Will agri-biz model benefit farm sector? – BusinessLine

Will agri-biz model benefit farm sector? – BusinessLine

Farmers who have been protesting on Delhi’s borders since November 26, 2020, recently suspended their agitation against the three farm laws the Modi government claimed would reform India’s agriculture sector. Taken together, these laws — repealed during the ongoing Winter Session Parliament — intended to relax regulations regarding the purchase, sale, and stocking of agricultural products and enable written agreement-based contract farming in India.

The underlying premise of these three laws, as private businesses involved in agriculture themselves have argued, was to enable private sector participation and investments in agri-food supply chains in the hope that efficiency gains will reflect in farmers’ income. While the laws have been repealed, the protesting farmers have called off their protests after the Centre accepted a few of their demands, such as the withdrawal of criminal cases against the protesters, and agreed to negotiate with them for their other demands.

The most contentious among them is the demand for a law guaranteeing Minimum Support Price (MSP) for their agricultural products, which are minimum prices announced by the government for select agricultural products at which transactions are deemed to be remunerative to farmers.

While much ink has been spilled on the pros and cons of these contentious farm laws, discussions have been few and far between regarding the direction Indian agriculture needs to take if it is to become ecologically and economically sustainable to farmers.

This shift to agribusiness-led development in agriculture can be seen in the continuation of a turn toward techno-entrepreneurial development in India that has taken off in the last decade, evident in the number of start-ups.

There now exist more than 600 agri-tech start-ups that interact with nearly 14 million farmers across the country. Covid-19-induced stay-at-home orders by Central and State governments severely curtailed the movement of farmers and further increased their dependence on agri-tech firms’ activities, such as procuring directly from farm gates and the delivery of agricultural inputs to farms. These activities are monetised by such firms to achieve growth and scale to new markets.

The question is, will this agribusiness-led development model be beneficial for Indian agriculture and agriculturists? Decades of scholarship on industrial agriculture has argued that any conception of an agrarian future needs to centre on ecological sustainability, understood as sustainable usage of natural ecosystems, along with the economics of cultivation. Is the agribusiness-led development model in Indian agriculture promoting ecological sustainability of farming?

During my fieldwork in 2021, the agri-tech entrepreneurs and investors I talked to differentiated agriculture as a sector from other sectors of the Indian economy, not just in terms of its rural situatedness, relatively less-developed infrastructure (including patchy internet connectivity despite the recent revolution in low-cost data), lack of avenues for monetisation of their products and services, but, more importantly, due to its ecological basis.

For instance, crops have a temporal cycle from sowing to harvesting, most agricultural products have a finite shelf-life to be transported long distances, and there is an urgency for ensuring ecological sustainability of farming in the country. Yet, an overwhelming majority of the emerging agri-tech firms have concentrated on agricultural supply chains such as home-delivering agrichemicals to farmers and ensuring market linkage of agricultural products rather than day-to-day cropping operations and ensuring the sustainability of farming.

While they speak about agricultural sustainability, …….

Source: https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/columns/will-agri-biz-model-benefit-farm-sector/article38031046.ece

Ecological products