Meet Madhya Pradesh’s ‘jeans-and-smartphone’ farmers fighting price wars from Indore to Chicago

Kedar Sirohi’s phone buzzed with a private Facebook message as protests by disenchanted farmers gathered steam across Madhya Pradesh this June.
“We are ready, we are standing on the streets,” wrote a young farmer from a village in the Malwa region, “Now we are wondering: How do we do a farmers’ agitation?”
For Sirohi, a 35-year-old farmer from Madhya Pradesh’s Harda district, the message captured both the confusion and turmoil among a new generation of farmers at a time when traditional agrarian movements have withered away.
As a bumper harvest pushed crop prices to lows of one rupee a kilogram, young cultivators in search of leadership turned to avenues such as the Facebook page of the Aam Kisan Union, a five-year-old organisation set up by Sirohi and his friends.
“I asked our followers to share photos of their protest online, which quickly went viral. Then our brothers realised just how powerful we farmers are,” Sirohi said.
An inept state government helped their cause. In Mandsaur, the police opened fire on a protesting crowd, killing five farmers and injuring several others. A curfew was imposed, opposition parties made a beeline for Mandsaur. Suddenly, the plight of India’s farmers was a matter of heated public debate.
Smart-phone farmer
Two weeks later, the state government is still coming to terms with what the local media calls the “jeans and smart-phone farmer” - a term Sirohi embraces.
“The new farmer writes everything down, he keeps a balance sheet,” Sirohi said, “He knows how government’s import and export policies affect his prices at the local mandi.”
This trend is visible across the country. The protests in Madhya Pradesh, for instance, occurred alongside similar demonstrations in Maharashtra and Rajasthan.
“We need new models for India’s farmers. Just a loan waiver won’t fix the problem,” Sirohi said, “We have to control our inputs and develop our own channels to sell our output to get better prices.”
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