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Ecological News

"Farmer suicides are a symptom of the bigger malaise that afflicts Indian agriculture." My Interview

Ground Reality - Mon, 04/17/2017 - 18:34



A hundred years after Mahatma Gandhi set foot in Champaran in Bihar, not much has changed for the Indian farmers. Earlier, it was the British who exploited them. It is now the Indian elite, backed by policy makers and mainline economists, who are out and out to create such conditions that farmers are left with no option but to quit agriculture. In an interview with a foreign publication I looked at the reasons behind the unparalleled crisis that prevails. 

1. Why do Indian farmers lose hope and commit suicide? What makes so many farmers kill themselves? The weather, the policies or other factors?

In the past 21 years, over 318,000 farmers have ended their lives in India. As per the latest data provided by the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) every 41 minutes one farmer commits suicide somewhere in the country. Farmer suicides are a symptom of the bigger malaise that afflicts Indian agriculture. While the reasons for the terrible agrarian crisis that prevails are complex and varied, mounting indebtedness over the years is the primary reason the drives farmers to take the fatal route through suicides. Inclement weather, drought, floods etc certainly add on to the risk that farming is undertaken. But primarily it is because of a wide disparity in farm incomes vis-a-vis the rising cost of production that has turned farming economically non-viable. The extent of income insecurity that farmers are faced with, and it has been rising with each passing year, is certainly driven by policies. It is not the farmers who have failed themselves but agricultural economists and policy makers who have failed farmers.   
2. Are farmers across the country facing the same difficulties, regardless which states they belong to or what kind of crops they grow?

Yes, the reasons may vary but it is primarily the denial of a living income that is leading to the crisis. Whatever crops farmers grow, and they grow a large number of crops depending upon the region and the agro-climatic zones, it is income insecurity that is primarily responsible for the agrarian crisis that prevails. According to the Economic Survey 2016, the average income of a farming family (which means a family of 5 persons) in 17 States of India is Rs 20,000 a year, which means less than Rs 1,700 per month. If this is the average monthly income of a farming family in roughly half the country, the plight of farmers can be well imagined. I sometimes wonder how do they survive year after year.  
3. Farmers in every states want loan waivers, however the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has ruled out farm loan waivers by the Centre. Do you think the central government should announce a loan waiver for all farmers across the country?

It is true that farmers in every State of India want loan waiver. Even though Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has ruled out farm loan waivers, I think the farmers deserve to be bailed out. After two back-to-back droughts in 2014-15 and 2015-16, the farming crisis has only worsened. I don't see any reason why the farmers cannot be given a loan waiver when the Indian industry receives economic bailouts at the drop of a hat. According to information provided in Parliament, India farmers are under debt for Rs 12,00,000-crores in 2015. This is a huge burden they carry and unless they are able to offload this I don't think they will ever be able to be on the economic pathway that Urban India is passing through. It is estimated that nearly 58 per cent of the farmers sleep empty stomach. Look at the paradox, the people who produce food for the country going to bed hungry themselves. A hungry India can never dream of being a super power. I am therefore not asking for the entire outstanding loan to be waived off but certainly bad loans of small and marginal farmers can be written-off to begin with.  
4.  It is certain that waiving off loans can only be a temporary relief for the farmers. What do you think is a permanent solution for farmers across the country?

Yes, waiving-off farm loans is a temporary relief.  This has to be accompanied by measures that ensure that farm loans do not pile up again. It requires structure changes, including public sector investments in agriculture, and more importantly immediate steps to make farming profitable and economically viable. I have being saying for long that what India needs is a Farmers Income Commission which determines how can farmers receive a monthly assured income package, which commensurate with the salaries of the lowest rung of government employees. But more importantly, all this can only be achieved if the Govt realizes that agriculture alone (directly or indirectly engaging 52 per cent of the population) can boost the economy, and by making farming profitable more demand will be generated which in turn will lead to more industrial production and growth. This requires a paradigm shift in economic thinking.   
5. Why are farmers' issues not taken seriously? Do you think the public is paying enough attention to this?  Is Modi administration doing enough to tackle the problems?

Farmer issues are not taken seriously simply because the mainline economic thinking is that unless population in agriculture is moved out to the cities, economic growth cannot take place. This is what the World Bank had directed India to do way back in 1996. Accordingly, India should move out 400 million people out of the rural to the urban areas in the next 20 years. Successive governments have followed this prescription. The former Reserve Bank of India governor Raghuram Rajan used to say that the best reforms will be when farmers are moved out of agriculture into the cities. The best way to achieve this is to make farming economically unviable thereby forcing farmers to abandon agriculture and move to the cities. At the same time, the policy focus remains on keeping food prices low so as to maintain inflation as a result of which the farmers are being denied a legitimate price for their produce. The way China has moved people out of agriculture is an example that India wants to follow. But unfortunately what is not being realised is that even China is now faced with huge unemployment problem with cheap labour advantage going to Africa, and food shortage is forcing China to take people back into farming.  
6. Do farmers have any job options to fall back on when cultivation fails? Is it possible for them to look for jobs in the cities?

Some years back, a National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) study had stated that 42 per cent farmers want to quit agriculture if given a choice. Such is the economic disparity that agriculture encounters that farmers are willing to give up farming. But unfortunately, employment generation has not kept pace despite the high economic growth being witnessed. Between 2004-05 and 2015-17, during which period economic growth has remained around 8 per cent annually, only 16 million jobs have been created whereas every year 12.5 million people join the employment queues. That is why I have been of the opinion that making farming profitable and sustainable is the only way to create economic opportunities for 52 per cent of the population. Moving them out of the villages into the cities will add on to the socio-economic crisis arising from lack of job opportunities. This will also have serious political implications if we simply try to brush the issue under the carpet. #
Categories: Ecological News

A daughter commits suicide to save her father, a farmer, from the anguish, tension and financial burden that her marriage brings.

Ground Reality - Sun, 04/16/2017 - 11:09


From the pages of Dainik Jagran, April 16, 2017
Sometimes I find the kind of human compassion that should exists in any society has simple disappeared. I am so pained to hear well-known economists, academicians, agricultural scientists and others often blaming farmers for the extravagant expenses that farmers incur on the marriages of their children (along with their drinking habit) to be primarily the reason behind the terrible agrarian crisis that prevails. The argument is that farmers don't use the farm credit they take for the purpose it is intended to but spend on the marriages of their children. I have been questioning this stupid belief saying that when there is no income left in agriculture the only way a farmer must maintain his lifestyle (whatever is left of it) is by taking money on credit. If the average farmer family income in 17 States of India is a paltry Rs 1,700 per month (as per the Economic Survey, 2016) what do you expect the farmer to do?  

When I read a heart-rending news report in Dainik Jagran today (April 16, 2017), it was difficult to stop my tears. I wish all those who blame farmers for the crisis, were to read this upsetting news report which carries a poignant message. A 21-year-old young girl, Sheetal Yankat, daughter of a Maharashtra farmer, committed suicide. Unable to bear the terrible stress her father was undergoing to get her married, she ended her life by jumping into a well, situated in her own crop field (in Latur/Maharashtra). In the suicide note that she left behind, she writes: "My parents are extremely poor and have been unable to raise money for my marriage. I am committing suicide because I don't want my parents to come under a debt burden. Along with, I hope this will end the dowry system that prevails in my community. The economic condition of my family has worsened over five years because of the failure of crops. My two sisters got married somehow with very simple marriage ceremonies. My father is trying his best for my marriage. But since the middlemen are not able to led money, my marriage has got delayed for two year. Therefore, I am ending my life with the hope that my father will not be burdened by anymore debt and perhaps my death will also end the dowry practice."(translated by me).  
The tragedy that struck this farmer's family symbolises the tragedy of the entire farming community. Let us stop looking at farm crisis from the narrow prism of our own specialisations. I find people giving different solutions depending on which areas of specialisation they come from. Someone says drip irrigation is the answer, another says contract farming is the solution. I have got tired of such experts.   
This brings me back to another suicide note left behind a college student, son of a Maharashtra farmer. Some months back, in my blog post entitled: Continuing Agrarian Crisis is behind the Massive Silent Maratha Rallies in Maharashtra' (http://devinder-sharma.blogspot.in/2016/10/the-harsh-truth-behind-silent-maratha.html) I had quoted from a suicide note left behind a college student: "In a suicide note left behind by a 22-year-old graduate student, Gopal Babarao Rathod, son of a small farmer from Yavatmal in Maharashtra, who died in the last week of August, a question he asked reminds us of the flawed economic policies. In his letter he explained how the rural youth, like their lucky counterparts in the cities, too carry an aspiration. But he asks: “A teacher’s son can easily afford to pay a fee of Rs 1-lakh to become an engineer but tell me how a farmer’s son can afford so much fee?” He then goes on to say “why is it that the salaried employees get dearness allowance without even asking for it whereas farmers are denied adequate compensation for their produce?”
The fact of the matter is that a farmer too needs a living income. Rs 1,700 per month net income is not a living income that can sustain a family. If a chaprasi can get Rs 18,000 per month as the basic salary (which the employee unions think is the minimum wage required for a minimal standard of living) I fail to understand why do the educated people think that Rs 1,700 net income of farmers (in 17 States of India) is good enough for survival. Reducing the cost of production, increasing crop productivity, soil health cards etc have been proposed as the way to enhance farmers income. Unfortunately, what is not being accepted is that it is actually the same policy approaches that have driven farmers' to the edge. I don'y know how many more lives are required before the nation sits back and takes steps to put a stop to the bloody serial death dance on the farm. #

Categories: Ecological News

Why I think Yogi Adityanath is on the right track to revive UP agriculture.

Ground Reality - Sat, 04/15/2017 - 11:50


I am not sure whether Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath realizes that his decision to scrap outstanding loans of small and marginal farmers up to a maximum limit of Rs 1-lakh each and at the same time expand wheat procurement operations, aiming to purchase 80 lakh tonnes of wheat at the minimum support price (MSP), signals a paradigm shift in agriculture.

At a time when farmers are increasingly sliding into a debt trap, the decision to waive-off loans worth Rs 30,729-crore will definitely lessen the financial burden for 88.68 lakh small and marginal farmers. In addition, the state government will also strike Rs 5,630-crore of bank default, termed as Non-Performing Assets (NPAs) in banking language, belonging to 7 lakh farmers. These are the farmers whose assets would have been put up for auction in case the state government had not come to their rescue.

Adding both these categories of loan waivers, Rs 36,359-crore is the total amount that has been written-off. As per the government estimates, this will benefit 95.68 lakh of Uttar Pradesh’s 2.15 crore small and marginal farmers. While I agree that the loan waiver does not meet the electoral promise of writing-off of the entire outstanding loans of small and marginal farmers, the political courage demonstrated to write-off such a huge amount, including loans taken from nationalized banks, has to be applauded. More so at a time when policy makers are not keen to provide any loan waiver for the farming community. The State Bank of India chairperson Arundhati Bhattacharya has already lamented that farm loan waiver destroys ‘credit discipline’ making farmers habitual defaulters.

I have always maintained that both the industries as well as the farmers default the nationalized banks and should therefore be treated in the same manner. Between 2012 and 2015, Rs 1.14-lakh crore of corporate NPAs has been written-off. Surprisingly, no state government was asked to bear the burden from its own revenues. Even for the Rs 4-lakh crore of NPAs that credit rating agency India Ratings expects the banks to write-off in near future, no State government is being asked to take on the burden. The question that needs to be therefore asked and I hope Yogi Adityanath raises it, is why should the UP government be asked to waive farm loans from its own resources? Why can’t nationalized banks do it the same way as they do in case of corporate loan waivers?

Nevertheless, the entire farm loan waiver that UP has provided is less than the bad debt of just one big steel company -- Jindal Steel & Power, which owes Rs 44,140-crore. Bhushan Steel too has a bad debt of Rs 44,478-crore. These two big industries are among the steel companies, which together are seeking a loan waiver of Rs 1.5 lakh crore. Unlike farm loans, no state government is being asked to write-off corporate loans from its own revenues.

With UP picking up the courage to write-off farm loans, pressure will now build up for similar loan waivers in other states. The newly-elected government in Punjab too is staring ahead at a farm loan waiver of approximately Rs 36,000-crore. Maharashtra has been demanding Rs 30,500-crore for farm loan write-off. Similarly, demand for farm loan waiver will get an added impetus in Karnataka, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Telengana, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Odisha, and the Northeast States. Considering that more than 3.18 lakh farmers have committed suicide across the country in the past 21 years, and roughly 70 per cent of these suicides are related to mounting indebtedness, UP farm loan waiver will turn out to be a game changer. 

In addition to the loan waiver, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has very clearly laid a road map for the betterment of agriculture in future. In my understanding, the decision to procure 80 lakh tonnes of wheat, for which 5,000 purchase centres are being set up, is the single most important initiative that can herald a new era for agriculture. At a time when the entire policy directive is towards dismantling Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) regulated mandis, and in the process deny an assured price by way of MSP to farmers leading to agrarian distress, Uttar Pradesh is likely to reinvigorate farming by ensuring an assured price to farmers. The target of purchasing 80 lakh tonnes is a quantum jump considering only 7.97 lakh tonnes were procured against a target of 30 lakh tonnes in the 2016-17 wheat procurement season. Since low incomes are the primary reason for the growing agrarian distress, providing an assured price and ensuring a market for the wheat harvest will act as a shot in the arm for the beleaguered farming community.

Expanding the procurement system holds the key to the transformation of Indian agriculture. According to the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) there are more than 7,000 APMC regulated mandis in the country. If markets have to be provided in a radius of 5 kms from a village, India needs 42,000 APMC mandis. Such a vast network of mandis, if constructed, can be the only preventive mechanism to avoid distress sales and in turn ensure income security for farmers. If UP takes the lead, it will emerge as a trendsetter and in fact create a new model for agriculture.

At present, a strong network of mandis exists in Punjab, Haryana and to some extent in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. It is primarily for this reason that every year farmers from western UP have been seen carrying truckloads of wheat to be sold in the neighbouring border districts of Haryana. This is an ample indication that wheat farmers in UP were not able to sell locally at the support price. I only hope UP is able to announce a bonus over the MSP for the next paddy crop. An economically attractive agriculture is the first step to stop rural to urban migration. And that’s what Yogi Adityanath has said his aim is – to stop migration from rural areas. #  

Trend Worth Following. Orissa Post. April 11, 2017
http://www.orissapost.com/epaper/110417/p8.htm


Categories: Ecological News

If lack of food processing leads to food wastage, why is it that half the food grown in America ends up in landfills?

Ground Reality - Thu, 04/13/2017 - 15:42
Even this is high. We must make all efforts to move towards Zero waste --IBTL slide
The moment you talk of food wastage, the first thing we are told is that food goes waste in India because of an appalling shortage of cold chain facilities, and limited food processing capacity. The dominant narrative is so strong that talk of food wastage and it immediately leads to a renewed demand for opening up to FDI in multi-brand retail. All this makes me wonder whether the entire debate on food wastage is actually designed to provide more tax concessions, subsidies and acquire land for the food processing and retail industry. 

If lack of food processing capacity is behind enormous quantities of food getting wasted, I don’t see any reason why half the food grown in America should end up in the landfills. After all, FDI in multi-brand retail that India is planning to open up to also comes from America. How come then much of the food that is wasted in America is at the processing, supermarket and at the household levels, which means it gets thrown away during processing or gets wasted in supermarkets. I am not against food processing but to promote it in the name of reducing food wastage is something that we must learn to avoid. 

In America, like elsewhere in the world, the food processing industry actually wastes more food then what it processes. A lot of food wastage is not at the farmer’s level but is happening further up in the food chain, with processing industries and retailers only wanting A-grade vegetables, fruits and agricultural commodities to be procured. Fruit and vegetables are often discarded on cosmetic grounds because the industry thinks nobody will buy them. Food industry looks up for perfection in quality norms and no wonder what is rejected is called ‘ugly’.

In India, the food processing industry is no different. It follows the same quality standards and norms. When eChaupal for instance used to buy soyabean from farmers it rejected the produce that did not conform to quality parameters like grain size. There is no decline in the nutrients in the rejected soyabean. It’s only the cosmetic preferences that eChaupals laid out to which farmers had to conform to. So when I hear the excitement over the Ministry of Food Processing approving 42 mega food parks, I realize that the aim is not to reduce food wastage but to cater to a growing industrial demand. 

Let’s also be clear that processed food is costlier which means it cannot fill the hungry stomachs that we are worried about.

In India, where 212 million people are officially categorized as malnourished or undernourished, food wastage is certainly criminal. If every grain of food that is wasted in India can be saved it surely will lead to a situation where by it can then be made available to feed a large proportion of the hungry millions.
I am glad Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not talk of food processing industry being vital to reducing food wastage when he expressed concerns at the enormous quantity of food being wasted. Addressing the nation through the latest Mann Ki Baat programme he said: “I feel that the awareness on this issue should increase. I know a few young people who are working in this direction as they have developed a mobile app with which they arrange collection of leftovers. You will find such people all over India. Their work can inspire us not to waste food?”

What the Prime Minister said merits consideration. I completely agree with him that the challenge is to sensitize the nation, to inculcate a feeling that ‘wasting food is anti-social and injustice to poor’. There is no need to enact laws on curbing food wastage but the challenge is to build up a national campaign. This can be done by adopting a three-pronged approach: 

1) Prime Minister must start awarding/naming people and groups which are engaged in collecting food leftovers from hotels, restaurants, supermarkets and from marriage halls distributing it among the poor and needy. Private sector must be encouraged to provide financial support for such activities through the CSR programmes. 

2) Launch a nationwide drive, using the electronic as well as the social media, to educate the people on reducing food wastage at home. Since much of the food wastage happens at the household level, such a social awareness campaign can be imaginatively drawn and promoted. 

3) Create mass awareness about how essential (as well as healthy) it is for the people to cook at home. The more families get away from industrially processed foods, the more will be saving on food wastage. #          
Categories: Ecological News

Doesn't corporate loan waivers and tax concessions affect the Govt balance sheet, Mr Urjit Patel?

Ground Reality - Tue, 04/11/2017 - 10:31


This smacks of double standards. Soon after Uttar Pardesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath announced a Rs 36,359-crore farm loan waiver, benefitting more than 95 lakh small and marginal farmers, the Reserve Bank of India governor Urjit Patel has lamented that any such move ‘undermines honest credit culture’ and ‘could affect the national balance sheet.’ 

But when it comes to corporate loans, the Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramaniam has already gone on record saying that writing-off of bad loans of the corporate sector makes economic sense. “This is how capitalism works,” he said. If this is true, I don’t know why capitalism doesn’t work the same way for farmers.

But before we see how the loan waiver policy discriminates farmers, it is time to know what quantum of corporate loans are likely to be struck in the days to come. The Public Accounts Committee of Parliament has estimated that the total bad debt of public sector banks, known as Non-Performing Assets (NPAs), stands at Rs 6.7 lakh crores. Out of this 70 per cent belongs to the corporate whereas only 1 per cent default is of farmers. As per the credit agency, India Ratings, more than Rs 4-lakh crore of stressed corporate loans is likely to be waived.

This is not the first time that corporate loans are likely to be written-off. Between 2012 and 2015, Rs 1.14 lakh crore of corporate NPAs has been written-off. Surprisingly, no state government was asked to bear the burden from its own resources. Neither did the State Bank of India chief Arundhati Bhattacharya ever remark that the routine waiver of corporate loans leads to a disruption of credit disciple. This is how the banking system discriminates the poor borrowers, and frowns when farmers use the same clean-up mechanism that has been reserved for corporate balance sheets.

Agriculture has been continuously faced with a terrible agrarian distress over the past few decades. With every passing year, the bad debt has been mounting leading to a serial death dance on the farm. Over 3.18 lakh farmers have committed suicide in the past 21 years, and there is hardly a day when farm suicides are not reported from one part of the country or another. At a time when Union Minister of State for Agriculture in November 2016 had acknowledged in Parliament that farmers are reeling under outstanding debt of Rs 12.60 lakh crore every year, writing-off of farm loans not only makes good politics but also good economics.

Yogi Adityanath has therefore taken the right step. I am so glad that Punjab and Maharashtra too are likely to follow suit. The decision by the Madras High Court directing the Tamil Nadu government to extend the loan waiver to big farmers since they too had been impacted by the continuing severe drought will bring an additional budgetary burden of Rs 1,980-crore on the State. And if you have seen the Tamil Nadu farmers, carrying skulls and bones of fellow farmers who had committed suicide, protesting in New Delhi for nearly 25 days now, the extent and gravity of the terrible farm crisis that prevails needs no better expression.

Punjab is expected to waive off Rs 36,000-crores farm loans. Maharashtra is wanting to write-off Rs 30,500-crore. But if you too are swayed by the same biased argument that speaks of credit indiscipline when it comes to farm loan waivers, it’s time for a comparison. According to a report published in Business Standard (Mar 23) the steel giant Bhushan Steel alone has a bad debt of Rs 44,478-crore, which is more than what UP has written-off. Essar Steel carries bad debt of Rs 34,929-crore, which it wants the RBI to write-off. This alone is more than the entire farm loan waiver that Maharashtra is planning. 

Since the corporate were provided massive tax concessions to the tune of Rs 17.15 lakh crore in the three year period 2013-16, I see no reason why the corporate bad debts should have piled up. Doesn’t this undermine honest credit culture, Mr Patel? # 
Categories: Ecological News

Making markets farmer-friendly. The case of eChaupal, eNAM and APMC mandis

Ground Reality - Thu, 04/06/2017 - 18:29
Pic: DNA
It was in the year 2000 that eChaupals were launched with much fanfare. Using information technology as an autonomous agent of change, and hailed as the lone success story to bridge the information divide, these eChaupals were projected as the game changer, empowering farmers by providing information and removing ‘corrupt’ intermediaries.

But strangely, the eChaupals are missing from the newly launched electronic trading platform, the national agriculture market – eNAM. Launched with much fanfare on April 16, 2016, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had proposed to integrate 585 regulated wholesale markets or Agriculture Produce Market Committees (APMC) under one platform, called eNAM, within a couple of years. The basic objective being to break the monopoly of registered wholesale traders in APMC markets by allowing other traders from across the country to participate in e-trading. As a result of which farmers are expected to sell their produce to highest bidders.

Laudable objective indeed. But that is what eChaupals set out to achieve. And this is exactly what the APMC too has been attempting. Under the APMC Act, the farmer brings his produce to the regulated markets, and it is the private trade which is first expected to purchase at a price which is higher than the minimum support price (MSP) that the government announces. It is only when the private traders fail to offer a higher price that the government steps in through the Food Corporation of India (FCI) or numerous other government agencies on its behalf to buy whatever is available at the MSP.

The eNAM is expected to cater to 25 key commodities, including wheat, paddy, maize, onion, jowar, bajra, groundnut, potato, soyabean and mustard seed. Add to it the emphasis laid by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, when he presented the Budget 2017, wherein he acknowledged that e-NAM is integral to commodity trading, the underlying objective becomes crystal clear. No wonder, FICCI and CII had been lobbying hard for getting out of APMC and strengthening e-NAM network instead.

The e-NAM fits in very well under the proposed Model Act for contract farming. Just like the eChaupals where the underlying objective was to procure soyabean for the international value chains, e-NAM is aimed at procuring a wide variety of agricultural commodities through spot trading for the corporate value chains that are being established. Over the years, as Richa Kumar says in her magnificent book Rethinking Revolutions (Oxford Publications), the ‘higher price’ farmers got from eChaupals too turned out to a well-orchestrated hype. The basic idea was to privatise the markets in the name of efficiency. Dismantling the APMC regulated markets and bringing in instead the eNAM network too suffers from the same ideological thinking.

By 2005, the eChaupals were converted into a rural retail network of malls known as Chaupal Saagars to sell FMCG products to villagers. No wonder, eChaupals are not even talked about as the probable pathway towards the promise of doubling farm incomes.

I am aware that the APMC regulated markets have over the years turned into a den of corruption. Strong cartels of wholesale traders have certainly been using their financial muscle to manipulate prices. Using technology to bring in transparency in trading is therefore welcome. Allowing more competition for bidding by making the process open to traders from across the country too is welcome. But unless farmers are assured of a remunerative price, I think the entire emphasis on proving an electronic trading network is lost.

To bring in efficiency in market trading, I have two suggestions. First, although the Commission for Agricultural Cost and Prices (CACP) announces MSP for 23 crops, APMC markets procure only two commodities – wheat and rice. For the e-NAM network, which presently caters to 25 key commodities, purchasing at the MSP price should be made statutory. Buying the produce from farmers below the MSP should be made illegal. The ‘model price’ that these markets offer should therefore be replaced with MSP. 

Secondly, instead of amending the APMC Act to take out fruits and vegetables from its activities, and eventually ending up with dismantling the regulated mandis, the focus should shift to expanding the network. Against the existing 7,000 APMC markets, India needs 42,000 regulated mandis. #  

For farmer-friendly mandis. DNA Mumbai , April 6, 2017
http://www.dnaindia.com/analysis/column-making-mandis-farmer-friendly-national-agriculture-market-to-complete-a-year-but-its-potential-benefits-remain-untapped-2383049
Categories: Ecological News

Tamil Nadu farmers protest in Delhi: Is there a permanent solution to farmer debt and suicides?

Navdanya Diary - Thu, 04/06/2017 - 16:24

By Dr Vandana Shiva – FirstPost, 6 April 2017

Farmers from Tamil Nadu protesting at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar. Firstpost/TS Sudhir

Source

For nearly three weeks now, more than hundred farmers from Thanjavur and Tiruchirappalli districts in Tamil Nadu have been protesting at Jantar Mantar, using macabre elements like bones and skulls to highlight and symbolise the problem of farmers suicides in the state.

They claim that the skulls belong to fellow farmers, who had committed suicide because of the adverse conditions in Tamil Nadu. More than 106 farmers had committed suicide in a month because of the worst draught to hit the state in more than a century, combined with debt due to high input costs.

The farmers want the Centre to announce a drought relief package of Rs 40,000 crore and to offer a better support price for their produce. The fact that Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath recently announced a loan waiver for farmers worth Rs 36,359 crore, adds further weight to their demand.

The first question that comes to mind is why are farmers of Tamil Nadu being treated differently from the farmers of Uttar Pradesh? The Centre has conveniently said that it will not provide any debt relief as it is the purview of the state and is defined as the responsibility of the state government.

However, in every budget, the Centre imposes agricultural policies that further burdens the debt on the states and the farmers of India.

Debts in agriculture are a result of increasing costs of production, because of the dependence on purchased inputs – seeds, fertilisers, pesticides, machinery – and the falling prices of farm produce. This traps the farmers in a negative economy, where cost of production outstrips their earnings.

The debt problem began with Green Revolution, an initiative based on chemical inputs. The debt generated during the Green Revolution period was public debt. Farmer organisations created Karz Mukti Andolans and demanded remunerative prices. Debt was forgiven and Minimum Support Prices were institutionalised.

However, with globalisation and neo-liberal reforms, which put global corporations in the driver seat for agriculture policy, costs of inputs rose further, and prices of agriculture output fell dramatically.

An assessment for the WTO Ministerial in Cancun had shown that Indian farmers were losing $25 billion annually due to the falling prices.

The issue of Monsanto’s (American agrochemical and agricultural MNC) monopoly on cotton seeds after the introduction of Bt cotton is now in the courts – in the Competition Commission, government departments. More than Rs 5,000 crore have been siphoned off from India, leaving farmers in debt. Most of the 3,10,000 farmers who committed suicide since 1995 belonged to the cotton belt.

Meanwhile, the stranglehold of the Global seed and chemical giants on Indian Agriculture has increased with every step of neo-liberal reforms. Instead of promoting sustainable low-cost farming, governments have been increasing the budget for credit in agriculture. In 2017-18, Rs 10 trillion was allocated for farm credit, up from Rs nine trillion last year.

While farmers do need credit, they do not need to be pushed into a debt trap through imposition of costly inputs. Farmers also need fair and just prices. They need support of public policy extension for sustainable, ecological agriculture that increases the resilience of the soil and cropping system to draught and climate change, and increases the nutrition per acre and net income per acre.

No budget allocation is being made for public investments, that would liberate farmers from debt. Over 30 years, Navdanya’s (a non-governmental organisation which promotes biodiversity conservation, rights of farmers etc) work based on biodiverse, ecological and organic agriculture, with zero purchased inputs, has shown that we can feed India twice over with nutritious food (health per acre) and increase farmers net incomes at least four times.

The government does mention doubling farm incomes, but fails to mention whether it is gross income or net income. Gross income can increase if a farmer grows a cash crop with high debt, without taking care of the family’s food and nutritional security. But in this case, the net income will go down. More often than not, with high debt, the net income will be negative. Net negative incomes are at the root of the debt crisis and the epidemic of farmer suicides.

Partial debt relief is equivalent to mopping the water leaking from a broken bucket. Our agriculture is broken because it is driven by increasing profits for the seed and chemical industry, not by concerns for the sustainability of the soil, the biodiversity, the water, and the sustainable livelihoods of our small farmers.

In fact, all indicators suggest that the crisis of debt will increase because of the increasing control of MNC corporations on our food and agriculture systems.

Courtesy: National Crime Records Bureau

The NITI Aayog is now going to be run by corporate consultants, who will push farmers into deeper debt.
New forms of extraction as modern day lagaan are being “invented” – connecting the farmer to global cartels for every aspect of farming, from the seed to the market.

India has given the deepest knowledge of agroecology, soil and water conservation and rejuvenation, and breeding – that evolved 200,000 varieties of rice, 1,500 varieties of wheat, mango, banana, thousands of varieties of dals and beans, the richest diversity of animal breeds.

The corporate hijack of our food systems is the new colonialism, the new company raj, trying to create new systems of debt creation.

Monsanto has bought the world’s biggest climate data corporation and soil data corporation. It has bought many Silicon Valley firms to create spyware to be put into tractors, and into drones for collecting farm data to sell back to farmers.

By linking climate data and insurance, Monsanto expects three trillion US dollars in profit from farmers annually. This profit will be based on deepening the debt crisis, the agrarian crisis, and the tragedy of farmer suicides.

Coercively connecting farmers to the global corporate market for seeds, chemicals, insurance, climate data is the colonisation of our times. Colonisation through these instruments destroys the Earth and our freedoms.

To quell this colonisation, a Satyagraha Yatra will be held to celebrate 160 years of the first freedom movement in 1857, 100 years of the Champaram Satyagraha, 75 years of the Quit India movement, to sow the seeds of Jaivik Bharat 2047 – a vision of a India which is poison free, debt free and suicide free.

                          
Categories: Ecological News

Farm loan waiver vs corporate loan largesse

Ground Reality - Tue, 04/04/2017 - 16:49

Pic: dailymail.co.uk
Punjab is in a fix, and so is Uttar Pradesh. The newly-formed governments in both the states are trying out all kinds of permutations and combinations to address the complicated issue of farm loan waivers. 

While Punjab has decided to constitute a committee to ascertain the extent of bad farm debt that will need to be written-off, Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal is toying with the possibility of ‘owning’ the total farm debt, treat it as loan to be repaid back over the long run. Uttar Pradesh faces a still bigger dilemma since the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in election rallies, had promised to write-off farm debts in the very first cabinet meeting if the BJP is voted to power. 

With Finance Minister Arun Jaitley making it absolutely clear that the Centre will not be taking on the financial burden of farm loan waivers, all eyes have now shifted to how Punjab and UP intend to tackle this contentious issue. The promise of farm loan waiver certainly remains a politically hot issue, and what make it more difficult to implement is the overtly stressed financial balance-sheets that both the state governments have inherited.
“If a state has its own resources and want to go ahead in that direction, it will have to find its resources. The situation where the Centre will help one state and not the other will not arise,” Finance Minister had recently stated in Rajya Sabha. In other words, what he implied was that farm loan waivers are a state subject. States will have to use their own resources to bail-out the stressed farming communities.

I agree that agriculture is a state subject. But when it comes to industry, which also is a state subject, the Finance ministry has no qualms about writing-off of the massive bad debt. And what is the quantum of bad loans that we are talking about. The Public Accounts Committee of Parliament has estimated that the total bad loans of the public sector banks, termed as Non-Performing Assets (NPAs), stands at Rs 6.8 lakh crores. Out of this, 70 per cent belongs to the corporate whereas only 1 per cent default is of the farmers.

As per the credit rating agency, India Ratings, more than Rs 4-lakh crore of stressed corporate loans is likely to be waived. Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramaniam has already gone on record saying that writing-off of bad loans of the corporate sector makes economic sense. “This is how capitalism works,” he said. If this true, I don’t know why capitalism doesn’t work the same way for farmers.

After all, both the industries as well as the farmers default the nationalized banks and should therefore be treated in the same manner. Between 2012 and 2015, Rs 1.14-lakh crore of corporate NPAs has been written-off. Surprisingly, no state government was asked to bear the burden from its own revenues. Even for the Rs 4-lakh crore of NPAs that India Ratings expects the banks to write-off in near future, no state government is being asked to take on the burden. The question that needs to be therefore asked is why should the state governments be asked to waive farm loans from its own resources?

Take the case of steel giants. A report in Business Standard (Mar 23) says that the Prime Minister Office (PMO) is likely to step in to resolve steel companies’ bad debts issue. Accordingly, the PMO, along with the Finance Ministry, was working on a fresh package for top steel companies and also for the top 40 accounts that were under stress. The total debt of these companies stands at Rs 1.5 lakh crore. In comparison, for both Punjab and UP, the total bad debt in farming is unlikely to exceed Rs 65,000-crore.

The outstanding debt of Bhushan Steel stands at Rs 44,478-crore, which alone is more than the expected Rs 36,000-crore farm bad loan in Punjab, which the state government is likely to ‘take-over’. Jindal Steel & Power owes Rs 44,140-crore, which is much beyond the farm loan waiver that UP government is staring at. The total debt of Essar Steel stands at Rs 34,929-crore. The corporate offices of Bhushan Steel and Jindal Steel are located in New Delhi but at no stage Delhi government has been asked to write-off from its own resources.

Maharashtra is seeking a farm loan waiver of Rs 30,500-crore. This is less than outstanding loan of Rs 34,929-crore that Essar Steel alone holds. How is it fair to allow the banks to write-off Essar Steels bad debt while asking the Maharashtra government to strike out bad farm loans from its own resources? 

Farm loans therefore needs to be clubbed with corporate loans. Since both agriculture and industry are state subjects, it is rather unfair to treat them separately when it comes to loan waiver. Unless this is done, States will always find it difficult to bail out farmers in distress. State governments should therefore refuse to write-off outstanding farm loans from its own revenues. Not only for the total farm bad debts of nationalized banks, let the cooperative bank/societies loan write-off in turn be a responsibility of the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD).

The states should impress upon the government to set up a farm monitoring group in the PMO in line with the project monitoring group (in the PMO) which looks at recasting corporate loans and also the write-offs. #

Farm loan waiver vs corporate loan largesse. Hindustan Times, Chandigarh, April 4, 2017
Categories: Ecological News

Keep food diverse. It’s healthy

Navdanya Diary - Mon, 04/03/2017 - 22:08

By Dr Vandana Shiva – The Asian Age, 29 March 2017

(Photo: Pixabay)

Most of the chronic diseases of our times are “food style” diseases.

Source

India has a rich and deep scientific and civilisational heritage of biodiversity, agroecology and ayurveda, which has sustained us for centuries. We have understood that the web of life is a food web.

All that is born is born of anna (food) indeed. Whatever exists on Earth is born of anna, and in the end merges into anna. Anna indeed is the first born amongst all beings; that is why anna is called sarvausadha, the medicine that relieves the bodily discomforts of all.

In the last few decades, our agriculture, food and health systems are being devastated by the assault of reductionist science, and industrial food systems based on toxic chemicals, combined with globalisation and free trade.

Industrialisation and globalisation of food systems is driven by chemical and pharmaceutical corporations, leading to an agrarian crisis, erosion of biodiversity in agriculture, increase in toxics in our food, the promotion of fast food and junk food and a disease epidemic. The agrochemical industry and agribusiness, the junk food industry and the pharmaceutical industry profit while the nation gets sicker and poorer.

The result has been an epidemic of more than 300,000 farmers suicides because of the debt due to dependence on costly chemicals and food, and a disease epidemic due to industrial and junk food.

India is rapidly emerging as the epicentre of chronic diseases, including cancer, obesity and diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases, infertility, intestinal problems largely related to food. Around 1,300 Indians die every day because of cancer.

Most of the chronic diseases of our times are “food style” diseases.

Health and disease begin in food, and food begins in biodiversity, agriculture and the soil. When food is produced with toxic chemicals, processed and preserved with toxic chemicals it becomes a source of disease. When food is diverse and chemical-free it creates health.

Industrial monocultures using intensive chemical inputs produce nutritionally empty toxic commodities. These contribute to diseases of metabolic disorders, malnutrition and nutritional deficiencies.

Loss of biodiversity in our fields and our diet over the last half-century with the spread of the Green Revolution/industrial agriculture is not just leading to an ecological crisis, also to a disease epidemic.

We used to eat more than 10,000 plant species as humans. Now we depend on 10 globally traded commodities.

Navdanya is reversing this trend through creating community seed banks and practising biodiversity-based organic farming. This is the real answer to the ecological crises, farmers’ suicides and the disease epidemic we face.

For 30 years Navdanya has been rejuvenating the biodiversity in our farms and food systems. Biodiverse organic systems have the potential to feed two Indias and increase farmers’ incomes tenfold.

Our traditional agriculture recognised the importance of diversity. This is the agriculture that has spread across the world as organic agriculture through Albert Howard’s classic An Agricultural Testament.

Ayurveda as a science recognised that the digestive system is central to our health. Even Western science is beginning to realise what ayurveda understood 5,000 years ago — that the body is not a machine, and food is not fuel that runs the machine on Newtonian laws of mass and motion. Food is not “mass”, it is living; it is the source of life and health.

Western science is now finding out the same. As the book Mind Gut acknowledges: “For decades the mechanistic, militaristic disease model set the agenda for medical research. As long as you could fix the affected mechanical part, we thought the problem would be solved: there was no need to understand its ultimate cause… We are just beginning to realise that the gut, the microbes living in it — the gut micro biota the microbiome-constitute one of the major components of these regulatory systems.”

Our gut is a micro biome, which contains 100 trillion microbes and 1,000 bacterial species with more than seven million genes. There are 360 bacterial genes in our body for every human gene. Only 10 per cent of the cells in the human body are human cells. There are 100,000 times more microbes in our gut than people on the planet.

To function in a healthy way, the gut micro biome needs a diverse diet, and a diverse diet needs diversity in our fields and gardens. A loss of diversity in our diet creates ill-health. Adding one or two micronutrients through fortification to nutritionally empty food cannot compensate for the nutritional loss through loss of biodiversity in the diet. Fortification is a continuation of the failed mechanistic paradigm of food and health.

The ayurvedic science of food, nutrition and health recommends that we should eat food with six tastes — sweet, sour, salt, pungent, hot, bitter and astringent — in order to have a balanced diet. Behind each taste are potentials for processes that create and sustain the self-regulating systems of our body… Agni in the digestive tract is a great transformer, creating emergent properties. Taste receptors do not just lie in the tongue but are distributed throughout the gastrointestinal tract and are located on sensory nerve endings and hormones containing transducer cells in the gut wall.

The gut is increasing being referred to as the second brain. It has its own nervous system — which is being referred to as the enteric nervous system — or ENS, with 50-100 million nerve cells. Our bodies are intelligent organisms. Intelligence is not localised in the brain. It is distributed. And the intelligence in the soil, in the plants, in our bodies makes for health and well-being.

As the research by Dr Eric Seralini shows the sophisticated intelligence in the complex ecosystem of our gut communicates with the food we eat. When we eat fresh and organic food the regulatory processes that ensure health are strengthened. When we eat chemical food with toxics or nutritionally empty food, the communication leads to disease.

Eating is a conversation between the soil, plants, cells in our gut, and the cells in our food, and between our gut and brain. Eating is an intelligent act at the deepest cellular and microbial level. The cellular communication is the basis of health and well-being. We might be ignorant about the links between food and health, but our cells know it. Our body is more intelligent than the reductionist mechanical mind. Through the ecological sciences of agroecology and ayurveda our minds could catch up with the intelligence of the Earth, our bodies, its “doshas”, its cells, its microbes, which are trying to alert us to the dangers in our food and environment through the disease epidemic.

Eating is not a mechanical act through which we participate in an industrial food system. Eating is an ecological act through which we communicate with the Earth, farmer, those who transform our food and our own bodies.

No farmer should be committing suicide, no child should be hungry, there should be no epidemic of diabetes, cancers and cardiovascular problems in our biodiversity-rich, knowledge-rich land.

The same industrial food system that is destroying the health of the planet is also destroying our health. Biodiverse ecological agriculture is good for the Earth, our farmers and our health.

                          
Categories: Ecological News

Does the Banking System Really Want to Help Farmers?

Ground Reality - Fri, 03/31/2017 - 15:54


The Gujarat government gave a loan of Rs 558.58-crore to the Tata’s to set up the Nano plant at Sanand, near Ahmedabad. Gujarat government has acknowledged that the massive loan was given at an interest of 0.1 per cent to be paid back in 20 years. In other words, this huge loan was virtually interest free, and since it was to be returned in 20 years time, it was in reality almost an interest-free long term loan. Take another case. According to news reports, the Steel tycoon, Laxmi Narain Mittal, was given Rs 1,200-crore by the Punjab government to invest in the Bathinda refinery. He too got the loan at 0.1 per cent rate of interest.

On the other hand, consider this. A poorest of a poor woman in a village wants to buy a goat. The goat may cost around Rs 5,000 or so. She goes to a micro-finance institute (MFI), which provides her a loan of Rs 5,000 at an interest rate of 24 to 36 per cent or even more. This paltry loan has to be returned at weekly intervals. I am sure you will agree if this poor woman was to get a loan of Rs 5,000 for rearing a goat at an interest of 0.1 per cent to be paid back in five years, if not 20 years as the Tata’s were given, she would be driving a Nano car at the end of the year. After all, the poor woman is also an entrepreneur and at this later stage in life she wants to sustain her livelihood by rearing a goat, the milk of which she can sell. Millions of livelihoods can be sustained if the banks were to provide support under a similar kind of benevolent policy for the poor entrepreneurs.

Or take the case of a farmer. He buys a tractor at an interest rate of 12 per cent, whereas the Tata’s can buy a Mercedez Benz luxury car at an interest rate of 7 per cent. For the farmer, tractor is a technology to improve crop production efficiency thereby enhances his income. The role of mechanization for improving farmer’s efficiency as well as income has never been questioned. Tractor is a tool to help farmers sustain his farm livelihood. But for the rich, Mercedez car is more of a status symbol for which they can afford to shell out more. This makes me wonder why the banking system is so designed that the poor have to pay a higher tax whereas the rich get it so cheap.

The awful discrimination against the poor doesn’t end here. The Public Accounts Committee of Parliament has estimated that the total outstanding loans of the public sector banks, termed as Non-Performing Assets (NPAs), stands at Rs 6.8 lakh crores. Out of this, 70 per cent belongs to the corporates whereas only 1 per cent default is of the farmers. The Chief Economic Advisor, Arvind Subramaniam, has already stated that the bad debts of the corporate should be written-off. He says the capitalist economy is so designed that the bad loans of these corporates have to be waived, even if it raises hackles of crony capitalism or favoritism. India Ratings has estimated that more than Rs 4-lakh croroe of the NPAs will be written-off. In other words, writing-off of such huge bad loans of the corporate sector makes economic sense if the Chief Economic Advisor is to be believed. But on the other hand, the Chairperson of State Bank of India, Smt Arundhati Bhattacharya, laments that writing-off the outstanding loans of farmers is bad economics, it will lead to credit indiscipline. Of the total NPAs, bad loans of farmers constitute only 1 per cent.

Much of the farm credit that is provided every year too is taken advantage by the agribusiness companies. In Budget 2017, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had announced a farm credit of Rs 10-lakh crore. But while such a huge outlay for farm credit gives an impression of how much the government thinks about farmers, the fact is that less than 8 per cent of this actually goes to small farmers. And small farmers constitute roughly 83 per cent of the entire farming community. Nearly 75 per cent of the Rs 10-lakh crore farm credit is reaped by agribusiness companies and big farmers who get the advantage of 3 per cent interest subvention. Over the years, the definition of what constitutes a farm loan has been expanded to include warehousing companies, farm implement manufacturers and other agribusiness companies.

It is primarily because of the bank’s indifference towards the farmers that the election promise of writing-off of farmers’ loans in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab have become such a contentious issue. Since the Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised to waive off farmers loans in UP, the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare has already announced that the Centre will take care of the financial burden of waiving farm loans in UP. Whereas in Punjab, where Congress has formed the government, State Finance Minister Manpreet Badal, has come out with an innovative way to bear the burden of farm loan waiver. He says the state will ‘takeover’ the farmers outstanding loans, and work out a long-term agreement with the banks under which the state government will repay the farmer’s dues. 

In Punjab, an estimated Rs 35,000-crore of the bank loans have been defaulted by farmers. In Uttar Pradesh, the total amount that needs to be waived for farmers owning less than 2 hectares of land stands at Rs 36,000-crores. While the Centre has agreed to reimburse UP government for the farm waiver, the question that is being asked is why not for other states. Maharashtra, for instance, is ademanding Rs 30,500-crore for loan waiver. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has told Maharashtra assembly that 23,000 farmers have killed themselves since 2009. In Tamil Nadu, which faces drought for the third year in a row, the state government has already declared a drought. Farmers are demanding a compensation package of Rs 25,000 per acre. Meanwhile, farm suicides have also picked up in Orissa and the Northeast, where suicides have seen a 4 times increase over the past few years.

Unfortunately, what is not being perceived is that the terrible agrarian crisis that prevails is primarily because of the deliberate efforts to keep farmers impoverished. Not only by denying farmers the right price for their produce, the credit policy too is designed wrongly to benefit the rich at the cost of farmers and the rural poor. But will the banks accept their fault and redesign the credit policies, I have serious doubts. The rich corporates will continue to get tax incentives and massive subsidies in the name of incentives for growth.#

Does the Banking System Really Want to Help Farmers? The Wire. Mar 30, 2017
https://thewire.in/119889/banking-system-farmers-loans/

खेती के संकट का कारण गलत कर्ज नीति . Dainik Bhaskar, Mar 29, 2017
http://www.bhaskar.com/news/ABH-bhaskar-editorial-by-devendra-sharma-news-hindi-5561902-NOR.html
Categories: Ecological News

Spurious pesticides ruining apple harvest.

Ground Reality - Thu, 03/30/2017 - 10:58

Farmers spraying pesticides on apple in the Kashmir valley. Pic -- U4Uvoice.com
This week I traveled to speak at the College of Agriculture at Wadoora in Kashmir valley. Formed in 1962, this college is situated about 70 kms from Srinagar. Located in the picturesque valley of Baramullah, where apple is the predominant crop, research on apple certainly becomes central to this college.

At an interesting interaction I had yesterday with apple growers, agricultural scientists and students, the focus would certainly shift to apple. When I asked farmers as to what was the biggest problem they were encountering, the overwhelming response was spurious pesticides. As much as 40 to 50 per cent of the pesticides sprayed on the apple crop in the valley were reportedly adulterated, substandard or spurious. “We spray pesticides as per the recommendation of the university but because the pesticides are invariably spurious, we are not able to control disease and pests, especially the dreaded apple scab,” a farmer stood up to explain.

Scientists admitted that spurious pesticides is a huge problem, but because there are only two referral testing labs in the state – at Srinagar and Jammu – the testing reports take long by which time the season is over and the damage has been done. How rampant is the problem can be gauged by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s directive in February to slap the Public Safety Act against dealers selling spurious pesticides. This directive came in mid-February but the problem still remains.

For the farmers, failure to curb the spurious trade results not only in substantial economic losses, but also leads to high incidence of pests and diseases which hits the productivity bringing them poor returns. For instance, a farmer, who had 65 kanalsunder apple plantation, said that his total expenditure on pesticides application stood at Rs 7-lakh. “Imagine the financial loss I undergo when I realize what I sprayed was spurious.”

Listening to farmer’s woes reminded of almost a similar situation that existed in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh some 30 years back. As an Agriculture Correspondent of the Indian express I had then done a series of reports highlighting the rampant pesticides adulteration cycle that prevailed. In one of the news reports, I still recall how blue ink was packed and sold as the popular branded Rogor pesticide in the cotton belt of Punjab. When I mentioned this particular incidence, a farmer promptly stood up to say even now in Kashmir valley there are different variations of the Rogor brand that are being sold by the manufacturers.

Manufacture and sale of spurious pesticide is a rampant trade, which continues to thrive over the decades. What I fail to understand is that despite several amendments in the pesticides law, and also a number of pronouncements by the state governments, the illicit trade not only continues to prevail but grow. Why is it that eventually agricultural officials turn a blind eye to the menace? Does it not show how rampant is corruption in the rank and file of agriculture departments? After all, traders dealing with spurious pesticides can only thrive when agricultural officials fail to crackdown with a heavy hand.

For a state which produced roughly 75 per cent of the country’s estimated total production of 25-lakh tones of apples, the damage by the spurious pesticides must be huge. Not only the damage spurious pesticides cause to the environment, and by its failure to control the pests and diseases, the final economic loss it results for the farmers is perhaps one impediment that comes in the way of enhancing farmers’ income. The average productivity of apples in the Kashmir valley hovers around 18-tonnes, and perhaps spurious pesticides are coming in the way to further raise apple productivity significantly.

I asked farmers whether they realized that what they were spraying was simply poison. “Yes, we know that the chemical pesticides are poison. But if the agricultural scientists give us an alternative that is safer to the environment and to human health, we will apply,” prompt came the reply. Unfortunately, not many alternative options are available. Agricultural scientists will have to start focusing on non-chemical cultivation practices. It is high time future plant breeding research for improved crop varieties in the agricultural universities is based on organic methods rather than chemicals.

In addition to the technology issues, another major problem apple faces is that of marketing. In an eye-opening report: Marketing System and Price Spread of Apple in Kashmir submitted by the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) in 2013, the exploitation of apple growers as well as the consumers by a well-knit network of commission agents has been laid bare.

While you end up shelling out anything between Rs 150 to Rs 200/kg for the Kashmir apples, the grower get on an average Rs 26 per kg. The production cost is around Rs 35 per kg.In the 1970s, the price of apple in the Azadpur mandi was around Rs 50 per box of 16 Kg. In 2015, the price an apple box fetches is between Rs 500-Rs 600. “This is an increase of ten times in the price apple farmers get,” says an apple grower, adding: “the cost of cultivation has gone up by nearly 100 times but what we get as the final price is only an increase of ten times in 45-year period.” Farmers agreed with my analysis that it is because of a deliberate effort to keep prices low that farmers are being kept impoverished.

“Apple farming may not be dead, but is certainly sick,” a farmer summed up the interaction. Let us hope that in 2017 – the year of apple in Kashmir – apple farming regains the lost pride. It certainly needs a mission approach in which apple farmers, university scientists and policy makers have to take on added responsibilities. #


घाटी में सेब की खेती बचाने के लिए किसानों संग वैज्ञानिकों को मिलकर काम करना होगा. Gaon Connection. Mar 28, 2017. http://www.gaonconnection.com/samvad/to-save-apple-farming-in-kashmir-vallety-farmers-and-scientists-have-to-work-together
Categories: Ecological News

If waiving Corporate loans is good economics; how come waiving farm loans is bad economics, as well as bad politics?

Ground Reality - Mon, 03/27/2017 - 11:06


Pic: From the net
I fail to understand. How come farm loan waiver in Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Punjab is considered to be bad economics, bad politics whereas massive loan waiver for the big corporate is construed to be good economics, leading to economic growth.

“Repeated loan waivers by various state governments distort credit pricing, thereby also disrupting the credit market,” former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan had once remarked. Endorsing the viewpoint, the State Bank of India chairperson, Arundhati Bhattacharya on Wednesday said that crop loan waivers disrupt ‘credit discipline’ as ‘the farmers will wait for the next elections expecting another waiver.’

There is no denying that writing-off farm loans certainly makes some farmers habitual defaulters, expecting another waiver at the time of next elections. But let’s also look at what the Chief Economic Advisor has to say. Speaking at Kochi the same day, Arvind Subramaniam suggested that the government needs to bail out large corporate borrowers. “You need to be able to forgive those debts because this is how capitalism works. People make mistakes, those have to be forgiven to some extent,” he said, and added: “Political system has to be able to do that and bad bank is one way of trying to do that.”

If this is how capitalism works, I wonder why it doesn’t work the same way for farmers. If rich corporate can make mistakes and get a massive bail out, why do farmers who actually don’t make mistakes but are victims of economic policies that keep them deliberately impoverished, get a loan waiver. Are farmers not part of the same capitalist system? Unless, of course, farmers are considered to be children of a lesser god.

The policy of treating corporate defaulters with velvet gloves does not end here. Arvind Subramaniam goes on to say that ‘bailing out big corporate will surely lead to allegations of corruption and crony capitalism. There is however no other way to solve the problem but to write-off the mountain of debt’. If this is what growth economics is all about then Arundhati Bhattacharya too need to understand that crop loan waiver will surely bring ‘credit indiscipline’ among farmers but there is no other way to solve the problem. ‘Credit indiscipline’ among farmers, as she fears, is nothing different from the ‘credit indiscipline’ that corporate resort to.

Why then single out farmers for ensuring credit discipline whereas allowing the corporate defaulters, most of whom are willful defaulters, to virtually go on robbing the banks. According to the latest report of the Public Affairs Committee of Parliament, headed by K V Thomas, of a total of Rs 6.8-lakh crores of non-performing assets (NPAs), which actually is a euphemism for bank defaults, a whopping 70 per cent are those of big corporate houses, hardly one per cent of it belongs to farmers. Interestingly, much of these bad debts are predominantly of the large corporates – steel, power, infrastructure and textile sector.

And how much of it is likely to be written-off? Well, hold your breath. India Ratings, the credit rating agency, estimates that close to Rs 4-lakh crore, out of a total of Rs 7.4-lakh crore stressed loans that the big companies have accumulated over the five year period, 2011-2016, is expected to be written-off. Let’s also not forget, this is not the first time that the banks are going to write-off loans of big companies. Earlier too, close to Rs 10-lakh crores has been written-off or has been ‘restructured’ over the past decade. The question that needs to be asked is why does the corporate write-off keeps on coming back year after year? Did you hear the SBI chairperson blaming the massive corporate write-off at any stage for disrupting ‘credit discipline’?

Since writing-off corporate debts brings loud protests and charges of crony capitalism, the best way being suggested is to create a special bank where all these bad debts will be parked. Don’t forget, this is how capitalism works. And it clearly shows that capitalism only works for the rich and the powerful. Different strokes for different people. The banking laws that work for the rich defaulters do not work for the poor farmers. Writing-off the outstanding loans of the big companies is economic nirvana, whereas any waiver of small crop loans is termed as bad economics.

Despite the election promise of waiving farm loans in Uttar Pradesh (UP), news reports state that the waiver will be restricted to overdue cooperative bank/primary cooperative societies’ loans, which according to the state government are not more than Rs 8,500-crore. This is roughly 10 per cent of the unpaid dues of Rs 86,000-crore to commercial and cooperative banks. In Punjab, where too the Congress party had promised to write-off farm loans, the overdue loans in farming stand at Rs 5,150-crores. 

Although Arundhati Bhattacharya clarified that the bank has not received any request so far to waive-off farm loans in UP or for that matter in Punjab, I fail to understand why the entire outstanding agricultural loans pending before commercial banks cannot be shifted to the proposed bad bank. After all, if the problem of bad debts of big companies can be resolved by creating a bad bank or a Public Sector Asset Rehabilitation Agency (PARA) why a similar approach can’t be adopted for the bad debts in the farming sector? 

But then, it is obvious that capitalism does not work for farmers. A news report states that 32 farmers in Shivpuri in Madhya Pradesh defaulted on the Kisan Credit Card payments to the Madhyanchal Bank. The tehsildar has seized the harvested crop. In another report, 19 tractors of as many defaulting farmers in Banda in Bundelkhand have been seized and will be put for public auction. The e-auction is scheduled for March 21. When was the last you heard of a similar e-auction of assets, including a stream of cars and vehicles belonging to the big companies which have defaulted the public sector banks? What to talk of public auction of assets, even the names of the big defaulters are being withheld. The government is trying not to ‘name and shame’ these willful defaulters. 

This is how capitalism works. Bail out for big corporate becomes good economic. Waiving crop loans for farmers is termed as bad economics, bad politics. # 

किसान बनाम कार्पोरेट कर्ज. Amar Ujala. Mar 18, 2017
http://www.amarujala.com/columns/opinion/farmer-vs-corporate-loans 
Categories: Ecological News

How Burkina Faso took on the mighty Monsanto. Lessons for India and other developing countries

Ground Reality - Sun, 03/26/2017 - 16:32

Remember the devastating attack of whitefly insect on the Bt cotton crop in Punjab in 2015? It had affected nearly two-third of the standing crop, causing an estimated loss of Rs 4,200-crore.Unable to bear the loss, more than 100 farmers had committed suicide. This had brought angry farmers onto the streets, resorting to rail roko at various places. To pacify the angry farmers, the Punjab government had offered a compensation package of Rs 640-crore.

Let’s now move to Africa. Burkina Faso is a tiny but poor nation which had adopted the cultivation of US-based Monsanto’s Bt cotton in 2008. It was then hailed as a technological development which would change the face of the rural landscape. Over the years, a subsequent decline in value was blamed on the genetically modified (GM) cotton. Instead of getting arm-twisted and being asked to shut up, Burkina Faso took on the mighty multinational giant.

It demanded a compensation of US $ 76.5 million from Monsanto for the losses suffered. As a preventive measure, Burkina Faso withheld US $ 24 million in royalties. As per the latest reports, the country has forced Monsanto to part with 75 per cent of the royalty collected from Burkina Faso farmers. According to the Agriculture Minister Jacob Quedrogo, the country will now resort to cultivation of conventional cotton varieties, and he hopes the reintroduction of traditional cotton will eliminate the quality issues.

Well, if a tiny African nation can challenge the might of one of the world’s biggest seed multinationals, I wonder when India will pick up the requisite political courage. After all, it has been two years since the Bt cotton debacle in Punjab (and in some parts of Haryana and Rajasthan) and still there is no move to make the seed companies cough up a compensation package. The Rs 640-crore that Punjab government had announced was from tax-payers pocket. At no stage did the government manage to coerce the seed companies to provide adequate compensation. I fail to understand why the seed companies shouldn’t compensate farmers for any monetary loss suffered on account of sub-standard seed or the failure of seed.

Interestingly, many seed companies had received notices from the antitrust regulator, Competition Commission of India, which had began an investigation into the dominant role of Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech (India) Pvt Ltd (MMBL), seeking explanation and in certain cases compensation for the losses suffered by farmers. Instead, these seed companies, under the banner of National Seed Association of India (NSAI) wrote to MMBL, which provided the Bt technology, to take liability for any claims of compensation.

A report in the daily Mint (Feb 24, 2016) quoted the NSAI wanting Mahyco-Monsanto to declare that “Bollgard II (genetically modified Bt cotton) cannot give protection against pink bollworm due to development of resistance by the insect.” Report of the dreaded insect becoming immune to the Bt cotton variety had appeared from Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telengana and Madhya Pradesh.

We didn’t hear anything thereafter. The matter is still lying somewhere in the files of the concerned Competition Commission of India, and also gathering dust in the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare. The same exercise was followed in 2010 when the mature urd and til crop, planted by farmers in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Bihar and Jharkhand had failed to develop grains. Unable to bear the economic loss, at least 4 farmers had reportedly committed suicide. Thousands of farmers were pushed deeper into economic distress as a result. They held protest demonstration and meetings but got nothing except for empty promises of adequate compensation.

In the past, not only the seed supplied by the National Seeds Corporation, but even the seeds of multinational companies like Monsanto, Pioneer Hi-bred and Mahyco and others have routinely failed either to germinate or to form grains. And yet, there has been no effort by the government to provide exemplary punishment to the seed companies and at the same time adequately compensate the farmers. I wonder when the government will pick up as much courage as demonstrated by Burkina Faso, the tiny African country, to make the private seed industry fall in line. It only shows a lack of political commitment.

As the seed industry grows, sale of spurious and sub-standard seeds has also grown. Sale of hybrid seeds particularly has become a lucrative business with a large number of fly-by-night operators who make a killing by selling seeds for a year and then disappearing the next year. In the absence of tighter controls, it is the farmers who bear the brunt and continue to suffer silently. 

The Seed Bill 2010, which is still hanging, proposes a maximum fine of Rs I lakh for not keep proper record of purity and germination of seed as per the laid-out standards. And in cases spurious seeds, the bill proposes a jail term extending to one year and a maximum fine of Rs 5 lakh. Crop losses suffered by farmers will be evaluated by a local expert committee which will work out the compensation to be paid to farmers.

This is simply unfair. When seed fails to germinate or develop grains, it is the farmers’ livelihood that is destroyed. Such is the extent of damage that many farmers prefer to commit suicide unable to bear the loss. It is therefore a question of life and death for a farmer. Considering that a good crop not only provides for food security but also economic security for the farmer’s family, the loss cannot be measured simply in terms of the seed price that the farmer had incurred. Compensation must include the livelihood loss, and should include a minimum liability amount.

What is therefore required is a Seed Liability Bill. Drawn on the lines of the Nuclear Liability Bill, the proposed Seed Liability bill must provide for a minimum economic liability that the seed companies must undertake in event of a crop failure. Let us not go soft on the seed industry by asking farmers to instead move the consumer courts. Seed is not merely a consumer product but the means of a livelihood for a farm family. One crop failure pushes the farmer deeper into the dreaded debt cycle.

Taming the seed industry is only possible by using an iron fist. Let’s learn something from Burkina Faso. #

भारत को बर्कीना फ़ासो जैसे छोटे देश से कुछ सीखना चाहिए. Gaon Connection, March 16, 2017
http://www.gaonconnection.com/samvad/india-should-learn-from-burkina-faso-a-country-of-africa-weekly-column-by-devinder-sharma

Harvest of Gloom. Orissa Post. Mar 21, 2017
http://www.orissapost.com/epaper/210317/p8.htm


Categories: Ecological News

Farmers are the children of a lesser god

Ground Reality - Mon, 03/13/2017 - 12:25
Pic: mohanmglobal.wordpress.com 
As State Bank of India (SBI) announces the auction of 19 tractors belonging to as many farmers from Bundelkhand in Uttar Pradesh, news reports indicate that at least Rs 4-lakh crore of debt held by top companies is likely to be written-off.

But did you hear of any public auction for the assets of these defaulting companies or their promoters? The answer is a big No.

Why the same law that applies for the farmer does not apply for the big industrialists? The answer is simple. Because all these years, the rich borrowers have been treated as Maharajas, and it is only the lowly farmers and petty traders who have to bear the strong arm of the law. Defaulting a bank loan becomes a crime if you are a poor farmer, but is treated as a willful right of the rich defaulters. The common understanding is that rich should not be hurt at any cost. They are treated with velvet gloves. 

I am not against the rich. But I certainly feel agitated when I see the farmers being endlessly harassed and punished whereas the owners of a handful of companies who for all we know knowingly defraud the banks get away so easily. They go on a cruise, go for lavish parties, and spend fortune on their children’s marriage. But when it comes to a defaulting farmer, their names are displayed in tehsil offices as if they are part of a terrorist gang. They are treated with iron fists. But when it comes to the rich defaulters, the government itself tries to protect their identity saying it will send a wrong signal to investors.

Credit rating agency Indian Ratings has in a recent estimate shown that out of the Rs 7.4 lakh crore debt owned by companies in the 5 year period, between 2011 and 2016, at least Rs 4-lakh crore will be written-off. On the other hand, the 19 farmers whose tractors are being auctioned on Mar 21 collectively owe Rs 63-lakh to the banks.

This is gross discrimination. Even the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament, K V Thomas, has stated that ‘naming and shaming’ of such corporate houses may help financial institutions get back their money. In a report published in Indian Express (Mar 6, 2016), Thomas said out of the Rs 6.8-lakh crore of non-performing assets (NPAs), which actually is a misnomer for bank default, a whopping 70 per cent are those of big corporate houses, hardly one percent of it belongs to farmers.

He further goes on to say “In case of farmers or small traders, banks act strong and they go to their houses to recover money. They even get published their names and photographs in newspapers. But when it comes to corporate houses, they don’t reveal their names.” The Public Accounts Committee has now decided to give names of such big defaulters who owe money to banks in its reports to be presented to Lok Sabha before the end of budget session.

This is certainly welcome. Let’s keep a close watch whether the PAC does submit the names of big defaulters and if it does what action the government initiates. But meanwhile let’s also look at the academic efforts to provide a neat cover-up to the massive swindle of public money by the big businesses. In an article published in Times of India (Mar 4, 2017), researchers Prasanna Tantri (along with Sankar De) have argued that the blanket farm debt waiver which is being proposed by all political parties campaigning for UP elections is likely to harm farmers more than benefitting them. “Sooner or later, voters will see through this and punish the political class for such opportunistic behavior.”

The two researchers are from the Indian School of Business. No wonder, their research is so biased. What shocks me is the blatant effort to present a completely flawed hypothesis. It says that the debt waiver leaves the farmers in either exactly the same or even worse situation when compared to pre-waiver period. It is therefore a bad idea which keeps on coming back. The finer analysis is that the debt waiver will hurt Indian farmers more in the long run.

If this is true I wonder why does the corporate debt waiver keeps on coming back year after year? Why doesn’t the corporate debt waiver hurt big businesses in the long run? If debt farmer is bad idea for the farmers, how come a debt waiver for corporate is always welcome? After all, it is not for the first time that Rs 6.8-lakh crore of the accumulated default has piled up before the banks. Every two or three years, the bank default becomes so huge that a significant proportion is written-off and the remaining goes for what is called restructuring.

A careful perusal shows that at least Rs 10-lakh crore has either been completely waived or has undergone restructuring, which in financial language means the banks have to underwrite much of the outstanding loan. This has happed in the past few years. And again, the banks have piled up bad loans of Rs 6.8-lakh crore as the PAC shown. Isn’t that bad idea? And why does it keep on coming back again and again?

This is because the entire mainline academic research as well as public discourse is being tailored to believe that the defaults by big companies is something that is inevitable. It largely depends on extraneous circumstances which the businesses have no control over. And of course, selling the assets of these big companies will result in lay-offs, which means more unemployment. Very well crafted arguments, which we tend to accept without questioning the ulterior motive behind such studies -- of protecting the big defaulters.

Farmers default too is an outcome of extraneous circumstances. When potato growers are forced to sell their 2000 kg of potato for Rs 1 or when hundreds of tomato growers resort to dumping tomato on the streets it is not becomes these farmers are doing it for fun. They throw their produce, which is the outcome of hard labor they have put in, on to the streets as a mark of protest. They don’t get the price they deserve and that’s the reason they go into indebtedness. And yet, if their tractors have to be put on public auction does it not smack of utter discrimination? Aren’t the farmers being penalized just because they are poor?

That is why I have been saying for long -- farmers are the children of a lesser god. #

Children of lesser god. Orissa Post. March 9, 2017. 
http://www.orissapost.com/epaper/080317/p8.htm

गरीब किसान और अमीर बकाएदारों में इतना भेदभाव क्यों? Gaon Connection. Mar 9, 2017.http://www.gaonconnection.com/samvad/why-this-discrimination-between-poor-farmers-and-rich-defaulters-weekly-column-by-devinder-sharma
Categories: Ecological News

A Message for Women’s Day — 8 March 2017

Navdanya Diary - Wed, 03/08/2017 - 13:31

https://twitter.com/drvandanashiva/status/839345424767062017

Women and Biodiversity Feed the World, Not Corporations and GMOs

By Dr Vandana Shiva – Common Dreams, 20 May 2015

Women have been the primary growers of food and nutrition throughout history, but today, food is being taken out of our hands and substituted for toxic commodities controlled by global corporations. Monoculture industrial farming has taken the quality, taste and nutrition out of our food.

Read more

Women’s Day Celebration at Navdanya Farm

Navdanya- #Navdanya @30 #EarthUniversity #BijaVidyapeeth #Internatoinalwomensday celebration and saying No to #NoJunkFood

A post shared by Navdanya Bija (@navdanya_bija) on Mar 8, 2017 at 12:15am PST

Navdanya- #Navdanya @30 #EarthUniversity #BijaVidyapeeth #Internatoinalwomensday celebration

A post shared by Navdanya Bija (@navdanya_bija) on Mar 8, 2017 at 12:14am PST

Navdanya- #Navdanya @30 #EarthUniversity #BijaVidyapeeth #Internatoinalwomensday celebration and saying No to #NoJunkFood

A post shared by Navdanya Bija (@navdanya_bija) on Mar 8, 2017 at 12:13am PST

Navdanya – #Navdanya@30 #EarthUniversity #BijaVidyapeeth Come join us for Organic Retreat with Organic Holi celebrating international women's day https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=diA2fbuQs8o&feature=youtu.be And Holi https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7W0sTRWyJDU&feature=youtu.be

A post shared by Navdanya Bija (@navdanya_bija) on Mar 7, 2017 at 2:53am PST

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Biodiversity Or Gmos: Will the Future of Nutrition be in Women’s Hands or Under Corporate Control?                           
Categories: Ecological News

Defeated by policy

Ground Reality - Tue, 02/28/2017 - 10:45

This farmer in Haveri, Karnataka, climbed up a transformer to get himself electrocuted. Pic: Deccan Chronicle  
While the debate around doubling farmer’s income in the next five years has itself doubled in the past few weeks, there is no respite from the spate of farm suicides. Instead of waiting patiently for the next five years, farmers continue to take their own lives.

A 58-year-old farmer of Chikkamsihosur village in Haveri district in Karnataka climbed up a transformer on the outskirt of his village a few days back to get himself electrocuted. Depressed over the failure of his crop for two consecutive years he was constantly being harassed by moneylenders. He carried an outstanding debt of only Rs 3-lakh. In Punjab, in a span of two days, three farmers committed suicide in the Mansa region. Among them, was 45-year-old Gurjeet Singh, who owed Rs 2-lakh to banks and commission agents.

There is hardly a day when I don’t find news reports of farmers killing themselves in some part of the country. And that makes me wonder why these farmers don’t have faith and confidence on the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promise of doubling farmer’s income in the next five years. Not only the Prime Minister, even the Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi, Samajvadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav, Punjab Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal, Maharashtra chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis besides almost every other Chief Minister and party leaders have time and again assured farmers that the government will come to their rescue.

Not only at the time of every elections, farmers’ have also been eulogized by successive Finance Ministers while presenting the annual budgets. I recall the headline of newspapers highlighting the focus on kisan and rural economy the day after annual budgets were presented by Arun Jaitley, P.Chidambaram, Jaswant Singh, Yashwant Sinha and Pranab Mukherjee. The question therefore that needs to be asked is how come the farmers continue to kill themselves in such large numbers if the annual budgets as well as the electoral promises made at the time of elections were all favouring farmers? Does it not mean that even the Finance Ministers failed to make financial allocations in agriculture where it was actually needed? Since we cannot rectify the past budgetary allocations, isn’t it me for Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to take a fresh look at his budget proposals, to introspects and find out where he has been misled by the economists/advisors that he has been interacting with before finalizing the budget proposals?

More of the same is certainly not the answer. Not only the Finance Minister, I find even agricultural scientists all over the country are prescribing the same technological approaches to double farm income. I find what is now being prescribed as the way forward to double the farm incomes is the same that I have been hearing over the past 20 years, if not more. The Niti Ayog is leading the debate with the same faulty prescriptions – raise crop productivity, reduce cost of cultivation, expand irrigation and provide a national agricultural market. The National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) is putting resources in the same seven areas which have earlier failed to prop up agriculture. Agricultural Universities are only digging out the forgotten package of practices that they had recommended and repackaging it as the way forward.

When I see what the Niti Ayog and NABARD are proposing, I realize why the farmers don’t have any confidence left on the government’s promise of doubling their income. What the Niti Ayog is proposing is primarily the need to make more public investments in agriculture. This is certainly welcome. More so at a time when the annual outlay for MNREGA is much higher than that for agriculture. But it is completely wrong to package it as the mechanism to double farmer’s income. After all, building swanky eight-lane highways, flyovers, super markets etc in the cities do not mean that the new urban infrastructure in any way compensates for employees salaries. Similarly, it is wrong to assume that providing more irrigation, technology and markets compensates for farmers income.

Let’s be very clear. The objective behind what the Niti Ayog/NABARD and agricultural universities proposes as the roadmap for increasing farmer’s income hinges on the dire need to raise crop productivity. Increasing crop productivity is being seen as the way to increase farm incomes. It is believed that the higher the crop productivity, higher will be the farm incomes. To my understanding this is a flawed hypothesis.

Take the case of Punjab, the country’s food bowl. Punjab has 98 per cent assured irrigation, the highest anywhere in the world. Even the United States is able to provide only 12 per cent assured irrigation to its farmers. Now let’s look at the crop productivity. At 4,500 Kgs per hectare, Punjab’s productivity of wheat is the highest in the world, including that of America. In case of paddy, Punjab’s productivity is 6,000 Kgs/hectare which matches the highest productivity of 6,700 Kgs per hectare recorded in China. With such high crop productivity of wheat and rice, and with 98 per cent of the cultivable lands being provided with assured irrigation, Punjab farmers should in the process be very prosperous.

The sad part is that despite the highest crop productivity and with the highest acreage under irrigation in the world, Punjab has turned into a hot sport for farmer suicides.

There is hardly a day when I don’t see reports of farmer suicides happening in Punjab. Does it not therefore mean that what is being proposed by the policy makers as the roadmap for doubling farmer’s income is terribly flawed? This is primarily because every disaster becomes a business opportunity. The prevailing agrarian crisis too has become a business opportunity for input providers – fertilizer, pesticides, seeds, and implement manufacturers – to make more money. Nothing wrong, but I expect policy makers to see beyond the economic interests of the companies dealing with agriculture inputs/implements.

This is perhaps the reason why those farmers who continue to commit suicide do not see much hope in the promise of doubling farmer’s income in the next five years. They simply couldn’t wait for the next five years. # 

Defeated by policy. Orissa Post. Feb 23, 2017
http://www.orissapost.com/epaper/230217/p8.htm

Categories: Ecological News

Satyagraha in ‘post-truth’ era

Navdanya Diary - Mon, 02/27/2017 - 13:27

By Dr Vandana Shiva –The Asian Age, 27 February 2017


Source

The British forced Indian peasants to grow indigo for the textile industry in England at the cost of growing food for themselves.

2017 is the 100th anniversary of the indigo satyagraha in Champaran. It was based on the refusal to grow indigo. The peasants had repeatedly said: “We would rather die than grow indigo”.

The British forced Indian peasants to grow indigo for the textile industry in England at the cost of growing food for themselves. The peasants starved while England grew rich. As R.W. Tower, the magistrate of Faridpur in Bengal, said to the commission on the grievances of the indigo tenants: “Not a chest of indigo reached England without being stained with human blood.” (Quoted by Rajendra Prasad in Satyagraha in Champaran).

According to Mahatma Gandhi, “As long as the superstition exists that unjust laws must be obeyed, so long will slavery exist.”

As Gandhi acknowledges, he did not “invent” satyagraha. He learnt it from the people of India. As he writes in Hind Swaraj: “The fact is that, in India, the nation at large has generally used passive resistance in all departments of life. We cease to cooperate with our rulers when they displease us. This is passive resistance.”

Movements of non-cooperation started wherever the British tried to tax the lands of the peasant and the homes of the people. The 1810-11 house tax satyagraha in Varanasi is the best recorded. But similar non-cooperation movements took place in Patna, Bhagalpur and other cities.

Having learnt from the people how India stayed democratic over centuries through the power of non-cooperation, Gandhi first used satyagraha in South Africa in 1906 to refuse to cooperate with the laws of the apartheid regime imposing compulsory registration on the basis of race. The contemporary movements against apartheid — “separation” — on the basis of religion and race, are a continuation of the spirit of Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr.

When Gandhi returned to India from South Africa in 1915, he was called to Champaran by our freedom fighters — like Rajendra Prasad, who became President after India gained Independence — to strengthen the movement of peasants against the forced cultivation of indigo.

In 1930, when the British introduced the salt laws to make salt-making their monopoly, and the making of salt by Indians illegal, Gandhi undertook the Salt March, walked to Dandi Beach, picked up salt from the sea, saying: “Nature gives it for free, we need it for our survival. We will continue to make salt. We will not obey your laws.”

As I have written in Ecology and the Politics of Survival: “The Salt Satyagraha spread rapidly to forest regions, and became the forest satyagraha against the British appropriation of community forests. Chipko had its roots in the forest satyagraha of 1930 in Tilari in Garhwal.”

Satyagraha, the force of truth, is more important than ever in our age of “post-truth”. Satyagraha was, and has always been about awakening our conscience. In April 2017, on the anniversary of the Champaran Satyagraha, movements will undertake a satyagraha yatra, starting in Meerut, where the first Independence movement against the East India Company began in 1857. We will visit Varanasi to celebrate the 1810 movement against the British-imposed house tax. We will make a pilgrimage to Champaran on April 17, the day Gandhi started his satyagraha against the forced cultivation of indigo. We will join the valiant communities of Singur and Nandigram who stopped land grab through the land satyagraha. After paying homage to those who participated in the Salt Satyagraha of 1930 by travelling the salt road in Odisha, we will conclude the yatra on Mother Earth Day (April 22) at the Navdanya Community Seed Bank in Odisha, which has spread seeds of hope across India, after cyclones, after the tsunami and after repeated droughts. We will renew our satyagraha for the Earth, with a renewed commitment to save and sow the seeds of freedom. We know that the freedom for the Earth and all her beings is inseparable from the freedom of people. And it is the higher laws of protecting the planet and defending our interconnected rights and responsibilities that give us the “compassionate courage” to challenge petty laws and policies rooted in greed, based on violence.

The Salt Satyagraha inspired Navdanya’s seed satyagraha (bija satyagraha) and Seed Freedom movement.

Since 1987 when I first heard corporations talk of owning seed through intellectual property rights, my conscience, my mind did not accept it. I made a lifetime commitment to save seeds, and not to cooperate with IPR systems that make seed saving and seed exchange a crime.

Bija satyagraha is a people’s movement for the resurgence of the real seed, of the intelligence of farmers to be breeders and to co-evolve with the intelligence of the seed towards diversity resilience, quality. It is a movement that springs from the higher laws of our being members of the Earth community — Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam — from the higher laws of our duty to care, protect, conserve and share. The bija satyagraha pledge that our farmers take says:

“We have received these seeds from nature and our ancestors. It is our duty to future generations to hand them over in the richness of diversity and integrity in which we received them. Therefore, we will not obey any law, or adopt any technology that interferes in our higher duties to the Earth and the future generations. We will continue to save and share our seeds.”

The bija satyagraha against Monsanto and its attempt to patent seeds and collect royalties, the jal satyagraha against Coca-Cola in Kerala and in Doon Valley, against water privatisation in Delhi, against industrial aquaculture in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha initiated by women successfully protected people’s right to safe drinking water. The sarson satyagraha against dumping of GM soya oil in 1998 and the attempt to introduce GM mustard in 2015, the satyagraha for Gandhi’s ghani has brought centre stage the right to safe, healthy food. The satyagrahas of the tribals in Niyamgiri, and peasants in Singur and Nandigram, stopped the corporate land grab unleashed by globalisation. These are just a few examples of the continuing power of satyagraha against the most violent resource grab and wealth grab of giant global corporations in our times.

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Categories: Ecological News

Women are creators of wealth, says expert

Navdanya Diary - Sun, 02/26/2017 - 13:09

Times of India, 26 February 2017

Photo source: http://breathedreamgo.com/2013/07/protecting-the-abode-of-shiva/

Source

PATNA: Noted environmentalist Vandana Shiva on Saturday argued that women everywhere were the main creators of wealth. She also drew attention towards the challenges of hunger and child malnutrition in the country.

Speaking at the two-day international seminar on ‘Cohesive Development: An Alternative Paradigm’ organized by the A N Sinha Institute of Social Studies (ANISS), Shiva said cohesive development could not be achieved without “common interests”.

Other experts like Leandro Morais, professor of Economics at Pontifical Catholic University of Campinas in Brazil, P M Mathew, director of Institute of Small Enterprises and Development in Kerala, Joseph Tharamangalam, professor emeritus at Mount Saint Vincent University in Canada, environmentalist Samar Bagchi, Indu Agnihotri, director of Centre for Women’s Development Studies in New Delhi, Koyel Basu, assistant professor at Jangipur College, West Bengal, political scientist G Haragopal and Mangesh V Nadkarni, former professor at Institute for Social and Economic Change in Bangalore took part in three technical sessions, including two parallel sessions, followed by a panel discussion on the concluding day of the seminar.

In the first technical session on ‘Economics of Solidarity’, Morais discussed the possibility of a new development model and the associated challenges, whereas Mathew highlighted the need for articulation of the “right to enterprise” in developing and emerging economies. While Tharamangalam appreciated Cuba for sustaining its socialist achievements in the environment of threat, Samar Bagchi said Tagore and Gandhi had understood the civilization crisis at the beginning of the century.

In a parallel session themed ‘Barriers to Cohesiveness: Social Identity Interface’, Indu Agnihotri talked about women’s rights and inequalities in the context of globalization. She presented a paper on the rise in crime against women and their marginalization after the 1980s. In another technical session on ‘Civil Society and Cohesive Development: Critical Reflections’, Koyel Basu said the normative agenda of development had to be people-friendly in order to be all-encompassing.

In the panel discussion titled ‘Towards an Alternative Paradigm’, G Haragopal argued that the Indian Constitution provided a vision of alternative paradigm, but people had drifted from it. Nadkarni, on the other hand, said capitalism had aggravated inequality and caused destruction of nature. The seminar concluded with the closing remarks of Barbara Harriss-White, emeritus professor at Oxford University.

ANISS director Sunil Ray said the discussions at the seminar highlighted inadequacies of orthodox models of development. “Cohesive development is a family of concepts with overlapping possible alternatives. Peace and harmony instead of profit motive are the basic tenets of the idea of cohesiveness,” he added.

 

 

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Categories: Ecological News

Protect soil the way we protect tigers

Ground Reality - Fri, 02/24/2017 - 14:41


Pic: homeguides.sfgate.com
The alarm bells have been ringing for quite some time now. Reports after reports warning of a continuing degradation of India’s soils – the foundation of assiduously built food security and more importantly the healthy well-being of the country -- have been conveniently pushed under the carpet.

Added to this monumental blunder of allowing the willful devastation of land resources in the name of economic growth lies the threat awaiting in the form of climate change. The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) -- the global body which governs the international agricultural research centres -- has conclusively established that agriculture, livestock and deforestation together account for 41 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). Intensive cropping pattern, imbalanced nutrient application, injudicious use of pesticides, mining of groundwater has turned the soils sick. What is not being understood is that a sick soil cannot produce a healthy generation.

Last year, in August 2016, a report of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), estimated that nearly 30 per cent of the country’s land – more than 4 times the size of UK -- were faced with desertification. That desertification continues to prevail in semi-arid regions of Rajasthan and in some parts of Haryana was quite well-known but the fact that desertification had encroached on more than 50 per cent of the land in states like Jharkhand, Gujarat, Goa, Delhi and Rajasthan is more worrying. Even the hilly states of Jammu & Kashmir, Arunachal Pradesh and other states of northeast India as well as Orissa are now fast getting into a desertification spiral. 

This report comes two year after the 5thNational Report on Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought in 2014 had warned of nearly 45 per cent of country’s total land, 146.82 million hectares of the total 329 million hectares, suffering from various degrees of land degradation, including water erosion (93.68 million hectares), wind erosion (9.48 million hectares), waterlogging (14.30 million hectares), salinity or alkalinity (5.94 million hectares), soil acidity and other complex reasons.

The 5th National report, which came out in 2014, estimated 25 per cent of the land area to be degraded. The latest ISRO satellite data, released in 2016, showed the extent of land degradation at 30 per cent. In two years time, an increase of 5 per cent area under land degradation, should have forced the government to draw up an emergency plan to fight desertification. After all, land degradation can cast a shadow on the sustainability of agriculture and thereby push the country into the throes of unforeseen food shortages.

Studies point to some 5.3 billion tonnes of soil getting eroded every year, much of it from water and wind erosion. Of this, 29 per cent was permanently lost to the sea, 10 per cent was deposited in reservoirs, reducing their storage capacity and 61 per cent got shifted from one place to another. While this results in tremendous loss in productive capacity of soil, it also helps in expanding the area under deserts. The more the green cover is lost to deforestation and urbanisation, the more is the barren land exposed to soil erosion. In Haryana, for instance, accompanied by strong winds shifting of sand dunes have often resulted in cultivated lands being encroached upon.

Beginning the 1st Five Year Plan, the thrust has been on ‘land rehabilitation’ thereby showing that the planners were seized of the crisis that was expected to build up in the years to come. Numerous Ministries and departments, including the Department of Land Resources, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change; Ministry of Agriculture; Ministry of Water Resources; Ministry of Rural Development had framed a number of policies wherein the effort was to contain soil degradation. This was reflected in the framework of several national policies like The National Forest Policy, 1988; Environment (Protection) Act, 1986; National Agricultural Policy, 2000; National Water Policy, 2012; National Environment Policy, 2006; National Policy for Farmers, 2007; National Water Policy, 2012; and National Rainfed Area Authority, 2007. 

Given that the area affected by land degradation and desertification has been steadily growing over the past few decades despite a plethora of national policies is indicative of the low priority that is accorded to a subject like soil degradation. In fact, over the years the Ministry for Environment, Forests and Climate Change has been on the forefront of bringing in policy directives that actually have undermined the protection, conservation and rehabilitation of land resources. Recent changes introduced silently by the environment ministry, tribal affairs ministry and the mines ministry to redefine forests in a bid to bypass the forest and environment clearances required for mining companies, needing several thousand hectares of mineable area, is one such example. An 11-member panel has meanwhile been constituted to revamp the Indian Forest Act, 1927

Priorities of successive governments have therefore been in complete contrast to what has been spelled out in the numerous environment documents since the 1st Plan.

Future of Food

It has often been said that you are what you eat. And what you eat depends on how healthy and nutritious the soil is. After all the plants derive their nutrition from the soil, and if the soils are unhealthy be sure your food too is unhealthy. Ask any farmer the difference between an organically-rich healthy soil and a chemically farmed soil, and he will tell you how enriching it is to work with nature. Healthy soil not only supports biodiversity – more bees, more earthworms, more birds – restricts run-off and erosion, and is also is also a storehouse for soil nutrients and carbon.

Soils are predominantly rich in three major nutrients – nitrogen, phosphorous and potash. In addition, it also provides 16 micro-nutrients, including iron, molybedenum, calcium and zinc. But because of intensive farming practices, like having a continuous cropping pattern of wheat and rice, interspersed with potato and vegetables, like we see in Punjab, the organic content in the soils have been exhausted. In Punjab and for that matter in other Green Revolution areas, the organic matter in the soil has almost come down to 0.1 per cent. This means farmers are left with no option but to apply more of chemical fertilizers to produce the same harvest they used to produce five years back.

Excessive use of chemical fertilizers, especially nitrogen in the form of urea fertilizer has led to nutrient imbalance in the soils. Moreover, the effective uptake of nitrogen by plants from the urea that is applied does not exceed 30 per cent. Rest of the chemically applied nitrogen seeps underground causing contamination of groundwater. The problem got compounded with agricultural universities recommending more application of chemical fertilizers as the way forward to meet the nutrient deficiency arising from intensive farming. At no stage did the universities and the extension officials of the State Department of Agriculture advise farmers to take up integrated farming practices that include the application of organic manures and green compost in adequate proportions.

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Regenerating soil -- A practitioner's guide

By Madhu Reddy
One of the most important task in returning back to ecologically sustainable regenerative farming is to relook at our soils. The nutrition we find in each our foods comes from the soil, so if the soils are depleted of the nutrition there can be none in the foods itself. Soil holds carbon in stable form and agriculture that practices good soil fertility strategy will also provide answers for the climate change green house gases. Healthy soil management are the foundation for a healthy planet and its inhabitants. Whatever school of non chemical farming you may follow , be it organic, natural farming, bio dynamic, permaculture all the teachings concentrate on rebuilding of soils.
Interlinked with soil management is the need for water management, both go hand in hand. A good soil strategy for the land should include how water is utilized.Plants/trees do not require water but ‘moisture’ and this overuse of water has rendered many of the soils - saline and unusable, thereby farmers abandoning these farms. We need to stop our obsession about “more water” and use water in moderation. A good healthy humus rich top soil with plenty of trees also retain more water for a longer time thus reducing the water consumption on the lands. 
One has to slow down and stop the water that runs through the land. For checking the water related damage will help retain the top soil from eroding. For this modify landscape with earthworks likes swales/trenches, bunds, gulley plugs etc . Wind also creates soil erosion, so check your farm placement in terms of direction of the winds and create wind breaks by planting trees. Farmer does not have to loose land to plant trees, they can be relatively placed on bunds, on fences, pathways as wind breaks etc to bring a perennial tree cover to the land.
As much as possible reducing tillage which disturbs the soil. The more one impacts the first layers of soil the more work to be done to regenerate it…so try not to compact your soils. Cover your soil! Mulching helps retain moisture and create a conducive atmosphere for microbes in the soil. Naked soil when exposed to the sun causes loss of soil moisture through evaporation…so cover your soils either with live cover crops (diancha, mung, black gram, fodder cowpea, horse gram) or with leaf mulch of trees and crop residues. Just like we wear clothes to help protect us from elements like the sun and rain, cover your soils too.
Life gives life so add any and all dry and green leaf matter (carbon and nitrogen), grass trimmings, crop residues (corn, sugarcane, castor, rice and wheat stalks) back to the soil directly or by composting them. This is food for all the microbes under your feet. Do NOT burn your residues please! One can also use weeds for mulching purpose before they seed. Weeds are indicator plants in what is lacking in your soils. Use your problems as solutions for your soil health.
Perennial Green Manure Trees and shrubs like glyricida , Sesbania Glandiflora, Calatropis, Cassia arculata, Neem, Mulberry etc give organic matter much required with less energy spent to cultivate them every season. The leaf matter from these can be chopped and dropped into the soil or used for composting your dry residues.So depending on your location find local tree and shrub species that work for you.
One of the other important elements to bringing fertility to soils is to think of our land and animal integration. One can use FYM (farm yard manure of cows and buffaloes) and other animal dung like Sheep,Goat ,Chicken etc to bring back nitrogen into the soil. Their residues are important for microbial activity in the soil. And then to increase the fungal and bacterial microbial activity useaids like IMO (Indigenous Microorganisms), EM (effective microorganisms), Jeevamruth, Amrith Jal etc help in breaking down organic matter . The magic and mystery of regenerating the soils lies beneath our feet , under the soil layers . Take care of the microbes and they will take care of you and all that grow above the soil!
(Madhu Reddy quit a corporate job in the US to return to her farm in Andhra Pradesh)   

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Continuous application of chemical fertilizers along with mechanized farming has turned the soils compact. At many a places, a compact layer has been formed almost a feet below the surface thereby restricting the spread of plant roots. Organic cultivation practices on the other hand turn the soil porous, which allows for an enabling environment for soil microbes. One indicator of a healthy soil is the percentage of earthworms visible in the soil. More the number of earthworm, more healthy is the soil.

The thrust on making available a soil health card for every farmer too suffers from the same deficiency in approach. It is designed primarily to ensure that farmers apply balanced doses of chemical fertilizers. I would have preferred a soil health card that measures the organic content in the soils and accordingly makes suggestion on how to improve the strength and structure of soils. At a time when chemical fertilizers, especially nitrogen fertilizers, have been found to be acerbating greenhouse gas emissions leading to climate changes, the emphasis should be on reducing its application.

But then, it is important to understand the political economy that promotes chemical fertilizers and pesticides. It has been generally accepted that fertliser subsidy is the major determinant of land degradation. Although there have been efforts to reduce subsidies on chemical fertilizers, especially phosphorous and potash, but still due to political reasons and lobbying by farmers groups, it has not been possible to cut down subsidies on fertilizers in a desirable manner. This makes organic farming systems unattractive to farmers. I have always advocated subsidizing organic manure, bio-pesticides and working out a separate price policy for organic produce which incentivizes organic farming.

Numerous studies, both nationally and at the international levels, have conclusively shown that business as usual is not the right approach. To provide healthy food, protect environment and ensure proper soil management, the time is ripe to radically overhaul the crop cultivation practices. An international study – backed by World Bank and United Nations and involving more than 400 scientists globally – called IAASTD in short – has shown that crop production by non-chemical practices goes up steadily and is the only sustainable path ahead.

Studies have shown that 1per cent reduction in fertilizer subsidy reduces land degradation by 3 per cent. This is a startling analysis and should be driving the national agricultural policies, including the research priorities. While population density and poverty ratio, the coefficients of both are statistically significant, are normally also thought to be responsible for land degradation, a study done by Mythili Gurumurthy (2015) show that these two variables cannot be held as reasons for land degradation. The results of poverty ratio-land degradation link also corroborates the results of other studies that poor are victims rather than cause of land degradation.

Feeding the soils with organic manure, and laying out a well-working drainage system, which increases water use efficiency are required to protect soil erosion as well as to maintain soil fertility. But more importantly, policy makers have to understand that rebuilding the soil health is a precursor to meeting the food requirements for a growing population in the future, and at the same time a healthy soil is a determinant for a healthy population.

Take the case of China. Hit by a significant drop in food production this year in the wake of rapid urbanization, it has now vowed to protect arable lands. China aims to retain at least 124.33 million hectares of arable land in 2020, with no less than 53.3 million hectares of high-quality farmlands, news agency Reuters reported. In India, nearly 45 per cent of the cultivable land is faced with degradation and the country has still to wake up to the looming threat.

“Farmland should be protected the way we protect pandas,” stated a spokesperson for the Chinese government. India too should launch a nation-wide programme to save and protect soils the way it protects tigers. #

Categories: Ecological News

Doubling Farmer's Income: Look beyond crop productivity, contract farming and privatization of markets.

Ground Reality - Wed, 02/22/2017 - 21:54
                                                         Pic courtesy: Indian Express
At a time when doubling farmer’s income in the next five years has become a catch phrase, I find the Niti Ayog, NABARD, Agricultural Universities, Research institutes, public sector units, and everyone even remotely concerned with agriculture now talking about ways to double farmers income. While the number of seminars/conferences on doubling the farmers income have also doubled in the past few months, farmers are increasingly sinking into a cycle of deprivation. Two years after a back-to-back drought, Demonetisation has further reduced the farmers income, with estimates suggesting 50 to 70 per cent drop in farm incomes especially that of vegetable growers.

Interestingly in all the debates and discussions that I have participated in, there is nothing new emerging. The arguments invariably revolve around the same principles -- increasing crop productivity, expanding irrigation, crop insurance and strengthening the electronic national agricultural market platform (e-NAM). What is more surprising is that those who talk of allowing markets to provide higher farm incomes are the ones who get assured salary packets every month. In addition, every six months, they get Dearness Allowance (DA), which has now been merged with the basic pay.

In India, only 1.3 per cent of the population is salaried, including the private sector. Against this, more than 52 per cent of the population, roughly 60-crore, comprises of farmers. The minimum wages these employees get are computed as per the recommendations of the Indian Labour Conference, 1957. Accordingly, the minimum wage should be based on the minimum human needs, for which a set of norms have been laid out: 1) three consmption units for one earner in a standard working family, with the earnings of woman, children and adolescent in the family being disregarded. 2) Net intake of 2,700 calories for an average Indian adult of moderate activity. 3) Per capita consumption of cloth of 18 yards per annum, which would mean for an average workers family of 4 a total of 72 yards. 4) Rent corresponding to the minimum area provided for under the subsidized industrial housing scheme for low income groups. 5) Fuel, lighting and other miscellaneous items of expenditure to constitute 20 per cent of the total minimum wage.

Subsequently, in an order issued by the Supreme Court in 1991, it laid out a set of six criteria for working out a minimum wage: children’s education, medical requirement, minimum recreation including festivals, ceremonies, provision for old age and marriage, should constitute 25 per cent of the wage. Further, it stipulated the minimum wage to include a dearness allowance compensating for inflation. 

In other words, these criteria actually provides for a mainimum monthly salary required by a family for a decent and honourable living. But strangely I find the same criteria that provides assured income to economists, scientists and planners is something they completely ignore when they talk of doubling farmers income. This smacks of double standards, protecting their own salaries while leaving the majority population to face the vagaries of markets. Ask the farmers who threw tonnes of tomatoes onto the streets recently in Chhattisgarh, and that too despite a bumper harvest, as to what the tyranny of market entails. Ask the families of those sugarcane farmers who committed suicide in Karnataka/Uttar Pradesh waiting for months for cane arrear payment as to what markets are all about. 

It is primarily to address the extreme levels of inequality that prevails, and which is perpetuated by an economic design and has nothing to do with crop productivity, for several years now I have been asking for a separate farmers’ income commission that provides an assured take home income package to farmers every month. If crop productivity is the reason for farm crisis I see no reason why Punjab farmers should be committing suicide in big numbers. With a productivity level of 45 quintals per hectare of wheat and 60 quintals per hectare of rice, Punjab tops the global chart. And despite having 98 per cent assured irrigation, there is hardly a day when farmers don’t commit suicide.

So using the same criteria that the Supreme Court had laid down in 1991, and also following the same decent living norms prescribed by the Indian Labour Conference, 1957, a few of us – economists, researchers, and agricultural activists -- came together for a workshop in Hyderabad in December to work out an income security model for farmers. This was followed by another workshop in Kerala – in which ten economists and policy researchers participated -- in the first week of January to ascertain the payment that farmers deserve for the ecosystem services they protect while undertaking crop cultivation. Led by the United Nations, measuring ecosystem services is now becoming a global norm in computing what is called the green economy.

While farmers and many civil society organizations have been demanding the implementation of Swaminathan Committee report which proposed 50 per cent profit over the cost of production, what is not being realized is that since only 6 per cent farmers get the benefit of MSP, there is no mechanism to support the remaining 94 per cent farmers. My idea of providing farmers with an assured income package every month also includes the 94 per cent of the farming community who have been suffering silently all these years. MSP certainly will remain as one of the ways to provide a guaranteed income to farmers. But we have to work out other ways to provide assured income to rest of the farming community.

When the lowest government employees are ensured of a monthly pay of Rs 18,000 per month, and the non-agricultural workers with a daily wage of Rs 351, the state cannot ignore and leave food producers of the country with meager incomes that pushes them into a debt spiral forcing them to either leave farming or commit suicide. Our estimates based on the minimum prescribed living standards show that the farmers suffer a huge economic loss for providing cheaper food. The economic loss farmers suffer every year works out to 12-lakh crore. This is the huge price the farmers pay for subsidizing the nation by providing cheap food. In any case, using the internationally accepted norms for monetizing ecosystem services, farmers share in caring and protecting the environment and biodiversity justifies payment to the tune of Rs 14,000 per hectare.

This is a conservative estimate, and should form the basis for the entire deliberations the country is having on doubling farmer’s income. The time therefore has come to look beyond crop productivity, contract farming and privatization of marketing structures as the way forward to double farmer’s income. Unfortunately, economists have mistaken public and private sector investment in farming as income generation. #  
Categories: Ecological News
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