Ep1: What is Cownomics? 🐮 – Cownomics
When it comes to the new Farm Laws in India, the west has spiralled out of control into spinning its own version of the reality of agriculture in India. Many western activists, scholars, environmentalists and journalists, of the likes of Greta Thunberg, Russel Brand and such influencers have opined that the new farm laws are against the environment and a healthy food supply chain. These assumptions are based on an utter lack of understanding of the ground reality of Indian villages at large and the farming sector in specific.
For starters, the most vociferous protesters hail from Punjab, abode of the richest farmers who do not farm the land themselves. Many of these protestors have been destroying public property including communication lines, blocking roads, and most recently hoisted a Khalistani (terrorist) flag during the Republic Day parade in the capital city. Due to these disruptions around the national capital region, many farmers from villages in Uttar Pradesh could not sell their crops, and had to destroy all their crops, going broke. So, the protests do not protect the interests of the small farmers in the first place.
The contention of the environmentalists and conscious eating activists is that the reforms will encourage the corporate takeover of Indian food supply, and equate it to the previous Green Revolution which saw the influx of inorganic pesticides and GMO seeds into India. Now, it is worth noting that the farmers currently using Monsanto seeds are the farmers of Punjab, who also burn stubble during the winter months; the smoke from the burnt stubble mixes with the fog to create a heavy toxic smog in the national capital region, creating a threat to public health every year. If the protests were about saving the environment, they would not be coming from a party guilty of destroying the environment and health of people.
The other argument is that the flexibility of “contract farming” can lead to corporate takeover of food. The reality is that currently, in the APMC structure, it is a monopsony—a buyer’s market. The middlemen in the Mandis control the pricing and who sells what to whom. In the existing structure, it is illegal to sell outside of this Mandi system. Also, there is often one Mandi serving 500km, and there is a high transportation cost, and environmental cost due to fuel combustion, just for food to reach the public. It is, also, far easier for big food companies to control the food supply in this setup, rather than in a setup which opens up free markets. The new laws do not dismantle the APMC structure, but they dissolve the hegemony they enjoy by allowing farmers to sell outside the structure as well. This allows farmers to hedge the farming risks associated with changes in climate, cover their costs, and also to work with organic food companies and food-tech startups which would otherwise struggle with the bureaucracy of the APMC structure. The new laws, essentially, dissolve some of the power enjoyed by the corporates, and make way for innovation and indigenous methods of farming.
The Indian farmer from a small village often earns as low as one rupee per kg cauliflowers, which are often sold for anything between INR 15-20/kg in the vegetable market. The money falls through the cracks, into the hands of the numerous middlemen.
The new farm laws are a progressive step that will be good news for inculcation of better farming practices that do not ruin the soil, and are better for the environment. Anytime any policy aims at redistribution of power, it is disruptive and hence, is disliked by those who do not want to relinquish their power. The Farm laws are caught in this cul-de-sac, even though they could potentially improve India’s economic situation and take it out of the worst economic recession India has seen in a very long time.