Yesterday, Indian farmers ended a year of protests after winning unexpected concessions from the Modi government that have raised hopes of higher earnings for the poorest growers. Farmers had blockaded the capital New Delhi to protest government plans to deregulate a sector that employs nearly half the country's 1.3 billion people, arguing the reforms threatened their livelihoods.
The government abandoned its plans last month, but thousands of farmers remained camped out on highways until Thursday, when authorities agreed to a key demand to extend a system of guaranteed crop prices, according to a letter seen by Reuters.
"For marginalised farmers, there are no loans, no crop insurance, no access to government schemes or fair price," said Kishore Tiwari, head of the Vidarbha Jan Aandolan Samiti, a charity working for farmer welfare in Maharashtra state. "Debt-ridden farmers have been committing suicide for decades now. It is high time there was some government intervention and a legal support price would be a start."
Although India first introduced minimum support prices (MSPs) in the 1960s to encourage farmers to grow high-yield varieties of wheat and rice, the safety net currently benefits barely 6% of farmers. Now, the farmers hope for better enforcement of the MSPs, as minimum price promises would at least provide a benchmark for negotiating at local markets.