Sensitise farmers about the new laws

Vinay K Sonkar | Updated on October 06, 2021

Farm reforms The govt must be more proactive in its messaging   -  MUSTAFAH KK

Centre and States must work together to bring about more marketing efficiency for farm produce

The enactment of three marketing farm laws 2020 has provoked serious discussion, criticism and even protest especially in Punjab and Haryana to the extent that the Supreme Court had to intervene and put them on hold for some time.

A three-member committee constituted by the Supreme Court has already submitted its report. As per media reports, the farmers and trade unions have been requesting the Centre to repeal these laws and also make the report public.

The Centre’s position is against the repeal of these laws and in favour of making amendments in each on the premise that new farm laws will address the structural weaknesses inherent in the sale, marketing and stocking of agriculture produce in the existing state regulated/wholesale markets (mandis).

Even within the academia, arguments have been put forth for and against these ordinances and doubts raised on their ability to bring competition, improve marketing and price efficiency, and increase farmers’ income.

Somehow, we strongly feel that most of these arguments, are bereft of evidence and are based on the ideological and imaginary justifications. Any line of reasoning supporting or opposing the new laws should be based on empirical evidence rather than on the ideological perceptions and beliefs of the stakeholders.

The enactment of these farm laws is a serious and complex issue in need of careful understanding and analysis. Besides, a sound understanding of these among the ultimate stakeholders — that is, farming households — is a prerequisite to an unbiased analysis of their implications.

We share findings of a primary survey of 1,523 farming households carried out in the eastern States — Bihar, Eastern Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Odisha, and West Bengal. The survey was conducted to assess farmers’ awareness and perceptions about the three new farm laws with an underlying objective to assess the amendments that the agri-marketing system needs in order to improve its efficiency and realisation of higher prices.

Abysmal awareness

The broad findings reveal a dismal level of awareness about the new farm laws across all the eastern States. Even in the current digitalised information-intensive age, only half of the farmers surveyed had heard about them; this varied from 41 per cent in Jharkhand and Odisha to 59 per cent in Bihar.

In all, 54 per cent of the farmers in Eastern Uttar Pradesh and 44 per cent in West Bengal had awareness about these laws. We also found that the level of awareness exhibited a positive relationship to farm size. Notably, Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) households with small landholdings are less aware than their counterparts belonging to Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and households from General caste.

Furthermore, not only the farmers have a low level of awareness of the new farm laws, their knowledge of the contents of each ordinance is even more dismal. Even the ‘aware’ households had only peripheral knowledge.

As many as 99 per cent of the farmers in Jharkhand who had heard of them barely knew anything about their content, and the figures were equally dismal for Bihar (89 per cent), Eastern Uttar Pradesh (87 per cent), West Bengal (84 per cent), and Odisha (65 per cent).

Need for awareness plan

Considering a low level of awareness among the real stakeholders, it seems almost impossible to have a rational discussion about the pros and cons of laws within the general population of farming families.

This may require a comprehensive and strategic action plan to sensitise farmers about the new ordinances and to bring amendments in view of their requirements and greater welfare.

The three farm laws aim to create one common market for agri-produce across the country, free farmers from stringent restrictions on selling their produce, enable them to enter into contracts with the processors and aggregators for better prices, lower risks, and higher income. As a prerequisite, both the Centre and the States should work together to create a competitive environment that encourages marketing efficiency and augments farmers’ incomes.

States should be given autonomy to amend the rules and regulations prescribed in the new farm laws as per their suitability, devise action plans and procedures on the proposed newer marketing platforms, such as private mandis and contract farming, and create necessary infrastructure. Traders in the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) markets should be sensitised about the usefulness of a competitive environment wherein they can explore opportunities for forming farmer producer companies (FPCs) or for becoming aggregators or suppliers of bulk produce to processors or initiating online trading/e-market platforms.

States need to be proactive in generating awareness among the farmers about the benefits of new marketing laws, the system of payment in the alternate markets, rules and practices under contract farming, and the mechanisms available for addressing their grievances.

A greater awareness and confidence among farmers and other stakeholders would help demystify the provisions of the new farm laws and thus reduce the probability of irrational opposition and protest. It may also help generate meaningful and constructive discussion and pinpoint corrections (if needed) in the laws before their actual implementation.

Kumar and Sonkar are with International Food Policy Research Institute, South Asia Regional Office, New Delhi and Bathla is with School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Views expressed are personal

Published on October 05, 2021

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