Tuesday, Mar 21, 2023

Farm Bills 2020: Crafting Effective Buffers Against A Predicted Catastrophic 2021

Farm Bills 2020: Crafting Effective Buffers Against A Predicted Catastrophic 2021

We need our food systems in top order in the corona-hit economy. And this brings the focus on our farming community and the processes of production and post-production.

Punjab Farmers stages protest against the recently passed Farm Bills PTI

“Communication can no longer be treated like the fifth wheel on a car --- nice to have, but something of a luxury. Communication needs to be converted into the steering wheel to help guide the enormous changes necessary by those responsible for national policies, by institutions, societies, communities, and groups". - Fraser & Restrepo-Estrada 

Amidst the ongoing farmers' protest and rounds of talks with the policymakers there seems to be a deadlock that needs to be defused immediately. This happens only with the trust restored in the government moves among the farming community. The fears and scepticism need to be allayed with proper communication and policy moves. How the moves will not go against the interests of the community needs to be established.

Not only nationally but worldwide too, food systems need to be stepped up considering the ominous statement coming from the World Food Program executive director David Beasley earlier this month. Beasley, expressing his concerns over the coming year has called it catastrophic considering the lurking fears of global humanitarian crises.

Back home, the corona -hit economy, loss of jobs and losses in the wake of externalities like locusts’ attack, and cyclones – Amphan and Nisarga need to be addressed and economy rejuvenated. We need our food systems in top order. And this brings the focus on our farming community and the processes of production and post-production.

Shifting the spotlight on the farm bills seems the policymakers could not communicate their intentions to the farmers. The bills bring in deregulation of the sale of agricultural produce, excluding the role of middlemen in the process. It gives more latitude to the farmers when it comes to deciding who to sell their crops to. But then there is the fear of competition, unpredictability and losing out on minimum support price. The last one government has pledged would stay.

India with about 157.35 million hectares of arable land, is second only to the United States in terms of total arable land. Closer home, we are just a slightly bigger than one–third of China in size. Still, we have more agricultural land than the neighbour.  This definitely justifies the spotlight on the agro sector and the reforms therein, considering the fact that the Indian agro sector is no small space. 

Our food production in the world is one of the second largest. Talking of wheat, rice, vegetables and fruits, we are the second-largest producer of the same, China being the number Uno.  But the difference between the two Asian giants is huge. China produces almost three times more fruits and vegetables than India.

After all 58 per cent of the population yielding an uneasy and thought triggering 14 per cent is no less a worry. As we go ahead on the path to help our agrarian ecosystem, we would realize we are helping the country as a whole --- the environment, the civic infrastructure, the society and the economy.  It is not going to be an easy task; will take time to show results but is not by any chance a thing unachievable.

 The reforms that were to enthuse a stronger entrepreneurial element in the agro sector failed to get the traction that the policymakers had at heart and boomeranged.

Why? For lack of effective communication                           

The bills have the potential of making rural ecosystems the mainstays of the Indian economy, spurring indigenous production which could have later added to exports. But it created a lot of heartburn because of the missing link --- effective communication.

The policymakers failed to establish the needed connect, integrity and understanding of the respective communities. Intangibles that can decide the fate of efforts of Integrity, compassion, a moral compass, empathy and the integration of case --- specifics could not be established despite being at the heart of the bills. Also, the groundwork was not done.

Such landmark litigation to be effective needs a lot of leg work and diligent handling.

Communication is not a peripheral function. Communication is a super-specialized skill with functions that include educating the public, creating awareness and willingness, thus drawing out cooperation and support for necessary support and resources. Advising the respective authorities on policy matters, syncing development agencies to people on the ground zero and creating congeniality, drawing out support and mobilising the public through participatory communication are other areas to be looked into.

And sorry to say those communicating the reforms could not establish the good intentions that went into the crafting of the three bills.

(The author has been a faculty of finance, entrepreneurship and emotional intelligence at B-schools and universities.  She now works as an independent researcher and focuses on agro and food ecosystems in India and worldwide. Views are personal, and do not necessarily reflect those of Outlook Magazine.)