The Indian government has announced that it will repeal laws that were passed to introduce privatisation to the agri food sector.

Indian farmers sell to state-controlled markets, not dissimilar to the marketing boards that used to exist in the UK where a minimum price is guaranteed.

The government was proposing to change the laws to enable private trading take place between farmers, processors and customers.

Government U-turn

The government U-turn comes after a year of farmer protest, where tens of thousands of farmers marched to the capital and set up camp on the outskirts of the city of Mumbai since February this year. There have been several skirmishes with the police and the BBC reported that dozens of protesters have been killed.

The Indian government sought to internalise the protest, but it came to world attention through the celebrity endorsement by climate activist Greta Thunberg and pop star Rihanna at the beginning of February 2021.

This led to a spat between Indian authorities and Twitter, but after a period in which accounts were suspended, most were restored and a truce of sorts was put in place between Twitter and Indian authorities.


Farming is still big in the Indian economy, accounting for between 50% and 60% of total employment.

That it appears to have forced government to reverse policy after a year of protest is a testament to strength and unity of the lobby, and parallels can be drawn with the Irish farmers' march to Dublin and protest in 1966.

The major grievance of Indian farmers was that the government was introducing new privatisation laws without consultation.

However, the reality is that the Indian model of agriculture is seriously outdated and it is estimated that up to half of farm production is wasted because there isn’t the infrastructure to process, store and distribute to markets.

There is also an argument that the status quo suits large landowners best and creates a barrier for enterprising smaller farmers to develop efficient market-led agriculture.

Problems remain

No doubt, upcoming elections in the main farming regions of India have influenced government thinking on this retreat and presenting farmers with a victory.

There remains doubt as to whether the policy will hold post-elections and the case for reform remains strong. A particular grievance for farmers was that the laws were introduced without consolation and farmer buy-in. Perhaps the issue will be revisited with farmer participation.

The length and strength of the protest in India demonstrates that for major policy change in agriculture to succeed, government needs to secure the buy-in or at least the acceptance of farmers.