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Thursday, April 25, 2024

Protecting Farmers’ Livelihoods

India’s agricultural sector stands at a crossroads, grappling with the repercussions of its membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) for nearly three decades. The promises of increased market access and enhanced income for farmers have remained largely unfulfilled, leaving millions in distress. The recent protests by farmers, demanding India’s withdrawal from the WTO, underscore the urgent need for reform. The prevailing situation is dire, as exemplified by the plight of small farmers in Punjab receiving inadequate compensation for their produce while facing stiff competition from imported fruits like oranges and apples flooding the market from distant shores

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India’s agricultural sector stands at a crossroads, grappling with the repercussions of its membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) for nearly three decades. The promises of increased market access and enhanced income for farmers have remained largely unfulfilled, leaving millions in distress. The recent protests by farmers, demanding India’s withdrawal from the WTO, underscore the urgent need for reform. The prevailing situation is dire, as exemplified by the plight of small farmers in Punjab receiving inadequate compensation for their produce while facing stiff competition from imported fruits like oranges and apples flooding the market from distant shores. The failure of WTO mechanisms, particularly in addressing quantitative restrictions, has exacerbated India’s agricultural woes. The flood of heavily subsidized agricultural products from Western nations has decimated local markets and pushed small farmers to the brink of bankruptcy. Despite assurances of fair trade, the reality is starkly different, with multinational corporations reaping the benefits at the expense of vulnerable farmers. The influx of foreign produce, coupled with the entry of retail giants like Amazon and Walmart, has further marginalized local producers and traders.

Central to the issue is the WTO’s flawed approach to agricultural subsidies, which disproportionately favors wealthy nations. While developed countries enjoy lenient subsidy regulations hidden behind obscure clauses, developing nations like India face stringent caps and constant pressure to roll back support for farmers. The arbitrary 10 percent cap on procurement for the Public Distribution System (PDS) undermines India’s ability to ensure food security for its population. Moreover, the dominance of corporate agribusiness cartels, both global and domestic, threatens to erode food sovereignty and exacerbate food insecurity. The concentration of power in the hands of a few corporations, such as Cargill and ADM, raises concerns about market manipulation and artificial shortages, further jeopardizing the livelihoods of farmers. It is imperative for India to reassess its approach to agricultural trade policies and prioritize the welfare of its farmers. Legal guarantees for Minimum Support Prices (MSPs) and the expansion of the PDS are indispensable measures to safeguard the interests of small farmers and ensure food security for all citizens. Additionally, India must advocate for reforms within the WTO to address the imbalance in subsidy regulations and protect the autonomy of developing nations in managing their agricultural economies.

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Delinking Quantitative Restrictions (QRs) from the purview of the Agreement on Agriculture (AOA) is a crucial step towards securing domestic subsidy support and preserving MSPs. By mobilizing developing nations to collectively challenge the status quo within the WTO, India can assert its sovereignty and protect its farmers from unfair trade practices. The time for action is now. The government must heed the voices of the agitating farmers and take decisive steps to reform agricultural trade policies in alignment with the interests of the farming community. Failure to do so risks further exacerbating the already precarious situation faced by millions of farmers across the country. India’s agricultural sector is in urgent need of comprehensive reform to address the systemic challenges posed by its membership in the WTO. By prioritizing the welfare of farmers and advocating for equitable trade policies, India can secure a sustainable future for its agricultural sector and ensure food security for generations to come.

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The Hills Times
The Hills Timeshttps://www.thehillstimes.in/
The Hills Times, a largely circulated English daily published from Diphu and printed in Guwahati, having vast readership in hills districts of Assam, and neighbouring Nagaland, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur.
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