Make MSP a legal guarantee
It is important that the farmers get a remunerative price and a fair share for their produce. Making MSP a legal guarantee would pave the way in the resolution of this deadlock and provide a logical and long-term solution in the best interest of the farmers and Indian agriculture.
The ongoing farmers’ agitation along the Delhi borders remains mired in complexities and controversy even after several months. Several rounds of negotiations have not yielded any concrete solution and the deadlock still continues. The farmer unions and the government seem to have no clue as to how to resolve this impasse.
In my opinion, this issue can only be resolved through constructive and meaningful dialogue. Both the parties will have to exhibit greater flexibility and understanding in the larger interest of Indian agriculture. There is a need to acknowledge the plight and concerns of the Indian farmers and arrive at a mutually acceptable solution without indulging in politics around it.
It is imperative that the government appreciate the demand of the Minimum Support Price (MSP) to ensure that the farmers get a fair price for their produce and are not subjected to any exploitation by the traders, middlemen and corporates. It is an irony that when bread is sold at Rs 80 per kg and flour at Rs 35 to 40 per kg, the farmer only receives Rs 19.25 per kg (MSP) for the wheat grain. The saga remains the same for almost all the crops and it is important that the farmers get a remunerative price and a fair share for their produce. Making MSP a legal guarantee would pave the way in the resolution of this deadlock and provide a logical and long-term solution in the best interest of the farmers and Indian agriculture. This will also help maintain the interest of the new generation towards farming, which still forms the backbone of the Indian economy.
While the new laws have been totally rejected by the farmers’ unions, in my opinion, there is a need to review the more controversial provisions of this bill. For instance, the unlimited hoarding of agricultural crops under the bill is prima facie illogical and detrimental to the interest of the farmers. This controversial provision will have an adverse effect even if the MSP guarantee is in place.
Furthermore, simply ensuring the MSP as a legal guarantee is inadequate and would not work until we have enough mandis (marketplaces) promoted by both the government and the private entities. This would also need large-scale infrastructure development in the form of warehousing, road connectivity etc., for long-term objectives.
The agitation should end with an amicable solution and India needs to demonstrate that such issues can be handled mutually with maturity for the larger purpose. The next generation must feel good and they must see their future in this sector. The way the government has handled the agitation post-January 2021, when the last round of talks took place, indicates a lack of sensitivity towards the farmers and their demands. This needs to be corrected.
In fact, there is a need for the Indian business community to step forward and show their solidarity and commitment to buy the produce at MSP and ensure that the gap between the raw material prices and the final product is minimized. This will entail eliminating the multiple layers of middlemen, removing supply-chain inefficiencies, the use of technology and better inventory management.
Let farmers’ unions and government restart the discussion with an open mind, looking at the long-term perspective, create an environment wherein the younger generation is attracted towards the agricultural sector so that we have enthusiastic, dedicated and motivated farmers today and also in the future. This is the only way we can ensure food security to 1.5 billion people in the coming decades.
(Rahul Kumar is Managing Director of Lactalis India. Lactalis is the largest dairy group in the world having its presence in more than 150 countries. The turnover of the group is $22 billion. Lactalis India has three companies in India with Tirumala, Anik and Prabhat selling milk and other dairy products. The views expressed here are personal.)