Demonstrators burn an effigy depicting Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan during a protest organized by India's main opposition Congress Party in Bhopal. Photo: Reuters / Raj Patidar

Agitation from farmers in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh (MP) who are demanding loan waivers and better crop prices may be a sign of things to come.

As the agitation has spread, political parties have been blaming each other instead of jointly discussing the agrarian crisis, which includes an alarming rise in farmer suicides.

Farmers in MP and Maharashtra are angry because they are being forced to sell their produce at throwaway prices – or dump them due to oversupply triggered by a bumper harvest. The cartel of traders is refusing to give farmers a fair price.

The farmers in MP began arson attacks and looting after six protesters died when police opened fire in Mandsaur last Tuesday.

Killing people who feed the nation is a serious matter. Faced with assembly elections next year, MP’s government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), quickly launched a new debt relief scheme and decided to set up a panel to fix fair minimum prices for agricultural commodities.

The government also announced US$15,5702 would be paid as compensation to each of the families of the farmers killed.

A state of curfew was relaxed in Mandsaur on Friday and the situation has been improving. However farmers are still unhappy – after all, it took days for the MP government to confirm the protesters had been killed by police firing. Initially, they blamed it on “anti-social elements.”

Over 50% of India’s population are dependent on agriculture. If their means of livelihood is hit, the consequences will be grave

Many more farmers will abandon their fields if state and federal governments continue to ignore a series of five reports submitted by the National Commission on Farmers (NCF) between 2004 and 2006.

Those reports say the minimum price for agricultural produce should be 50% more than the cost of production. This was one of the promises made by the BJP in its 2014 election manifesto.

Farmers need sustained and equitable access to resources such as land, water, credit, insurance, technology, knowledge and markets. Moreover, land reforms have to be pro-farmer and that means agricultural land should not be sold to the corporate sector, which federal and state governments have been pushing.

The reports say a mechanism should be in place to regulate the sale of agricultural land based on size, proposed use and the type of buyer.

Lawmakers, however, do not want to discuss the reports. For them, farm loan waivers are the quick-fix solution.

Questions marks remain over the effectiveness of writing off such loans, however. Farm loan waivers are seen as good politics and bad economics. They are, some argue, a short-term solution which will leave state coffers dry and turn honest farmers into defaulters. The central bank of India recently warned that farm loan waivers could lead to fiscal slippage and inflationary spill-overs. (Ironically, state-owned banks have given loan waivers to corporates.)

Successive governments have fooled farmers with false promises to win their votes.

The farmers of Maharashtra and MP could have got better prices for their onions and tomatoes had the respective state governments provided adequate cold storage facilities.

Farmers should have more control over their produce. Their dependency on cartels should be stopped.

Farming has become a risky occupation due to climate change, low yields, falling prices, and governments’ failure to implement the NCF’s recommendations. Agricultural land is being converted for commercial use by politicians to benefit real estate firms and industry. Tougher laws should be framed to prevent change of land use and punish the guilty.

Over 50% of India’s population are dependent on agriculture. If their means of livelihood is hit, the consequences will be grave. The recent events in MP are a pointer to that.

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