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SGCR Congratulates Indian Farmers For Reminding the World that People Power Delivers the Goods

on the successful repeal of the three farm bills

Photo: Farmers' Protest at Tikri Border by Randeep Maddoke, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons,

On 30 November 2021, three laws protested by farmers in India were repealed in parliament. This was after more than a year of mobilisation by millions of farmers and their supporters in India and globally after the laws were introduced to parliament on September 14 2020 and passed without consultation in mere weeks.

The three laws in question were:

  • the Farmer’s (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020

  • the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020

  • the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020.

These laws were set to further liberalize the sector and make it even more difficult for smaller farmers to negotiate prices for their produce by removing the minimum support price (MSP). These MSPs are critical in protecting small farmers from price drops. Instead, these laws protect the interests of private corporations, making farmers much like freelance operators working at the mercy of a digital marketplace controlled by big agribusiness corporations.

In order to protest the bills, millions of farmers and their supporters showed up to the National Capital Region (NCR) of India. It is estimated that 250 million people participated, making it one of the single largest protests in human history.

Photo: March to Delhi by Randeep Maddoke, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

We acknowledge and mourn the lives lost during this historic show of people power. Union leaders have said that over 700 have died, mostly from adverse weather and traffic accidents. An incident in Uttar Pradesh in early October killed 4 protestors, and four others including a local journalist.

Globally, there was also a great show of support, with solidarity protests and fundraisers occuring in places like the US, Canada and UK, often spearheaded by the Indian diaspora. Smaller scale solidarity actions were also reported in Singapore and Hong Kong.

While the successful repeal of the laws ought to be celebrated, the struggle continues. The farmers have additional demands such as the withdrawal of criminal cases against arrested protestors, which can take up to years to settle, as well as compensation for families of the farmers who died during the protests.

There are also demands which seek a deeper reform of the agricultural industry in India away from big corporate control and consolidation, such as better education policies, electricity subsidies, and concrete steps to support minimum support pricing (MSP).The invisibility of women’s labour and their lack of rights (e.g. to land) was something also brought up during the movement, with women at the frontlines and speaking for themselves.

Overall, the resistance towards the farm bills is indicative of discontent over deeper injustices in the agricultural industry in India which can be linked to the global trend of increasing concentration of power and control in food production by big businesses across borders. The ‘Green Revolution’ which claimed to increase productivity through technology, has destroyed the soil through the extensive use of chemicals, reduced seed diversity and increased crop failure. Another example is the water crisis in Punjab and Haryana which is due to the over-extraction of groundwater to grow water-intensive rice and wheat, also a legacy of state policy reforms starting in the mid 60s as part of the Green Revolution. While big companies have profited heavily from the sale of seeds and chemicals, farmers have been led to debt after successive crop failure which is the direct result of degraded land and climate change. Many farmers die by suicide when unable to pay back predatory loans.

India is a major supplier of rice, vegetables, fruits, milk and fish to Singapore so food on our plates would not have been possible without the labour of Indian farmers and the soil they farm on. One reason for migrant workers from India having to come to Singapore to work in exploitative jobs such as construction, shipping and service can also be traced to the increasingly difficulties of farming as a livelihood. More recently, Bayer and Temasek announced a partnership to produce seeds for vertical farming, which has so-far served big corporate interests at the expense of the environment and people. As the climate crisis continues to disrupt food supply globally, our solutions should redress the inequalities rather than further entrench them. As environmentalists in Singapore, we stand in solidarity with smallholder farmers who are the backbone of a just future food system.The farmers in India have demonstrated to us loud and clear that it is possible to successfully resist unfair policies introduced from the top down. Just as we in SGCR believe, the climate crisis which is caused by the decisions of a minority elite greedy for profit, can only be successfully averted by the collective action of us, ordinary people.

The fight for a just food system is not over in India or around the world. We encourage fellow supporters to take whatever action is accessible to them, including but not limited to the following as the fight continues:

Photo: Women making rotis for langar (community kitchen) at the Indian Farmers' Protest at Tikri Border by Ravan Khosa, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


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