Current European Farmer’s agitations share similar issues with Indian Farmers

Farmers Protest

  For the last two weeks farmers are  agitating all across the Europe. Their major demand being is primarily against denial of an assured and rightful price for their produce. Farmers virtually blocked all seven motorways leading to Paris with thousands of tractors and are  camped  outside  the city.  Beginning in France, the protests  soon  spread over to Germany, where enraged farmers paralysed  half of  Berlin. The farm stir has also spread to Romania, the Netherlands, Poland, Lithvania, Romania, Bulgaria and Belgium.  Farmers in Spain, Italy and Greece   are preparing to  organize huge rallies. Some  young farmers  were seen spraying farm manure and cow dung on government buildings and at some busy thoroughfares  old tyres and agricultural waste  set to fire, besides stopping vehicles carrying imported foodstuff and dumping it on the streets. While Paris super markets shelves  are getting empty of fresh farm produce, shopping mothers find it hard to  answer to the questions rised by accompanying  children. These European protests remind the protesting Indian farmers  camping in the outskirts and blocking the highways leading to Delhi a few years back. I find similarities between  the two agitations.

In Europe farmers are being burdened by  huge debts, squeezed by powerful retailers and agrochemical companies, battered by extreme weather, and undercut by cheap foreign imports. In Poland cheap  imports of grain  has brought the grain prices  down by 30 percent. Adding fuel to farmers stir is decision by  governments of France and Germany to  withdraw diesel subsidies and  increase insurance charges to farm machinery.  The unwise sanctions on oil and gas  imports from Russia  also contributed to high levels of inflation and energy crisis.  The root of farm crisis lies in  low prices of farm produce in markets and left to the mercy of big agribusiness cartels and corporate houses. Ironically, European Unionshielded by  Green box, masks the WTO guidelines and  subsidizes up to nearly 60 to 70  percent of production costs to  their farmers. European Union  provides huge support of $107 billion per year ( EU, 20-22 ) and European farmers, are among the highest recipient of subsidies and direct income support. However, 80 percent of this goes to  mere 20 percent of rich farmers and seed, agrochemical firms leaving bulk of the small farmers to content with penury.

The protests  are primarily against denial of an assured and rightful price to farmers. In European Union a small farmer  receives mere 27 percent of what a consumer  pays  for farm products in a super market (Nature Food, 2021). In India too  a farmer gets just 27 to 31 paisa on every rupee of purchase by a consumer in a super market or a local Kirana (Grocery) store. The lions share being  pocketed in a value chain staring from  local grain merchant to super market or big agribusiness corporate house.

In beginning of XIX th century, Karl Kautsky opined that farm products are kept low valued in markets against  industrial goods artificially in markets so as to drain the surplus in favour of metropolitan industry. It is estimated that of the total  agricultural GDP of 22 Lakh crore rupees,   an Indian farmer is loosing nearly 15 Lakh crore rupees to  intermediate grain retailers  and big corporate agribusiness and supermarket chains.

The grip of  global  agri business corporations is so strong that nearly 40 percent of   seed market is controlled by BASF SE, BAYER, Corteva Agro, Syngenta and others, while a mere three agribusiness giants viz.. Cargill, ADM and ZenNoh  control  nearly 50 percent of  global grain supplies. Similarly  a handful of companies like John Deer, New Holland control 90 percent  sale of global tractors, harvest combines and other machinery.  It is suspected that the gory  food crisis witnessed in Egypt, Burkinfaso, Tunisia, Indonesia and other countries  was nothing but  created  by   these global grain  cartels for big profits.

 Elections to European Union  are scheduled to be held in April 2024. It is interesting how EU would  react to these farmers protests.

Farm distress experienced by  small farmers in India   and was genuinely mirrored in the year long  Kisan struggle against the  pro-corporate three farm laws brought by Indian government. Both small farmers and working class in India  identified  big corporate bourgeoisie as common class enemy and are waging relentless struggles untimely for the last three years. They are demanding  legal guarantee for  purchase of  crop produce,  regulation of soaring prices and  increase government (public) expenditure in agriculture. The proposed Bharat Bandh  on February 16th, 2024 is called by  United  Farmers group (SKMU) and Central Trade unions. An expected participation of  nearly 20 crore (200 million) toilers and  likely to bring the nation to a standstill.

 In 2020, while  introducing three  farm  bills, Indian PM Mr. Narendra Modi had declared that free markets  (replacing  state market yards) with participation of major corporate houses would promote competition and there by benefit farmers with profitable prices If de-regulating agricultural markets and bringing corporate control over agriculture were a viable alternative, there is no reason why European farmers today are agitating against big agri  corporations. It is crystal clear by now that liberalised markets have failed to enhance farm incomes. It shows that the tailored economic reforms  are being implemented to benefit big agribusiness  on the expense of small farmers.. Hence, Indian farmers (SKMU)  and major Trade unions  are waging for the last  three years a relentless struggle against corporate control of  agriculture, markets and denial to cheap food to  a vast majority of toiling masses. On February 16th these two bodies have called for Grammen Bandh, a nation wide village strike demanding a law for guaranteed purchase of  agricultural produce at higher price and  regulate rising food prices.

European  and Indian farmers alike are agitating  against  Low Prices and big Agribusiness Corporate controls. This mirrors ongoing global struggle by toilers against finance imperialism.

Dr. Soma Marla, Principal Scientist(Genomics), retd, Indian Council for Agricultural Research, New Delhi.

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