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European and Indian Farmer Protests and common Issues | Soma Marla

Friday 9 February 2024, by Soma S. Marla


Farmers are protesting all across the Europe. Their major demand being is primarily against denial of an assured and rightful price for their produce. Farmers virtually blocked all seven motorways leading to Paris with thousands of tractors and are camped outside the city. Beginning in France, the protests soon spread over to Germany, where enraged farmers paralysed half of Berlin. The farm stir has also spread to Romania, the Netherlands, Poland, Lithuania, Romania, Bulgaria and Belgium. Farmers in Spain, Italy and Greece are preparing to organize huge rallies. Some young farmers were seen spraying farm manure and cow dung on government buildings and at some busy thoroughfares old tyres and agricultural waste set to fire, besides stopping vehicles carrying imported foodstuff and dumping it on the streets. While Paris supermarket shelves are getting empty of fresh farm produce, shopping mothers find it hard to answer to the questions rised by accompanying children. These European protests remind the protesting Indian farmers camping in the outskirts and blocking the highways leading to Delhi a few years back. I find similarities between the two agitations.

In Europe farmers are being burdened by huge debts, squeezed by powerful retailers and agrochemical companies, battered by extreme weather, and undercut by cheap foreign imports. In Poland cheap imports of grain has brought the grain prices down by 30 percent. Adding fuel to farmers stir is decision by governments of France and Germany to withdraw diesel subsidies and increase insurance charges to farm machinery. The unwise sanctions on oil and gas imports from Russia also contributed to high levels of inflation and energy crisis. The root of farm crisis lies in low prices of farm produce in markets and left to the mercy of big agribusiness cartels and corporate houses. Ironically, European Unionshielded by Green box, masks the WTO guidelines and subsidizes up to nearly 60 to 70 percent of production costs to their farmers. European Union provides huge support of $107 billion per year ( EU, 20-22 ) and European farmers, are among the highest recipient of subsidies and direct income support. However, 80 percent of this goes to mere 20 percent of rich farmers and seed, agrochemical firms leaving bulk of the small farmers to content with penury.

The protests are primarily against denial of an assured and rightful price to farmers. In European Union a small farmer receives mere 27 percent of what a consumer pays for farm products in a supermarket (Nature Food, 2021). In India too a farmer gets just 27 to 31 paisa on every rupee of purchase by a consumer in a supermarket or a local Kirana store. A lions share being pocketed by the value chain starting from local grain merchant to super market or big agribusiness corporate house.

In beginning of XIXth century, Karl Kautsky opined that farm products are kept low valued in markets against industrial goods artificially in markets so as to drain the surplus in favour of metropolitan industry. It is estimated that of the total agricultural GDP of 22 Lakh crore rupees, an Indian farmer is loosing nearly 15 Lakh crore rupees to intermediate grain retailers and big corporate agribusiness and supermarket chains.

The grip of global agribusiness corporations is so strong that nearly 40 percent of seed market is controlled by BASF SE, BAYER, Corteva Agro, Syngenta and others, while a mere three agribusiness giants viz.. Cargill, ADM and ZenNoh control nearly 50 percent of global grain supplies. Similarly a handful of companies like John Deer, New Holland control 90 percent sale of global tractors, harvest combines and other machinery. It is suspected that the gory food crisis witnessed in Egypt, Burkina Faso, Tunisia, Indonesia and other countries was nothing but created by these global grain cartels for big profits.

Farm distress experienced by small farmers in India and was genuinely mirrored in the year-long Kisan struggle against the pro-corporate three farm laws brought by Indian government. Both small farmers and working class in India identified big corporate bourgeoisie as common class enemy and are waging relentless struggles untimely for the last three years. They are demanding legal guarantee for purchase of crop produce, regulation of soaring prices and increase government (public) expenditure in agriculture.
The proposed Bharat Bandh on February 16th, 2024 is called by United Farmers group (SKMU) and Central Trade unions. An expected participation of nearly 20 crore (200 million) toilers and likely to bring the nation to a standstill.

In 2020, while introducing three farm bills, Indian PM Mr. Narendra Modi had declared that free markets (replacing state market yards) with participation of major corporate houses would promote competition and there by benefit farmers with profitable prices If de-regulating agricultural markets and bringing corporate control over agriculture were a viable alternative, there is no reason why European farmers today are agitating against big agri corporations. It is crystal clear by now that liberalised markets have failed to enhance farm incomes. It shows that the tailored economic reforms are being implemented to benefit big agribusiness on the expense of small farmers. Hence, Indian farmers (SKMU) and major Trade unions are waging for the last three years a relentless struggle against corporate control of agriculture, markets and denial to cheap food to a vast majority of toiling masses. On February 16th these two bodies have called for Grammen Bandh, a nation wide village strike demanding a law for guaranteed purchase of agricultural produce at higher price and regulate rising food prices.

European and Indian farmers alike are agitating against Low Prices and big Agribusiness Corporate controls. This mirrors ongoing global struggle by toilers against finance imperialism.

(Author: Dr. Soma Marla, Principal Scientist (Genomics), retd, Indian Council for Agricultural Research, New Delhi)

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