Parliament session: The question of sustainability of Indian agriculture

Parliament session: The question of sustainability of Indian agriculture

Parliament session: The question of sustainability of Indian agriculture

Farmers protesting along Delhi’s borders recently postponed their protest against three agricultural laws that the Modi government claimed would improve India’s agriculture sector. All three of these laws were repealed during the winter session of Parliament.

The most controversial demand of farmers is the demand for a law guaranteeing the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for their agricultural products, which is the minimum price announced by the central government for select agricultural products, at which the transaction is considered remunerative to farmers.

Parliament session: The question of sustainability of Indian agriculture

While much has been said on the pros and cons of these controversial agricultural laws, the direction in which Indian agriculture needs to be taken to make it ecologically and economically sustainable is less discussed.

This is an important debate, not only because these agricultural laws would have shaped Indian agriculture, but also because a few years before these laws came into force, the agriculture sector had begun to shift towards agribusiness-driven growth. The purpose of these three laws was only to accelerate the pace of this change.

This shift towards agribusiness driven growth in the agriculture sector can be seen in the continuation of the trend towards techno-entrepreneurial growth in India, which has started in the last decade and is evident from the number of start-ups.

Parliament session: The question of sustainability of Indian agriculture

New technology-based agriculture firms in India attracted a record capital investment of about $1.5 billion between 2018 and 2020, most of it from international sources, according to ThinkEgg, a platform dedicated to promoting investment in agri-tech start-ups. Was.

There are now over 600 agri-tech start-ups across the country interacting with about 1.4 crore farmers. The COVID restrictions by the central and state governments have reduced the movement of farmers and increased their dependence on the activities of agri-tech firms.

Now the question arises whether the agri-business driven development model will be beneficial for Indian agriculture and farmers.

Pundits of industrial agriculture have argued for decades that any concept of future agriculture needs to focus on ecological sustainability, which is understood as the sustainable use of natural ecosystems along with the agricultural economy. Is the agri-business driven model promoting ecological sustainability in Indian agriculture?

During my fieldwork, I interacted with agro-technical entrepreneurs and investors from different sectors of the Indian economy in the agriculture sector.

Most agri-tech firms have focused on agricultural supply chains, such as home delivery of agrochemicals to farmers and market linkages of agricultural products, rather than ensuring day-to-day crop operations and sustainability of farming.

Parliament session: The question of sustainability of Indian agriculture

As far as agricultural sustainability is concerned, they see it as a byproduct rather than a direct effect. The Government of India is actively promoting techno-entrepreneurial development in agriculture.

For example, the Ministry of Agriculture has released a draft titled India Digital Ecosystem of Agriculture (Idea) to promote the digitization of Indian agriculture. The question is why?

Firstly, proponents of techno-entrepreneurship are inspired by the ideologies of techno-futurism and neoliberalism. In the course of my fieldwork, I have consistently observed clear dismay among policymakers and agricultural economists about the unfinished process of liberalization of Indian agriculture that began during the 1990s.

Ramesh Chand, an agricultural economist at NITI Aayog, argued in December 2019 that the economic well-being of farmers required a radical overhaul in the agriculture sector, which was left behind in the 1991 reform agenda. The idea document also claims that digitization is crucial to take Indian agriculture to “higher levels of efficiency and productivity”.

Parliament session: The question of sustainability of Indian agriculture

Implicit in these statements is the fact that Indian agriculture is inefficient and greater private sector participation, export-oriented development, and use of digital technology will lead to greater efficiency.

What they do not realize is that technology-driven developments in the past have led to immense problems that Indian agriculture is facing today, such as soil erosion, depletion of groundwater and increasing frequency of insect attacks.

Secondly, there is an inclination towards understanding agricultural development in the course of development in other sectors such as telecommunications and space. It is believed that digitization will transform agriculture just like other sectors.

Finally, major industrial socio-technical systems strongly oppose any move towards an alternative understanding of reforms (such as natural farming), as a recent study from Andhra Pradesh showed.

Parliament session: The question of sustainability of Indian agriculture

Recently, one of the world’s largest experiments to shift to sustainable forms of agriculture in Andhra Pradesh has come under criticism from the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences and suppliers of industrial inputs (seeds, fertilisers, pesticides), which are the country’s food sources. would endanger security.

Effective structures resulting from reliance on technology and progress need to be countered by alternatives such as natural farming, which may seem contrary to science and progress to some involved in the agricultural bureaucracy.

The question remains, however, how the future of sustainable agriculture will be if investments are not made in alternative ways of thinking. One possible way forward is for farmers to harmonize their demands for minimum prices with these alternative agricultural futures for meaningful change in agriculture in the country.

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AUTHORDeepa Chandravanshi

Deepa Chandravanshi is the founder of The Magadha Times & Chandravanshi. Deepa Chandravanshi is a writer, Social Activist & Political Commentator.

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