ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Commodity Futures and Regulation

The Forward Contracts (Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2010 is critical to commodity futures markets and the farm sector in India for three reasons. One, it is risky for an agrarian country to liberalise internal trade in commodities without a powerful regulator in place. Two, lending institutions do not consider commodities as a standard asset class because they lack back-end infrastructure and well-regulated liquid markets. Three, foreign direct investment can be attracted to build infrastructure in the commodities supply chain only if there is a powerful regulator that ensures integrity and investor confidence in the marketplace.

Understanding Agricultural Commodity Markets

In recent years, agricultural markets in India have grown in size and complexity, not only in terms of volumes and commodities traded but also in terms of regulatory reforms and a proliferation of new marketing channels and arrangements, with new and evolving roles played by both state and private players. A new generation of theoretically-grounded empirical research is urgently needed to make sense of these rapidly changing agricultural markets and their linkages. Such a renewed agenda, moreover, must both build systematically on the insights of previous work and engage with the new and emerging features and forces shaping diverse commodity markets and regions. The papers in this special issue make a small contribution in this direction.

The Three Roles of Agricultural Markets

This paper is a review of the literature on agricultural commodity markets in India, in relation to the three vital roles these markets are thought to play. It outlines the strengths and limitations of each approach and shows how they contribute to our understanding of the workings of real markets. The paper also suggests a holistic view of markets, built on the basis of the insights of existing literature to enrich our knowledge of the complexity and diversity of real markets and assist realistic policymaking.

New Markets for Smallholders in India

The gradual withdrawal of the state from agricultural markets and the emphasis on the role of the private sector has meant the entry of corporate and multinational agencies through the opening up of procurement, wholesale trade and retailing. This paper examines the new corporate interface with primary producers in a small farmer-dominated economy. It contextualises the issue from the perspective of smallholders. It examines contract farming arrangements to show the exclusion of small producers from the retail chain; the performance of modern (supermarket) food retail chains in India and their spread and penetration into, or interface with, farmers; policy and regulatory issues; and some of the mechanisms and institutional innovations for more inclusive agricultural marketing systems.

Development Policies and Agricultural Markets

Agricultural marketing in India suffers from inefficiency, a disconnect between the prices received by producers and the prices paid by consumers, fragmented marketing channels, poor infrastructure and policy distortions. Urgent reforms are needed to address these inadequacies and check the excesses of middlemen. While encouraging new models that improve the bargaining power of producers and scaling up successful experiments, producers' companies and cooperative marketing societies could be promoted to provide alternative avenues for sale of produce. Meanwhile, price policy has to be reoriented to bring it in tune with the emerging demand and supply of various crops. Though the private sector is vital to improving efficiency, the public sector is equally essential to serve the larger social goal of maintaining price stability through market operations.

Auctions in Grain Markets and Farmer Welfare

Modifications to the Agriculture Produce Market Committee Acts have removed barriers to private participation and allowed trade outside regulated markets in the hope that it will help farmers and improve market infrastructure. But a key feature of regulated markets - the use of auctions to sell produce - has attracted relatively little attention. This paper argues that the auction mechanism is central to protecting farmers' interests in a given market, even in the presence of collusion among some large buyers. More generally, it is a transparent mechanism of price discovery and sets a benchmark with which any new market set up by a private player has to compete, thus mitigating any adverse impact on prices received by farmers.

States of Wheat

Madhya Pradesh has emerged as one of the leading wheat procurement states in the country in the last five years, reflecting remarkable changes in the regional distribution and dynamics of the country's grain procurement landscape. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Harda Mandi, this paper describes the new systems and processes that have been implemented in the market yard and examines their effects on the mandi and key participants - farmers, traders, labourers, functionaries, and multiple state agencies. By focusing on the logistics and micropractices of procurement, it grasps the interconnections between critical elements of market processes and their impact on market participation and outcomes.

Inflections in Agricultural Evolution

This paper examines the emergence of specific commodity complexes and transactional forms in eight interior districts in Tamil Nadu focusing on gherkins, marigold, broiler, cotton and papaya. Their growing importance is a response to the structural changes in the larger economy and the contextual constraints on agriculture in the region. It posits that this phenomenon represents an inflection in the trajectory of agricultural growth in the region because of three distinct features. First, the new commodity complexes have strong links to agribusinesses and global markets. Second, downstream players exert an unprecedented influence and control over production practices. Third, the need for control over quality demands particular transactional forms such as contract farming. The paper argues that despite some economic gain, challenges of a different kind emerge and the normative implications of these changes are as yet unclear.

Agrarian Changes in the Times of (Neo-liberal) 'Crises'

Over the last two decades or so the dominant mode of talking about Indian agriculture has been that of “crisis”. Commentators and scholars have tended to attribute this crisis of the agrarian economy to larger processes at work, particularly to globalisation and the new policies of economic reforms initiated by India during the early years of the 1990s. While there may be some truth in these explanations, the framing of the “agrarian”, “rural” question in this discourse presents the complex and diverse rural realities in simplistic and populist terms. Such a discourse also invokes a sectoral policy response, where agriculture as a sector is seen as needing state attention, and ignores the internal dynamics of changing caste and class relations on the ground. Based on a revisit to two villages of Haryana, this paper provides a brief account of the changing nature of class relations in a post-green revolution rural setting with a specific focus on the changing nature of attached and “unfree” labour.

Of Human Bondage in Baran, Rajasthan

In the shadow of India’s growing economy, labour bondage continues for many Sahariya labourers in Baran district, Rajasthan. Some of them, however, have rebelled against their masters and attempted to break their shackles. This article presents the findings of a recent investigation of their living conditions as well as of their struggle for freedom.

Temporal and Spatial Variations in Agricultural Growth and Its Determinants

The agriculture sector has gone through different phases of growth, embracing a wide variety of institutional interventions, and technology and policy regimes. From the late 1960s onwards, the green revolution helped the sector maintain steady growth for more than two decades. But the challenges that swept through the economy in the 1990s after the initiation of economic reforms arrested this growth. Conscious efforts have brought about a recovery of growth since the middle of the first decade of the 2000s. It is important to assess whether the recent turnaround is sustainable in the long run. This paper analyses the trends in agricultural productivity at the national and state levels and attempts to identify the major factors responsible for the varied performance of agriculture in different periods and in different states.

Distress-Driven Employment and Feminisation of Work in Kasargod District, Kerala

This paper examines the feminisation of labour in a rural agrarian district in Kerala beset by agrarian indebtedness and distress. Without disregarding that women in less developed and agrarian economies are mostly engaged in agriculture and related activities, the focus here is on the newfound "interest" of women in economic activities in the rural sector in a changed economic scenario. In terms of the theoretical framework of the joint labour supply model of households, it examines the qualitative and quantitative dimensions of female employment in Kasargod, one of the economically distressed districts in Kerala.

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