Homa Therapy Helpline for India.

10am to 5pm

09522333969, 09826985222 (Hindi)
09755004401, 09158202742 (English)
09923552154 (Marathi)

This clock shows exact time everywhere in India.

Accuracy of the clock depends on having a fast broadband internet connection.

Ground Reality

Syndicate content
Understanding the politics of food, agriculture and hunger
Updated: 3 min 5 sec ago

Let me tell you a story of Vikram and Betal ...

Fri, 11/17/2017 - 12:12

You have probably read the tales of Vikram and Betal. Pic courtesy: Dainik Jagran
Let me today tell you a story of Vikram and Betal. Before you ask me as to what is its relevance to the agrarian crisis, I suggest you first listen to the story.
Vikram was carrying Betal on his back. Betal, as usual asked him a question. “A father had three sons. The eldest was very intelligent and brilliant; the middle one was of ordinary intellect and therefore like any other common man; and the youngest was suffering from a deformity. The father had one rotiwhich he had to share among his sons. Now tell me in what proportion would he share the roti among his sons?”
This story was narrated by country’s well-know mythologist Devdutt Patanaik while in conversation with the famous journalist Shoma Chaudhury in Gurgaon a few days back. He asked the audience to think over the question when they are back home, but the interviewer Shoma Chaudhury was quick to reply: “Obviously, the father would share the roti in equal proportion which means everyone will get one third of the roti.” To this, Pattanaik response was: “No, I don’t think so. If the disabled gets one-third of the roti it will not be sufficient to meet his nutritional requirement, so no use. Similarly, if the eldest son gets one-third of the roti it isn’t enough to nourish his mental faculties. The father therefore has to make a very calculative decision.”
Devdutt Pattanaik explained that the theoretical assumption we make actually doesn’t work that way in reality. To achieve a purpose or a target, something has to be sacrificed. And then, he made a categorical statement: “If the objective is to promote the industry, agriculture has to be sacrificed.” You can’t say that I want to promote the industry and also make agriculture viable, he added. It doesn’t work that way, one of these sectors has to face the brunt. 
He is so right. Ever since the economic reforms were introduced in 1991, this is actually what the successive governments have been doing. Even internationally, agriculture has been sacrificed to build up the industry. In fact, I have often said that agriculture is being sacrificed to keep the economic reforms viable. And, economic reforms as you know, as industry driven. In a way, Devdutt Pattanaik therefore has only endorsed what I have been saying for long. Role of agriculture is only confined to provide cheaper raw material for the industry; make available land for the industry, including real estate and infrastructure; and to provide cheaper labour for the industry. For the policy makers, farmers have only two roles: they are either treated as a vote bank or as a land bank.
I don’t know what Vikram replied to Betal but if you ponder it over in your spare time you would agree that Devdutt Pattanaik had in fact delivered a very strong message. Let me illustrate how true he is by presenting two examples before you. In the early 1990s, when I was a correspondent with the Indian Express, I recall going through the kharifreport of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP). Every cropping season, the CACP brings out a report which works out the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for crops. It was clearly mentioned in that report that over the years cotton farmers were being paid 20 per cent less than the global market prices to keep the textile industry competitive. The same policy is being followed even now.
In other words, the cotton farmers are being paid roughly 20 per cent less to keep the textile industry viable. Internationally too, the cotton prices are low because of the massive subsidies that America pays to its cotton growers. In 2005, in a detailed study I did at the time of the Hong Kong WTO Ministerial, I had explained how the US subsidies actually bring down the international cotton prices as a result of which cotton farmers in India and also in West Africa appear to be inefficient producers. In a letter, entitled” Your Subsidies Kill our Farmers”,  published in the New York Times, heads of the State of four West African countries had actually made it abundantly clear as to how the US subsidies were playing havoc with cotton farmers in Africa. And how much subsidies we are talking about. Well, in 2005, the US provided $ 4.7 billion to just about 20,000 cotton farmers to produce a crop valued at $ 3.9 billion.
The massive cotton subsidies were primarily provided to keep the US textile industry viable. It was in reality not aimed at helping farmers but to actually serve as an incentive for the textile industry. The cotton subsidies in turn depress global prices, thereby pricing out farmers in India and in Africa. The cheap and highly subsidised textiles are then imported by countries like India, China and by other developing countries. Coming back to India, nearly 70 per cent of the farmer suicides actually happen in cotton. These farmers are a victim of a deliberate policy to deny them their rightful income so as to keep the textile industry afloat.
Farmers are being sacrificed at the altar of industrial development. The MSP that is worked out every year is actually less than the cost of cultivation. The CACP acknowledges the fact, but its role is to keep a balance between what the farmers are paid and the prices consumers have to pay. In other words, the MSP is kept low so as to ensure that the consumers don’t have to pay more. This means farmers are being deliberately kept impoverished so as to keep the consumers happy. Does it not mean that year after year the farmers are actually subsidising the consumers?
In a study that I and a team of researchers are in the process of finalising, Indian farmers have as a result been short-changed to the tune of Rs 12.60-lakh-crore every year. This is what they are being deprived off every year to keep the industry as well as the consumers happy. This is the extent of the economic sacrifice agriculture is making to keep industry viable. # 
उद्योगों के विकास के लिए खेती की बलि दी जा रही है ! Gaon Connection, Sept 3, 2017https://www.gaonconnection.com/samvad/indian-agriculture-sacrifices-for-growing-up-industries-weekly-column-by-devinder-sharma
Categories: Ecological News

World Must Detoxify Its Toxic Farmlands: A 6-Point Charter.

Wed, 11/15/2017 - 10:49
My plenary talk at the 19th Organic World Congress, New Delhi, Nov 19-11, 2017




Pic: Daily Mail

World Must Detoxify Its Toxic Farmlands
By Devinder Sharma* **
“Any harm we inflict on nature will eventually return to haunt us… this is a reality we have to face.”Xi Jinping, President of China
The evidence is all there. With soil fertility declining to almost zero in intensively farmed regions; excessive mining of groundwater sucking aquifers dry; and chemical inputs, including pesticides, becoming extremely pervasive in environment, the entire food chain has been contaminated. Further, as soils become sick, forests are logged for expanding industrial farming, erosion takes a heavy toll[1] leading to more desertification. With crop productivity stagnating thereby resulting in more chemicals being pumped to produce the same harvest, the farmlands have turned toxic. Modern agriculture has become a major contributor to Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHGs) leading to climate aberrations.

As the population of bees continues to decline, the alarm bells had been ringing for quite some time. A recent study pointing to a 75 per cent drop in flying insects and that too inside a nature reserve, raises the warning of an ‘ecological Armageddon’ [2].

While Green Revolution has already run out of steam[3], leaving behind a trail of misery, the catastrophic consequences manifest in the form of farm suicides[4][5]. With input costs growing, and farm gate prices remaining almost stagnant, if not declining, farmer’s income is swiftly on the downward slide. In Europe, many farms would be unprofitable if European subsidies were to be removed[6]. In France, farmers’ mutual insurance association (MSA) believes that in 2016 “a majority of farmers may earn less than Euro 350 a month”[7]. In India, as per the government’s own Economic Survey 2016, the average income of a farming family in 17 states, which means nearly half the country, has been computed at a paltry Rs 20,000 ($ 307) a year. No wonder, while agribusinesses corporations rake in profits, a majority of the nearly a billion people globally who go to bed hungry every night comprise small and marginal farmers. 

There is something terribly going wrong.

To paraphrase President Xi Jinping, the harm industrial agriculture inflicted on the planet is eventually returning to haunt us ..   

And yet more of the same is being pushed as the solution. Every high-level Summit ends up with a call to remove poverty. World Food Summits have called for an urgent need to remove hunger, and Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) has often called for promoting sustainable farming. ‘Business as usual’ is not the right way forward, we are repeatedly told. The International Assessment for Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) report[8], which was ratified during an intergovernmental plenary in Johannesburg, April 7-12, 2008, has been lying in limbo ever since.

Every disaster is an opportunity. But it invariably has ended as an opportunity for business. The rhetoric has been the same and the solutions have remained the same too: more aggressive push for industrial agriculture. Just to illustrate. To ensure that the world does not witness a repeat of the 2008 food crisis — when 37 countries faced food riots — the international community has been swift in proposing a roadmap (not one, but a plethora of similar privates-sector driven blueprints). Business leaders from 17 private companies had announced at the 2009 World Economic Forum the launch of a global initiative — New Vision for Agriculture — that sets ambitious targets for increasing food production by 20 percent, decreasing greenhouse gas emissions per ton by 20 percent, and reducing rural poverty by 20 percent every decade[9].

The 17 agribusiness giants include Archer Daniels Midland, BASF, Bunge Limited, Cargill, Coca-Cola, DuPont, General Mills, Kraft Foods, Metro AG, Monsanto Company, Nestlé, PepsiCo, SABMiller, Syngenta, Unilever, Wal-Mart, and Yara International.

It is therefore quite apparent that at the global level both the political as well as the business leadership is looking at the business opportunities that the crisis offers. In reality, the more the world tries to change, the more the world ends up doing the same.

But there is hope. As we get ready to enter 2018, the script for an ecologically sustainable agriculture, which brings back the smile on the face of farmers, without leaving any scar on the environment, is being rewritten. Over the years, an emerging consensus has developed around agro-ecology, which alone has the potential of an inclusive approach, and has emerged as an alternative paradigm[10]. Among others, an ActionAid report points to the solution to the global food requirement in 2050 not in the ‘rush to increase industrial food products’ but in shifting the focus to ‘supporting sustainable farming practices among small scale farmers – particularly women in developing countries’[11]. Since 80 per cent of the food is produced and consumed locally, turning agriculture sustainable and economically viable holds the strings to detoxifying the farmlands and thereby ushering in sustainable and healthy living.

Again, the evidence is all there. All it needs is a global effort to upscale what is already known in sustainable farming, to mainstream the principles of organic or non-chemical agriculture or agro-ecology in measuring economic growth. It has to move from a mere glib talk to a more specific action-oriented programme at the local, national and the international levels.

Six-point Charter: 

Phasing out Chemical Pesticides: It took the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) three decades to realise the gravest mistake of Green Revolution - pesticides are unnecessary. Gary John, an ecologist with IRRI at that time had said: "The simple fact is that, in the rest of Asia, most insecticide use on rice is a waste of the farmers' time and money." That was in 2003[12]. But the finding didn’t make any difference in the application of pesticides on rice. None of the National Agricultural Research Programmes took up the advice seriously. If only rice growing areas across the globe, the staple food crop, had followed the IRRI prescription, the pesticides load would have come down drastically. For example, in India alone, more than 42 chemical pesticides are still used on rice[13].

More recently, a new report[14]presented to the UN Human Rights Council states that pesticides have “catastrophic impacts on the environment, human health and society as a whole.” At the local level, the introduction on Non-Pesticides Management (NPM) under the Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture (CMSA) in Andhra Pradesh, India, had led to 3.6 million acres being presently under cultivation without the use of pesticides[15]. Strangely, the World Bank, which has funded this programme, does not promote it. Incorporating the local experiences to the global policy framework, the challenge is to ensure that chemical pesticides are dropped from the crop cultivation menu.

Towards Organic Crop Breeding: The photo-insensitive semi-dwarf high yielding varieties of wheat and rice were initially developed in response to the application of higher doses of nitrogen, phosphorous and potash (NPK) fertilisers. The higher plant population per square meter produced a higher biomass attracting a large percentage of insects and therefore the need to spray more chemical pesticides. Consequently, these varieties were adapted to a wide range of agro-climatic conditions with a higher input usage. The flip side was that the higher the yield, the higher was the drop in nutrients. Productivity was inversely correlated with nutrition.

With the crop yields stagnating[16]and the fertiliser response declining sharply, the research focus should now move to developing improved crop varieties in response to organic manure. While such a crop breeding programme will bring back the focus on restoring the plant nutrition, so crucial for nutritional security, it will also spearhead transformation towards integrated agro-ecological farming systems. Perfecting biological solutions to controlling pests, restoring soil fertility and moving away from water guzzling crops are required to achieve agro-ecological transition. 

Rediscovering Traditional Knowledge: Learning, education and knowledge are central to transforming agriculture towards sustainability.  As much of this knowledge is produced outside academia[17], it will largely depend on a participatory process of knowledge creation, or in other words learning from the communities. In effect, it will be like reversing the Lab to Land approach, which had led to deskilling of the farming communities. The Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) for instance vetted some of the traditional knowledge it could collate, in four volumes[18], but gathering dust on the shelves.

Although documenting traditional knowledge and its ownership (drawing proprietary control over it) has been a hot trade issue in international negotiations, the need to rediscover the wealth of knowledge, wisdom and innovation in the public domain remains central. It will remain a continuous process. Although a number of such ethical frameworks are available, a draft policy framework for traditional knowledge systems in India, with the underlying objective of rewriting the existing regime and formulating a culturally appropriate, ecologically benign, socially sensitive people’s policy provides a unique roadmap for assessing the wealth of knowledge available, and keeping it in public domain[19].

Rediscovering traditional knowledge, and putting it in a framework, which will bridge different knowledge systems and horizontally spread agro-ecological innovations is the need.

Redesigning Public Procurement: While India, China have jointly opposed the trade-distorting farm subsidies doled out by the developed countries under the World Trade Organisation (WTO), protecting the policy space for public procurement for foodgrains remains the primary objective. This is crucial for ensuring food security, so assiduously built over the decades on achieving food self-sufficiency. The same principles need to be extended to procurement of organic produce, which will help ensure an assured price to growers.

Procurement protocols need to be redesigned to meet the domestic requirement for food produced from agro-ecological farming systems. In India, for instance, as the demand for organic food grows, including that for wheat and rice, the need is to provide a high procurement price for the non-chemical produce. Punjab, the food bowl of the country, is also the biggest importer of wheat flour (atta) much of it coming in from Madhya Pradesh, in central India. The atta imports are considered to be organic (but there is no organic certificate available). If only Punjab was to provide a higher procurement price for organic wheat, the production of non-chemical wheat will see an upswing. Similarly, the north-east regions of the country have been declared as an organic hub, agriculture investment should come in the form of regulated public procurement for organics.

Green Direct Payments is another route to provide an assured higher income for specific roles a farmer must undertake. EU member states, for instance, should allocate 30 per cent of their direct payment budget to Green Direct Payments[20]. Similarly, farmers bringing organic produce in the regulated markets in the developing countries must receive an additional 30 per cent by way of price.

Evaluating Ecosystem Services: All these years, soil for instance was always taken for granted. In the sense that the economic value of the functions and services it provided was never considered. It was entirely overlooked in economic and financial transactions[21]. From this perspective, a logical solution consisted of clearly identifying and ranking the services provided by natural resources, estimating their values, and translating them into monetary amounts, which could ultimately be used by the financial sector to set up payment or compensation schemes. 

China launched the “Grain for Green” and “Grain for Blue” programmes in 1991, and 1998, respectively. Similar proposals were floated in Europe too. In the US Midwest, similar mechanisms for payment for ecosystem services so as to reorient farming practices towards sustainable agriculture were initiated. More recently, Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) approach was suggested to work out the promise of a guaranteed income to farmers while prompting them to adopt sustainable farming practices[22]. It observed: “there are farmers who are contributing more ecosystem services than the average farmer because of farming practices such as organic farming. They should receive a higher payment than others who are not following natural capital asset enhancement through their farming practices.” Payment for ecosystem services should now become an essential part of economic research, as well as the public policy.

At the G-20: And finally, at a time when the world is literally feeling the heat from climate change; when the world is staring at a jobless growth; and when the world is faced with an ‘ecological Armageddon’, will the G-20 leadership wake up to the urgent need to detoxify its farmlands? Unless the farmlands are detoxified, and the focus of economic growth shifts to organic agriculture, I don’t see much hope in either the climate crisis being addressed to the core nor an everlasting solution found for job creation.

It is only sustainable agriculture that can create and strengthen livelihoods; it is only the return to agro-ecological farming that can detoxify the farmlands, underground water and rivers; it is only healthy nutritious food that can pull the world out of the disease epidemic it is in grip of. It’s only agriculture that can reboot the global economy. Will the G-20 leadership ever wake up to the only silver-lining? #
-----------------  *Devinder Sharma is an Indian author, writer and a well-known food and trade policy analyst.  His blog: Ground Reality (http://devinder-sharma.blogspot.com) is read in 196 countries.Contact Email: hunger55@gmail.com; Twitter: @Devinder_Sharma **Plenary talk at the 19th Organic World Congress, New Delhi, Nov 9-11, 2017

Notes

[1]Nearly 75 billion tonnes of soil is lost to erosion every year, with damages costing $ 400 billion per annum. An ETC (2017) report “Who will feed us?” brings this out very lucidly. In another report, published in Scientific American, a UN official was quoted as saying that if the current rate of degradation continues, the world’s top soil would be gone in 60 years.   [2]Three quarters of flying insects in a nature reserve in Germany have vanished in past 25 years, says a University of Sussex study published in the journal Plos One (Oct 18, 2017)[3]“In 1980s, farmers used to produce 50Kg of wheat by using 1 kg of NPK fertilisers. Now farmers are producing only 8 Kg by using 1 kg of NPK fertiliser”, Dr Mangla Rai, a former Director General of Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) stated. ‘Agriculture in a crisis. Let’s be clear, farmer’s won’t keep still’.  The Tribune, Sept 21, 2017.  [4] In France, a farmer commits suicide every two days, Australia reports one suicide every four days, in UK the farm suicide rate is double than the country’s average, and India yearly reports 17,627 farmer suicides every year, Terezia Farkas (2014) had said in an article “Why farmer suicide rates are highest in any profession” in the Huffington Post, quoting a Newsweek 2014 report.   [5] Falling incomes and increased vulnerability to financial risks is forcing French farmers into the suicide trap. Paola Tamma (2017) analyses a French study in her article “Suicides plagues French farmers, study shows” published  in EURACTIV.com[6]Michel Pimbert (Coventry University, UK) has been quoted in a FAO report of the Regional Symposium on Agroecology for Sustainable agriculture and Food Systems for Europe and Central Asia, Budapest, Nob 23-25, 2016.  [7]See Paola Tamma’s article above. [8]This three year international collaborative effort (2002-2005) was initiated by the World Bank, and joined by a host of international organisation, including UN. This was the outcome of a major initiative involving 900 scientists from 110 countries. [9] The ‘New Vision for Agriculture’ uses the same language and approach. It promises to involve almost 600 and at a global level, it has partnered with the G7 and G20, facilitating informal leadership dialogue and collaboration. At the regional and country level, it has catalysed multi-stakeholder partnerships in 21 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, including Grow Africa and Grow Asia, states WEF[10]FAO Report of the Regional Symposium on Agroecology and Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems, for Europe and Central Asia, Nov 23-25, 2016. [11]ActionAid report: Rising to the Challenge: Changing Course to Feed the World in 2050’[12]In an article ‘Pest, Pesticides, and Modern Science’, published in Indiatogether web site, I had analysed this based on an IRRI press release. The same combination of corporate interest and agricultural science that led to mindless use of insecticides is now turning to genetic engineering.  [13]Personal correspondence with Jayakumar, Country Director, PAN India. [14]Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food. Jan 24, 2017[15] A farming model to sustain the world. (2010). That’s how I called the success of the non-pesticides management (NPM) programme in Andhra Pradesh, India. http://devinder-sharma.blogspot.in/2010/01/farming-model-to-sustain-world.html [16]In China, rice yields have stagnated on 50% of the rice area over 1980 and 2010. Study published in the journal Plos One (July 12, 2016) . http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0159061[17]See 10[18]Farm Innovators-2010, a publication of Indian Council of Agricultural Research, New Delhi. [19] A draft policy framework for Traditional Knowledge Systems India, 2009, was prepared by a group of civil society actors, which was at one time considered to being formalised as rules under the Biodiversity Act. This draft is available at: http://thanal.co.in/resource/view/the-protection-conservation-and-effective-management-of-traditional-knowledge-relating-to-biological-diversity-rules-2009draft-45050006   [20]Cross-compliance and Green Direct Payments (Box:6) in the Chapter on Public Policies to develop agro-ecology and promote transition, FAO report of the Regional Symposium on Agro-ecology for Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems for Europe and Central Asia, 2016.   [21] A review article published in Frontiers in Environmental Sciences (June 7, 2016) provides a critical appraisal of soil ‘ecosystem’ services and natural capital. The flurry of literature and the growing interest in the subject has led to a “Soil Directive” proposal which remained in negotiations between EU members in 2006 and 2014. [22]Guaranteed Farm Incomes and Sustainable Agriculture, (EPW, April 29, 2017) wherein the authors suggest payment for ecosystem services as a novel way to incentivise sustainable farming practices. http://devinder-sharma.blogspot.in/2017/05/payment-for-ecosystem-services-can.html

Categories: Ecological News

Cultivating losses

Mon, 11/13/2017 - 13:09


In the absence of any dedicated procurement of market produce, the promise of providing farmers with an assured Minimum Support Price (MSP) covering at least the production cost is turning out to be nothing more than a bi-annual ritual. Except for wheat and rice, and to some extent cotton, the announcement of a higher MSP (including bonus) for both the rabi and kharif seasons has simply become meaningless.
While the Centre has announced an increase of 6.4 per cent to 10.8 per cent in the MSP for crops grown in the forthcoming winter season, there is no assurance that the farmers will actually receive the prices that have been announced. If the past experience is any indication, farmers have not only failed to realise their cost of production but have invariably ended up selling their crop harvest at a much lower price, often a drop of 25 to 40 per cent on an average.
Let me illustrate. In Porbander, Gujarat, the price of groundnut oscillated between a minimum of Rs 2,675 per quintal to a high of Rs 2,750 per quintal, with the modal price (which is the average price derived from a day’s sales) being Rs 2,710. These were the prices prevailing in the five day period between Oct 17 and Oct 21. Two days later, on Oct 23, groundnut price in Hanumangarh in Rajasthan was Rs 2,900 per quintal. While the modal price looks to be a much better price that the farmers have got, it actually is a distress price. Compare this with the MSP for groundnut at Rs 4,450 per quintal, and it becomes clear that farmers have in reality been forced to incur a net loss of Rs 1,740 per quintal.
In Rajasthan, the price of moong (green gram) on Oct 6 in Ajmer district mandis prevailed at a modal price of Rs 3,900 per quintal in the Beawar and Bijay Nagar markets. The same day, the modal price for moong was Rs 4,150 per quintal in the Madanganj and Kishanganj mandis. The modal price was approximately 25 per cent less than the MSP for moong. Against the MSP of Rs 5,575 per quintal, farmers earning was in the negative, a loss of more than Rs 1,600 per quintal on an average.
Interestingly, the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) admits that the moongMSP was fixed lower than its production cost that works out to Rs 5,700 per quintal. In Madhya Pradesh too, the market prices of urad, moong and groundnut had prevailed low.
In September too, the prices had remained low. Let us compare the prices that prevailed on Sept 27 across the country’s mandis to get an idea of the price blow the farmers are subjected to. For soyabean, the modal prices in Harda and Mandsaur mandis in Madhya Pradesh prevailed at a low of Rs 2,660 and Rs 2,880 per quintal against the MSP (plus bonus) of Rs 3,050 per quintal, a loss of Rs 400 to Rs 500 on the sale of every quintal. For urad dal, against the MSP (and bonus) of Rs 5,400 per quintal, the price in Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh was Rs 3,725; at Kota in Rajasthan at Rs 3,850; at Rs 4,180 in Bidar, Karnataka and Rs 4,410 at Akola in Maharashtra.  The average loss urad farmers had to suffer across the country varied between Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,800 per quintal.
Given the huge losses that farmers have been incurring over the years, it has become crystal clear that the announcement of MSP neither helps in setting a floor price nor does it guarantee an assured price for farmers. The mandate for CACP, which works out the MSP for various crops, is not only to provide an assured price to farmers but also to ensure that it does not lead to inflationary pressures. The prices therefore are deliberately kept low, and in many cases are actually less than even the cost of production that the farmers have to entail. I have therefore maintained that when the farmers cultivate crops, what they don’t realise is they are in reality cultivating losses.
In any case, the high-level Shanta Kumar Committee had made it abundantly clear that only 6 per cent farmers get MSP since they are able to bring their produce to the mandis. Lack of logistics and adequate infrastructure has deprived the remaining 94 per cent farmers of even seeking a claim over MSP. After all, only those who bring their produce to the regulated mandiscan get the benefit of MSP. This is primarily because there are only about 7,600 regulated APMC regulated mandisin the country, which is awfully low. To ensure that a mandi is available within a 20 km radius, India needs a network of 42,000 mandis.
The economic priority therefore should be on making adequate investment in the construction of APMC market years. This assumes importance given the scale and magnitude of the agrarian distress that continues to prevail. Instead of deputing 50,000 party workers to convince farmers of the government’s intent behind doubling farmers income, the focus should urgently shift to setting up 42,000 market yards in the next five years. That’s where the answer lies. #
Cultivating poverty in farms. DNA, Nov 10, 2017http://www.dnaindia.com/analysis/column-cultivating-poverty-in-farms-2558929
Categories: Ecological News

Tribals Are Mankind's Living Vault

Mon, 11/06/2017 - 11:04
This tribal region was earlier called "Bhooki", a clear cut reflection of the extent of hunger that prevailed. I am told Acharya Vinoba Bhave had travelled through the region, and was instrumental in getting land transferred into the hands of quite a significant proportion the landless tribals. I could see the transformation that has come about several decades later when I decided to visit some tribal families in Anandpuri block of Banswara district in southern Rajasthan. Along with the neighbouring districts of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, Banswara is part of a predominant tribal triangle in central India. 


Shankar
I wanted to meet small and marginal farmers of the region. My first visit was to meet Shankar, 55, in village Bodiya Talau, some 58 kms from Banswara. He owns 2.15 acres of land, has three cows, 2 bulls and 1 goat. All animals are the desi breed. The cows hardly give 500 grams of milk per day. When asked why is he keeping them, his reply was that the cows are not kept for milk but for manure. He cultivates maize, tur, paddy, tomato, wheat, chilli, turmeric and remarked: "I grow everything at home, except for salt and sugar." He was satisfied with what he was doing after having transformed his almost barren land into a green patch. Has planted a number of trees, including cashew. Shankar is certainly more enterprising than his fellow Tribals.

I then met Chetan Pargi, aged 35, from Ummed Pura village. He is into rope weaving besides doing farming in 4 bigha land. He said he was able to make a decent living , and his land provided enough for his family throughout the year. I didn't believe him looking at his frail health. But he insisted that his land gave him enough. But is that enough, enough? That's the question. But their undying spirit of hospitality is what amazes me. At a time when the people in cities have turned selfish and are not willing to offer even a cup of tea to visitors, Chetan Pargi, despite his visible level of subsistence, wanted me to have food with him. When I politely declined, he said: "bare Saheb log kahan hamare jaise logo ke haath ka khana khate hain' (Why would the sahebs like to eat with us). I had to tell him that as per the schedule, I was already eating with another farmer in the next village.    

Meeting Mani Lal in the same village confirmed how severely undernourished these Tribals are. Reverting to farming, I was impressed the way he was trying to get into composting, amrit pani and understood why he wanted to keep chemical pesticides away. "Sir, yeh to jehar hai (Sir, this is simply a poison) he told me.  




Mani Lal
What comes as a shock is to know how some of them are being deprived of their ration quota just because they have not completed constructing toilets in their houses. Among various things that I learnt from them, I found Mani Lal's wife Babli Bai's effort to preserve the seeds of cucumber and lemon by gluing them on the Sagwan leaves and hanging the dry leaves to be an interesting way to keep seeds.There were several other traditional ways that farmers were adopting which I found it worth documenting, and learning from 




Babli bai
All this became possible when I accepted the invitation to addressing thousands of Tribals at Banswara in southern Rajasthan in a Janjati Krishi Swaraj Sammelan (Tribal Conclave). As I said earlier, these Tribals came from the tribal belt in the triangle of a region formed between Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. They had walked through some 100 villages for about a fortnight before the march culminated into a Tribal Conclave. Organised by the Banswara-based NGO, Vaagdhara, I must acknowledge that it was an amazing experience to speak before such a large audience of Tribals, something close to 7,000 and 8,000. They came dressed in all colours, and in all their glory. In my talk I urged them not to let go of their farming techniques and practices. They alone hold the future as far saving sustainable farming practices are concerned. The farming practices they preserve hold the key to save the world from climate change. I sought their cooperation in protecting their agriculture from getting polluted and environmentally devastated. Three things they must do: 1. Stop using chemical pesticides. 2. Phase out the application of chemical fertilisers. 3. Conserve and protect desi cattle breeds/seeds. 

They took a pledge to follow the directions.






It will certainly be a grave tragedy if the Government tries to introduce modern farming techniques in these villages, and thereby destroy the synergy that Tribal agriculture preserves. Linking nature, environment and religion, the Tribals have preserved over centuries what is truly a sustainable farming system. It is high time a separate plan is prepared for the Tribal regions, wherein the effort should be to  not only conserve but also improve upon their traditional practices, ensuring that these Tribals are paid a premium for the monumental role they have played in preserving and conserving the natural resources. This is a small price the society needs to incur for what could turn out to be the ultimate saviour of mankind's future. With global warming already pushing the world to a tripping point, the Tribal regions (all over the world) may turn out to be society's last refuge. Like the Doomsday vault in the Arctic, where the effort is to preserve crop seeds for posterity, these are the Living Vault that mankind needs to protect for its own future. #

Further reading: The Forgotten Foods. Ground Reality. Mar 7, 2014
http://devinder-sharma.blogspot.in/2014/03/the-forgotten-foods.html?view=flipcard
Categories: Ecological News

It is agriculture that needs an economic stimulus package.

Sun, 10/29/2017 - 10:05
Agriculture is crying for an economic stimulus package. Instead, money is being incessantly pumped in constructing roads. - NDTV picture
First take a look at this. Since the Kharif crop came in to the mandis, the prices have crashed. Farmers across the country are unable to realise even the production cost. There is hardly a week when we don’t read of farmers protest in one part of the country or the other. While farmer suicides show no sign of ending, agricultural distress continues to mount.
In September-October, the prices had remained low. Let me give you an example so as to compare the prices that prevailed on Sept 27 across the country’s mandis to get an idea of the price blow the farmers are subjected to. For soyabean, the modal prices in Harda and Mandsaur mandisin Madhya Pradesh prevailed at a low of Rs 2,660 and Rs 2,880 per quintal against the MSP (plus bonus) of Rs 3,050 per quintal, a loss of Rs 400 to Rs 500 on the sale of every quintal. For urad dal, against the MSP (and bonus) of Rs 5,400 per quintal, the price in Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh was Rs 3,725; at Kota in Rajasthan at Rs 3,850; at Rs 4,180 in Bidar, Karnataka and Rs 4,410 at Akola in Maharashtra.  The average loss urad farmers had to suffer across the country varied between Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,800 per quintal. This trend continues to prevail. 
Year after year, farmers have toiled hard to produce a bumper harvest. But little do they realise that when they cultivate a crop, they actually cultivate losses. 
Just a few days back, the International Food policy Research Institute (IFPRI) released its annual Global Hunger Index. India slips in the global hunger index (GHI) by three steps to perform even lower than North Korea and Bangladesh, ranking 100 among 119 nations and has been placed in the ‘serious’ category. This comes at a time when a survey conducted by the National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau brings out a stark reality that the country doesn’t want to know. Rural India is eating less than what it used to 40 years ago. According to a report: “On average, compared to 1975-79, a rural Indian now consumes 550 fewer calories and 13 gm protein, 5 mg iron, 250 mg calcium, and about 500 mg less vitamin A. If rural India, home to 70 per cent of India’s population, is eating less and remains undernourished, it is a clause for an alarm.
Children below the age of three are consuming, on average, 80 ml of milk per day instead of the 300 ml they require. This data explains, in part, why in the same survey, 35 percent of rural men and women were found to be undernourished, and 42 percent of children were underweight. A national household expenditure survey tells us that 80 per cent rural, and 70 per cent urban population is unable to consume the required 2,400 calories a day to meet the basic nutrition requirement.
But if you heard the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley at a press conference in New Delhi unveil the massive financial stimulus package to boost economic growth, you would have noticed that he didn’t even use the word ‘agriculture’ during his one and a half hour press conference. He presented a Rs 6.92 lakh economic stimulus package to build 83,677 kms of roads, and provided a massive bailout of Rs 2.11-lakh crore for the banks. Basically the idea being to give banks enough money to write-off the pending bad loans of the corporate. In other words, at a time when agriculture is in a dire crisis, employing roughly 60 per cent of the population, it does not even figure in the economic thinking of the government.
Appalling levels of hunger exists in a country which projects itself to be in a growth trajectory, does not even worry the mandarins in the Finance Minister. Farmers dying in the countryside every other day do not even prick the conscious of the mainline economists. For them, economic growth only means building more infrastructures. They haven’t read a study by Harvard University which says that investing in agriculture is fine times more effective in removing poverty and hunger than investing in infrastructure. Imagine, if Rs 6.92 lakh crore stimulus package that has been given to constructing 83,677 kms of more highways was instead given to agriculture, it would have served not only as booster dose but given a rocket dose to the economy. It would have strengthened millions of livelihoods; pulled millions out of hunger; and perhaps could have reduced the spate of farmer suicides.
Arun Jaitley announced a massive recapitalisation of Rs 2.11-lakh crore for the public sector banks ostensibly to provide them more money so they can write-off the huge bad debt of companies. If only he had instead announced the massive bail out for the banks to be targeted to the outstanding farm loans across the country, the sagging economy could have been brought back on the rails. Writing-off the outstanding farm loans in Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Madhya Pradesh alone could have benefitted nearly 1.8 crore farming families. These 18 million families would have created demand, and that would have ignited the wheels of the economy.
The fundamental problem actually lies in the flawed economic thinking that has been created over the past few decades. Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian had sometimes back stated unabashedly that writing-off corporate debt is economic growth. This is how economic growth is perceived. But when it comes to writing off the farm loans, the Reserve Bank of India Governor Urjit Patel had said it is a moral hazard and would upset the national balance sheet. Farm loan waiver adds on to fiscal deficit but the Rs 2.11-lakh crore that the banks have been given does not figure in the fiscal deficit calculations.
Perhaps the Finance Minister is not aware that the world is now increasingly beginning to discard the market economy mantra. The 37-year-old newly elected Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern has in her first interview said: “Market economy has failed our people .. If you have hundreds of thousands of children living in homes without enough to survive, that’s a blatant failure.” The measures of economic growth will have to change. Ms Ardern has pledged her government will increase the minimum wage, write child poverty reduction targets into law, and build thousands of affordable homes. I am waiting for the day when India’s Finance Minister too measures economic growth in terms of how many people have been pulled out of poverty, how many more hungry people have been fed, tells us the decline in number of farmer suicides, and how many more jobs have been created. #
कृषि पर भारी कॉरपोरेट. Amar Ujala, Oct 28, 2017http://www.amarujala.com/columns/opinion/heavy-corporate-on-agriculture

Categories: Ecological News

The widening India-Bharat divide.

Wed, 10/25/2017 - 05:02
We all know that we live in a country which is divided in two parts -- India and Bharat. While India resides in the metropolitan cities, with its 6-lane highways, high-rise buildings, swanky cars and you name it; Bharat lives in 6.40 lakh villages, with its dusty roads, tractors and bullock carts dotting the landscape and of course millions of poor hapless people, mostly farmers.
You will ask me why I am talking about India and Bharat. After all, we all know of the massive disparities that exist between India and Bharat. Well, the reason why I brought this up is because I feel there is huge disconnect that prevails between urban and rural India, called Bharat. And it is only growing. People living in the cities have gone too far away from the rural landscape, they don’t even have an inkling of the life in the villages. They feel as if rural Bharat is a different country, located somewhere in Africa or very far away. Even Bollywood doesn’t talk of Bharat anymore.
I feel so disgusted at times. Whenever I tweet about the spate of farmer suicides, the reply I get is not only shocking but appalling. Some write back to me saying these people should have any way died; they are a burden on the country. Some others would say that farmers are parasites and they have been sucking the blood of the country. Many say that farmers are living on government doles. They in any case need to pay the price for not graduating to become entrepreneurs.
The disconnect is so huge that many people who respond on social media actually write to me saying that it is time I stop talking about farmers, I should focus on the upward mobile urban population. They feel no remorse when I talk of floods hitting the north-eastern farmers or a severe drought ravaging central and south India. When prices crash, when farmers throw tomato onto the streets, and when some farmers die of heart attack or commit suicide not able to withstand the price crash, I am told this is a routine story of rural India, I should not bother.
While I listen to all this rubbish what worries me is that how come the rift between urban India and the farmers has grown so deep. How come the farmer leaders have allowed this gap to become so wide? Why wasn’t any effort made to ensure that the urban population remains connected to the rural countryside? I don’t have the answers but what I feel strongly is that somewhere the farmers too have to take the blame for not reaching out to the urban society? Why have the farmers always confined their battle, their struggles to only the farming community? Why wasn’t an effort ever made out to reach to other sections of the society?
Take the case of schools and colleges. A farmer does not figure anywhere in their thoughts, in the education they receive. Whatever is written in the textbooks, and which is not very glorious, is all that the students know. Why is that I have very rarely come across interactive sessions between students and farmers? Why on the annual fetes or on various other extra-curricular activities platforms I rarely see a discussion between students and farmers? Even when we have youth programmes, the chances are that it is about the urban youth, the rural youth does not figure on the scene. It’s all about urban India, as if Bharat does not exist.
The other day I was speaking at a private university in New Delhi. I began by asking how many of them had ever been to a village. In a class of 60 plus, only three hands went up. And the three of them had happened to pass through a village or a tehsilheadquarter while on the way to attend a marriage or had accompanied her mother who went to a village to see the grandparents. When I told them that they had to just drive 40 kms outside Noida and they would be in a village, they were not even amused. For these youngsters, their life remains confined to the urban centres. That’s where they belong to.
These are the educated youth who will one day be in the bureaucracy or in a multinational or in some other decision making body. They have no or little idea as to how the rural India, comprising 70 per cent of the country’s population, looks like. Why blame them, even the present lot of decision makers, including the well-known economists who appear every other day in TV discussions or write regular columns in English language newspaper have little direct contact with the villages. In an article in Indian Express I was aghast when an economist, who is now part of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory committee, wrote to justify his argument about farmers by saying his knows for sure since his wife is a part-time farmer cultivating mushrooms. His understanding of agriculture was therefore only limited to what he learnt from his wife, and urban elite who would grow mushrooms as a part time hobby.
It doesn’t end here. Whenever I talk of the agrarian distress and the spate of farmer suicides, the troll asks me were the suicides not happening in the Congress regime? When I talk of drought hitting farmers, I am asked whether Narendra Modi is responsible for the rains failing? Public debate has become so polarised now that everything, including the floods and drought, are seen through the prism of electoral leanings.
Even market economy has become a religion. Those who believe in it are even willing to go to the extent of defending the corporate defaults of the nationalised banks. Even the Economic Advisor had said that writing-off of corporate loan is economic growth whereas writing-off of farmers loan is perceived as leading to credit indiscipline and spoiling the national balance sheet. Not only the bank defaults, which run in hundreds of crores every year, talk to them with facts and the chances are they will try to brand you as a socialist if not out rightly calling you a communist. This is how the branding has been cleverly done.
Will this bridge be ever abridged? 
शहर के लोगों काे न खेती की चिंता है न किसानों की.  Gaon Connection, Oct 23, 2017https://www.gaonconnection.com/samvad/indian-farmers-farming-in-india-urban-india-rural-india-indian-villages-farmers-suicide-village-life-social-media-trolls-loan-waiver-article-by-devinder-sharma
Categories: Ecological News

Superpower of Hunger

Mon, 10/23/2017 - 21:34

In 2017, India has slipped down three ranks to 100 among 119 nations in the Global Hunger Index (GHI), beating even Bangladesh and North Korea in the race to the bottom. India has been placed in the “severe” category of nations suffering hunger pangs. And this although India is among the world’s largest producers of food grains, fruits and vegetables (second largest), milk (largest producer), fish (second largest), egg and poultry meat, and meat from livestock (fifth largest).

One reason for this tragic paradox is not far to seek. It’s the government. Consider this: an 11-year-old Jharkhand girl reportedly died of starvation because she didn’t have an Aadhaar-linked ration card. News reports said she died in her mother’s lap asking for rice; three Dalit brothers in Gokarna district in Karnataka died of starvation. It was reported that they had been denied food rations for six months, but the district administration denied it. The news of these deaths came around the same time that Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced in Gujarat, ahead of the elections there, that he had allowed purchase of jewellery upto Rs 2 lakh without having to furnish the Aadhaar number or the PAN card. Meanwhile, in Jharkhand alone, 11 lakh ration cards have been cancelled because they were not linked with Aadhaar numbers. Different rules for different people.

The Aadhaar Act makes it clear that that no one will be denied food if they don’t have an Aadhaar card. But to cut down on social spending as well as to curb corruption in the delivery mechanism, the government is in a visible hurry to link the ration cards with biometric authentication. At the same time, despite no encouraging response of the few case studies in implementing cash transfers, it is aggressively pushing Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) so that it can totally get away from the monumental task of providing food to the needy through the vast network of public distribution shops (PDS). With no responsibility to maintain a creaky PDS system, the government will also not have the responsibility of maintaining an effective system of procurement for food crops. India’s poor can bid goodbye to their government.

There is no denying that India’s shameful record in tackling hunger has pushed down South Asia’s performance globally. Except for Pakistan (rank 106), all other South Asian countries are doing much better – Nepal (72), Myanmar (77), Bangladesh (88), Sri Lanka (84). China, with whom India wants to compete, is at rank 29. Published by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), the Global Hunger Index (GHI) focuses annually on the international effort to combat hunger. In fact, India performs much worse than even Sub-Saharan Africa on the hunger front.

In 2016, India had ranked 97 among 118 developing nations, as usual faring worse than all its neighbours, except Pakistan. In the first such index prepared 12 years ago, India had ranked 96 among 119 countries. In effect then, India is now faring worse than where it stood in 2006. All these years, India’s GDP has remained on average at over 7%, except in the last few quarters. If there is anything that has grown sustainably through all the ups and downs of the economy, it is hunger.

More the hungry children, more the wasted lives. The best way to ascertain the wasting rate is to know the low weight-to-height index for children. More than 21% of India’s children are wasted. Only three other countries – Djibouti, Sri Lanka and South Sudan – have more than 20% of wasted children. If 21% of children in a country are wasted, is there a great economic future for that country? Whatever the government may claim, the truth is, you cannot build a superpower on hungry stomachs.

But hold on, our dismal performance doesn’t end here. A survey conducted by the National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau brings out yet another stark reality. Rural India is eating less than what it used to 40 years ago. According to a report: “On average, compared to 1975-79, a rural Indian now consumes 550 fewer calories and 13 gm protein, 5 mg iron, 250 mg calcium, and about 500 mg less Vitamin A. If rural India, home to 70% of India’s population, is eating less and remains undernourished, isn’t it cause for alarm? Sadly, though, one cannot find any prime-time media discussion on this.

Children below the age of three are consuming, on average, 80 ml of milk per day instead of the 300 ml they require. This data explains, in part, why in the same survey, 35% of rural men and women were found to be undernourished, and 42% of children underweight.” In fact, the malnutrition levels in South Asia are twice as high as in Sub-Saharan Africa. Considering that rural India comprises some 85 crore people out of India’s 130 crore people, one would think it was an appropriate subject for a midnight Parliament session.

While eliminating hunger is a complex and challenging task, it is not impossible. But despite the pious intentions of several prime ministers -– Indira Gandhi gave the call for Garibi Hatao, Manmohan Singh treated malnourishment as “a national shame”, and an emotional Narendra Modi had dedicated his government to the poor -- the task of designing appropriate and suitable economic policies is left to the mandarins in the bureaucracy who, unfortunately, are in the clutches of corporate economic thinking that views poverty eradication only from the prism of the failed ‘trickle down’ theory.

Removing poverty, hunger and malnutrition is not possible without focusing on agriculture. A recent US study has established that investments in agriculture are five times more effective in removing poverty than investments in building urban infrastructure. This is a significant finding that cannot be ignored simply because Indian economists, policy-makers and the bureaucracy are ideologically committed to market reforms and are systematically reducing investments in agriculture and the social sector. If a beginning has to be made to eliminate hunger by 2022, it has to begin by reinventing farming, by bringing in public sector investments into agriculture, because it is agriculture alone that can provide Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas.

Superpower of Hunger, Deccan Herald, Oct 22, 2017.
http://www.deccanherald.com/content/638759/superpower-hunger.html
Categories: Ecological News

A Blind Walk that turned out to be an eye opening experience

Sun, 10/15/2017 - 12:27





It wasn't a walk in the blind; it was a walk for the blind. 

Oct 12, the World Sight Day. Walking blindfolded, following a blind person, opened the eyes to the difficult life of the visually impaired. This was stated by a number of people, including students, who participated in the Blind Walk organised by the Chandigarh-based public trust Dialogue Highway, in the Sector-17 Plaza in the heart of the city. 

For the blind persons leading the walk, it was an experience. For those who walked blindfolded behind them, with their hands on the shoulder of the person in front, it was a lifetime experience. For the first time, they were able to feel how tough is the life for the visually impaired. That is exactly what I wanted the people to feel, to realise. Organising the Blind Walk therefore was an effort to reach out to more people. This was in collaboration with the Project Vision in Bangalore, which motivated more than 250 Blind Walks to take place across the country on the same day. 

More than 500 students from different schools, colleges and some from the university participated in the Blind Walk, led by blind students from Chandigarh's Blind School. A large number of citizens, including my father, who is 90, walked blindfolded. The Chief Guest Navjot Singh Sidhu, (a well-known cricketer, celeb, and now a Punjab Cabinet minister) who flagged off the walk, also led the walk blindfolded. A number of celebrities, including the PGI Director Prof Jagat Ram, Justice (retd) S N Agarawal, Punjabi actress Japji Khaira, and singers Pammi 22, Hardeep Gill, Gurkirpal Surapuri, economist R S Ghuman, farmer leader Balbir Singh Rajewal were on the stage. Before the walk began, I introduced the objectives of organising the Blind Walk urging people to join the effort, and also to pledge their eyes. 






Navjot Sidhu in his own inimitable style regaled the audience and also stated how honoured he felt at being invited to such a pious event. He said that this was an initiative he would never forget. Sensitising the people by making them walk blindfolded was perhaps the best way. The walk, in two rows, led by a blind student walked through the Sector 17 plaza before returning to the same place. A Police pipe band was in attendance. The media did a tremendous job with most TV Channels/media houses covering it live on their Facebook pages. Many journalist walked blindfolded covering the event. The next day, the coverage in the print media too was huge. Thank you everyone who made this Blind Walk an eye-opening activity. I am also delighted to add here that the Roti Bank in New Delhi, a group of very dedicated people towards fighting hunger and inequality, too had organised a Blindfold Walk in the Delhi University campus.



Categories: Ecological News

Stubble burning: Don't penalise farmers. Give them support to take adequate steps.

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 09:35

Pic: Business Standard 
Not to take any more risk with human health, the Supreme Court has reinstated the ban it imposed on sale of fire crackers in the Delhi-NCR region.  The “direct evidence of deterioration of air quality at alarming levels” that the Supreme Court cited to justify the ban has another player. Paddy stubble burning by farmers during the same period in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and in the outskirts of Delhi, has also been blamed for chocking the Capital.
What forces farmers to burn the paddy stubbles is the short window available between the harvesting of paddy and the sowing of the next wheat crop. In a fortnight or so, farmers have to harvest the crop, market it, and also undertake sowing operations for the next rabi crop. Burning of paddy straw therefore is the easiest way out. Unfortunately, farmer’s compulsion that leaves him little option but to burn the crop residues has not been understood properly. Instead of helping the farmers, the entire effort is to coerce them into submission.
An estimated 20 million tonnes of paddy straw is burnt in Punjab alone. As the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had observed: “70 per cent of the land covered by agricultural activity was put on fire by the farmers of Punjab who burnt farm residue,” further adding that stubble burning shoots up the carbon dioxide levels in the air by 70 per cent. “The concentration of carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide rises by 7 per cent and 2.1 per cent respectively, triggering respiratory and heart problems. Also, it was stated that soil loses a significant amount of nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium and sulphur, the total loss of nutrients being estimated at 1.5-lakh tonnes per annum.
Farmers are aware of the environmental fall-out. But they need monetary help. Punjab farmers have been demanding Rs 6,000 per acre as a compensation package for the additional costs they have to incur to take measures that prevents burning of crop residues. Instead of providing any financial support, farmers who continue to resort to burning of paddy straw are being penalised, put behind bars, and threatened with withdrawal of farm subsidies. As if this is not enough, a ‘red entry’ against the plot number where stubble burning takes place is now being initiated in the land records.
Farming community is furious. Agitating farmers have now openly flouted the ban imposed by the NGT on burning of paddy straw, and a direct confrontation between the agitating farmers and the government is on an anvil. Already, several farmer unions have given call to defy the ban, and surely the incidences of crop residues being put to fire are also increasing. The confrontation is likely to worsen in the days to come.
Knowing that imposing any coercive measure against the farming community already reeling under severe distress will be politically incorrect, the Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh is seeking an incentive of Rs 2,000-crore from the Centre to ensure that farmers remove paddy straw without burning it. “We have demanded that the Centre should give Rs 100 per quintal, which comes to roughly Rs 2,000-crore.” And he is right. After all, stubble burning is a socio-environment problem, and the society has to share the burden. Why can’t a proportion of the Rs 50,000-crore proposed economic stimulus package be used for address the problem of stubble burning?
It is a question of priorities. Within weeks of the inflation figures showing a rising trend, the government enhanced the dearness allowance (DA) for the central government employees from the existing 4 to 5 per cent. The hike in DA by just 1 per cent creates an annual additional burden of Rs 3,068.26-crore. If only the government had withheld the 1% increase in DA installment and instead diverted the resources to address the severe environmental consequences arising from stubble burning, the entire problem could have been fixed by now.
Two immediate steps the NGT need to ensure: First, ask the government to provide a compensation of at least Rs 200 per quintal to paddy farmers. I am seeking a higher compensation package because the labour costs have already skyrocketed. Also, there is no need to provide any more subsidies for machines like Happy Seeder, Straw Reeper, Chopper, Rotavator etc. Subsidising the machinery only adds to the burden of the farmers. My suggestion is to leave the task to farmers. let them take a call on which specific machinery they need, if at all. Secondly, make it mandatory for the combine harvester machines to incorporate a baler, which harvests and bales in one pass. I have earlier said (Stubble burning: Combine harvesters alone can provide a solution. http://devinder-sharma.blogspot.in/2016/12/stubble-burning-combine-harvesters.html) that if you are thinking this kind of technological solution will require more time for the combine harvesters to make for a technological improvement, let me tell you a leading manufacturer of combine harvesters – Canada’s John Deere has in partnership with the US-based Hillco Technologies – already developed a next generation machine for harvesting corn wherein the corn stems are baled in one simple step. The Hillco Single Pass Round Bale system which allows the combine harvester to harvest and bale in one pass is what is required for paddy harvest and bale. I am sure the combine manufacturers will be able to provide this amendment for the next paddy harvesting season. If only NGT had tried to make it compulsory for the combine harvesters to bring in the new technology, crop burning would have been easily relegated to the past. #
Don't penalise farmers for pollution. Hindustan Times, Oct 11, 2017. http://m.hindustantimes.com/analysis/work-with-farmers-to-end-stubble-burning-and-save-delhi-from-air-pollution-in-winter/story-ypZsrWD6FJ2cI6AV47p6XO_amp.html
  
Categories: Ecological News

Pesticides poisoning -- Its the farm workers who pay with their lives.

Sun, 10/08/2017 - 12:32

 The next time you see a farm worker spraying the crops, just stop your vehicle and watch. Chances are you will see him without any protective gear/clothing. Pic: Ajithkumar.cc (from the net) 
It was sometimes in the mid-1980s that the Pesticides Association of India took me to a field trip. Taking me around the crop fields, they showed me the protective gear that the pesticides industry was providing to farm workers engaged in pesticides spraying. It was so reassuring to see farm workers spraying the crop dressed up in protective clothing – hand gloves, face mask, a cap and in gumboots.
Nearly 40 years later, I am shocked to read a news report of 50 farm workers succumbing to suspected pesticides poisoning and another 800 admitted to various hospitals in Maharashtra. About 25 have lost their eyesight, and an equal number are on life support system. After activists highlighted the tragedy, the Maharashtra government has belatedly launched an inquiry. It has also announced an ex-gratia grant of Rs 2 lakh to the nearest kin of the deceased.
It is quite obvious that not much has changed in the past 40 years or so. Why blame only Maharashtra, it is the same elsewhere too. Because human lives don’t matter, and especially when it adversely affects the poorest of the poor, often leading to fatalities or permanent disabilities, the society is not even remotely bothered. If only the pesticides industry, state agricultural department officials and the farmers had collectively launched an awareness campaign as well as made it necessary for the workers to wear the protective gear before undertaking pesticides sprays, the Maharashtra tragedy could have been avoided.
The Maharashtra tragedy primarily occurred because the Bt cotton crop had failed to resist the dreaded bollworms pests for a couple of years now as a result of which farmers resorted to sprays of deadly cocktails to curb the insect menace.
Pesticides are poisons. Regardless of what the ‘Lethal Dose 50’ (LD50) level that is printed on the pesticides containers, the fact remains that the chemicals are nothing but a lethal poison. These have to be therefore used with utmost caution. But when was the last time that you watched a pesticides spray being done by farm labourers wearing a face mask? Forget about wearing a mask, I haven’t even seen workers wearing hand gloves during sprays. If you think I am being unfair, just stop your vehicle and watch the next time you see a farm worker spraying in the crop fields along the highways.
It is here that the farmer too is at fault. Since the sprays are invariably done by daily wage workers, very few farmers ensure that the labourers take precaution. They push the labourers to complete the job as quickly as possible, and are least bothered about the safety and health of the workers. The pesticide residues that seep into the body take time to show the harmful impact, and by that time the labourer has finished the job, taken his money and gone. Most of the time, pesticides poisoning is not even considered as a possible cause when these labourers have to be taken to the hospital.In reality, pesticides poisoning is the least reported cause for farm fatalities.
Pesticides sprays must be undertaken during the early hours in the morning or late in the evening. Pesticides rules prescribe this precaution but it is rarely followed. For example, the ideal time for undertaking pesticides sprays is between 6and 8 in the morning or after 6 in the evening, depending upon the season. The reason is simple. First, there is less possibility of strong of winds in the mornings, and also with the rise in temperature, the chemical becomes more toxic. But since the labour is not available in the earthy hours, spraying operations are invariably conducted in the afternoon. A preliminary investigation has shown that farm workers were made to undertake sprays for 8 to 10 hours at a stretch in Maharashtra.  Pesticide sprays have to be done when the wind flowing in the same direction in which the worker is moving. This will ensure that the worker is relatively less exposed to the chemical. Again, I haven’t seen this being followed. Whatever be the wind direction, a farmer is always in a hurry to get the spraying completed. Still worse, I have seen farmers, mostly migrant workers from Nepal and northeast, conducting as many as 15-20 sprays on tomato crop in certain parts of Uttarakhand. When I asked the reason, I was told by the farmers that it was essential because of the market demand. 
Pesticides companies do provide hand gloves in the packs. It should be made mandatory for the companies to provide not only hand gloves but also a cap and protected face mask in every package. Farmers should be directed to purchase gum boots for the labourers, and it should be the responsibility of agricultural officials’ to ensure that every farmer keeps a few pairs of gum boots at his farm. Pesticides companies and agricultural departments should be directed to jointly organise training camps every fortnight on the use and application of harmful pesticides. 
Agricultural universities too have an important role to play. In fact, since the approvals are granted after the universities give the nod; the number of precautionary steps to be taken should also be spelled out in the approval process itself. If the company fails to adhere to the commitments, there should be a provision of withdrawal of marketing rights. Make it mandatory for the companies to ensure that anyone who is using the chemicals knows the precautionary steps to be taken.
At the same time, agricultural scientists must now shift the focus to crops which require less or no application of chemical pesticides. For example, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines, considered to be a Mecca for rice research, has established that “pesticides on rice was a waste of time and effort in Asia“and has gone on to suggest that farmers in the Central Luzon province of the Philippines, in Vietnam, in Bangladesh and in India have shown that a higher productivity can be achieved without using chemical pesticides. But still, I find that close to 45 pesticides are sprayed on the rice crop. Why haven’t the agricultural universities been able to recommend the complete stop on the use of chemical pesticides on rice defies any and every scientific logic? #
Playing with poison. Orissa Post, Oct 7, 2017http://www.orissapost.com/epaper/071017/p8.htm
Categories: Ecological News

Rs 1,682,579,000,000

Mon, 10/02/2017 - 10:55

This graph is from Tejinder Narang's tweet. 
The headline in Down to Earth magazine was startling. Just in 2015-16, India imported Rs 1,402,680,000,000 worth of agricultural commodities. This was more than three times the annual budgetary allocation for domestic agriculture.
Well, if you think the increasing reliance on food imports in one year -- 2015-16 -- is merely an aberration, hold your breath. According to commodity traders, the agricultural import bill has jumped six times in past 13 years, from $ 4.7 billion (Rs 307,709,000,000) in 2004 to reach a peak of $ 25.7 billion (Rs 1,682,579,000,000) in 2017. Such massive imports come at a time when India is reeling under a terrible agrarian crisis. Ideally, instead of allowing huge foreign exchange outgo on imports, this staggering amount of money should have gone to Indian farmers.
There is something terribly going wrong. From an exalted position of food self-sufficiency built so assiduously over the years, India is frittering away the gains of Green Revolution so easily and fast turning into a net food importer. It hasn’t drawn any lessons from the way it deliberately destroyed the Yellow Revolution – self-sufficiency in edible oils -- by simply reducing the import duties in a phased manner over the years to almost zero. From a near self-sufficiency in edible oils achieved in 1993-94, when only 3 per cent of imports were required to meet the domestic requirement, India now imports roughly 60 per cent of its needs valued at over Rs 76,000-crores.
And still, policy makers appear more than keen to allow imports at the drop of a hat. Using the argument that imports are necessary to contain rising food prices, policy makers are opening up to cheap and subsidised agricultural imports and that too at zero per cent duty. No wonder, despite a bountiful harvest, the imports continue to pour in. The more the imports, the more severe blow it strikes to the livelihood security of small farmers. With no takers for their produce, small farmers are the first to abandon farming and migrate to the urban centres in search of a menial job. With job creation already at its lowest level, uprooting small farmers to force them into the cities does not make any economic sense.
I have always maintained that importing food is like importing unemployment. The headline in Down to Earth magazine was startling. Just in 2015-16, India imported Rs 1,402,680,000,000 worth of agricultural commodities. This was more than three times the annual budgetary allocation for domestic agriculture. Well, if you think the increasing reliance on food imports in one year -- 2015-16 -- is merely an aberration, hold your breath. According to commodity traders, the agricultural import bill has jumped six times in past 13 years, from $ 4.7 billion in 2004 to reach a peak of $ 25.7 billion in 2017. Such massive imports come at a time when India is reeling under a terrible agrarian crisis. Ideally, instead of allowing huge foreign exchange outgo on imports, this staggering amount of money should have gone to Indian farmers.  There is something terribly going wrong. From an exalted position of food self-sufficiency built so assiduously over the years, India is frittering away the gains of Green Revolution so easily and fast turning into a net food importer. It hasn’t drawn any lessons from the way it deliberately destroyed the Yellow Revolution – self-sufficiency in edible oils -- by simply reducing the import duties in a phased manner over the years to almost zero. From a near self-sufficiency in edible oils achieved in 1993-94, when only 3 per cent of imports were required to meet the domestic requirement, India now imports roughly 60 per cent of its needs valued at over Rs 76,000-crores.  And still, policy makers appear more than keen to allow imports at the drop of a hat. Using the argument that imports are necessary to contain rising food prices, policy makers are opening up to cheap and subsidised agricultural imports and that too at zero per cent duty. No wonder, despite a bountiful harvest, the imports continue to pour in. The more the imports, the more severe blow it strikes to the livelihood security of small farmers. With no takers for their produce, small farmers are the first to abandon farming and migrate to the urban centres in search of a menial job. With job creation already at its lowest level, uprooting small farmers to force them into the cities does not make any economic sense.  I have always maintained that importing food is like importing unemployment. Allowing cheaper imports is the easiest way to force farmers to quit agriculture. But perhaps what is not being perceived is that turning agriculture uneconomical is part of a policy design. Considering that the National Skill Development Council proposes to bring down the percentage of population engaged in farming from the existing 52 per cent to 38 per cent by the year 2022, I will not be surprised if the increasing emphasis on opening up for agricultural imports is deliberate. The former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan had a number of times remarked that the biggest reforms would be when farmers are pushed out of agriculture to move into the cities.  How can a surge in imports be justified at the time of a bumper harvest. With a record 97 million tonnes of wheat production, allowing nearly 8-lakh tonnes of wheat imports at zero duty from Ukraine and Russia makes little economic sense. In addition, nearly 4,000 tonnes of onions have already been imported from Egypt, and as per industry estimates another 6,000 tonnes of onions are expected to touch the shores in a fortnight or so. Only a month ago, farmers were throwing onion on the streets. Meanwhile, the government has allowed import of 3-lakh tonnes of sugar at a reduced duty of 25 per cent to augment supplies at the time of a festive season. Earlier, as per a CRISIL report, India imported 6.6 million tonnes of pulses at zero import duty in 2016-17, and that too at a time of a record bumper harvest. This resulted in a crash in prices forcing farmers to go in for distress sale. At a many a places, farmers were not able to realise more than Rs 3,250 to Rs 4,000 per quintal for Arhar against the procurement price of Rs 5,050 per quintal. In case of moong, the market prices have remained low throughout. Against an MSP of Rs 5,225 per quintal, moongprices have remained below Rs 3,800. Except for Chana (black gram), the profit margin for farmers fell by 30 per cent for all pulses. The disturbing trend in depressed prices still continues. The new arrivals of urad and moong are also not finding buyers, with wholesale prices not picking up beyond the last year’s low levels.   India has already signed an MoU with Mozambique for importing 3.75 lakh tonnes of pulses in the three-year period, 2016 and 2019. It is also negotiating with Brazil, Russia, and South Africa to import pulses and oilseeds. With the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggesting India to increase soybean imports, which have come down significantly after the import duties on edible oils were raised a few months back, it is quite obvious that outsourcing agriculture is becoming a norm rather than an exception. This has dangerous portents for food self-sufficiency as well as for millions of farm livelihoods.
But perhaps what is not being perceived is that turning agriculture uneconomical is part of a policy design. Considering that the National Skill Development Council proposes to bring down the percentage of population engaged in farming from the existing 52 per cent to 38 per cent by the year 2022, I will not be surprised if the increasing emphasis on opening up for agricultural imports is deliberate. The former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan had a number of times remarked that the biggest reforms would be when farmers are pushed out of agriculture to move into the cities.
How can a surge in imports be justified at the time of a bumper harvest. With a record 97 million tonnes of wheat production, allowing nearly 8-lakh tonnes of wheat imports at zero duty from Ukraine and Russia makes little economic sense. In addition, nearly 4,000 tonnes of onions have already been imported from Egypt, and as per industry estimates another 6,000 tonnes of onions are expected to touch the shores in a fortnight or so. Only a month ago, farmers were throwing onion on the streets. Meanwhile, the government has allowed import of 3-lakh tonnes of sugar at a reduced duty of 25 per cent to augment supplies at the time of a festive season.
Earlier, as per a CRISIL report, India imported 6.6 million tonnes of pulses at zero import duty in 2016-17, and that too at a time of a record bumper harvest. This resulted in a crash in prices forcing farmers to go in for distress sale. At a many a places, farmers were not able to realise more than Rs 3,250 to Rs 4,000 per quintal for Arhar against the procurement price of Rs 5,050 per quintal. In case of moong, the market prices have remained low throughout. Against an MSP of Rs 5,225 per quintal, moongprices have remained below Rs 3,800. Except for Chana (black gram), the profit margin for farmers fell by 30 per cent for all pulses. The disturbing trend in depressed prices still continues. The new arrivals of urad and moong are also not finding buyers, with wholesale prices not picking up beyond the last year’s low levels.
India has already signed an MoU with Mozambique for importing 3.75 lakh tonnes of pulses in the three-year period, 2016 and 2019. It is also negotiating with Brazil, Russia, and South Africa to import pulses and oilseeds. With the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggesting India to increase soybean imports, which have come down significantly after the import duties on edible oils were raised a few months back, it is quite obvious that outsourcing agriculture is becoming a norm rather than an exception. This has dangerous portents for food self-sufficiency as well as for millions of farm livelihoods.#
A full-blown agrarian crisis? DNA, Oct 2, 2017. http://www.dnaindia.com/analysis/column-a-full-blown-agrarian-crisis-2549693
Categories: Ecological News

Poor farm workers are victims of a predatory credit policy.

Sat, 09/30/2017 - 08:44


If the poorest of a poor woman in a village wants to eke out a living on her own and for which she decides to buy a goat, she looks for a small advance. It may cost her a little more than Rs 5,000 to buy a goat, and she is advised to go to a micro-finance institute (MFI). The MFI provides her the credit, at an interest rate of 26 per cent to be paid back at fortnightly intervals. Effectively, this comes to an interest rate exceeding 60 per cent.
Now take a look at this. The Gujarat government gave a loan of Rs 558.58 crore to the Tatas to set up the Nano plant at Sanand, near Ahmedabad. The Gujarat government has acknowledged that the massive loan was given at an interest of 0.1%, to be paid back in 20 years. In other words, this huge loan was virtually an interest free long term loan. In another case, Steel tycoon, Laxmi Narain Mittal, was given Rs 1,200 crore by the Punjab government to invest in the Bathinda refinery in Punjab. He also got the loan at a 0.1% rate of interest, which means the staggering amount was given virtually free.
If the poorest of the poor women in the village was also to be given Rs 5,000 credit at an interest rate of 0.1 per cent, to be paid back in 5 years if not 20 years like Tata’s and Mittals, I bet she would be driving a Nano car at the end of the year.
At a state-level convention organised by the Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union held at Bathinda a few weeks back, I was appalled to learn that the ruthless exploitation by the Micro-Finance Institutions is a norm rather than an exception. According to Lachchman Singh, secretary of the Union, there are 23 MFI companies operating in Punjab, and they charge an exorbitantly high interest rate varying between 26 to 60 per cent. As high as 38.8 per cent of the families remain indebted to MFIs, and an equal percentage draws credit from private money-lenders and rich landlords. In other words, along with private moneylenders, the organised MFIs have emerged as the biggest blood suckers.
This is the first time I heard of such a deep penetration by the MFIs in the farming sector in Punjab. While the urban elite normally blame the unorganised private moneylenders to be the villain of the story, we forget that the organised financial institutes are no better. Interestingly, while farmers get a crop loan at an effective rate of 3 per cent (if he pays back on time), I don’t see the logic of not extending the same provision to the farm labourers. After all, a landless labourer is also a farmer and he too deserves the same financial provisions.
Why I call the khet mazdoor as the hidden face? Well, a few months back when the Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh was informing the Punjab Assembly about the steps being taken to waive outstanding farm loans, he was asked what about the khet mazdoor? To this question, he replied: “We don’t have any credible information about the economic conditions of khet mazdoor.”Shocking, isn’t it? That after 70 years of Independence, we still don’t have any idea about the poorest of the poor, under what economic conditions of depravity do they continue to survive.
The Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union took up the challenge. It conducted a detailed survey, and I must acknowledge it is done in a professional manner, in 13 villages spread over six districts of Punjab. The initial findings were formally released at the Bathinda convention. Out of a total of 1,618 khet mazdoor families surveyed, 84 per cent were living in debt, with the average debt at Rs 91,437 per family. Large part of the debt, roughly 25 per cent, was drawn for constructing a house. But don’t be under a flawed assumption. When it says constructing a house, it actually means constructing a room with the basic objective of putting a roof over the head.
Roughly, 35 per cent houses had just one room, with 79 per cent houses having no verandah. And out of the sample houses, 38 per cent had separate bathroom, and another 33 per cent had temporary bathroom. For the remaining, the luxury of bathroom meant a corner of the room being used by womenfolk to take a bath. For 67 per cent of the houses, tap water was the source for water consumption. No house had an RO system for drinking water use.
At least 31 per cent houses had no toilets. While the Government’s emphasis is on building toilets, a startling fact was that 72 per cent houses didn’t have any kitchens. I am not sure whether the priority for a worker’s family would be to first have a kitchen or a toilet, but nevertheless the absence of both shows how deep rooted economic depravity prevails among the khet mazdoor families. Since khet mazdooraccount for 15 lakh families, they form roughly 15 per cent of Punjab’s population. Not a small number to be ignored, or buried under the carpet.
And this brings me back to the illustration I had given at the very beginning. If only these khet mazdoor were given credit at a rate that the industrialists get, I am sure they would have been economically well-off by now. At the same time, I don’t see any economic logic of making available premier land to the Indian School of Business or for the IT companies at Rs 1 per square meter, whereas letting the poorest of the poor pay a market price for the small patches of land they need. If only the khet mazdoor were also to be given small plots, say 25 square metre at Rs 1 per square meter (for setting up a rehri stall), I bet they would do much better than the StartUps who walk away with freebies and tax holidays.

That would be the real Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas. 
खेत मज़दूरों के लिए क्यों नहीं है समान ऋण व्यवस्था ? Gaon Connection, Sept 27, 2017https://www.gaonconnection.com/samvad/article-of-devinder-sharma-why-not-equal-loan-arrangement-for-farm-workers-khet-mazdoor
Privation at High Rate. Orissa Post, Sept 26, 2017.http://www.orissapost.com/epaper/260917/p8.htm
Categories: Ecological News

Why is Indian agriculture in crisis? My talk at the launch of Dr M S Swaminathan's biography.

Fri, 09/22/2017 - 17:10




On Sept 8, Sept 8, I did the honours of releasing a biography (in Marathi) of the distinguished agricultural scientist and administrator, Dr M S Swaminathan, at an impressive ceremony in Pune. He is also considered as the father of green revolution in India. This biography has been written by writer and journalist Atul Deulgaonkar, based in Latur in Maharashtra and published by Sadhana Publications, Pune. Despite his ill-health (he is on wheelchair) Dr Swaminathan himself was present to receive the first copy. The book release ceremony was held in the S N Joshi auditorium, which was jam packed, with a lot of people sitting on the aisles/on the steps. There were two adjoining small halls with live streaming, and these too were full. Amazing turnout in Pune, which I was told is not known to be so responsive to any intellectual activity about farming and farmers. It was in 1996 that I had requested Dr Swaminathan to release my first book -- GATT and India:The Seeds of Despair -- in New Delhi. Understandably, it was therefore a great privilege for me to be invited this year to release his biography.

After formally releasing the biography, I delivered the main lecture explaining the reasons behind the continuing agrarian crisis. The response was simply stunning with many a people walking up to me saying they had tears in their eyes. Although the book was about Dr Swaminathan, I was instead requested to sign the copies. 






Here is my talk at the launch of Dr M S Swaminathan's biography (in Marathi) at Pune, 
Sept 8, 2017. 
Categories: Ecological News

Farmer is not a burden. It's they who continue to subsidise the nation.

Tue, 09/19/2017 - 06:44

The image of a farmer in our imagination still remains the same. Because we have designed economic policies that doesn't allow him to grow.  Pic- Down to Earth
Try to imagine the face of a farmer. The picture that comes to your mind will most probably be of a frail figure, in a dirty dhoti-kurta, with a loosely-tied turban on his head and wearing soiled juta. If he comes to your house, you’ll most probably like to meet him outside the gate then to let him in and spoil the expensive carpet in your drawing room.
Not everyone treats a farmer like this, but most people do.
At my evening walk yesterday, I met a retired government official: “Sir, why this media fuss over the loan waiver amounts to farmers being as low as Rs 10 to Rs 300? Shouldn’t that be accepted by farmers with gratitude? After all, they don’t pay any income tax, get huge subsidies and still they want loan waivers? What for? They are lazy and don’t work. If they work hard, they wouldn’t have bad loans in the first place.”
I felt outraged. I was livid with anger. But I somehow controlled my anger and quietly walked away.Reports of waiving outstanding farmers’ loans of 9 paise, 19 paise, 90 paise, Rs 2, Rs 6 and so on, with as many as 4, 814 farmers getting a waiver of less than Rs 100 are splashed all over the media. Reports say as many as 11.93-lakh farmers in Uttar Pradesh have so far received waiver certificates in the first phase for Rs 7,371-crores, at glittering ceremonies being held at the district headquarters. This is part of the total of Rs 36, 359-crores that the UP government had promised to waive-off for small and marginal farmers.
While 4, 814 farmer got a waiver of less than Rs 100, another 6,895 got their outstanding loan between Rs 100 to Rs 500 waived off; 5,583 got waiver certificates for an amount ranging between Rs 500 to Rs 1,000; and as many as 41,690 received waiver certificates for amount as low as Rs 1,000 to Rs 10,000. If I add up the numbers, 57,982 farmers got a loan waiver of less than Rs 10,000. Many will say that this is a princely amount and the farmers should remain perpetually obliged for the state’s largesse, and this fits in very well with the image of a farmer that remains implanted in our imagination. 
This is only the first phase of the much talked about farm loan waiver. We still have more than Rs 29,000-crore to be waived off. Going at this rate, I am sure the number of farmers who will get paltry sums waived-off would add to a few lakh. Call it a joke or at best call it a cruel joke, the fact remains that successive governments as well as a large section of the middle class has always treated farmers as a burden, living on our alms or anything the society can afford to give in charity. Once the pride of the nation, the entire effort now is to offload the burden as quickly as possible.
But is the farmer really a lazy person? Does he not work hard to earn a livelihood?A news report published in Gaon Connection (Sept 12, 2017) provides the answer. Accordingly, as per a calculation of the UP Department of Agriculture, on an average every month a farmer incurs a net loss of Rs 1,307. Against an expenditure of Rs 6,230, the net return a farmer gets is only Rs 4,923. At this rate, the daily income of a farmer comes to a bare Rs 164. In neighbouring Haryana, a study by the Haryana Agricultural University (HAU) had computed the average income from wheat cultivation at Rs 800 per acre.At such a low level of income, I shudder to think how a farming family must be surviving. After all, you can’t even rear a cow in Rs 1,307 per month.
This only endorses what I have been saying for long: “Year after year, farmers have toiled hard to produce a bumper harvest. But little do they realise that when they cultivate a crop, they actually cultivate losses.”My assessment is based on the minimum support prices (MSP) worked out for almost all crops, which are below the cost of production. Even if you were to look at the cost of production of different crops in different states and compare it with the prices the farmers get, the net loss is glaring. As a result, farmers are left with no option but to seek credit, often from multiple sources, including moneylenders. Credit pe credit is what the farmers end up getting sucked into.
In Punjab, the food bowl, some studies have shown that as many as 98 per cent of the rural households are in debt, and in 94 per cent of the cases the average expenditure exceeds the monthly earnings. If this is situation in Punjab, the frontline agricultural state, imagine the dire straits in which farming households live in rest of the country. All this is because successive governments have denied farmers their rightful income. Agriculture has been deliberately kept impoverished to ensure that the food prices remain low for the urban population.
In other words, it is the farmers who have been subsidising the nation all these years. It is high time the middle class is made to understand how they are in a way directly responsible for the terrible agrarian crisis that prevails in the countryside.
Farm loan waiver therefore brings a short-term relief for farmers. But their expectations are belied when the state government throws spanners by ensuring that even that does not reach the beneficiary farmers. In UP, despite the government promising to waive the outstanding loans of small farmers, finally the unpaid loans till March 2016 are being written-off. Finally, the write-off is only for those farmers whose bank accounts are linked to Aadhar. This is grossly unfair.
But when it comes to striking off the corporate toxic loans, the government is more than keen to oblige the industry. As much as Rs 81,683-crore of bad debt for the financial year 2016-17 has been quietly written-off. Did you hear of any defaulting company getting loan waiver of Rs 100 or Rs 10,000 or even Rs 1 lakh? Each company gets several crores written-off and that too without any hassles. That’s how the economic policies are designed. Writing-off of corporate loan is treated as economic growth whereas writing-off of farmers loan is considered as credit indiscipline’ and a drain on the national exchequer.  #   

मध्यम वर्ग के ज्यादातर लोगों ने किसान को हमेशा एक बोझ समझा है. Gaon Connection. Sept 18, 2017.https://www.gaonconnection.com/samvad/debt-waiver-the-farmers-uttar-pradesh-much-of-the-middle-class-has-always-considered-the-farmer-a-burden
Categories: Ecological News

What will happen if 12,500 businessmen were to commit suicide in a year?

Wed, 09/13/2017 - 09:25
What will happen if 12,500 businessmen were to commit suicide in a year? What will happen if 12,500 lawyers to commit suicide? Or what will happen if 12,500 doctors were to commit suicide?  Just think.   But nothing happens when 12,500 farmers commit suicide. That's the tragedy.  Here I am in conversation with journalist Shoma Choudhury at #TheAlgebra, in Gurgaon. On Aug 28, 2017.



After the conversation, Rohit Kumar, who was present at the event, wrote this article in the Huffington Post. A very moving piece indeed ..

The Day I Realised The Plight Of The Farmer Is India’s Biggest Problem

By Rohit Kumar

 ....... To be honest, I had never heard of Devinder Sharma before. I had come to this event to listen to the next speaker, Devdutt Patnaik, author of DevlokMy Gita and The Leadership Sutra. But Mr. Sharma's talk had me sitting on the edge of my chair and leaning forward for the next 45 minutes and I learned some startling, inconvenient, and downright damning truths which sufficiently rearranged the way I see India.For example, I had no idea that a farmer ends his life every 41 minutes in India. Or that 12,602 farmers had ended their lives in 2015. Or that between 1995 and 2015, a period of 21 years, a total of 3,18,528 farmers have committed suicide!Devinder Sharma, a food and trade policy analyst and journalist who holds a master's degree in plant breeding and genetics—and who gets trolled regularly for his views—punctuated statistics with stories of individual farmers. One that I am quite sure neither I nor the rest of the audience will forget anytime soon was about a farmer who jumped into a canal with his ten-year-old son tied to him. Both drowned. In his mind, he wasn't trying to harm his son. In a note that he left behind, he said he was simply trying to save his son from a debt that he would never be able to repay.And here I was thinking the Gurmeet Ram Rahim story was the big story of the year!The average income of a farmer across 17 states continues to be ₹20,000 a year! That breaks down to ₹1666 a month.Agriculture is not a sexy subject. Very few people in our turbo-charged television, print and social media spaces actually want to listen to facts and figures about (furrow brow and then roll eyes) farming! When I was a kid (in the 70s) my father used to religiously watch a Doordarshan programme called Krishi Darshan on our little black and white Televista TV. (No, he wasn't a farmer. He was an educational psychologist.) I remember groaning fairly loudly every time he sat down to watch the programme. I would say exasperatedly, "Who on earth even cares about tomatoes and potatoes and fertilisers?" And my dad would fix me with a long look and say, "The farmers do. And you should too."I didn't get it then. I certainly do now.Read the full article herehttp://www.huffingtonpost.in/rohit-kumar/the-day-i-realised-the-plight-of-the-farmer-is-india-s-biggest-problem_a_23188802/
Categories: Ecological News

New India will require new economic thinking.

Tue, 09/12/2017 - 10:18
Will New India see the end of farmer suicides? 
The Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) releases its Global Hunger Index ranking countries in proportion to its population faced with hunger and under nutrition. India ranks 97 among the 118 developing nations, faring worse than all its neighbours except for Pakistan. This report was released almost a year back, in October 2016.
As usual, the report was written about in news paper editorials, and then forgotten. Not many knew that the Global Hunger Index was first prepared in 2006, wherein India ranked 96 among 119 countries. In these 11 years, nothing had changed as far as hunger and malnutrition was concerned. In fact, India’s track record in addressing hunger had only worsened.
But what came as a bigger shock is a report of a survey conducted by the National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau. The survey brings out a stark reality that the country doesn’t want to hear. Rural India is eating less than what it used to 40 years ago. According to a report published in the web news portal Scroll – “On average, compared to 1975-’79, a rural Indian now consumes 550 fewer calories and 13 gm protein, 5 mg iron, 250 mg calcium and about 500 mg less vitamin A.
Children below the age of three are consuming, on average, 80 ml of milk per day instead of the 300 ml they require. This data explains, in part, why in the same survey, 35% of rural men and women were found to be undernourished, and 42% of children were underweight.” In fact, the malnutrition levels in South Asia are twice as high as in Sub-Saharan Africa. Considering that rural India comprises 70 per cent of the country’s population, where roughly 85-crore people live, I thought this was an appropriate subject for a mid-night Parliament session. After all, a democracy cannot brush growing hunger and malnutrition under the carpet.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has declared removing hunger and malnutrition among the six goals that he has announced to be achieved in the next five years, by 2022. This is a very heartening development. But let me make it clear, it is not the previous Prime Ministers had remained oblivious to the growing malnutrition monster. In recent years, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had launched Garibi Hatao, Atal Bihar Vajpayee had promised to turn the infamous hunger belt of Kalahandi into a food bowl, Manmohan Singh had gone to the extent of calling malnourishment “a national shame". But hunger and malnutrition has remained robustly sustainable.
I recall an emotional Narendra Modi dedicating his government to the poor when he addressed for the first time the BJP Parliamentary party meeting at the Central Hall. Several of the government’s programmes are aimed at reaching out to the poor, including opening the Jan Dhan bank accounts for 58 per cent of the population, who had remained outside the ambit of the banking system. With programmes like Skill India still to show results, what is worrying is the growing tendency to shift bulk of the rural population to the urban centres. The National Skill Development Policy paper has set a target of reducing the population engaged in agriculture from the existing 52 per cent to 38 per cent in the next five years.
Meanwhile, the National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau, which was created in 1972, was disbanded in 2015. Whatever be the reason, the fact remains that how will the country ever know whether the nutritional targets have been achieved unless there is a credible organisation to monitor it. In any case, while the economic growth is measured every six months, nutritional surveys are conducted once in 10 years. Even that is not palatable. It throws a dampener in the story of economic growth. The malnutrition figures, howsoever startling these may be, get camouflaged under the glare and glitter of the economic growth figures.
Removing poverty, hunger and malnutrition is not possible without focusing on agriculture. A recent US study has established that investments in agriculture are five times more effective in removing poverty than investments in building urban infrastructure. In my understanding, this is a very significant finding which cannot be ignored simply because the Indian economists, policy makers and the bureaucracy is ideologically committed to market reforms and thereby is busy systematically reducing the investments in agriculture and in the social sector spending as well.
I have always been of the opinion that that those who are responsible for the crisis cannot be expected to provide solutions. The Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR), an umbrella organisation that overlooks 71 agricultural universities and over 200 research institutes/bureaus, is a classic example. Add to it, the economic prescriptions being doled out time to time by the Niti Ayog, and it becomes loud and clear that the thrust is on the same kind of failed policies that brought in the agrarian crisis in the first place.
Even Albert Einstein had once said “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Whether it is the Economic Survey, the Niti Ayog’s Vision and Strategy document for the next three years, or the report of the expert committee on Doubling Farmers Income, the underlying thrust is on the same strategies and approached which actually led to the crisis. The arguments invariably revolve around the same principles -- increasing crop productivity, expanding irrigation, crop insurance and strengthening the electronic national agricultural market platform. 
If this was true, I don’t see any reason why Punjab, the food bowl, has not turned into a suicide hot spot. There is hardly a day when 2 or 3 farmers on an average do not commit suicide. Punjab has 98 per cent area under assured irrigation and has the highest productivity of cereal crops, including wheat, rice and maize, in the world. It also is on the top when it comes to the number of tractors, machines, fertiliser and pesticides use. And yet, farmers are dying. Although Punjab gives a picture of prosperity, some colleges in Punjab have started mid-day meal programmes to address hunger and malnutrition among the youth. Expecting all other states to follow Punjab’s success in agriculture therefore is not the way out.
Agriculture is the first line of defence against poverty, hunger and malnutrition. Ignoring farmer’s welfare and focusing only on crop productivity has been the bane of agriculture. It is high time to learn from the past blunders, and make a fresh approach if the Prime Ministers dream is to be realised. It is certainly possible but not with the same flawed thinking that actually led to the crisis. #
Categories: Ecological News

There is nothing more lucrative a business than Crop Insurance

Mon, 09/11/2017 - 11:12
Pic: Indian Express
I was never in doubt. The flagship programme launched with much fanfare -- Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojna (PMFBY) – has turned out to be at best a profit insurance scheme for the private insurance companies. There is certainly no business as profitable as crop insurance.
In the crop year 2016-17, when the monsoon rains had returned to normal after a back-to-back drought for two consecutive years, a total of Rs 22,437-crore was paid to the insurance companies. Against such a huge premium, the crop loss claims finalized by the insurance companies, including 11 companies in the private sector comes to Rs 8,088-crores. Of which, Rs 7,700-crore has already been paid to farmers. Even after the total claims finalized by these companies, which totals Rs 8,088-crore as mentioned above, is distributed it still leaves the insurance companies with a staggering profit of Rs 14, 349-crores.
Instead of paying Rs 14,349-crore profit to the insurance companies for the crop year 2016-17, I wonder why didn’t the government instead use the entire amount as disaster relief to the farmers. This is primarily because the PMFBY is basically designed to help the private companies. The government either did not visualize that there were serious problems in its implementation the way the scheme was designed or probably had too much of faith on the private insurance companies. The CAG has already pointed to several discrepancies, but let’s also look at some of the structural problems in the very basic design of crop insurance.
The biggest fault of course lies in the way the average loss is worked out. In the past, the average loss computed in a block or taluka was considered while assessing the crop loss suffered by a farmer. In the PMFBY too, a village or a village panchayat has been taken as the unit of insurance. It means that irrespective of what the loss an individual farmer suffers from hailstorm or strong winds etc, the compensation he will get will be based on the average loss in crop production in a village. This is primarily the reason why farmers were never enthused to take up crop insurance.
I have always questioned this faulty methodology. Consider this, if a house in a residential colony catches fire, the owner gets the claim he filed for. Why shouldn’t the same methodology work in the farming sector? After all, 60 per cent of the total insurance is done in 50 risk prone districts across the country. Given that 11 insurance companies are into the business, I see no reason why these companies cannot be directed to assess loss on a per unit farm basis? In these 50 districts to begin with, each company can map each and every farm in five villages each. Why are the insurance companies not being directed to pay the insurance claim based on each farm is baffling indeed.
As if this is not enough, the best way to ensure profits for the companies irrespective of the extent of crop losses is to keep the sum insured at a minimal level. Given that the loss assessment is based on the average loss incurred in a village, if the sum insured is lower than the threshold levels, it is quite obvious that the claimant would get only a fraction of what his loss is. Now, this is a little complex. So let me illustrate how the companies ensure that either they don’t have to pay at all or have to pay a bare minimum for the losses the farmers suffer. 
Take the case of Bundli district in Rajastha. According to a study conducted by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), for soybean crop the farmers were insured to a maximum of Rs 16,539 per hectare against a maximum output value of Rs 50,000. Similarly for paddy, the sum insured was Rs 17,096 against the expected value of his output from a hectare being Rs 65,000. In the Beed district of Maharashtra, against the cost of cultivation worked out at Rs 34,147 per hectare in 2015-16 by the Maharashtra State Agricultural Prices Commission, the sum insured was a maximum of Rs 18,000 per hectare. Which means even if the loss a farmer incurs is more than 50 per cent he will hardly get any compensation.
For the kharif 2016 season, a civil society group -- Abhinav Rajasthan -- in an interesting investigation showed that the maximum claim that was applicable in moong had been worked out to Rs 16,130, which is roughly 40 per cent of the total value of the crop. Accordingly, if we look at the estimates prepared by the State Agriculture Department, seven quintals is the average output of moong per hectare. Going by the Minimum Support Price for moong, the total output in terms of value comes to about Rs 40,000 per hectare.  But what a farmer could insure was not more than for Rs 16,130 per hectare.
Keeping the sum insured deliberately low provide profit security for the insurance companies. As the CSE study shows, at 90 per cent indemnity level for soybean crop, the claim amount would be just 25 per cent of the cost of production. For paddy, it would have been 25 per cent.
Further, I find the crop losses and claims that are being worked out are based on open bidding. The premium limits quoted by the private companies are actually not based on risk-based premiums but simply based on their commercial gains. This shouldn’t have been allowed in the first instance. Nowhere in the world is this permitted. Crop insurance companies cannot get into an open bidding process so as to select areas where they would like to operate. This clearly shows that the government’s intention is to provide an open field to the private sector companies to maximize their profits without any accountability.
Take Rajasthan, for instance. News reports say Rajasthan will have to provide roughly 35 per cent of its agricultural budget to implement PMFBY. This is because the insurance companies are quoting a higher premium and the government has no mechanism to force them to reduce it.
In other words, crop insurance is turning out to be an excellent business proposition for the private companies since they do not have to make any initial additional investment for creating adequate infrastructure, including employing the manpower required into loss assessment and crop cutting experiments. Under the PMFBY, for the mandatory crop cutting experiments to assess crop loss, states have to undertake four samples from each village or village panchayat for major crops, while eight samples are to be taken for other crops. Since 24 crop cutting experiments are mandated for a district, the country will need 40 lakh crop cutting experiments to be conducted. First, why shouldn’t the insurance companies be directed to create adequate employment to do the crop cutting experiments? Secondly, even if the State Governments were to undertake these operations, why shouldn’t this be paid for by the private companies?
The insurance companies do not even have to make any investments in employing people to work as insurance agents. Since the premium is automatically deducted from the bank accounts of loanee farmers, this acts as a bonanza for the companies. Bankers tell me that the insurance companies only come to the bank once to get their share of premium and return the next season. Insurance companies don’t even know what crop the farmer was sowing nor did they ever care. In other words, Insurance companies often don’t even know what crop had been insured.  The prevailing practice of deducting insurance premium directly from the bank accounts of farmers should therefore be immediately stopped. #
To Benefit Farmers and Not Crop Insurers, Crop Insurance Scheme Must be Overhauled CompletelyThe Wire. Aug 31, 2017. https://thewire.in/172303/crop-insurance-pmfby-farmers/
Categories: Ecological News

Aren't we going back to the days of 'ship-to-mouth' existence?

Sun, 09/10/2017 - 11:12


Believe it or not, India imports apples from 44 countries -- an RTI reply. 
It has been a saga of an unprecedented growth, followed by a terrible agrarian distress. No country in the world probably has ever seen the pendulum of agricultural growth swinging from one extreme to another. In the past 70 years, ever since India achieved Independence in the back-drop of the Bengal Famine, Indian agriculture has not only demonstrated what it takes to attain the pinnacle and subsequently on how easy it is to fritter away the gains.
Emerging from the throes of an impending starvation, when India’s future was written-off by many doomsayers, India’s remarkable turnaround to achieve food self-sufficiency remains the hallmark of any effective and successful development policy. A right mix of policies, technology and above all the backing of a determined political will to achieve food self-sufficiency is now part of history. First with milk, and followed closely with food grains, the actual trigger for the two major revolutions in India’s history was set off within a span of two years: 1965-66.
It is not that the first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru didn’t make any efforts. A number of community development programmes were initiated during his tenure.  Speaking from the ramparts of the Red Fort in 1955, he had said: “It is very humiliating for any country to import food. So everything else can wait, but not agriculture.” Eventually, the country’s first Agricultural University at Pantnagar in Uttar Pradesh was inaugurated by him on Nov 17, 1960. Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana came up in 1962. Bhakra dam was dedicated to the nation in 1963. So in more than one way, it was Nehru who laid out the infrastructure for what later was called as Green Revolution.
White Revolution: It was in 1965 that the then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shashtri laid the foundation of milk cooperatives, which enabled farmers to get a higher price for milk and at the same time enabled urban consumers to get the benefit of easy availability of milk at an affordable price. Hailed as one the world’s most successful rural development programme, the dairy cooperatives have turned India into the world’s largest producer of milk, with production crossing 156 million tonnes. Benefitting more than 150 million dairy farmers, a majority of the beneficiaries being women, the enhanced per capita availability of milk has turned out to be one of the strong pillars of attaining nutritional security.
Green Revolution: A year later, in 1966, by allowing the import of the miracle high-yielding dwarf varieties of wheat from Mexico, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ushered in what is popularly termed as Green Revolution. Aided and abetted by appropriate price and public procurement policies, public sector investments and food distribution to deficit regions, India became self-sufficient in food, achieving food security at the national level. Subsequently, India stopped food imports under Pl-480 coming in from North America.
The success achieved in wheat was followed quickly in rice, cotton, sugarcane, vegetables and fruits. Food self-sufficiency became the foundation for national sovereignty, a fact which is often not acknowledged. It was in 1965 that the then US President Lyndon Johnson had got upset over a statement the then Prime Minister made. In an interview to a US newspaper Lal Bahadur Shashtri had termed the American war in Vietnam as “an act of aggression”. But this was unacceptable. How could a hungry nation dare to call the US an aggressor? The US stopped food supplies, sending the Indian government into a tizzy. The then food minister C Subramaniam later told me that there was a time when the country was left with food stocks for only seven days. There was panic all around. Shashtri had urged the nation to fast on Monday, the basic idea being to share the available food with the needy.

From: Tejinder Narang's tweet, Sept 8
Green Revolution certainly ended the era of chronic food deficiencies; enabling India to meet the challenges of hunger and deprivation. Such is the resilience developed over the years that even severe droughts, some in successive years, have not cast a remote shadow of famine. Nor has it forced the country to stand with a begging bowl. The strength of agriculture attained has to be measured at how it coped at times of calamities. For 70 years, the farmers have toiled hard to produce bumper harvests. Year after year, the records have tumbled.
It also turned the country into the world’s second largest producer of fruits and vegetables. But while food production continued to record new heights, estimated to cross 272 million tonnes in 2016-17, the share of agriculture in country’s GDP has been continuously sliding. With food easily available off the shelf, the middle class as well as the policy makers subsequently became complacent. Public investments in agriculture declined over the years. The focus gradually began to shift away from food self-sufficiency.
Agrarian Distress: Since the time the Economic Reforms were initiated in 1991, the institutional shift from planned to market-driven economy has decelerated the rural economy, casting a severe blow to agriculture. With World Bank in 1996 directing India to move 400 million people from the rural to the urban areas in the next 20 years, successive governments began to dismantle the planks of what is popularly called as ‘famine-avoidance’ strategy so assiduously built over the decades.
Consequently, with each passing year, the plight of a farming family has only worsened. Successive governments have deliberately created conditions turning farming non-viable thereby forcing an increasing number of farmers to abandon agriculture and migrate to cities. With farm gate prices remaining subdued if not static, a majority of the 600 million farmers have come under increasing levels of debt. In Punjab alone, 80 per cent of the farm families are living in debt. This is happening at a time when the focus is shifting to encouraging contract farming thereby allowing corporate to engage in agriculture. But will this work? Even while some industry projections see India emerging as an export hub for agriculture, most analysis point to India becoming a major food importer.
While food self-sufficiency is being sacrificed at the altar of international trade, food imports have soared. Already, a number of agreements are being signed to outsource food supplies, including from BRICS countries. According to Down to Earth magazine, food import bill for 2015-16 stood at Rs 1,402,680,000,000, three times more than the annual budget for agriculture. What is not being realised is that importing food is like importing unemployment. At a time when jobless growth is the norm, destroying farm livelihoods does not make any economic sense.
The dominant economic thinking is to open up the markets so as to allow agriculture to be globally competitive. While the World Trade Organisation (WTO) succeeded in pierce opening the developing country markets, it failed to make any drastic cuts in the monumental farm subsidies being provided in the rich industrialised countries. On an average, US provide farm subsidies to the tune of $ 68,910 per farm compared to $ 306 per farmer that India provides. This erodes the very concept of competitiveness.
The WTO was followed by bilateral and regional Free Trade Agreements (FTAs). The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) treaty being currently negotiated between 16 countries, including the 10-member ASEAN block, will strike the final blow if and when it succeeds in making it mandatory to reduce import duties to zero on 92 per cent of the traded commodities/goods. Aren’t we going back to the days of ‘ship-to-mouth’ existence? 
Of the Agrarian Distress, Business World, Sept 2, 2017. http://businessworld.in/article/India-100-Of-The-Agrarian-Distress-/24-08-2017-124621/
Categories: Ecological News

Unfair to Penalise the States for Farm Loan Waivers.

Wed, 08/30/2017 - 17:34

Pic courtesy: The Economic Times 
At a time when Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh was pleading before the Union Government to relax the borrowing limit by Rs 10,000-crore to fund its farm debt waiver scheme, came the news report that the public sector banks had quietly written-off a record Rs 81,683-crore worth of bad debt for the financial year ending March 2017. This is in addition to Rs 70,000-cr cash flow benefits that have been provided to the stressed telecom sector this year.
While Punjab is seeking relaxation under the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act 2003, which limits the current annual borrowing limit to 3 per cent of the Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) so as enable the State government to raise additional market borrowing to meet the farm debt liability, the question that crops up is while both the industry as well as the farmers default the banks, why the write-off rules are different for the two categories of bank defaulters. In other words, States are being penalised if they cross the limits of fiscal deficit of account of farm loan waivers. 
The argument is that the State Governments are expected to maintain fiscal discipline by ensuring that the budget deficit does not exceed 3 per cent. But why then, between 2012 and 2017, when Rs 2.46-lakh crore of corporate non-performing assets (NPAs) has been written-off, no State government was asked to bear the burden from its own revenues. Why hasn’t the RBI passed on the burden instead to the State governments, where these companies were located, asking them to find resources for the write-off? For instance, one of the steel majors, having an outstanding debt of Rs 44, 478-crore has its headquarters in New Delhi. Why isn’t the Delhi Government being asked to write-off the staggering amount?
If not, then the question that needs to be therefore asked is why should the State Governments be asked to waive farm loans from its own resources? Just like the industry, why doesn’t RBI then direct the nationalised banks to waive the outstanding farm debt also?
Soon after the UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had announced the farm loan waiver, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had made it clear that the States will have to find their own resources for farm loan waivers. What he implied in other words was that farm loan waivers are a state subject. But having enacted the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) last year, and having empowered this year the RBI to launch insolvency proceedings against big defaulters, I expected the Finance Minister to also tell the banks to find their own resources or ask the State governments to write-off. After all, industry too is a State subject.
It didn’t happen. In fact, the SBI chairperson Arundhatti Bhattacharya went a step ahead. While she made it abundantly clear that the farm loan waivers leads to credit indiscipline, she had no qualms in pleading for an economic bailout for the telecom industry, which too is reeling under ‘unsustainable’ stressed loans of Rs 4.85-lakh crore. The Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian later justified the writing-off of corporate NPAs, saying “this is how capitalism works.” I wonder why capitalism doesn’t work the same way for farmers.
Moreover, if farm loan waiver ‘undermines honest credit culture’ and could affect the ‘national balance sheet’ as the RBI Governor Urjit Patel had remarked, it is time to know why does the Rs 2.46-lakh crore write-off by banks in the past five years is seen as inevitable for economic growth and makes economic sense. This certainly smacks of double standards. The discrimination that farmers face when it comes to bank defaults therefore needs to be addressed in the same manner as the corporate write-offs.
First, farm loans need 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. 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). Secondly, the FRBM Act 2003 needs to be suitably amended so as to exclude the burden of farm loan waivers from State’s expenditures. #
Capitalism isn't for farmers. DNA Mumbai, Aug 30, 2017.http://www.dnaindia.com/analysis/report-dna-edit-capitalism-isn-t-for-farmers-2541628
Categories: Ecological News

Farmers are cultivating losses

Thu, 08/24/2017 - 12:55

Categories: Ecological News