The passing of three draconian agriculture bills by parliament members of India has become a death warrant for small and marginalised farmers. The three laws that were passed in September 2020 are the (i) Farmer's Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, (ii) Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020 and (iii) Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020. These highly opposed farm acts are going to affect almost 65% of the Indian population who depend on agriculture for their livelihoods.
We at the South Asia Pastoral Alliance (SAPA) are concerned about the detrimental effect of the new laws on the pastoral and herding communities. Firstly, the autocratic manner in which these laws were passed.
Without proper consultation and discussion, parliament members seemed to deliberately pass these bills in such haste. Farmers’ unions and leaders were never consulted during the lawmaking process, nor were they involved in the pre or post-legislative consultation process. Given that these bills would affect marginalised farmers, the government did not seem to care to put their interests at the heart of the laws.
Pastoralists bear the brunt of the contentious laws
Like farmers, pastoralists and herders are advocating for ensuring the minimum support price (MSP) system, which in their case for milk and other value-added products like mava, ghee, and buttermilk. When the MSP on agricultural commodities gets diluted with the already volatile policies of the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC), the struggle for getting MSP on milk seems to look like a pipe dream.
The laws would also threaten the coexisting relationship between farmers and pastoralists would be threatened. Nearly 70% of India’s farmers are smallholders, owning less than 2.5 acres of land, and a fifth of them live below the poverty line.
The Bataidari (sharecropping) system has become an integral part of Indian agriculture practices. This system allows landowners to hire labour, or commonly known as tenant farmers, to cultivate their land. Once the harvest season begins, landowners would give a share to the farmers as part of their compensation and when the harvest is over, pastoralists use this harvested land for grazing their livestock while on the move.
However, contract farming, which would become more commonplace if the bills become law and diminish the sharecropping system, theoretically offers farmers the option of cutting out middlemen and their fees to deal directly with a downstream buyer. But experience from India shows that large buyers often prefer to deal with larger farmers who can supply assured large volumes with minimal friction.
This also means that farmers with large landholdings will be more inclined to give their land to corporations rather than the sharecroppers. Pastoralists, on the other hand, who have become more dependent on farmland for grazing, will be even more excluded what with the already shrinking commons land, limited access to forest commons, and the burgeoning development of sanctuaries.
Moreover, in many parts of the country milk is collected and supplied through dairy cooperatives. With the corporatisation of food products introduced by the new bills, these small cooperatives would slowly wither away and merge with big industry players. This will adversely affect the pastoral communities, who make a living by selling milk to the cooperatives while they’re on the move.
Raising our voice by joining forces in peaceful protests
When the government called for a day-long shutdown for the farmers, pastoralists took to the streets and showed their support at the ongoing farmers’ protests in the borders of Delhi. In November 2020, a group of pastoralists along with Dalits, indigenous peoples, labourers, and women began their move to Delhi and joined the ongoing protest there.
In January, the coordination committee of the farmers’ protests gave a call for a peaceful tractor rally on the Republic Day of India, which falls on January 26th.
The majority of us joined the rally at the Shahjahanpur border, passed by the Rewari border, and finally returned from Mansar, covering approximately 50-60 kilometers, the route approved by the administration.
It was a splendid moment for all of us when thousands of farmers and their supporters were rallying in a peaceful manner. The people from nearby areas came to the streets to welcome the rally, chanting our slogans, and clapping their hands in solidarity with the farmers’ struggle.
The whole atmosphere was buzzing with slogans of ‘Kisan Ekta Zindabad’ (Long live farmer’s unity) and ‘Teeno kannon wapas lo’ (Repeal the three agriculture laws). Protesters carried a poster of the three laws, showing how they affected the farmers and the consumers.
From Assam to Tamil Nadu, from north to south, the poster presented the farmers and their tradition, their daily grind of sowing and harvesting, their tractors, their thresher machines, exhibiting the lives and hard work of the farmers to feed this nation irrespective of their caste, class, ethnicity, and gender. In the end, it is this spirit that keeps us going.
Meanwhile, we have also heard the news of the violence carried out by local authorities to disperse protesters from two borders of Delhi, in Tikri and Singhu. We condemn such atrocities and demand the government value our democratic space as we firmly believe in the principle of peaceful and non-violent struggle. We won’t settle until the complete repeal of the three laws.