Farmers’ Protest in India Reignites: A Struggle for the Future of Food and Agriculture

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Colin Todhunter in Dissident Voice, February 18th, 2024. //

In 2021, after a year-long protest, India’s farmers brought about the repeal of three farm laws that were intended to ‘liberalise’ the agriculture sector. Now, in 2024, farmers are again protesting. The underlying issues and the facilitation of the neoliberal corporatisation of farming that sparked the previous protest remain and have not been resolved.

The World Bank, the World Trade Organization, global agribusiness and financial capital are working to corporatise India’s agriculture sector. This plan goes back to the early 1990s and India’s foreign exchange crisis, which was used (and manipulated) to set this plan in motion. This ‘structural adjustment’ policy and process involves displacing the current food production system with contract farming and an industrial model of agriculture and food retail that serves the above interests.

The aim is to reduce the role of the public sector in agriculture to a facilitator of private capital, which requires industrial commodity-crop farming. The beneficiaries will include Cargill, Archer Daniels Midlands, Louis Dreyfus, Bunge and India’s retail and agribusiness giants as well as the global agritech, seed and agrochemical corporations and the big tech companies with their ‘data-driven agriculture’.

The plan is to displace the peasantry, create a land market and amalgamate landholdings to form larger farms that are more suited to international land investors and industrial farming. As a result, there has been an ongoing strategy to make farming non-viable for many of India’s smallholder farmers and drive hundreds of millions out of farming and into urban centres that have already sprawled to form peri-urban areas, which often tend to contain the most agriculturally fertile land. The loss of such land should be a concern in itself.

And what will those hundreds of millions do? Driven to the cities because of deliberate impoverishment, they will serve as cheap labour or, more likely, an unemployed or underemployed reserve army of labour for global capital — labour which is being replaced with automation. They will be in search of jobs that are increasingly hard to come by the (World Bank reports that there is more than 23% youth unemployment in India).

The impoverishment of farmers results from rising input costs, the withdrawal of government assistance, debt and debt repayments and the impacts of cheap, subsidised imports, which depress farmers’ incomes.


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