The Indian Farming Crisis


There is a crisis in India that is relatively unknown to the world, affecting the majority of all those that live there. Though India has been feverishly developing, over half of Indians work on farms, using antiquated practices that barely keep families afloat. In December however, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government passed three laws that will loosen rules regarding the sale, pricing, and storage of farm produce. These rules have protected Indian farmers from the unrestricted free market for decades.  Protesting farmers immediately took to the streets of the capital despite the pandemic. Water cannons and tear gas from the capital’s police followed them. Recently, protesters stormed the Red Fort in Delhi to demonstrate their anger. Despite the months of protests, it does not look like the government will budge on its legislation.

Though this was the tipping point for farmers, they have been on the decline for years now. Even with half of Indians working on farms, less than one sixth of the country’s GDP has been from farming. Plot sizes per family have been shrinking and incomes have been falling due to corrupt middlemen who formed cartels to take large sums of profits from farmers. Only 6% of the farmers received guaranteed price support for their crops despite government promises. Incomes have also been constantly falling. Referencing a 2016 Economic Survey, the annual income of a farming family in most of the Indian States averaged to only 20,000 rupees which is $271.


The farmers’ anger at the injustice they have faced for the past decades was channeled into fighting Modi’s new laws for the following reasons. The farmers have deep fears of the free market and big business. For a long time, farmers have sold their crops in government regulated wholesale markets run by the whims of committees made up of large landowners. Most farmers still prefer this to Modi’s reforms that freed up the farming market to more private investment and big business because the worry that new laws, which weaken price guarantees even further, will leave farmers vulnerable to contract farming. This is where farmers enter legally binding agreements with large corporations and private players. They are forced to go to these businesses due to the lack of government protection which will lead to exploitation and even lower profits.


These laws not only hurt farmers, but they are also not solving the huge environmental problems surrounding India’s agricultural industry. Ever since the 1960s Green Revolution, the government supported the cultivation of high-yield rice, wheat, and pulses. The land has been depleted by this monocultural cultivation. Though there has been an increase in productivity, it has come at the cost of soil leaching, water scarcity, and loss of biodiversity. The market deregulation laws will further incentivize higher output due to pressures by big business which will only exacerbate current environmental issues.


However, it is a fact that India’s farming economy needs to be reformed. It uses extremely outdated practices, that are inefficient and require large amounts of human labor.  Furthermore, It is a huge problem that the majority of people in India are dependent on subsistence level farming to survive. It is true that the old subsidization and protection of farmers contributed to the inefficiencies of the farming economy, but simply ripping these away is not going to automatically make it better. To truly fix this issue, the government needs to invest in education to open up the path for farmers to work more productive jobs and invest in modern farming technology that will increase the output per farmer. These solutions, though more long term and difficult to implement in such a large country, is the best way to permanently improve the livelihood of farmers and the farming economy as a whole.


Biswas, Soutik. “What Has Brought India’s Farmers to the Streets?” BBC News, BBC, 3 Dec. 2020,