For a week, a column several kilometers long of farmers perched on their tractors has been facing a police roadblock, near the small village of Shambhu, north of New Delhi, India. After the failure of an agreement with the government on the price of crops, the movement says it is ready, Wednesday February 21, to resume its advance towards the Indian capital.

These thousands of farmers in revolt hope to reproduce the success of the siege of the highways leading to the capital, which lasted a year in 2021. This standoff against the liberalization of agricultural markets had pushed the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to abandon its agricultural reform projects.

“We assure you that we will break the dams,” farmer Jagmohan Singh, 45, told AFP. “Once we cross them, we will only stop at Delhi.”

Farm unions are calling for a law setting a minimum price for all crops, expanding a government program that already exists for staples such as rice and wheat.

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They also demand, among other concessions, the cancellation of loans and universal pensions for farmers aged 60 and over.

The demonstrators temporarily halted their advance towards Delhi last week while awaiting the outcome of negotiations between government ministers and the unions. But several rounds of negotiations have failed to achieve a breakthrough.

National elections ahead

Jagjit Singh Dallewal, an agricultural lawyer, told the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency on Monday that the government's latest proposal, which aims to extend price guarantees to some but not all crops, was "not not in the interest of farmers.

The protests come ahead of national elections expected in April.

Indian farmers facing police, in Shambhu, about 200 km from New Delhi, February 21, 2024. © Narinder Nanu, AFP

In India, two thirds of the population of 1.4 billion people depend on agriculture for their livelihood, which represents almost a fifth of the country's GDP, according to official figures. But for several decades, Indian agricultural incomes have largely stagnated and the sector is in acute need of investment and modernization.

The average size of farms remains modest: more than 85% of farmers own less than two hectares of land. And less than one in a hundred farmers own more than 10 hectares, according to a 2015-2016 Ministry of Agriculture survey.

Water shortages, flooding and erratic weather conditions linked to climate change, as well as debt, are taking a heavy toll on farmers.

More than 300,000 of them have committed suicide since the 1990s, according to official figures, and many farmers deplore a state of constant financial distress.

With AFP

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