In September 2020, the Indian government passed a set of laws to deregulate the market for agricultural produce and boost corporate investment in agriculture. The “farm laws,” as they’re called in the press, are a continuation of a long-term series of initiatives intended to reform the nation’s farm sector, which supports more than half of the Indian workforce. But the laws address only part of the multifaceted and deep-rooted structural problems with India’s food sector. As a result, millions of farmers have taken to the streets of Delhi and other Indian cities to protest what they see as a withdrawal of government support and guaranteed pricing for their produce.
Truly meaningful reform of India’s agricultural sector will require a comprehensive package of measures, to address not just how food is sold but also the entire supply chain, from production to processing to distribution. Solutions must balance multiple interests: food security for the nation, fair returns for producers, growth prospects for the private sector, and the creation of new employment opportunities in rural India. And all of these goals need to be met while the productivity of the land is maintained and sustainability within the system is ensured. State and private players will both have a major role to play.
Getting reform right, though, requires a deeper understanding of the Indian food sector, its socioeconomic history, and its complex challenges.