The author, humbly, begs thy pardon, but there is no easy way and perhaps a no more respectable way of putting this, but the contempt that has been witnessed, propagated, and even celebrated in the protests against private sector at the Singhu border is stupid.
The protests were about MSP (Minimum Support Price), to begin with. Once it was confirmed and verified that the MSP is not going anywhere, it became about the participation of the private sector in India’s agriculture.
Now, no one on the ground, nor the farmers or the middlemen, or even the influencers on Instagram, both in India and Canada, cared to completely understand the ordinances, the amendments offered by the government, or the potential of those reforms.
These are the same influencers whose disastrous interpretation of any Modi reform, be it the CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) or the three new farm reforms would enable any serious thinker to find the nearest wall and bang their head against it.
They follow the ‘Farhan Law of Protests’. If everyone’s protesting, we must protest too. They also follow the ‘Diljit Deduction Formula’. If the Punjabi has said it’s wrong, it is wrong. Only if using one’s mind was a trend on Instagram.
The majority of the hate has been reserved for Mukesh Ambani’s Jio and Gautam Adani’s Adani Group. It was both sad and funny when a fact-checker had to clarify that Adani was not the new owner of Indian Railways.
Another instance was when a prominent actor featuring in many web-series, largely released on YouTube and later sold to OTT platforms like Netflix or Disney+, made a post against Jio.
Without caring about how the fate of the work she does and the fortunes of the company she works for, are linked to the internet accessibility, made possible by Jio, she wanted her 358,000 followers on Instagram to believe that Jio was going to be the end of farmers.
The internet is a funny place.
None, however, could justify, if asked, the hate they were unleashing for Jio and Ambani.
Turns out, if everyone protesting or supporting these protests from anywhere, and in any manner, in the world were asked to leave their private-sector jobs, dump every purchase they have ever made from a private company, or take a pledge to not enjoy the spoils of capitalism anymore, the protests would be over by the next morning, or perhaps, the same evening, depending on when the next pizza party is scheduled at Singhu border.
What makes this contempt for the private sector stupid is that it has been boiled down to only the MSP and nothing else. No one cares if 94 per cent of the farmers are outside the purview of MSP, or that MSP is only for around two-dozen crops, or that we already have farmers successfully partnering with the private sector. It’s only about the price, one that the private sector may leave to markets, to market economics, to the basic rules of supply and demand.
With 86.2 per cent of India’s farmers being small and marginalised, holding almost 47 per cent of the cropped land, and another 44 per cent of the cropped land under medium and semi-medium farmers, the private sector can go a long way in not only doubling their income but ushering the necessary technology in the entire length of the value chain.
Punjab’s farmers, who are protesting for the ‘Right to Burn’ stubble and NCR’s air quality can also benefit.
If one takes a look at the value chain, from farm inputs to selling, the private sector will play a key role in creating a digital marketplace for farm inputs, helping farmers with research on plant/animal life sciences and genomics, farm equipment for rent on a pay-per-use basis, for farm management by helping them with geospatial data, IoT devices and sensors, robotics, in farm mechanisation, in modern farming techniques like indoor farming, greenhouse systems, drip irrigation, and in post-harvest produce handling through quality check and storage and transportation.
Already, many private companies are playing critical roles in different segments of the value chain.
For instance, Cropin and BharatAgri are addressing the challenges of precision agriculture and farm management. DeHaat and BigHaat are aiding farmers with better returns by creating a transparent digital price platform for farm inputs and eventual output.
Intello Labs and Agricx are working in the domain of crop quality monitoring and helping farmers with AI imaging, technologies not even the rich farmers of Punjab would invest in.
SourceTrace and Frontalrain are critical players in the produce traceability segment.
Lastly, Tartan Sense and TerraCroft are working on robotics and drone solutions for farms, addressing the problem of labour shortage and taking the next big leap in farm mechanisation.
Some other companies working in different segments of the value chain include Nuziveedu Seeds, Advanta, EM3, TRRINGO, Gold Farm, GRoboMac, Flybird, Urban Kissan, and KisanHub.
The participation of the private sector is warranted for other reasons as well.
Contract farming, for instance, can help farmers shift to cultivating fruits and vegetables, given their rising demand.
Through supply chain improvements, private sector participation (PSP) can tackle the current problem where close to 40 per cent of the food grains produced are wasted in either transition or godowns.
With unpredictable shifts in climate, given a mere one-degree centigrade increase in temperature can result in the loss of 4-5 million metric tonnes of wheat, and untimely rains impacting small farmers, sometimes wiping their entire crop out, the PSP and investment in climate-resilient technologies would go a long way in aiding India’s agricultural sector.
'More crop for each drop' would also be made possible with increased investments in data-precision irrigation techniques as the declining groundwater levels begin to haunt India, starting with Punjab where the groundwater exploitation is the most.
The PSP has a lot to do with the monetary potential of Indian agriculture too.
Currently contributing 16 per cent of India’s GDP, the market potential of India’s agritech market alone is close to $24 billion and the turnover is estimated at more than $150 billion. The penetration, however, is less than one per cent if one goes by a recent report by E&Y.
There are lessons that can be learned from China as well when it comes to PSP.
Already, China is leveraging the capabilities of 5G, Artificial Intelligence, drones, and community-supported agriculture. In China’s 2019-2025 Agriculture Digitisation Plan, the aim is to take the proportion of farming goods sold online to 15 per cent.
The plan also warrants investment in blockchain technology for financing products, food supply, and transportation.
In 2018 alone, China’s food and agriculture startups were able to raise close to $6 billion in more than 280 deals, not to discount the employment generated separately. In the United States too, blockchain, remote sensing, and machine learning are becoming instrumental to their agricultural success stories.
Thus, even if one takes Jio Telecom and Jio Retail out of the equation, the PSP is not merely about Jio. However, one cannot dismiss the potential Jio Retail holds, after its recent acquisition of the Future Group, in taking farmers’ produce to the consumer at a better price for both the buyers in the city and the sellers in the villages.
Instagram’s DSLR influencers have plagued the platform, the same platform that has invested in Jio, with saddening farmer images from Singhu border. However, it is important to look beyond the perception that is sugarcoated in irrationality and exaggerated emotions.
Countless jobs can be created in the agritech sector, given the local population would be instrumental for any private trader or company contracting with the farmer. India needs more Agri-preneurs and lesser farmers. This way, they can double, triple, and amplify their incomes and prospects.
The private sector is much more than the price for the farm produce, it’s much more than a guaranteed MSP, and it’s much more than Jio. For starters, it’s the first step towards being ‘Atmanirbhar’, as a farmer, as a community of farmers, and consequentially, as a nation.
The interests of the farmers, the potential of India’s agricultural sector, the prospects of India’s agritech sector cannot be allowed to be hijacked by a privileged few, made rich by centre’s MSP that came at the cost of taxpayers.
This stupidity, on Instagram, Singhu Border, and elsewhere, must be ignored. It’s time for India’s agricultural sector to take its first giant leap since the 1960s.
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