U.S. farmers and food justice advocates on Thursday published a statement of solidarity with Indian farmers protesting deeply unpopular new laws and “the forces of neoliberalism” imposed at the prompting of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s far-right, Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.
“We stand with India’s farmers! Now let’s connect the dots between the forces of neoliberalism that stifle farmers, from India to the U.S.,” the statement—which was signed by 87 groups—begins.
“India’s farmers have mobilized to create one of the world’s most vibrant protests in history, camping on the outskirts of New Delhi for more than two and a half months,” it says. “Their rallying cry is to repeal the three unjust laws that were passed without their knowledge or consultation.”
“We extend our solidarity to countless farmers who are peacefully and boldly standing up for their rights and dignity,” the statement continues. Hundreds of millions of Indians have taken to the streets across the country since last November in what has been called the largest protest in human history.
Over 40% of India’s workforce of 500 million people is employed in agriculture. More than half of all farming households in the country are in debt, according to a 2018 survey from the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic—which has exacerbated India’s worst economic slowdown in decades—has driven millions of farmers to desperation.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, over 300,000 Indian farmers have killed themselves since 1995, often by drinking pesticides, and often due to an inability to repay loans from private lenders charging exorbitant interest.
Many observers claim it is no coincidence that the farmer suicide crisis parallels the period in which neoliberal economic policies have been forced on India’s people. The Indian author Arundhati Roy has noted that neoliberalism in rural India often means unconstitutional land seizure, displacement, and human rights crimes perpetrated by state and paramilitary forces.
In her 2007 book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Canadian author Naomi Klein famously examined how governments force neoliberal policies upon their wary citizens during or right after major crises. Three new laws enacted during India’s Covid-19 and economic crises are among the main reasons why millions of Indians—who include not not only farmers but students, leftists, labor groups, and others—have protested in recent months.
The three new laws deregulate the sale, pricing, and storage of agricultural goods. Modi, BJP leaders, and others say the “reforms” will make India’s agricultural sector less state-controlled and more market-based. However, critics, including former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, have raised serious concerns about the speed with which the laws were passed and their lack of regulatory safeguards.
The U.S. solidarity statement notes that “one of the key demands of the [protest] movement is for farmers to receive a Minimum Support Price (MSP)—currently assured for just a few crops—for all produce, including vegetables, which are essential for healthy diets.”
“This would ensure that farmers in India, already burdened by huge debts, receive a fair price for their produce,” it explains.
The statement also acknowledges “the role of the U.S. government in creating the conditions that have led to these repressive laws.” It continues:
The U.S. has been a key opponent of India’s limited use of MSP at the World Trade Organization. The U.S.—with Australia, Canada, and European allies—has claimed that India’s MSP distorts trade. But, that is not surprising: the U.S. government has been eroding the concept of parity (similar to MSP in India) at home for decades.
While the U.S. agricultural sector receives inordinately large support compared to many countries, access to that support remains inequitable. In particular, Black, Indigenous, Latino, Asian-Pacific, and other people of color producers, who lack secure land tenure and are concentrated in vegetable and small-scale cattle sectors, have been excluded historically. Support flows to larger agribusiness farming operations instead of the independent family farmers whose voices we amplify.
“Let us be clear: what the Indian farmers are enduring now happened in the U.S. almost four decades ago,” the statement asserts. “The Reagan era furthered the farm crisis through deliberate federal policy changes, with systematic erosion of parity prices and other deregulatory efforts. ‘Get big or get out’ has been our government’s mantra.”
“Farmers with the means to consolidate have been rewarded for growing monoculture commodities,” it continues. “Tribal nations and traditional producers as well as small farmers who have always practiced or shifted to diversified agroecological farming have effectively been subsidizing the U.S. agriculture sector. It is rare for these food producers to make a living without supplemental income. Unsurprisingly, farm suicides in rural America are 45% higher than the rest of the population.”
“The U.S. government must stop prioritizing the interests of agribusiness over small farmers, abetting further corporatization of the food system here and in other countries,” the statement concludes. “The U.S. must also endorse multilateral governance norms that will support India’s transition to climate-resilient, biodiverse, and water-conserving food systems that reach all producers. This would also mean harmonizing trade rules to include parity pricing and public crop procurement.”