Farmers are protesting across the country regarding issues such as minimum support price (MSP), dwindling farm income and worsening agricultural markets. While most of the farmers’ organisations are at loggerheads with the government, the Shetkari Sanghatana established by Sharad Joshi, has stayed away from them.
Q: What is the view of the Shetkari Sanghatana about the farmers’ protests? Why are you not participating in them?
We think the anger among farmers is a reflection of their dissatisfaction. Farmers are facing a crisis of survival, which is a grave situation. But we think the leadership that is guiding this anger towards such protests is ill-read and does not have an understanding of farmers’ issues. They are narrow-minded in their approach and their demands unrealistic. No government can ever assure such kind of MSP as markets won’t allow such rates to sustain. We don’t think protests or strikes will make any difference. So, we refrained from participating, to focus on real issues.
Q: What is your analysis of the situation? What are the real issues in the agriculture sector?
It has been our stand that the government should stay away from agricultural markets. It lets industries compete with each other, make their own choices and lets markets control prices according to demand and supply, then why not the same policy in the agricultural sector? Farmers have to bear losses when rates fall, but when prices of a commodity rise, the government steps in and curbs the prices. Why should the farmer not get the benefit of inflation? The government also controls technologies available to farmers. Something as useful as genetic modification (GM) technology is kept away from farmers. This is a haphazard way of forming a policy.
Q: You have been arguing in favour of GM seeds while they are banned in over 60 countries. Are there no risks in GM, according to you?
The advanced countries, especially European countries, are not dependent on agriculture and can afford such bans. A country such as ours has a huge need for yield and efficiency, in which case GM can be crucial. The GM technology helps reduce input costs, need for harmful chemicals and makes farming efficient. There have been many myths about GM but there hasn’t been a single case of death of illness because of GM the world over. GM is developed scientifically with precision and is brought into the market only after years of trials. There is no monopoly risk in government-developed GM seeds. The Left opposes them calling them a ploy of MNCs, the right wing opposes on religious grounds, Gandhians oppose it on Swadeshi. The three ideologies come together to oppose GM but such blind opposition is unscientific.
Q: So your solution to the agrarian crisis is free markets, GM and de-regulation?
Yes, in a way. We think the Indian farmer has the capacity to compete with other farmers in the world. We do not want any favours from the government. Open up the markets, open up the technology and let farmers choose what they feel is necessary. The market will decide rates and give justice to farmers.
The government should stay out of regulation and provide good infrastructure instead.
The farmer needs good roads, power supply and irrigation. Give them that and they will handle the rest. We are not saying the government should completely stay out, but it should regulate only when absolutely necessary.