Indian elections and the agricultural sector – why 19 April is so important.

The world’s largest democracy opens its polling stations on 19 April. Elections in India are a major logistical enterprise. Around 960 million people are registered to vote. That is over 10 per cent of the world’s population. They allocate the 543 seats in the Indian parliament. It will take until 1 June before all eligible voters have cast their votes. This is because, according to Indian electoral law, the distance from each place of residence to the polling station must not be longer than two kilometres. This is a challenge, especially in rural areas.

Especially farmers and farmers’ organisations in India will be following this election closely and critically. This is because the country set out in 2020 to reform its agriculture and open it up to foreign countries. Following protests by over 40 farmers’ associations in the country and the farmers themselves, the government initially suspended the liberalisation. However, if Modi is confirmed in office, a new attempt at reforms is likely.

India is not only a country of superlatives when it comes to elections, but also in the agricultural sector. There are around 100 million farmers in India, but most of them cultivate less than two hectares of arable land. Nevertheless, India manages to feed its population largely on its own despite steady population growth. The country is not only an economic but also an agricultural power. Still.

However, it is foreseeable that changes will be necessary if the country continues to grow at this rate.

India is the world’s largest producer of milk and pulses and the second-largest producer of rice, wheat, fruit, and vegetables. However, most of this is needed and consumed domestically. Reforms are needed to increase production: there is hardly any meat production in India that goes beyond the individual farmer slaughtering his own animals. Nor is there a processing industry that packages or refines food. There are approaches, but not for a country of 1.4 billion people. India has a distribution problem rather than a production problem. That is why there is still malnutrition in the country. Implementing the planned reforms requires capital. But the following still applies: foreign investors cannot acquire land in India and in some federal states only registered farmers are allowed to buy farmland.

The vast majority of small farmers in particular fear being left behind in the event of liberalisation.
But anyone who thinks of India’s agricultural sector only in terms of bullock carts and rice farmers who plant rice by hand is not doing justice to this up-and-coming country.

India is also home to a strong agricultural machinery industry. Not only have Claas and John Deere been in the country for more than a decade, but Mahindra & Mahindra, the world’s largest tractor manufacturer in terms of unit sales, also produces around 350,000 tractors a year.

India is also making great efforts to digitalise the agricultural sector: weather apps, digital access to grain exchanges and market prices, as well as access to buyers outside of their own village, are driving growth. The aforementioned tractor manufacturer Mahindra & Mahindra, for example, is investing in digital solutions for small farmers in the area of geo-fencing.

And since 2016, there has been a state-run digital trading platform, the Electronic National Agriculture Market (e-NAM). This is a trading portal financed by the central government and implemented by the Small Farmers Agribusiness Consortium (SFAC). The portal links marketplaces, sub-markets, private markets, and other unregulated markets to standardise all national agricultural markets and create a central online platform for the pricing of agricultural raw materials.

The elections will show whether further farmers’ protests can be expected in June, as was the case in New Delhi in February this year, when around 30,000 farmers took to the streets for better prices, similar to those in Europe.

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