The is basically a battle for the future of Indian agriculture. It is also a battle of two opposing philosophies: Small is Beautiful vs. Big is Better. On the one hand, 67% of India’s farmland is held by marginal farmers with holdings below 1 hectare. These farmers control 48% of irrigated land. On the other hand, 33% of farms are large, medium-sized or corporate holdings, and they control 52% of India’s irrigated land. It is important to remember this existing imbalance when considering the new laws.
Under the new law, a trader can approach any farmer anywhere in the country and buy their produce at any price that is agreed on. This may sound like a benefit for the farmer, but not when the buyer is a powerful corporation. In such situations, farmers will always be the weaker players. Indian farmers know it, and this is one of the reasons for their protests. The larger entities will always have the upper hand in case of disputes. The new law will also give large companies the freedom to accumulate stock of commodities and dictate terms to farmers. On a global scale, small-holder farmers provide 80% of our food on just 10% of arable land.
Add to the mix the fact that India’s two richest men, both reputedly close to Prime Minister Modi, have expressed interest in investments in the agricultural sector. In the US, for instance, the number of farmer suicides is twice the national average. As Sara Bissen writes in InsideOver, “Farmer suicide is in fact a universal reality with rates higher than non-farmers in almost every agricultural country. One only needs to look at France, India, Australia, or Japan.” Our lives depend on our food system. Large-scale agricultural practices degrade the world’s arable land and small-scale farms have the potential to redress climate change while securing global food supply.