Home » Mint Primer: From Europe to India, why are farmers angry?

Mint Primer: From Europe to India, why are farmers angry?

Farmers have laid siege to European cities with tractors protesting subsidy cuts, cheap imports, high energy prices and imposition of green policies. In India, farmers are preparing for another showdown. What’s going on? Is there a common thread ? Mint explains:

How widespread are the protests?

Beginning January, farmers from several member-nations of the European Union (EU)—Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland and Spain—invaded cities with their tractors, burning tyres, dumping manure, raiding supermarkets, blocking access to ports and highways and choking city centres. They are protesting subsidy cuts, high energy prices, cheap grain imports from Ukraine, beef imports from Latin America, growing clout of big agribusiness and climate policies limiting the use of chemical inputs. It is a profitability crisis—due to higher farming costs and low produce prices.

Which green policies are under fire?

Back in 2019, Dutch farmers took to the streets after the government disclosed plans to cut nitrogen emissions by slashing livestock population. In January this year, German farmers paralyzed Berlin after the government said it will phase out tax breaks on diesel for agricultural use; in France, farmers sprayed manure on state buildings protesting fuel subsidy cuts. Farmer across Europe are enraged by EU environment policies which target net zero emissions by 2050. These include a drastic reduction in use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, and ‘nature restoration’ policies setting aside farm land for conservation purposes.

How have EU and govts responded to protests?

France has rolled back fuel subsidy cuts and suspended pesticide reduction mandates. Germany said it will phase out fuel subsidies gradually. In November, politicians voted against the EU’s proposed pesticide regulations—and a new set of climate rules is in the works ahead of elections in June. For now, nature restoration plans have been deferred. 

What is prompting protests in India?

As in Europe, farmers in India want better crop prices. Farmers from Punjab and Haryana plan to reach Delhi on 13 February, demanding legal backing for minimum support prices (MSP). They are upset because the government is yet to act, as per an agreement in 2021, to make the MSP regime more effective and cover a wider range of crops than just rice and wheat. The deal took place after the government withdrew farm laws following protests which began in end-2020 and lasted for over a year.

Are there issues beyond MSP?

Yes. Import of cheap edible oil and pulses have hit farmer earnings. Steps to keep food prices low, such as a ban on export of cereals, sugar and onion, lowered incomes over the past year. Farmers also bore the brunt of climate shocks like heat waves, dry spells, and excess rains which damaged crops and affected yields. So, apart from a law on MSP, farmers are demanding higher import duties, changes to the existing crop insurance scheme, better quality of seeds, a debt waiver and social security benefits like pension.