The recent three major legislations by central Govt. on agriculture produce marketing is going to impact the small producers in agriculture sector of India. Already there has been change in other sectors such as mining, industry and business to invite more FDI and facilitate the free play of private companies. The Essential commodities Act 1956 amendment removed Cereals, pulses, oil seeds, edible oils, patato and onion from list of the essential commodities. The farming produce Trade and commerce (promotion and facilitation) ordinance 2020 will remove barriers of agro produces marketing within the state and inside the country, And the Farmers (Empowerment and protection) Agreement on price Assurance and farm service ordinance, 2020 is for facilitating contract farming in the country by private companies.
In line with above laws for reform following path of UP and Karnataka, the Govt. of Odisha has brought The Odisha state Agricultural produce and Livestock marketing (promotion and facilitation) Act 2020 to replace the Odisha Agricultural produce marketing Act 1956 and The Odisha agricultural produce and livestock contract farming and services (promotion and facilitation) ordinance 2020 aims to promote contract farming in the state. These new interconnected laws are not being discussed in the central and state legislative bodies though it will have very wider bearing over the farmers. The central Govt. has been pursuing states to adopt these reform and facilitating them with promise of financial support under 15th Finance commission.
Agriculture and marketing are state subjects so the state has to enact legislations on the subject but now a day’s centre become more proactive. In Odisha, there are ten agro-climatic zones and each one is different from the other therefore the local specific issues must be taken into consideration while framing the laws. The issues of farmers of Punjab and Tamilnadu are different from Odisha so also the farmers of western part and coastal areas within Odisha. TN has already the TN agriculture produce and livestock contract farming and services (promotion and facilitation) Act 2019 and Punjab has been opposing centers interference in agriculture marketing. The farmers are as such not a socially and economically homogeneous groups in an unequal society, there are dissimilarities based on their social identity, extent of land holding, caste privilege, and many more other socio-eco factors. In Odisha there are traditional milk farmers, livestock farmers, Tribal farmers, forest based agriculture, fisher folk, share croppers and farmers having small and marginal holdings are in large number .Many of them produce for their family consumption, store it for their own future and sale the surplus to local traders but the issues and prospects of these section of farmers are very occasionally discussed , added to many continued structural issues relating to agriculture such as land reform and consolidation of holding, irrigation, cold storage, MSP, and above all the issues of share croppers get very scanty attention of Govt.
The fact is Odisha agriculture is largely dominated by small holding and only countable few farmers having large holding but a major chuck of these large holders are absentee farmers who does not really cultivate but engage share croppers in an informal agreement. Many of these share croppers are also having small and marginal holdings and they are the real farmers. These small holdings are dispersed due to lack of consolidation of holding. It has been suggested for a long time that the state Govt. must do a special drive for consolidation of holdings so that someone can invest on land development and private irrigation. In spite of promises, still only 30-40 percent of agriculture lands are irrigated in the state and most of farmers depend on rain water for cultivation. The irrigation systems such as Canal and lift points are almost defunct now, the farmers in the tail are not getting water. Must of the Pani Panchayat become a failure in the absence of sufficient water supply. Lack of irrigation has been also one of major reasons for lower cropping intensity. About six month in a year almost there has been no agricultural activities as both cereals and pulses are monsoon driven. Where ever there is irrigation facilities farmers usually go for vegetable cultivation.
Contract farming is not going to build agriculture infrastructure for the farmers and not a solution to structural issues faced by the farmers .It is to play a very imitated role in providing input for production and post-production marketing and crop insurance but before going for large scale farming the state must resolve the persistent structural issues affecting agriculture otherwise in the current scenario, the contract farming can only serve a few section of landowning big farmers.
The available MSP is limited to paddy farmers even the Govt. Mandis are not being functioning properly to meet the need. The paddy procurement by farmers cooperatives, WSHGs are almost non-functional virtually the rice mill owners and private traders are purchasing paddy from the farmers and sealing it to the Govt. at MSP rate. The real farmers, share croppers are being deprived of getting MSP.
Though there are 26 agro-items having MSP but nowhere there has been any local Mandi to directly purchase from farmers .Same is the case of milk farmers who are being unable to selling their milk and OMFED is not really help full to the milk farmers during COVID-19. The MFP collectors are also facing problem in marketing their collection as the tribal cooperative societies are largely defunct though the MSP of 72 items has been increased and 69 items are under the control of the Panchyats. How privatization of marketing is going to help these farmers when the farmers are facing distress sale issues with advantage of MSP by Govt. itself? Who is going to regulate the purchasing price from the farmers? Who gives the guaranty against distress sale? The apprehension is with increasing role of private companies in marketing the need of MSP of Govt. automatically slow down with decreasing in purchase by Govt. The agricultural subside enjoyed by the farmers will be available for private companies engaged in farming and marketing.
The process of contract farming will evict the small and marginal farmers from the production process and they will be forced to lease out their land to companies. The share informal share croppers will be out from agriculture sector so also the agricultural workers because contract farming will more depend on mechanization and less physical Labour force . What is the plan of Govt. to rehabilitate the surplus agriculture workers, share croppers, small and marginal farmers in rural villages when they are going to lose their livelihood in the new situation? There will be more distress migration from rural areas. The minimum food security of the vast poor under the existing RTF Act, availability of essential commodities under public distribution system, will affect in the new setup as majority of the people will be more dependent on market and production will be more market driven than meeting the consumption need of the locals.
(Activist and writer from Odisha email –email@example.com)