Environmental problems in agriculture, a silent reason behind farmers’ protests

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  • In September, the Indian government unveiled new agricultural laws which Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed as the biggest reforms in the sector in decades.
  • But farmers are unhappy and since September they have been protesting against this by saying that the new laws do not promise minimum support prices for their crops – which current laws did.
  • Farmers and the organizations working for them find that for a country like India where more than 50 percent of the population is directly or indirectly involved in agriculture heavily impacted by climate change, a guarantee in the form of the minimum price support (MSP) for their crops is crucial.

Farmers camping at the borders of India’s national capital refused to budge until new farm laws recently passed by the Indian government were repealed and they had a guaranteed minimum support price for their crops. In September 2020, the central government passed three new agricultural laws and claimed they would help farmers. The protesting farmers are mainly from Punjab and Haryana, supported by fellow farmers from other states.

With nearly a dozen political parties pledging their support for their cause, the stalemate could intensify if the central government refuses to repeal the laws. On December 8, farmer groups also called for Bharat Bandh (a general strike across India) which received support from organizations across the country.

The new laws were announced by the central government as an important step in the process of economic reforms in the country. Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the new agricultural laws as “historical’ and one of the biggest reforms in the sector.

While the economic reforms of 1991 brought structural changes to the country’s industrial policies, the three agricultural laws, initiated as part of the process of economic recovery after the COVID-19 shutdown, were announced by the central government as legislation. that would initiate the reform process in the agricultural sector. The new agricultural laws are the Agricultural Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act 2020, Farmers’ Agricultural Price Insurance and Services Agreement (Empowerment and Protection) Act, 2020 and the Essential Products (Amendment) Act 2020.

However, farmers are angry with laws that do not provide them with the Minimum Support Price (MSP) and they claim that the new laws would leave them at the mercy of private companies, which could replace government agencies in purchasing food. their agricultural products.

Since then, the farmers had been camping on the border between Punjab and Haryana where they stayed for more than two months, but decided to march towards Delhi when no one paid attention to their requests. Over the past two weeks, from the time they clashed with police at the Punjab-Haryana border and then blocked the Delhi-Chandigarh highway, they have had several rounds of talks with the central government.

Although the demand for PSM is not directly related to environmental issues, the impacts of climate change are an integral part of it. Indeed, crops across India regularly face the impact of excessive rains, lack of rain, heat, pests, hail, floods, drought and flooding. seawater, which ultimately affects farmers’ income.

In fact, some agricultural leaders note that many agricultural conflicts have their roots in environmental factors that impact crops.

Dr Sunilam, a former Madhya Pradesh lawmaker and a working group member of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) farmer organization, said the two are “closely related”. “There is no doubt about the connection… Whether it is rain, hailstorms or floods, drought, etc., there is always a lot of uncertainty due to the environmental issues that are occurring. keep farmers on their toes, ”he said.

In recent years, there have been many instances where fluctuations in climate – rainfall, temperature, water management – have had an impact on agriculture. According to the 2019-20 Economic Survey, agriculture has had a gross added value (the value of agricultural goods and services produced after deduction of the cost of inputs and raw materials) by 16.5% in 2019-2020. Agriculture and associated sectors employ more than 50 percent of the country’s population. Thus, the impact of climate change on Indian agriculture has implications for the national income, food security and livelihood security of a significant portion of the population.

Farmer groups have pledged to keep their protest nonviolent. Photo by Hardeep Bagga.

In December 2019, Ramesh Chand, member of the Indian federal think tank Niti Aayog, during a conference had noted that it is clear that agriculture is “at the heart of climate change and air quality, as well as the sustainable use of land and water”.

“Agriculture is both part of the problem and part of the solution to climate change and sustainability. We must seize all opportunities to move from inefficient farming practices to long-term sustainability, effectiveness and resilience. Of all sectors, agriculture offers the best hope for environmentally sustainable green growth, ”Chand said.


Read more: 20 lakh crore package looks to the future, missing farmers’ immediate concerns


The farmer unrest has been brewing for some time now

Farmer protests are not a sudden reaction, and farmers’ discontent has long been simmering. Even during the COVID-19 lockdown, the central government announced a Rs 20 trillion package that included measures to tackle stress in the agricultural sector, but failed to cut the ice with the community farmer who felt that it did not provide relief to cultivators and farmers. workers.

The farmers’ protests received the support of many unions and groups across India. Protest marches were also organized in the United Kingdom and the United States of America to express their solidarity and support for farmers.

Before the 2019 national elections, there was unrest among farmers in Punjab. Farmers in well-irrigated areas of the state had spoken to Mongabay-India about the plethora of environmental factors they faced, including unreliable weather conditions.

Farmers across the country have been hit hard by climate change in recent years. In 2019, the director general of the Indian meteorological department told Mongabay-India that the reliability of the monsoon system was changing. The calendar pattern changed and the monsoon system turned into a series of extreme weather events.

Over the years, the stress in the agricultural sector has only increased and the importance of agriculture and environmental issues has repeatedly surfaced. For example, at the end of 2018, during legislative elections in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, the farmers’ protest had become one of the main factors in the loss of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

In August 2018, Kerala suffered from a devastating flood, which caused an estimated economic loss of Rs 310 billion. From this, the loss to the agricultural sector was so significant that the state Agriculture Minister VS Sunil Kumar said Kerala would renew its agricultural activities and policies.

In January 2020, a hailstorm and unusual rainfall damaged crops in the Rohtak region of Haryana. With climate change, the variation in temperature and precipitation could increase and this variation can cause serious crop losses and harm the interests of farmers.


Read more: [Analysis] Will environmental issues drive the narrative of the 2019 national elections?


Faced with climate change, farmers want collateral for their crops

This is one of the many reasons why agricultural leaders see environmental issues as an important factor influencing Indian agriculture and want the MSP to be a safety net for the time, effort and risk they invest. in agriculture.

Kedar Sirohi, sitting chairman of the Kisan Congress (the agricultural wing of the Indian National Congress) in Madhya Pradesh, said farmers only needed a price guarantee.

“The environment is certainly a factor of fluctuation in agriculture which directly or indirectly employs around 50 percent of the country’s population. In return, farmers are only looking for a guarantee of the price of their crops… they are not looking for any other advantage or compensation against an external factor such as the weather. If they can get the guarantee that they don’t have another conflict, ”Sirohi told Mongabay-India, who was in Delhi for the farmers’ protest and is now returning to Madhya Pradesh to support the protesting farmers. the low.

A farmer at the Delhi border says he has enough rations to support the protest for months.  Photo by Hardeep Bagga.
A farmer at the Delhi border says he has enough rations to support the protest for months. Photo by Hardeep Bagga.

Yudhvir Singh, who is the national secretary of the Farmer Groups of the Bharatiya Kisan Union and the Indian Coordinating Committee of Farmers’ Movements (ICCFM), said the whole MSP system is flawed because it does not take only take into account such factors as production, stocks and international prices. while ignoring many other factors.

“The government has talked about doubling farmers’ incomes by 2022, although that seems like a distant dream. Even then, the farmers are happy with the assurance of the lowest possible support for the government and not asking for anything more, ”Singh told Mongabay-India.

When the COVID-19 lockdown crippled the manufacturing and service sector of the economy and sent millions of national migrants back from towns and villages to their countries of origin, it was agriculture that supported lives and livelihoods in villages. A good monsoon and good health kharif the harvest brought the initial joy in the days of national discouragement. Farmers, who were the harbingers of this cheer, are protesting to make their voices heard.


Read more: COVID-19 lockdown blocks farmers’ income


Banner image: Farmers have chosen to stay put until their demand to repeal new farm laws is met. Photo by Manish.


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