Amid involvement of environmental activists in the ongoing protests against the new farm laws, it is important to understand the impact of these laws on the environment as the government claims agricultural reforms will bring about a revolutionary change in the lives of India’s small and marginal farmers.
IANS spoke to some experts in the field of agriculture, including scientists, officials and economists.
Farmers protesting along the borders of the national capital for nearly three months claim that the new farm laws of the Centre will not benefit farmers as APMC ‘mandis’ will collapse and farmers will not get Minimum Support Price for the crops they grow after enforcement of new laws, but experts are of the opinion that these laws will not only benefit farmers but also the consumers as new reforms initiated by the Modi government will also resolve several issues related to environment and health.
In the existing Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) system, there is no direct communication between producers and consumers, this gap suppresses market signals and leads to rogue growing patterns which ultimately leads to financial crisis for farmers because of demand and supply mismatch, said agricultural economist Vijay Sardana who is in favour of the new agricultural laws of the Centre.
In a series of initiatives to bring crucial reforms in agriculture and allied sectors, the government enacted two newly-framed laws and one amended Act cleared by the Parliament last year in September. However, the Supreme Court has suspended these laws at present, and a committee set up by the apex court is examining the various issues related to these laws.
Experts say that the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion & Facilitation) Act, 2020 and the Farmers’ (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020 will enable a transformative shift in Indian agricultural sustainability and climate resilience.
They say that these laws will enable the creation of newer markets for farmers and better linkage of production to market demand. This will result in more holistic production planning and can lead to crop diversification away from water-intensive crops and towards crops that will be more suitable for the future in the Indian agro-climatic scenario.
For example, millets which are today in demand globally as health super foods can be grown in areas with lower water availability once there are improved linkages of farmers to markets. Premium for organic, pesticide-free crops can also be passed back to farmers to encourage them to grow using these practices.
Agricultural scientists say that even where more water-intensive crops continue to be grown, newer technologies will be introduced by market participants in a more economically viable manner to support precision farming and drip irrigation over larger land parcels, resulting in greater optimisation of water and input usage.
Dr Manoj Kumar, acting Director, ICAR-Central Potato Research Institute said, the new laws will encourage farmers for crop diversification which is the need of the hour.
The new farm laws will give impetus to diversification of the cropping system with increased cultivation and production of horticultural crops like fruits and vegetables. This will add to environmental sustainability, economic viability and ensure food and nutritional security of the country, he said.
A senior government official told IANS that contract farming can result in better overall environmental practices.
Starting with improved land planning and utilisation of land to grow the right crop mix. There will be a stronger focus on meeting grower requirements and many companies engaged in contract farming have a focus on Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) and sustainability, these practices will be introduced through backward integration, he added.
Citing an example, he said that better pesticide management to ensure lower residue in line with global MRL standards or introduction of newer variants such as drought resistant pesticide through better access and availability of R&D.
More modern infrastructure will also be introduced in the value chain, and private participants can make investments to ensure these are climate-resilient and will support changing environmental conditions, thereby resulting in lower wastage e.g. due to unseasonal rains and flooding.
The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020 provides that the supply of foodstuffs, including cereals, pulses, potato, onions, edible oilseeds and oils, may be regulated only under extraordinary circumstances which may include war, famine, extraordinary price rise and natural calamity of grave nature, thereby removes fear of sudden imposition of stock limits on the players in the storage and food processing sectors.
Economist Vjay Sardana says that in a surplus economy, under Essential Commodities Act, excessive storage leads to food wastage and losses of surplus items, and on the other hand, there is shortage of storage facilities for other required commodities and this imbalance puts additional pressure on natural resources.
Most of the wastage occurs in the case of fruits and vegetables. Farmers suffer huge losses when there are bumper harvests of perishable commodities. With adequate processing facilities, much of this wastage can be reduced thus providing remunerative prices to producers, ensuring greater supply to consumers and reduce pollution. This will ultimately reduce the impact on environment.