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  • Writer's pictureThe Feminist Times


Farmers from six states - Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Kerala and Punjab - marched to Delhi on Thursday, only to be confronted by a massed Haryana police force that used lathi-charge, tear gas and water cannons in an attempt to beat back the peacefully protesters. The farmers are protesting new laws that the centre says will reform the agricultural sector by removing middlemen and improving farmers' earnings by allowing them to sell produce anywhere in the country. Farmers and opposition parties allege that the laws will deprive the farmers of guaranteed minimum price for their produce and leave them at the mercy of corporates. Explaining it in points below: (source: ndtv; the hindu)

1. The farm bills are - Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services; Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill; and Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill. The Upper House, on Sunday, cleared the first two, paving the way for them to become laws (once President Ram Nath Kovind signs off) and triggering protests.

2. The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill allows barrier-free intra- and inter-state trade of farm produce. Previously, farm produce was sold at notified wholesale markets, or mandis, run by Agricultural Produce Marketing Committees (APMCs). Each APMC, of which there are around 7,000, had licensed middlemen who would buy from farmers - at prices set by auction - before selling to institutional buyers like retailers and big traders.

3. Under the proposed system, farmers can (eliminate middlemen and) sell directly to institutional buyers at prices to be agreed between them. However, farmers' groups are worried this exposes them to corporates who have more bargaining power (and resources) than small or marginal farmers. A Madhya Pradesh farmer said: "I am worried... sometimes they ask for wheat at ₹ 1,400 or ₹ 1,500 per quintal. They will take (produce) as they wish".

4. In India, nearly 85 per cent of poor farmers own less than two hectares of land. Farmers like these find it difficult to negotiate directly with large-scale buyers. In a report by news agency Reuters, leaders within the farming community said mandis play a crucial role in ensuring timely payments to them. Removing these markets, or allowing corporates direct access, without offering an alternative, such as regulated direct-purchase centres, does not make sense, they say.

5. Also, with APMCs, farmers were usually required to sell to nearby markets rather than in the open, which will now be allowed. The government has pointed to this to suggest farmers' incomes will increase. In practice, however, small farmers may find it difficult to avail potentially better prices at markets further away because of constraints on travel and storage, as well as associated costs.

6. The second bill to clear the Rajya Sabha - The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services - is supposed to allow "contract farming", or allow farmers to enter into agreements with agri-firms, exporters or large buyers to produce a crop for a pre-agreed price.

7. Farmers are worried this means the MSP (a price guaranteed by the government) will be removed. They point, once again, to small and marginal farmers who will likely by vulnerable to disadvantageous contracts unless the sale prices continue to be regulated. As Congress MP P Chidambaram pointed out, there needs to be a clause linking MSPs to the lowest agreeable price.

Further understanding the plight of female farmers through a feminist lens :

(source: ndtv,

In a developing country like India, agriculture contributes 13.5% to the GDP of the economy. It provides 55% employment in the country out of which 80% of all economically active women in India are employed in the agriculture sector; they comprise 33% of the agriculture labour force and 48% of the self-employed farmers. Ironically, according to a fact-sheet brought out by OXFAM India, women work about 3,300 hours in a crop season compared with 1,860 hours by men, but the image of a farmer remains that of a ‘man’ (Kisan Bhai). And, on top of that, the major crisis is – whenever we began a conversation about issues related to farming, we often forget to address FARMHERS despite the face of farming being ‘female’, in much of the world, according to reports. Thus, missing out on who the policies will impact most, in conversation of farmer’s issues.

Women have been most often than not excluded from the farming narrative in a country like India where the word (Kisan) is perceived to be addressing a ‘male-farmer’. Even Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, when presented the Union Budget for the year 2018-2019, used the word ‘farmer’ 27 times during the speech and promised a bagful of schemes, which – he hoped – would help the ‘Kisan Bhai’. Not only him, a majority of our politicians’ speeches, and conversations around agriculture refer to the farmers as ‘bhai’, undermining a surprising, yet important fact: “the percentage of the male farmer is lesser than the female famer in India”.

So, to not have a conversation on women but having a conversation on farmer’s reforms, in the recently passed controversial farm bills, is again missing out on who the policy is going to impact the most? How can you talk about agricultural reforms without talking about those who will be most affected by it?

The issue with the reform is that it’s unclear how the government’s policy will play out in reality but it is reasonable to expect that these farm reforms will affect men and women differently and are likely to have a bigger impact on female-headed households than on male-headed households.

Also, the government sees ownership of land as necessary for one to be considered a ‘farmer’, But that is not what India represents, a large percentage of our farmers are landless farmers they are tenets. So, the most important conversation on reform has to start with identity because if you’re not building that identity of who is a farmer and who we are talking about, all the other conversation that you’re going to have will apply on someone else who may or may not be our subject of interest.

Abysmally, according to 2018 fact-sheet of OXFAM India, out of 85% rural women engaging in agriculture, only about 13% own land. The situation is even worse in Bihar where only 7% of women have land rights, and even in the most literate state Kerala, the percentage of women owning agricultural land is a mere 14%.

Due to the patriarchal land title system, more than 90% of agricultural land in the country continues to be transferred only through inheritance and other customary practices which further deny women their land share even when it is permitted under the law that women can own land and independently manage its affairs. “Land rights discrimination is a violation of human rights”.

But that is just the tip of the iceberg.

The hitherto invisible Inherent gender-bias in agriculture limits a woman’s access to credit, especially smallholder or landless female farmers who use land in either in their husband’s name or of someone else’s. Cultural norms and lack of collateral often prevent women from borrowing money from banks, and without adequate funds for capital investments, female farmers will be less likely than men to buy and use fertilizer, drought-resistant seeds, sustainable agricultural practices, and other advanced farming tools and techniques that increase crop yields.

And now, taken together, these three agrarian reform bills, recently passed by Narendra Modi government, only talk about loosening up rules around sale, contract farming, and focus largely on ‘go-to-market’ where negotiations for produced crops will happen. But women farmers who constitute a major percentage of Indian farmers and about 60% of the farming sector’s workforce wholly and solely miss from that link. It is the only link of agriculture in which large number of men are present. Otherwise, according to OXFAM data, about 60-80% food are produced by rural women but the lesser exposure of valuable agricultural market-chains leaves a scope of worsening FARMHERS plight. And in turn, would mean more exploitation and lesser productivity for them despite putting in as much effort as the ‘Kisan bhai’. And, to diversify and ensure – that more women are part of that, price transparency, hopefully in a way needs to trickle down to women.

Also, one of the biggest changes and the much-touted claim by Prime Minister Narendra Modi of doubling farmer’s income is that farmers will be allowed to sell their produce at market price directly to private players from anywhere in the country. Here, comes the pointless conversation, keeping the above account of already dilapidated condition of women farmers, in addition, entrenched gender roles which can prevent women from bringing their crops to market or even leaving their villages without their husband’s permission, how these reforms will playout for the major population of farmers, those faceless people, who form the backbone of the Indian agriculture?


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