Farmers of Europe did something rather unimaginable in recent times. Across the fertile plains of France and the rolling hills of Germany, from Italy to Spain and Belgium, Romania to Netherlands, they rolled thousands of their tractors into capital cities to make their voices be heard. They brought their livestock to big capital cities to highlight how important their issues were. They dumped fodder and manure on plush city roads to bring home their message – their farming is not doing well.
But what made Europe’s farmers – otherwise thought to be doing well – take such extreme steps?
Understanding the European farmers’ grievances can offer valuable insights for India’s farming – including that in J&K – on how the changing tides of regulations, green transition, and inflation are impacting farming worldwide. While the specific contexts of Europe and India differ, they grapple with similar challenges in a rapidly evolving agricultural landscape.
European farmers’ grievances are complex and have several threads
European farmers are subject to a variety of environmental regulations, such as limits on fertilizer use and animal waste disposal, which can increase their costs and reduce their productivity.
Similarly, the EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS) imposes a price on carbon emissions, which can make it more expensive for farmers to produce energy-intensive goods like meat and dairy.
While there is still a lot of leniency around environmental compliances in India’s farming sector, including on animal husbandry, farmers would need to be aware that if there is greater pressure for green transition they would have to quickly prepare and adapt.
Some traditional farm subsidies in Europe are being phased out in favor of payments for environmental services, such as maintaining biodiversity or storing carbon in soil. However, these new payments are often complex and difficult to access for small and medium-sized farms. European farmers feel that farmers in developing countries often have lower environmental standards and can produce food more cheaply. This has made it difficult for them to compete, even if they are producing food in a more sustainable way.
These factors have led to a decline in farm incomes in many parts of Europe. In France, for example, farm incomes fell by 17% between 2016 and 2020. This has led to protests from farmers who argue that they are being unfairly burdened with the costs of the green transition.
Europe’s farmers are also frustrated with the ever-growing mountain of paperwork and red tape associated with agricultural operations, especially for claiming subsidies.
Thankfully, that is yet not the case in our country, where farmers can rely on the support systems of the government agencies and departments in navigating some minimal paper work.
In response to these challenges, Europe’s farmers are demanding fairer prices and market stability, simplified regulations and targeted support.
The good thing is that India’s farmers are already getting such support either through Minimum Support Price (MSP) and some targeted support like in PM’s Fasal Bhima Yojaya, etc. While Europe’s farmers want policies that ensure they receive a just share of the value chain and protection against unfair competition.
Lessons for J&K’s farmers
New environmental regulations are a reality for farmers everywhere around the world. Farmers of J&K, sooner or later, would have to come to terms with more stringent environmental regulations about the use of pesticides, chemical fertilisers and so on. They should start to explore and seek support to implement sustainable practices that comply with regulations without unduly burdening their operations.
Green transition is another reality, which presents both challenges and opportunities for farmers in the country as a whole, and in J&K as well. Electricity from traditional sources is likely to get more expensive. Kashmir’s specialized horticulture farmers will have to embrace techniques like precision agriculture, water conservation methods, and renewable energy sources, like solar energy, to adapt and even thrive in a greener future.
European farmers feel particularly unfairly burdened by green initiatives of their countries. They feel that their countries are volunteering to do more while other countries are not so concerned with green transition. While these measures are largely lax in the country and J&K for now, but in future these measures could get more stringent in their farmer compliances.
How farming is changing across the world
Newer environmental regulations in many parts of the world now aim to address climate change and resource depletion, but can increase compliance costs for farmers. Farmers are concerned that these additional costs are not being covered by their profit margins and subsidies. Similarly, Green Transition, or the shift towards sustainable agricultural practices come with additional price, which requires significant changes in farming methods and investments in new technologies. Europe’s farmers are again concerned that they have to take most of this burden.
Inflation is another area of concern – rising input costs like fuel, fertilizer, and machinery have put pressure on farm profitability. This is happening across the world, including in India. Farmers need to be aware of this change and adapt and change their practices to survive.
How J&K’s farmers could cope with this change
Agricultural experts believe that farmers will have to diversify crops and income sources. Reducing reliance on single crops or markets can mitigate risks and build resilience.
While investment in technology and training could be costly, experts believe that adopting efficient irrigation systems, precision agriculture tools, and renewable energy can reduce costs in the long term and improve sustainability. Transition to high density apple farming in Kashmir is a case in point.
Economists Ziraat Times spoke to recommend establishing direct connections with consumers or participating in farmers’ markets for better returns and greater control over pricing. While this has been achieved in many areas with the introduction of e-Mandi and other IT tools, there is still significant progress required in this area.
There is also a general consensus that government subsidies, grants, and extension services would have to continue in India, and also in J&K, so as to help farmers adapt to new regulations and invest in sustainable practices.
Tractors as symbols
The sight of tractors lumbering down city streets and blocking highways has been a potent symbol of the farmers’ desperation. These machines, essential tools of their trade, have transformed into instruments of farmer voice in Europe, a visual reminder of the backbone role they play in food security and rural communities. They rekindle poet Iqbal’s thoughts penned for the agony of India’s farmers in colonial times – Jis khait se dehkaan ko mayassar na ho rozi…..
And governments has listened
The farmer protests have not fallen on deaf ears. Governments in France, Germany and other countries have opened dialogues with farmers’ unions, seeking to address their concerns. Some initial measures have been announced, such as temporary tax breaks and fuel price reductions. However, farmers demand long-term solutions mainly for balancing economic viability with environmental responsibility and bureaucratic efficiency.
Whether the farmers’ voices lead to meaningful change or simply fade away remains to be seen. But one thing is clear: the farmers’ voices, amplified by the rumble of their tractors, have gained much attention.