Though there has been little participation of farmers from Maharashtra in the ongoing protests in Delhi against the contentious new farm laws, farmers from the state, especially those growing onion, cotton, soyabean, rice or pulses are worried about the future of
Horticulture producers, however, support the contract farming and open market trade (producers to customer/purchaser without APMCs), a mechanism that is already in place in the state. One reason why farmers of Nashik favour this system is the success of Sahyadri Farms, a farmer producer company in Nashik, which was started around 10 years ago and has become the largest exporter of grapes in the country. The company now has a turnover of Rs 500 crore, and during the lockdown it gave employment to more than 200 people.
The small farmers, on the other hand, are worried if they will continue to have security of payment and right prices for their produce.
Vasant Bhosale, a rice producer from Dhamne village of Igatpuri in Nashik who directly sell his produces to traders, is wary of contract farming since he fears getting a low rate or exploitation.
"We generally sell our produce directly to traders and don't need to go through the APMC. The contract farming looks a little risky to us since the rates will be pre-decided and as per the purchasing company, and they can reject the product by giving any reason. I wouldn't like to opt for contract farming unless there is security of rates and payment," Bhosale said.
Rajendra Rajole, a farmer from Niphad, says most of the aspects of the new farm laws are already being implemented by farmers in Maharashtra.
"I grow soyabean, grapes and onions. I sell these commodities as per my convenience. While I sell soyabean and grapes directly from the farm to traders/exporters, for onion I prefer the APMC since from there I have the assurance of payment within 24 hours, that too in cash. The APMC assures guaranteed payment from traders. But grapes do not go the APMC market and 90 per cent of grape producers directly sell them in open market. Due to this, there is not much protest from Maharashtra as we have been already using all the options to sell our produce," he said.
There are several instances wherein grape producers were duped by traders who don't pay them, after taking the produce, and the farmers then have to opt for legal remedies.
Raghunath Khairnar from Yeola in Nashik said the onion, cotton and corn farmers are afraid of exploitation by contractors or traders. There have been several instances wherein traders did not pay the farmers after taking their produce. The farmers, Khairnar said, are not aware of their rights or laws, and when they get duped like this, they don't know what to do. "Most of us prefer the APMC as it protects us from getting cheated, and assures us guaranteed cash payment within 24 hours. Though the government has now assured that the APMC will be there, what is the guarantee that the promise will be kept?"
Khairnar said, "My main crops are onion and cotton. While onion is sold through the APMC, cotton is bought by the government. We are not sure if the government will continue to buy cotton on minimum support price or that the new system will not be tilted in favour of companies."
Vilas Shinde, MD of Sahyadri Farms, however, has another point of view in support of the new farm laws and open market.
"For the past 40 years, there have been protests in support of farmers' right to sell their produce outside the APMC. The real farmers' movement was always in support of openness in the trade. Contract farming in a way provides the security only by documenting the agriculture trade. The current opposition to the new farm laws is politically motivated, and there is hardly any opposition to these laws in Maharashtra. This is because the main commodities under MSP (minimum support price) of Maharashtra are cotton and soyabean, which are already being traded outside the APMC. Now, only horticulture commodities like vegetable and fruits remain."
Shinde said that four years ago the state government had decided to exempt horticulture commodities from APMC. The central government has extended this exemption to the whole country only now. This law was already implemented in the state and commodity-wise trade is already happening outside the APMC here. "There are two major crops of Nashik – onion and grapes. The same farmer produces both the crops but while onions are traded through APMC, grapes are sold in the open market directly to trader or consumer. This means the farmers are choosing their trade system as per their convenience and profit," he said.
Farmers in Punjab, Haryana and western UP mainly grow two major crops – wheat and rice. The grains are purchased by the
As of now the Commission for Agricultural Costs & Prices (CACP) recommends MSPs of 23 commodities, which comprise 7 cereals (paddy, wheat, maize, sorghum, pearl millet, barley and ragi), 5 pulses (gram, tur, moong, urad, lentil), 7 oilseeds (groundnut, rapeseed-mustard, soyabean, seasmum, sunflower, safflower, nigerseed), and 4 commercial crops (copra, sugarcane, cotton and raw jute).
In 2015, the Shanta Kumar Committee set up by the Modi government had pointed out that the current MSP system is only benefitting six per cent of the country's farmers, and that the MSP has not been able to help the farmers from all the states since it is based on the commodity.
However, the system has worked really well in the states such as Punjab, Haryana and some parts of UP since they produce wheat and paddy in large quantities, and 70-80 per cent of procurement of these crops is done under the MSP.
Maharashtra's farmers don't cultivate rice and wheat in large quantities as compared to these states. However, the state grows cotton, soyabean, barley, tur (arhar daal) and a few other crops which come under MSP.
"The reason why there are no large protests in Maharashtra is that even before the new laws were enacted, there was no purchase by the government under MSP as it was happening in the northern states for wheat and paddy. It would either not happen or would always get delayed whenever demanded by farmers, and the procurement centres come up only when there is demand by farmers. Hence, there is little reaction by the farmers to the new laws. Another reason is that many of them are not even aware about the laws," said Irfan Shaikh, the director of Sahyadri Balaghat Farmer Producer Company (FPO) of Beed district in Marathwada. About 800 farmers are associated with the company, and Shaikh deals in cotton, sitaphal (custard apple) and other agricultural products.
"These laws are not completely evil, there are good things too but the major issue that lies here is the huge possibility of exploitation of small farmers by traders/companies while purchasing their produce. The rates will vary drastically as per the purchasers' whims and fancies. The government needs to ensure that there has to be legal obligations and regulations for the open market trade. There has to be a system wherein the farmers can have the proper verified information of the traders and the traders are registered in that system so that farmers won't get exploited," he said.
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