Despite Their Political Clout, Small Farmers in India Feel Left Behind by the State

Despite Their Political Clout, Small Farmers in India Feel Left Behind by the State
Thousands of protesting farmers listen to their leader at the end of a six-day march on foot, Mumbai, India, March 12, 2018 (AP photo by Rajanish Kakade).

On March 12, thousands of farmers in the Indian state of Maharashtra marched 112 miles to the state capital, Mumbai, demanding government action to address concerns ranging from land transfers to loans. India’s agricultural sector is the country’s largest source of employment, but it is inefficient and largely reliant on dated equipment and technology, and most farmers struggle to make a living. India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, which is facing mounting pressure from farmers, has been promising to address their concerns for years; Prime Minister Narendra Modi has vowed to double farmers’ income. In an email interview, Surupa Gupta, an associate professor at the University of Mary Washington in Virginia, explains what is behind the farmers’ demands and the obstacles to attaining them.

WPR: What is driving farmers’ demands for government support?

Surupa Gupta: The farm sector in India has faced a series of problems for at least a couple of decades. The 1990s were marked by stagnation in farm incomes, a decline in overall growth in agriculture and low farm productivity. Since the mid-2000s, the farm sector in India has seen some positive developments, including an increase in the average growth rate in agricultural production and an increase in agricultural exports. It has also shifted from focusing on producing food grains and certain cash crops, such as cotton and sugarcane, to producing a more lucrative assortment of fruits, vegetables, poultry and livestock, as a response to changes in consumer incomes and preferences.

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