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Monday, May 29, 2023

Farm Bills 2020 – The road ahead

After the Rajya Sabha speech by honorable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi on 10th Feb 2021, it should be abundantly clear to everyone involved, including those who are against it, that the acts are here to stay and no amount of democratic or undemocratic arm-twisting, will see the end of it.

So the best thing to do is to think of solutions from within the frame of laws and prepare the farming community and agriculture sector to brace the teething period that has potential to change the future of agro-economy of Bharat.

While the rhetorical propaganda by anarchists and leftist lobby is mostly meaningless but there is some actual apprehension in the minds of farmers that need to be allayed as they enter this brave new world connecting two extreme ends of agroeconomics i.e., sons of soils viz. the corporate sector.

In a country where education does not go much beyond literacy in rural areas, how can we reasonably expect farmers to understand complex contractual laws and entailing nuances, when even the well educated among us, fail to get full import of insurance policy’s fine printed disclaimers.

So here is an idea that can be a game changer, if applied properly; the building of skilled task force comprising of Krishi Kanoon Mitra (KKM) that can act as advisor to farmers and safeguard their interest in execution of the farm contracts.

Selection of KKM

To identify suitable candidates for this task force, the government should constitute a mechanism that imparts specific skill set to youths from preferably rural/agricultural background. They should be at least graduates from any discipline.

The government can train them on various topics such as agricultural laws, business communication and negotiations, contractual law, agro-economics and general knowledge. The candidates should be proficient in local state language and English/ Hindi.

After going through training period, an exam (online or offline) should be conducted to select the best among them, based on their understanding of above subjects and general aptitude such as reasoning or analytical skills.

After selection, the government should issue a certification to limited number of successful candidates for 5 years to be advisor to farmers or become Krishi Kanoon Mitra.

The number of licensed KKM is important to ensure that the profession is economically viable for the KKM while there is enough healthy competition to give farmers ample choice from the skill pool.

Role of Krishi Kanoon Mitra

A) Entrepreneur KKM – The Krishi Kanoon Mitra (KKM), after obtaining license, will approach the farming community in their capacity as advisors to farmers. Some will prefer to operate from an office setup like e-mitra model where the farmers can approach them by walking in.

Some may chose to be completely an online setup, interacting with farmers through social media messengers, emails and video calls. Some will prefer a more direct approach, much like insurance agents who develop long term relationship with their local community and gain clientele through word of mouth.

Regardless of setup, the KKMs basic role will be to help the farmers who are entering into a farming contract. For a government fixed fee (Rs 500-1000) per contract, they will explain and give advice regarding contract proposal the farmer is being offered.

  • Entering the contract- With their knowledge of various contract models, crop prices and timing, landholding or personal capacity of a farmer etc., they will suggest their client, the farmer, whether a proposed contract is to be accepted or rejected in entirety or if certain clauses need to be negotiated considering all factors such as pricing, timing, facilities offered by corporate.

This advice should be given in written to farmer and a copy must be kept by KKM for future use. Should the farmer act on these recommendation but feels himself unable to negotiate in person, the KKM may negotiate with corporates on farmer’s behalf for government fixed % of contract amount.

After successful negotiation, the KKM should keep a copy of contract and explain the negotiated terms to farmer.

  • During the contract- Just as a conscientious insurance agents gives us a friendly reminder to pay the due premium in time, the KKM will remind his client, the farmer, to fulfill the time bound contractual obligations in time and also remind him if any obligation is due to buyer (providing fertilizer/pesticide, specialized tools) which the farmer is entitled to, at specific points of time.

It is possible that a farmer may feel that he is unable to honor the contract in its entirety midway due to unforeseen circumstances such force majeure, personal issues or any other circumstances beyond his help, KKM may initiate communication with buyer in written and ask them to reconsider terms of contract.

  • Completion of the contract- With the help of KKM in formulation and execution of contract so far, the farmer should be able to fulfill his obligation in letter and spirit and should deserve 100% of agreed amount due to him as per contract in most of the cases.

However, if the farmer feels that he is being shortchanged and wishes to dispute the remuneration or if the buyer initiates a dispute, the KKM may enter negotiation with buyer on behalf of farmer.

If the KKM is same as one who advised the farmer to enter the contract, he should be duty bound to protect the interests of farmers at government fixed fee which should not be more than 10% of contract amount (this is to ensure that unscrupulous elements among KKMs do not the allow innocent farmers into entering a bad contract from beginning and fleecing them later).

Should the farmer feels that he wants to represent his own case or appoints any other KKM, he should be free to do so. In any eventuality, the KKM body will prove to be handy resource for the farmer who is not familiar with intricacies of legal world.

B) Corporate KKMs- Some of the certified KKMs will be absorbed by corporate companies as part of their policy formulation/ PR teams that should be able to penetrate into local community and further their company’s reach into local market. They may represent buyer’s interests in accordance with contract and help their clients in furthering their legal objectives.

The future

After 5 years, the government should conduct a similar test to identify and seek suitable candidates for next 5 years. As is common with any other field, some KKMs would have drifted away while some would have gained a loyal clientele and steady income to be able to further their career in same field.

The government should considering the number of applicants, should strike a balance between seasoned KKM and infusing fresh blood in the profession.

Over the years, the KKM of a region would have ample knowledge bank of the region and what works and what does not, in the region. Thus they may help farmers bodies(unions) and government policy bodies by identify patterns in regional agroeconomics and should be able to provide these bodies with a bulwark against predatory practices of corporate lobbies.

They may introduce locally unknown agricultural setups that the local corporate bodies failed or ignored to provide. This should help all parties in setting up locally competitive and profitable scenarios.

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