overwhelmed by the response and co-operation by the farmers.
Just like India, the majority of farmers in the U.S. are small farmers. They occupy almost 90% of total farms. However, the surprising fact is that they produce only 25% of the market value. As a result, the income of small farmers has been decreasing since last decade.
Earlier in the 1950s, the share of US farmers in retail price used to be 50%, but currently it is reduced to 15% only. Total debts have touched 425 Billion USDs. Farmers are under huge loans and on the verge of bankruptcy.
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This is causing a high rise in the count of suicides committed by farmers. In a heart-touching incident, a bank officer committed suicide as he was asked by the management to recall the loans and make the farmers bankrupt.
Here is an overview of various farm laws that prevailed in the US:
New Deal Laws
This were a series of farm laws declared post-Depression. It was aimed at uplifting the economy of the US. Farmers were encouraged to reduce over-production and were even incentivized for the same. This kept the prices under control. The Government also invested a large amount in agricultural infrastructure.
President Ronald Reagan reduced all the subsidies and discontinued the loan programs for the farmers. But it didn’t work as expected and was reverted.
In 1996, the ‘Freedom to Farm’ Act was introduced. It was also termed as ‘Freedom to Fail’ by the farmers. This Act also resulted in a crisis instead of achieving the expected objective of making agriculture more market-oriented.
The rural areas in the US have experienced the drop in population. More than 80% of the population left the rural areas. As the farming units are reducing day by day, all the other businesses like seed suppliers, workers, repair shops have started disappearing. Schools and hospitals are also closing in rural areas.
Since the instruments like price support, parity pricing and grain-reserve loans have been discontinued, it started a recession. Farmers soon realized that farm-gate prices are dropping and interest rates are increasing drastically and the value of their lands was depleting too.
Owing to this many farmers discontinued farming and moved to urban areas looking for jobs and trying to maintain what they have been left with.
This helped corporates ‘Big-Ag’ to reduce the farm-gate prices and buy the infrastructure. This led all the small farmers to quit farming. Same is the case with livestock farmers. Livestock market is now owned by a handful of food giants and therefore livestock farmers have also lost the chances of bargaining.
Owing to the dominance of ‘Big-Ag’, more than 75% of Poultry farmers are living below the poverty lines. As per Reagan, “We’re going to allow people to concentrate power because it’s going to be more efficient… these guys are going to use it (monopoly power) to drive down the price.”
After the entire trip the researchers realized that rural America is feeling abandoned and in despair.
$7B India-UAE Food Corridor Project
In the backdrop of the Farmer’s Protest (Kissan Andolan), India and UAE have signed an ambitious $7 billion Food Corridor agreement according to which UAE will invest billions of dollars in a food processing complex in India which will purchase foodgrains, fruits and vegetables directly from 22 lakh farmers in Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat.
The project is the cornerstone of the Arab nations Food security strategy and for it to work, India’s new farming laws will remove the middlemen from the equation. The project is seen to be implemented under the umbrella of the Abraham Accords – the Israel-UAE peace agreement.
Dr. Vandana Shiva, the Founder and President of Navdanya, Technology and Natural Resource Policy who was awarded the Right Livelihood Award, also known as the ‘Alternative Nobel Prize’ explains how the World Bank is waging a war against Indian farmers.
40 years ago, the US threw open farming to the corporate sector, something now India wants to do. Now, with the new Indian Farm Laws, India wants to walk on the same path as Americans did.
However, Indian policymakers should study how those laws destroyed traditional American farmers and should learn from them to avert an agricultural disaster.