The world’s largest farmers movement
In 1979, Sharad Joshi led a group of farmers to block the Pune-Nashik highway to press for higher prices for onion.
The genesis of the Shetkari Sanghatana lies in this movement, which saw onion growers dumping their produce on the highway to underline their demand. Since its inception, the Shetkari Sanghatana has been vocal about getting access to the market. Joshi was convinced that the root cause of farmers’ problems lay in their limited access to the market. Markets, Joshi would say, should be open and competitive to allow price realisation for farm produce.
Joshi and his hugely popular Sanghatana hit the street to demand removal of zone limits on sugarcane farmers, or the ban on inter-state movement of cotton. Back in 1984, Joshi had declared war on the Maharashtra State Cooperative Cotton Marketing Federation’s monopoly on the procurement of cotton. The federation was then the only buyer of cotton, and farmers had to line up for days together to sell their crop. There were allegations of nepotism and corruption. Joshi and his supporters went to the borders of Maharashtra with their cotton in open violation of government rules. The agitation was successful, and the government was forced to retract the law against the inter-state movement of cotton.
Joshi and his supporters took out marches in support of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). Joshi welcomed India’s joining the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 1995.
It was his conviction about open markets that led Joshi to oppose the chain of Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMCs). He felt these cooperative markets were an impediment towards honest price realisation for farmers. While other farm leaders demanded government subsidies, Joshi talked about open markets.
Support for the open market being part of its DNA, the Sanghatana was one of the first bodies to come out in support of the farm reforms announced by the central government. Of the three new laws, The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020 received the most support from the union. According to Sangthana president Anil Ghanwat, the law restricts the power of the APMCs to regulate agricultural trade within its four walls, and allows for actual free markets to operate for the farmers.
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Pictures and speech of Sharad Joshi from 2004 conference organised by Sanjeev Sabhlok
Maharashtra talksThe Maharashtra Government agreed to negotiate with the representatives of the Shetkari Sanghatana, including its leader, Sharad Joshi, on their demands for remunerative prices for agricultural produce. Consequently, the Shetkari leaders suspended their agitation till next Sunday. The government informed the Sanghatana leaders that it was willing to hold talks with them. Joshi said that if the negotiations “fail to concede our demands by next Sunday”, the second phase of the agitation would commence the next day itself, December 22.