Farmers across the EU are protesting, as are farmers globally, particularly in India. Greek farmers blockaded roads to Thessaloniki and reached Athens with their tractors. At the same time, Indian farmers are on the way to Delhi, “No farmer, no food” and “Without us, you don’t eat” are slogans on banners in Indian and Greek farmers’ protests, despite the similarity of the slogans both the agricultural sector and the nature of demands and motives behind these protests in India and Greece are different.

There are similarities; in both cases, farmers are dissatisfied with trade rules from extra-national entities, like the European Union in the case of Greece, and WTO in India’s case, demands imposed for greening, high fuel and fertiliser costs.

First, it is essential to provide some context on agricultural sectors in Greece and India; in 2021, around 11 per cent of the workforce in Greece was employed in agriculture, and in the same year, 44 per cent of the workforce in India was in agriculture. Greece and India are drastically different concerning the distribution of this sector. Taxation also differs. Greek farmers paid 13 per cent on income in 2017, and the government raised farmers’ income tax from 22 per cent to 45 per cent on those whose annual income exceeds 40,000 euros ($AUD66,409). In contrast, in India, agricultural income is exempted from tax under Section 10(1) of the Income Tax Act,1961. However, if a farmer’s income surpasses Rs. 5,000 annually, the government may tax it.

The demands of protesting farmers are a cause of concern for the governments of Greece and India, and both the conservative governments of Kyriakos Mitsotakis in Greece and Narendra Modi in India have expressed their sympathy with the farmers and provided assurances of within budgetary constraints. In this article, readers will learn more about the similarities and differences between the Greek and Indian farmers’ protests.

Indian farm protests

The primary demand in the farmers’ 12-point agenda is for a law to guarantee Minimum Support Price (MSP) for all crops; at the moment, the government announces minimum support prices (MSPs) for 22 mandated crops and fair and remunerative price (FRP) for sugarcane. Farmers also want a determination of crop prices by the Dr M S Swaminathan Commission’s report. Recently, the Indian government awarded Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian honour the Government of India awarded posthumously to renowned Indian agriculture scientist Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, the father of India’s “Green Revolution.”

According to the Swaminathan Commission Report, the government should raise the MSP to at least 50% more than the weighted average cost of production. It is also known as the C2+ 50% formula. C2 is the imputed cost of capital and the rent on the land, which is included in the formula to give farmers 50% returns. Imputed cost accounts for the opportunity cost of using resources like land, labour, and capital. The imputed cost of capital accounts for the interest that could have been earned if it was invested elsewhere instead of farming.

The farmers in India have more than just these demands. They have several more like India should withdraw from the World Trade Organization (WTO) and freeze all free trade agreements (FTAs) here, the author would like to mention for better understanding of readers that India is a founder member of the 1947 GATT and its successor, the WTO making it an essential organisation for India and by 6th April 2022, India had signed 13 Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with its trading partners which the farmers are demanding to be frozen.

Protesting farmers also want Pensions for farmers and farm labourers, even though a subscription-based central sector scheme in India, Pradhan Mantri Kisan MaanDhan Yojana (PM-KMY) is taking care of the farmers during their old age and provides Rs. 3,000 monthly pension to the enrolled farmers once they attain 60 years of age, subject to exclusion criteria. Protesting farmers also want 200 (instead of 100) days’ employment under India’s rural employment guarantee scheme MGNREGA per year, a daily wage of Rs 700, and the scheme should be linked with farming.

Farmers run for cover after police fired tear gas to disperse protesting farmers who were marching to New Delhi near the Punjab-Haryana border at Shambhu, India. Photo: AAP/Rajesh Sachar

The farmers have other demands as well. Farmers already have several benefits in India compared to other workers, and agriculture is highly subsidised; farm subsidies constitute about 2 per cent of India’s GDP. According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmer Welfare, total subsidy to farmers amounts to 21 per cent of their farm income. Therefore, some have also pointed out the political nature of this protest during the election year in India.

Greek farmers’ protests

The primary problem that protesting farmers claim to be facing is the cost of living crisis, as per a report by Indian magazine Outlook. The farmers’ demands include:

– Duty-free agricultural diesel.

– Reduced electricity costs.

– Subsidies on supplies and animal feed.

– Renegotiation of the EU’s new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

– Compensation for lost income.

– Cessation of the labelling of non-Greek produce as Greek.

As reported in Neos Kosmos, farmers in Greece want import controls, lower fuel taxes, better prices for products and an easing of European Union environmental regulations. Manolis Karkadatsos, the head of a farm association on the island of Crete, said the “EU’s common agricultural policy was a noose” around the necks of farmers,” who should be entitled to cheap fuel under the same regulations as Greek shipowners.

“Our problems are the same as elsewhere in Europe, but in Greece, we are smallholders, and production costs are enormous, especially for fertiliser and fuel,” said Giorgos Charisanis, a farmer from the northern region near Thessaloniki.

Greek farmers have also been hurt by climate change, with unpredictable flooding, extreme heat and wildfires making their work more hazardous. They have been staging brief blockades of roads and border crossings for weeks while their unions have been negotiating with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ conservative government for more financial aid and other relief measures.

Agence France-Press reported that the government of Greece had taken several steps to help the farmers. “Having paid farmers between 2,000 euros ($2,150) and 4,000 euros last year, the government has promised more aid worth 5,000 euros and 10,000 euros this year.”

Unlike the Greek farmers’ protest, which is mainly related to economic issues, the Indian farmers’ protest have a national security angle. Indian magazine Outlook reported the Greek farmers’ protest: “Farmers from around Greece head to the capital in tractor convoys to demand additional financial concessions from the government to cope with the cost of living crisis.” whereas the Indian farmers’ protest is localised to the states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh is not at all of a pan Indian nature.

The primary states that benefited from the Green Revolution in India were precisely these states. India’s neighbour Pakistan has, over the years, supported a secessionist movement in Punjab of a tiny section of the Sikh community, primarily part of the Sikh diaspora in Western countries, for an independent country called Khalistan, separate from the Republic of India.

Many see a Khalistani angle to the farmers’ protests in India, given 2024 is an election year in India when the world’s largest democracy will decide who will be her next prime minister.

The current farmers’ protest in India is the second wave of such protests during Modi’s rule; when a similar protest happened last time, Khalistani elements infiltrated the protests as per the government of India and raised the flag of the Sikh community “Nishan Sahib” on the iconic Red Fort of Delhi.

Reporting for The Sunday Guardian, Taruni Gandhi writes about the 2024 farmers’ protest: “A faction of purported protesters has escalated their demand for an independent Punjab, known as Khalistan.”

Nevertheless, the farmers, irrespective of their nationality, deserve a good standard of living, and governments must ensure that. The conservative governments in Greece and India are willing to help the farmers within their budgetary constraints.

Arunansh B. Goswami is an advocate in the Supreme Court of India and historian who publishes in various publications including Neos Kosmos.