Neoliberal Death Knell for Indian Agriculture

Colin Todhunter

In a 2017 article, I asked what might a future India look like and concluded that, if current neoliberal policies continue, there could be dozens of mega-cities with up to 40 million inhabitants and just two to three hundred million (perhaps 15-20% of the population) left in an emptied-out countryside.

And it could also mean hundreds of millions of displaced rural dwellers without any work.

The policies referred to have not only continued but have been given a massive boost in the form of three parliamentary bills: The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020; The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance, 2020; and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020.

The ordinances were issued by the Modi-led government in June and (according to official rhetoric) seek to create barrier-free trade for farmers and allow them to enter into agreements with private players prior to the production for sale of agri-produce.

Some have commended these bills, claiming they will completely ‘liberalise’ the farm economy, leading to greater flexibility and efficiency and offering freedom and choice to farmers and buyers of produce. Others claim they effectively serve to impose the tenets of neoliberalism on the sector, finally clearing the way to restructure the agri-food sector for the benefit of large commodity traders and other (international) corporations: smallholder farmers will go to the wall in a landscape of ‘get big or get out’, mirroring the US model of food cultivation and retail.

As reported in the Economic Times, the Congress party chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said his party will fight the government “tooth and nail” on this issue:

These three draconian ordinances are a death knell for agriculture in India. They will subjugate the farmer at the altar of a handful of crony capitalists…”

He added that farmers would not be able to get a remunerative price for their crop under the current system of minimum support price and that his party will join with other parties to put up a joint opposition to the draconian ordinances of the BJP government aimed at:

Subjugating the farming community and abolishing the livelihood of crores [tens of millions] of people who are aligned with the grain markets and other market systems”.

The proposed legislation will mean that mandis – state-run market locations for farmers (overseen by Agricultural Produce Market Committees) to sell their agricultural produce via auction to traders – can be bypassed, allowing farmers to sell to private players elsewhere (physically and online), thereby undermining the regulatory role of the public sector.

In trade areas open to the private sector, no fees will be levied (fees levied in mandis go to the states and, in principle, are used to enhance market infrastructure to help farmers).

This could incentivise the corporate sector operating outside of the mandis to (initially at least) offer better prices to farmers; eventually, however, as the mandi system is run down completely, these corporations will monopolise trade, capture the sector and dictate prices to farmers.

Another outcome of the proposed legislation could see the unregulated storage of produce and speculation, opening the farming sector to free-for-all profiteering for the big players.

Randeep Surjewala argues that the three ordinances are also a direct attack on the federal structure of India (farming and mandis come under the jurisdiction of states), but the government did not even consider it appropriate to consult them before promulgating the ordinances.

Sitaram Yechury, leader of the Communist Party of India, tweeted:

No amount of propaganda and spin can conceal such destruction of India and it’s economy. Withdraw these ordinances handing over our agriculture to multinational agribusinesses, further ruining our ‘annadaata’, demolishing India’s food security.”

The proposed legislation will enable transnational agri-food corporations like Cargill and Walmart and home-grown billionaire capitalists like Gautam Adani and his agribusiness conglomerate and Mukesh Ambini and his Reliance retail chain to decide on what is to be cultivated, how much of it is to be cultivated within India and how it is to be produced and processed.

From seed to field to plate, the corporate take-over of the food and agriculture chain will be complete.

Smallholder and marginal farmers will be further forced out and those remaining in the sector will be squeezed, working on contracts for market-dominating global seed and agrochemical suppliers, trader, distributors and retail concerns. Industrial agriculture will be the norm (with all the devastating externalised health, social and environmental costs that the model brings with it).

It may make some wonder who is actually determining policy in India when hundreds of millions of ordinary people could lose their livelihoods. Instead of pursuing a path of democratic development, the Indian government has chosen to submit to the regime of foreign finance, awaiting signals on how much it can spend.

The imperatives of global capital require nation states to curb spending and roll back interventions and support mechanisms so that private investors can occupy the arena left open. And this is exactly what we are seeing in agriculture.

Foreign capital and sections of India’s billionaire class are working to displace the prevailing agrifood model and recast it in their own image. Tens of millions of small-scale and marginal farmers are already suffering economic distress and leaving farming as the sector is deliberately made financially non-viable for them.

The Modi administration is fully on board with the World Bank’s pro-corporate ‘enabling the business of agriculture’ and other such policies aimed at further incorporating nation states into the neoliberal fold, while equating neoliberal policies with ‘development’.

Other recent policies will also serve to accelerate current trends in Indian agriculture as we see with regard to the Karnataka Land Reform Act, which will make it easier for business to purchase and consolidate agricultural land (leading to landlessness and urban migration).

Both ongoing and proposed ‘reforms’ are ultimately about ‘liberalising’ agriculture to further ease the entrance of foreign agribusiness interests and serve the needs of India’s home-grown billionaires. The Modi government is predictably facilitating what could eventually lead to a trillion-dollar (value of the Indian economy according to Modi’s former associates at APCO Worldwide) corporate hijack of India three steps closer with the ‘ordinances’.

By bringing the full force of liberalisation to the farm economy and in the process fundamentally restructuring Indian society (around 60% of the population still rely on agriculture for their livelihoods), any remnants of economic sovereignty and sovereign state status will be hollowed out and India will become a fully incorporated subsidiary of global capitalism and its fundamentally flawed and exploitative food regime.

Of course, many millions have already been displaced from the Indian countryside and have had to seek work in the cities. And if the coronavirus lockdown has indicated anything, it is that many of these ‘migrant workers’ have failed to gain a secure foothold and were compelled to return ‘home’ to their villages.

Their lives are defined by low pay, insecurity and callous treatment by the government.

It raises the question: what does the future hold for the hundreds of millions of others who will be victims of the dispossessive policies of neoliberal capitalism?


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Sep 23, 2020 4:55 AM

This article reminds me of the divide in the US where the mainstream media is bitterly against nationalist Trump and criticizes ANYTHING he says or does. It’s the same story in India with the English language media and nationalist Modi. Here’s an explanation from opindia.com one of the few English websites that support Modi. https://www.opindia.com/2020/09/why-you-should-support-farm-ordinances-by-modi-govt-mother-of-all-reforms/ You might be a suave liberal type who wants to impress friends in New York. So you share images of long columns of farmers marching for “justice,” without shoes till their feet are sore and bleeding. But have you wondered: why are farmers always so angry and helpless? Did you know that agriculture employs over 50% of India’s workforce but only contributes 17% of GDP? How did so many Indians become so spectacularly unproductive? Are they lazy? No, of course not. They are just stuck in the era before reforms in India. How do you… Read more »

Sep 26, 2020 5:04 PM
Reply to  Thomas

I so hope you’re correct. Sometimes I get a feeling, that at highest global levels there’s massive divergence — negative (unipolar cabal) against positive (multipolar nations .i.e BRICS economic block and a few other– rich in natural resources — nations. However, of what is transpiring, ordinary populations remain clueless. Thus, heads of all the most powerful global nations supporting a multipolar world of peace and cooperation — are tiptoe-ing through the tulips at this point– as factors in play, to a great extent depend on the outcome of the US elections. I personally have a gut feel that Modi’s on the level — certainly I pray that he is. We must realize, that dismantling the world’s parasitic infested political and financial system, successively run by a few global rogues — calling the shots literally for centuries and now determined to finally institute their age old global dominance agenda — cannot… Read more »

Voxi Pop
Voxi Pop
Sep 22, 2020 12:55 AM

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Jim McDonagh
Jim McDonagh
Sep 21, 2020 11:43 PM

A bleak but informative article ! Incrementalism is not a viable strategy when those who rule believe in unlimited growth of profits and populations.

Sep 21, 2020 9:51 PM

The future for farmers is bleak.

They will be pushed off the land and put on the “vaccine” program and corralled into Modi’s SMART cities.

The cryptocracy have a plan for “sustainability” around “climate action” that is a global land grab, depopulation, mass surveillance and collection of biometric data, making those who remain alive, totally dependent on the security-tech-bank handouts.

Modi sold out India.

His agenda when he was in NY at the UN, included:

* “Sustainable” development goals (SDGs), for “renewable” energy, joining the UN’s Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure. (CDRI)

* Bill and Melinda Gates – VACCINES + GMOs

* Michael Bloomberg who heads up the IMF’s Financial Stability Board (FSB) and Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD).

* CEO Roundtable in New York – CRYPTOCRACY

* Iranian President Hassan Rouhani – OIL and GAS

Voz 0db
Voz 0db
Sep 21, 2020 7:08 PM

GMO is awesome!

Sep 21, 2020 12:40 PM

india is just another zio test
the freaks that run it friends of gates and bb nuttyahoo
population control

the indian police use beat sticks on the population treated like cattle
they take the bamboo beatings well with full compliance

wars or famine or both why not the rothschilds have used this method for hundreds of years

it works
does it not

this message will be shadow erased for non compliance of social code 911 section 77 of the gladio world economic forum protocols of deleted

my parents said know
my parents said know
Sep 21, 2020 2:18 PM
Reply to  gorden

I’ll repeat myself: Compliance is feudal.

Jim McDonagh
Jim McDonagh
Sep 21, 2020 11:35 PM

Maybe , but as the Borg cautioned , ” resistance is futile ” may be more accurate , as the global reset enters phase 2, and violence by the deep state against the masses intensifies , for our own good no doubt.

Sep 21, 2020 9:35 AM

Or differently concluded: the existing Indian agricultural policy was not too bad, even Colin Todhunter has to agree….

Sep 21, 2020 8:13 AM

The APMCs handle only about 1/4 of all farm trade today.
MSPs are good for big farmers but bad for ground water levels, electrical grid stability (free pumping) and result in big overproduction of the subsidized products.
States like Punjab, Haryana and Bihar had already abolished both measures, and regional consumers got price benefits. The middlemen were the loudest complainers.

These changes will not the affect the millions of small and subsistence farmers.

Sep 21, 2020 8:10 AM

Anything to do with Gates funding GM crops in India. I think so. Where is that reporting. Cause of many rural farmers going out of business or suicides. GM is sterile and farmers can’t afford to buy GM seeds each year.

Dr NG Maroudas
Dr NG Maroudas
Sep 21, 2020 4:36 AM

Whatever happened to the Communists in Kerala, West Bengal, and Tripura? They were a beacon showing the Way, India could have followed the China road. Instead India has followed the “West”; the people have laid down their guns. Geneva Observer on September 20, 2020  · at 3:13 pm EST/EDT In 1949 when Chairman Mao came to power, the population numbered about 1.0 billion, the average life expectancy was 42 years, literacy was about 2%, opium addiction was about 25%. Health care was non-existant except to a privileged few. Children had to look after their elderly parents. Today the population is 1.4 billion, average life expectancy is 78 years, literacy is about 98% and opium addiction is almost irrelevant. You will not read this from the priests at the Club of Rome. It is not in their interest. You should be celebrating one of the most extra-ordinary successes in history. Over 500… Read more »

Jim McDonagh
Jim McDonagh
Sep 21, 2020 10:47 PM
Reply to  Dr NG Maroudas

Good points if a little off topic ? India and China have endured periods of rapid depopulation and a slow rebound repeatedly for possibly 50 millennia , and before that in Africa , regardless of political/economic systems forced upon them just by being near the equator and being in a well watered area, and when this coming die off ends life will begin anew in these areas. 8 billion humans have simply accelerated this cyclical process.