cooperative farming

On July 8, 2018 An eminent economist opined in Times of India that the Central government made a mistake by enhancing the MSP of paddy crops because it goes against international competition and the laws of demand-supply. It further says that European Economic Community once made the same mistake by enhancing crop prices, for which it later had to pay heavy price. But comparing European farmers and Indian peasants is not proper. Indian peasant does not even get the market price for his/her crops, while his European counterpart gets huge government subsidy for his agricultural products and marketing. Instead of going into the technicalities of A2, A2+FL, C2, we can understand in simple terms that for determining the price of any commodity, cost of labour power, capital interest, land rent and other inputs are added. But for determining the prices of crops, the governments don`t add land rent and capital interest. Be it the case of land acquisition from peasants or the issue of determining the price of their crops and other produce, it is not determined on the basis of market laws . Even in this era of liberalisation, when quantitative restrictions on import of foreign agricultural products have been removed, custom duties have been reduced, export of many agricultural products is still banned by the central government. So, we find here two models of liberalisation. Public investment in rural areas is declining, while most of the peasants are still dependent on monsoon for irrigation. Some economists even argue that investment in agriculture is wastage of money. Because share of agriculture in GDP has come down to just 17%. And even if agricultural growth rate is above 2%, there wont be any substantial change in GDP. They are extremely concerned about fiscal deficit and argue against it going beyond 3% but they keep mum about the loot of bank assets by Corporate houses or tax exemption to them to the tune of lakhs of crores of rupees in revenue collection. In the same breath, they justify reduction in public investment for agriculture, education, health etc in the name of checking fiscal deficit.

These economists ignore the fact that without agricultural growth, it wont be possible to sustain growth rate in manufacturing and service sector. Farmerssuicides, too, are not taken seriously by the government machinery. Some of them argue that it is natural in a phase of development and they give example of peasants eviction and displacement from agriculture in Europe. But this understanding about European peasants is erroneous. European peasants had alternate avenues to shift to growing industries or settle in then developing colonies. We must keep in mind that despite gross negligence, agriculture, still, has a role in GDP and around 50% to 55% of our workforce, even today, is employed in agriculture, Agrarian crisis has acquired today the dimensions of a national crisis. But Manmohan led Congress government as well as Modi government took no concrete steps for providing proper MSP, purchase of the produce and timely payment to the farmers. Even there is no national act for the purchase of agricultural produce. In Modi regime, National Crime Record Bureau has even stopped publishing the data of farmers suicides for the last 3 years. Demolishing democratic institutions is in the nature of Modi government. There is apprehension that NCRB may not publish any data on farmers suicides in future. Anyway, peasant crisis is fundamental and structural one and the present phase of liberalisation has further accentuated it. The crisis is fundamental in this sense also that our agricultural model itself is problematic. Some people argue that because Indian ruling classes opted for landowner-centric Prussian model of agricultural growth in contrast to peasant-centered American model, they didnt honestly implement land reforms. Even today, around 30% rural families, barring housing land, don`t possess any agricultural land. According to NSSO survey, there are around 10 crore land holdings, out of which 7 crore holdings are smaller than 2.5 acres. Generally, rural population is seen as farmers. The National Commission for Farmers (NCF), which is popularly known as Swaminathan Commission too, identified rural population as peasantry.

However, rural society is undergoing huge change today. On the one hand, number of peasants is decreasing, while the number of rural workers is increasing who earn livelihood by selling their labour power at various places. Though not antagonistic, a sense of separate identity does exist between peasants and workers. Keeping in mind their mutual interests, there is need to formulate issues and policies for them and forge unity between them. In the peasant movement against land acquisition, this unity was visible where peasants and workers jointly fought their battle for saving their land and dwellings. Their unity can be further cemented on the issues of loan waiver, jobs ,and restructuring of the cooperatives on new basis. Despite class differences and social discrimination in rural areas, the aspect of unity between peasants and workers is developing. There is a long history of peasant struggle in India. Suffice it to say, peasant struggles on economic issues have been political in its essence. The contradiction between land and capital in the 60s decade acquired political dimension and challenged the hegemony of Congress. The peasant movements during colonial period and after independence were revolving around land rent, wages and distribution of land and crops. In the post green-revolution period in 80s, it forcefully raised the issues of agricultural input cost and remunerative prices for the produce. There were many trends in the peasant movement of this period. and they could not be united on the basis of a common orientation and programme. Eventually, it disintegrated. This movement teaches us that it should not be non-political and it must not be market-oriented in any case.

Experience shows that in the present balance of world trade and agricultural production, our export-oriented agriculture can`t stand, because it is tilted in favour of America and Europe. While developed countries give huge subsidy on production and export to their farmers, our peasants are charged heavy input cost for fertilisers, seeds, pesticides, transport, storage etc. Whatever the central government boasts, the fact remains that India, even today, is dependent on the capital, trade and technology of developed countries and the government fails to protect the rights of our peasants. Government of India, in the name of export of agricultural products, signed “Agreement on Agriculture” under WTO. As a result our domestic market is flooded with foreign agricultural produce. On the other hand our farmers are not able to export sugar, wheat, basmati rice and other rice because of government ban. Though the issue of agricultural export should not be given undue emphasis. There is no ban on the export of cotton, soyabean and spices from Kerala, still peasants engaged in their production are committing suicides on a large scale. There is monopoly control of Monsanto and Kargill like companies on world trade and they determine the market price of the products. We must put emphasis on protecting and expanding our agricultural market and press the central government to impose quantitative restriction on import of agricultural products, to enhance custom duty and ban futures trade. It is noteworthy that currently America is not ready to accept any conditionalities of WTO, while America and Europe have already taken exemptions for providing subsidies to their farmers through various mechanisms. Against these exemptions in WTO, third world countries should be mobilised..

Peasant movement that emerged in the backdrop of Mandsaur killing, is active independently as well as jointly. Issues like loan waiver, 50% more MSP, reducing cost of inputs etc. are necessary but not sufficient. Peasant movement must transcend the discourse of economic issues and it should also oppose the economic policies of the government. For increasing public investment in agriculture, 3% limit for fiscal deficit must be rejected. Even today, for most of Indian peasants, agriculture is for livelihood and consumption. Only 7% to 8% of the farmers produce for market..For 80% marginal and small peasants, agriculture is becoming unremunerative and costly. Agricultural machines, seeds, technology is getting so costly that it is impossible for them to use it. To save agriculture, dependence on chemical fertilisers, pesticides, costly implements must be reduced; government must be pressed for formulating scientific policy for use of water and land ; peasants must move towards cooperative farming. Water crisis is accentuating and its scientific use must be ensured. Agricultural land must be saved.

The concept of cooperativisation is not new. Since freedom movement, cooperative farming has been part of debate and discussion. Apart from communists, socialists and democratic forces, too, fiercely advocated it. JP in his book “Why Socialism” raised this issue forcefully. Since 1970, Cooperatives have been experimented here, though most of the cooperative committees became corrupt. But for this reason, the basic principle of cooperatives cant be rejected. Democratic institutions, too, are becoming corrupt but because of this, one cant remain aloof from the struggles for democratisation. Cooperative does not mean that peasants would give up their ownership on land. Rather they will collectively work and share the profit in proportion to their respective resources and labour. Agro-processing units may be installed so that their labour power may be deployed in productive activities other than agriculture. In the first stage of cooperatisation, cooperatives run under the Gram Sabha directives, would develop as centres where peasants could purchase fertilisers, seeds and pesticides etc. at cheaper rates. The government must invest capital so that the cooperatives become capable to shoulder the responsibility of guaranteeing purchase of crops at remunerative prices, it’s storage at Gram Sabha level, ensuring cheaper loans for rural families, providing food grains to postoor families under PDS . Kutumb shree of Kerala is also an experiment of cooperatisation and there is need to learn from it. One must keep in mind the class character of cooperatives and they must be formed on class basis. Cooperative agrarian movement will resolve the questions of caste inequality, sex-based discrimination and environmental conservation. It may become centre of a new political, social, cultural awakening. While, the small, scattered peasants provide a base for sustaining feudal remnants, autocratic political system and cultural backwardness; this new awakening through cooperatisation may turn them into active, vibrant base for building a new democratic India. Whether democracy would sustain in India, it’s roots would be further deepened, it would be pro-people or an autocratic political system, dictatorship would emerge, all this to a great extent depends on the attitude of these unorganized, scattered peasants.

Thus, the agricultural cooperative movement would play a huge role in safeguarding democracy and it may play an inspirational role in mobilising the people in unorganized sector and the youth.

Akhilendra Pratap Singh is Member, National Executive Committee, Swaraj Abhiyan

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One Comment

  1. K SHESHU BABU says:

    Governments are trying to generate jobs in industries rather than agriculture to boost development. Consequently, agriculture is being neglected both by rulers as well as people. Farmers are being forced to abandon their fields in search of jobs in cities. As long as lopsided policy continues, agriculture will remain in a pathetic state, let alone community farming ….