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Kisan Incorporated

Posted by Ramoo on August 28, 2009

http://www.deccanchronicle.com/op-ed/kisan-incorporated-414

 

August 28th, 2009

By G.V. Ramanjaneyulu & Kavitha Kuruganti

Some recent developments in India’s agri-related laws might make former finance minister P. Chidambaram’s infamous dream of seeing “only 15 per cent of Indians in villages” come true much faster than anyone thought possible. Moves are afoot to ensure large-scale displacement of farmers and agricultural workers — the most blatant move is already underway in Andhra Pradesh, under Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy. An experiment under the garb of “farmers cooperative” was approved by the state Cabinet recently, not very different from what his rival N. Chandrababu Naidu attempted some years ago. The arguments too are old: Small holdings lead to low productivity, low income, low investments and, this vicious cycle goes on.

This argument ignores the fact that more than 900 scientists from 110 countries have recently concluded an international process, called the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), pointing out that small-holding ecological farming is the way forward. We are also familiar with the subsidies that prop up intensive, large-scale models of farming elsewhere, despite claims of efficiency. Numerous studies have confirmed the inverse relationship between the size of farms and the amount of crops they produce per unit.

A study from Turkey shows that farms less than a hectare are 20 times more productive than farms that are over 10 hectares! But why should anyone be looking at such data when the sizes of land holdings and their alleged low productivity is used as an excuse to grab land?

This is what the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister is proposing: Get farmers to pool their land into a cooperative/society/company. Farmers sell their land to the new entity in return for some shares, which will then take up all agricultural operations and pay dividends. Farmers can exit by selling their share to existing members and, if there are no takers, government will buy the shares at a pre-determined market price. Land cannot be obtained back. Though many questions remain unanswered — what will happen to the farmers and how will they take part in any decision-making? What will tenant farmers and agricultural workers do? Why will land not be returned to the farmers? — the state Cabinet has decided to take up a pilot project in 50 villages by investing Rs 5,000 crore and there are moves to introduce a new legislation along these lines.

To begin with, the entire reasoning that bashes small holdings is faulty. Two, an experiment taken up by Mr Naidu some years ago along these lines (“Kuppam Project”) failed in delivering the promised benefits and had environmental repercussions. Most importantly, this move will take away land permanently from farmers and is truly an exit mechanism.

Incidentally, it is in Andhra Pradesh that the world’s largest ecological farming project is unfolding, supported by the state’s rural development department, which is proving that farming can indeed be made viable through alternative technologies and people’s organisations.

This programme, yielding results on more than 20 lakh acres, all small and marginal holdings, has attracted great attention already. Is it by design that the state government chose to ignore such vastly successful models and set about “to make farming viable” through proven-to-have-failed models?

While this is happening in Andhra Pradesh, in neighbouring Tamil Nadu a bill was introduced in the Assembly and supposedly passed on a day when 30 bills were passed without much discussion. This new legislation, called Tamil Nadu State Agricultural Council Act 2009, is about setting up a council that will be empowered to inspect agricultural institutions, courses of study, examinations etcetera, all to ensure that standards are conformed to.

“At present, there is no law to provide for the regulation of agricultural practice… it’s been considered necessary to regulate agricultural practice and registration of agricultural practi-tioners…” states the object of the legislation. Sounds inane enough? However, the law says that no one can render agricultural services unless his/her name is registered in the “Tamil Nadu Agricultural Practitioners Register” with a formal agricultural qualification from Tamil Nadu (outsiders can register within 90 days of their entry!).
In a country which has always had a rich tradition of farming based on an oral and experiential knowledge and in a state where paddy productivity levels are recorded to have been up to 13 tonnes per hectare (in 1807 in Coimbatore) without qualified agriculture scientists, this move is an outright rejection of the vast untapped knowledge of our farm women and men.

Worse, in the name of regulating agricultural services, this seems to be a way of controlling the farmer-to-farmer spread of ecological farming in the state, which is led by farmers themselves, their networks and other civil society groups. Tamil Nadu is also the state where the anti-genetically modified protests against Tamil Nadu Agriculture University’s unthinking capitulation to agro-MNCs like Monsanto are running at a high-pitched level. A connection between the resistance movement and this new law cannot be ruled out.

This new regulation of “agriculture services” will effectively provide more and more markets for particular kinds of technologies at the expense of farmers, as the advisories will be driven by the mindsets that prevail in the agriculture education/ research system in the country and the commercial interests of the agri-services to be set up. This route of a “qualified” advisory system will obviously facilitate conflicting interests and help in improving exclusivity of “markets” by reducing competition, while ignoring the causes for the current agrarian crisis. While a law of this kind should regulate services provided by agricultural research and agri-business bodies to ensure accountability for their services, especially in relation to economic, environmental and social viability and sustainability of farming, it should not be used as a weapon to penalise farmers and civil society

groups which are trying to promote sustainable farming.

These two initiatives in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh are not to be seen as isolated attempts to create more markets for agri-businesses, but as an orchestrated move towards an unwritten “exit policy” for farmers.

These two moves will set a bad precedent for the rest of the country.

Given that agriculture is contributing a lower and lower share in the country’s gross domestic product, its importance in the mainstream economic development model might be diminishing for many policymakers. However, this is a question of livelihood for millions of Indians — without ensuring access and control over basic productive resources and without moving towards sustainable production technologies, the current saga of agrarian distress, including suicides, will only increase.

Such legislations and programmes cannot be brought in without comprehensive debates and without the government clearly stating its vision for farming livelihoods and how they would be liable when things go wrong.

* Dr G.V. Ramanjaneyulu is the executive director of Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Hyderabad, and Kavitha Kuruganti is a trustee of Kheti Virasat Mission, Punjab.

Posted in Agri-Science, Agroecological farming, Andhra Pradesh, Govt. Initiatives, Land question, Opinion pieces | Leave a Comment »

Seed of the crisis

Posted by Ramoo on August 28, 2009

Kavitha Kuruganti

Monday, July 27, 2009 20:42 IST

The US and India are back at it again. This time around, it is not the spectre of a looming famine in Bihar that is expected to kill thousands through starvation but global hunger and malnutrition, for which India and USA will collaborate to provide leadership in agriculture to raise crop yields.

Never mind that India has record buffer stocks of food grains right now and still more people sleep hungry in India than ever before and that India ranks 66th on the Global Hunger Index for 88 countries.

Never mind that intensive agriculture models led to more farmers killing themselves than the projected numbers of starvation before the Green Revolution was ushered in or that Punjab for example, the seat of the Green Revolution in India, is reeling under a severe environmental health crisis quite closely connected to agricultural technologies deployed in the name of increasing yields.

The first time around, they said that they were trying to get away from the ship to mouth existence that is being imposed by the Americans on us through PL 480 food aid programmes — and whose help did they take to get away from the American intrusions? The Americans themselves!

It is interesting to see how American leaders make it a point to include agriculture into their agenda during their India visits. George W Bush decided to stop over at the agriculture university in Hyderabad and Hillary Clinton at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, Pusa. For a country which has only 1.9 per cent of its labour force working in agriculture and a mere 0.7 per cent of total GDP contributed by agriculture (2002), why this American interest in Indian agriculture?

The answer possibly lies in potential huge markets held in the seeds and food processing sectors. In India, this market is emerging in an impressive fashion. In the global seed market estimated at $30 bn, India already has a large market worth $1 bn. The domestic seed market, especially of hybrid seeds, is expected to grow at an impressive growth rate of 13 per cent at least. In the food processing and retail sector, the Indian urban food market is expected to form a major chunk of the $50-bn-mark retail market in India in the near future.

Clinton’s speech at Pusa Institute made a clear mention of seeds and food processing as the sectors where investment will go. Interestingly, the second green revolution in this country, with the help of the Indo-US Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture (KIA) is supposed to be ushered in under the guidance of corporations like Monsanto and Wal-Mart which are on the KIA board. How investment on food processing would increase productivity of our food grains is an unanswered question, of course.

There is also mention of “cutting edge technologies” to raise crop yields and Clinton affirmed with authority that crop productivity was the ‘root’ of the problem of world hunger.

No mention at all of food lands going for bio-fuels, no mention about food grains being used for cattle feed and building inefficient food chains, no mention of the shocking wastage of food in the developed world not at the grain level but of processed foods, which would have already consumed much energy in their processing and packaging.

Nor any mention of overflowing granaries in India continuing to mock at the poor in the country who cannot access such food.

While Clinton is reported to have avoided the use of “GM” as the frontier tec

hnology, given the vast controversy over it, our agriculture minister was more forthright. He opined that collaboration in frontier areas like biotechnology would make a significant contribution to the world!

What our leaders don’t seem to realise is that there are vast differences not just in conditions of farming in the USA and in India but in the very philosophies and outlook towards agriculture. India for instance opposes patents on life forms in international forums while the USA and its corporations seek to patent everything that they can.

The rigid patent regimes in the USA have led to hundreds of farmers sued and/or jailed for doing something that they have done for millennia — saving their seed! Who is India listening to, on world hunger and the way out?

It would be extremely unwise for our leaders to provide ready platforms and markets for profit-hungry US corporations in the name of food crisis, world hunger, second green revolution and climate change.

If the government is keen on tackling the food crisis, it would do well to evolve a deeper understanding of both food production and access related issues, take up a comprehensive analysis of the Green Revolution and then chart out an Indian course of action. In this hundredth year of “Hind Swaraj”, our modern day leaders would do well to revisit Gandhiji’s vision.

Posted in Agri-Science, Indo US Knowledge Initiative, Opinion pieces, Policies | Leave a Comment »

For food security, farmer, not the scientist, should be our focus

Posted by Ramoo on April 3, 2008

By Bhavdeep Kang

Sops are easily handed out. Strategies for the empowerment of the small farmer are far harder to implement. Since 1967, the grey eminences who presided over the Green Revolution and its fallout— cancer epidemics, poisoned water and debt-drive suicides—have pushed agricultural policies that serve the interests of industry and hurt those of farmers.

The discussion on food productivity focuses exclusively on quantity with quality given the go-by. That sustainable agriculture produces better quality food is beyond argument. The “NPK” approach to agriculture has failed; similarly, the calorie-count approach to food does not address the issue of nutrition.

The wheel has turned full circle and we must now look to the farmer instead of the scientist for sustained food production. Technological solutions alone, divorced from social and political structures geared to universal benefit, cannot deliver the goods. Instead of seeking a surplus to feed industry, we must economically empower the widest possible cross section of farmers.

A bag of urea will last the farmer one season. Cattle will last all his life. Urea alone will not assure a good harvest but it will degrade the soil, undermine crop pest-resistance and pollute the ecosystem. Cattle alone will not assure him a good harvest either, but it will improve soil fertility and crop pest-resistance, preserve the environment and provide him with food, fuel and power.

“Annadaata”, a respectful term for the farmer, recognises him as the basis of the nation’s food security. Contemporary governments, be it the UPA or NDA, are encouraging big business to usurp that role. The farmer, representing 58 per cent of the population but only 18 per cent of the GDP, is increasingly marginalised and distressed as the economy “matures.”

Electoral math dictates that agrarian distress cannot be ignored. After four years and 40,000 suicides, the crisis is addressed through an eye-poppingly large loan waiver, instead of structural reforms aimed at assuring farm livelihoods and adequate food stocks. This faux charity charms no one. Not only does it fly in the face of good governance, but fails to assure the majority its entitlements.

Sops are easily handed out. Strategies for the empowerment of the small farmer are far harder to implement. Since 1967, the grey eminences who presided over the Green Revolution and its fallout – cancer epidemics, poisoned water and debt-drive suicides – have pushed agricultural policies that serve the interests of industry and hurt those of farmers.

The result is commonly referred to as an “agrarian crisis”. Its socio-economic dimension, manifested in farmers’ suicides, has attracted international and perhaps because of that, national attention. The second aspect, the collapse of our food security, is only now beginning to worry policy-makers as grain prices go north.

Food security depends both on adequate food production and on its appropriate distribution. We have neither. Despite the mushrooming of fast food chains and the sheer abundance of processed foods in departmental stores, the unalterable fact is that we are consuming more food than we produce. The apparent glut underlines inequities in food distribution. The super-entitled middle-class fights obesity even as the poor fight hunger. More than half our children are mal-nutritioned and the majority of women are anaemic.

The total annual requirement of grain for the Public Distribution System is 75.6 million tones. As the Department of Food & Civil Supplies observed, PDS procurement is falling and offtake (and leakages) increasing. Despite this, multi-national corporations and their front companies are permitted to stockpile Indian grain.

The projected demand for food grains in 2010 is 270 MT, against current production of 216 MT. A 25 per cent increase in productivity, at a time when per unit yield is falling, begs a miracle. Expensive food imports are a poor basis for food security. What we need is food sovereignty.

The current shortage was predictable given that the four basic determinants of food production – soil, water, seeds and farming practices – are under unprecedented stress.

Land and water: Industry, urbanisation and resource-intensive agriculture thrive at the cost of cultivable lands and groundwater resources. Climate change, fuelled by industrial agriculture, has materially affected productivity.

Seeds: Traditional open-pollinated varieties have fallen victim to government policies aggressively promoting one-time use only hybrids and genetically modified (GM) seeds, without regard to health safety or bio-diversity. Farmers, instead of saving and improving their own seeds, are dependent on seed companies.

Farming practices: Capital-intensive “industrial” farming failed to produce yields comparable to those obtaining in the early 20th century! Farming based on Indian Traditional Knowledge Systems not only produces higher yields over the long term but is more importantly, environmentally sound and therefore sustainable.

But armchair opinion-makers, lacking interaction with genuine stakeholders, prescribe quick-fix technologies. Laboratory-engendered miracle seeds to boost productivity without depleting natural resources! This is precisely how the Green Revolution was presented, as a benign, scale-neutral technology based on “miracle seeds”. It was no such thing. Common resources were plundered to profit a few and all farmers now have to pay the price.

Even if miracle seeds are developed, lengthy trials must be conducted to ensure that apparently innocent technologies do not have crippling side effects and introduce potent environmental threats. We dare not to promote the agricultural version of Thalidomide, the “safe” drug for pregnant women which resulted in horrifically malformed infants.

Interestingly, the discussion on food productivity focusses exclusively on quantity with quality given the go by. That sustainable agriculture produces better quality food is beyond arguement. The “NPK” approach to agriculture has failed; similarly, the calorie-count approach to food does not address the issue of nutrition.

A fifth determinant of food production is land ownership. The direct correlation between ownership and improved productivity did not escape our constitutional fathers, who paid lip service to land and tenancy reforms but did not follow through.

The wheel has turned full circle and we must now look to the farmer instead of the scientist for sustained food production. Technological solutions alone, divorced from social and political structures geared to universal benefit, cannot deliver the goods. Instead of seeking a surplus to feed industry, we must economically empower the widest possible cross section of farmers.

The first step is liberation. Not just from debt in the short term, but from the burden of high input or industrial agriculture, through the adoption of Low External Input Sustainable Agriculture (LEISA) systems. High cost of inputs like laboratory-made seeds, factory-made agro-chemicals, diesel and power-driven machines and pumps makes farming non-viable for the majority of farmers. Typically, industrial agriculture focusses on yields while sustainable systems promote crop diversity and nutritional self sufficiency at the farm level.

Critics of organic farming and other LEISA systems claim their productivity is low. But studies have established that LEISA produces higher net returns per unit of land, labour and capital, besides being far more energy efficient and environment friendly. In terms of ecological economics, there is no valid arguement against LEISA. However, these are knowledge and labour intensive systems and hence, do not benefit industry.

Structural reforms in agriculture – a changeover from industrial to sustainable farming – demand a shift in subsidies, away from the fertilizer companies and directly to the farmer, giving him the option of adopting modes of agriculture more suited to his needs. A shift in R & D and agricultural technology is also called for, geared towards the farmer rather than industry. Reform requires monitoring of credit flow so as to build the farming community’s asset base in the form of cattle, low-cost & clean fuel and energy systems and small-scale agri-processing infrastructure, instead of investment in one-time inputs.

To put it simply, a bag of urea will last the farmer one season. Cattle will last all his life. Urea alone will not assure a good harvest but it will degrade the soil, undermine crop pest-resistance and pollute the ecosystem. Cattle alone will not assure him a good harvest either, but it will improve soil fertility and crop pest-resistance, preserve the environment and provide him with food, fuel and power.

Investment in the standardisation and popularisation of low-cost rural technologies like bio-gas, non-conventional energy and drought energy based units – which, unlike “miracle seeds”, already exist – can render villages self-sufficient in power and fuel and boost small-scale industry.

A participatory as opposed to a top-down approach to agriculture alone can ensure sustainability. For instance, restoration of pastures is critical to animal husbandry and can only be achieved through community effort. Ask the farmer what he wants. Adopt empirical methods.

The current picture is grim. The farmer has not been merely economically undermined but socially and psychologically as well. He is no longer a desirable Pati in marriage and has come to regard himself as downtrodden. Small wonder the majority of farmers finds agriculture unviable and are looking for exit routes.

It is imperative to let the farmer reclaim his self-sufficiency and self-respect and the nation its food sovereignty. If Ms Sonia Gandhi and Mr Rahul Gandhi have the small farmers’ interests at heart, let them take a Gandhian view of agriculture.

(The author is a senior journalist and can be contacted at bhavdeepkang@yahoo.co.in)

Posted in Agri-Science, Economix | Leave a Comment »