ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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In Defence of Farmers’ Mobilisation


India’s three farm acts of 2020 have created a deep and widespread discontent among farmers. Examining the root causes of the ongoing agitation from the perspectives of vulnerability, socio-ecological systems, and environmental governance, I argue that the reforms do not address three important issues that hobble Indian agriculture currently and will do so in the future: precarity, justice, and sustainability.

With the reforms, the three farm bills position powerful market actors as the main agents of transforming India’s agriculture. However, as a nation where smallholder farmers are the majority and are increasingly collectivising their efforts for better prices, agroecological practices, and groundwater sustainability, farmer institutions are also well-placed to spearhead agricultural transformation. When pitted against large corporates, farmers and their institutions will not have the leverage to bargain for better deals and shape the broader political economy that shapes policy. With the entry of large agricultural conglomerates and companies, farmer collectives will stand to lose any power over resources they own, operate, or produce because of the sharp imbalance in capital. Marginalised farmers who are deeply indebted will never have sufficient financial resources to choose state-of-the-art, sustainable agricultural practices and purchase-allied resources. In such contexts, the exit of the state will further the erosion of the one bargaining chip that farmers have—voting rights—that has so far offered a safety net to farmers in the form of debt waivers and banking reforms.

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