Indian Agrarian Crisis now moved to www.agrariancrisis.in

Farmer-the most endangered species

Hunger pangs

Posted by Ramoo on July 20, 2009

Vandana Shiva

Monday, July 20, 2009 21:23 IST

 The proposed introduction of a Food Security Act by the UPA government is a welcome step. The Right to Food is the basis of the Right to life and Article 21 of the Constitution guarantees the right to life of all Indian citizens.

Given that India has emerged as the capital of hunger, given that per capita consumption was 178 kg in 1991, the beginning of the period of economic reforms, to 155 kg in 200-2003, and daily calorie consumption of the bottom 25 per cent of the population has decreased from 1683 kcal in 1987-88 to 1624 kcal in 2004-05, against a national norm of 2400 and 2011 kcal/day for rural and urban areas respectively, a response on the food in security front is a response to a national emergency.

However, the approach to food security has a number of blindspots and biases. The biggest one is neglecting food production and food producers as a core element of food security, from the household to the national level.

You cannot provide food to people if you do not first ensure that food is produced in adequate quantities. And to ensure that, the livelihood of food producers must be ensured. The right of food producers to produce food is the foundation of food security. This right has internationally evolved through the concept of “food sovereignty”.

Food sovereignty is derived from socio-economic human rights, which include the right to food and the right to produce food for rural communities. Two aspects of food security have disappeared in the current approach — firstly, the right to produce food, and secondly national food security. Our small farmers produce food for the country and have provided a nation of 1.2 billion with food security, and today they themselves are in distress.

The most tragic face of the agrarian crisis the country is facing is the suicides of over 200,000 farmers over the past decade. If our food producers do not survive, where is the nation’s food security? The second reason why India cannot afford to ignore the crisis of our food producers is because our rural communities face a deep crisis of hunger. Globally too, half of the hungry people of the world today are food producers.

This is directly related to the capital intensive, chemical intensive, high external input systems of food production introduced as the Green Revolution, and the second Green Revolution. Farmers must get into debt to buy costly inputs, and indebted farmers must sell what they produce to pay back the debt. Farmers’ suicides too are linked to the same process of indebtedness due to high costs of inputs. The solution to the hunger of producer communities is to shift to low cost sustainable agriculture production based on principles of agro ecology.

This food sovereignty of rural producers addresses hunger of rural communities as well as the hunger of those they feed. And for the same reasons, corporate farming and contract farming are false solutions in the context of the hunger and malnutrition crisis facing the country. As is the corporate takeover of food processing and attempted hijack of food security programmes such as Midday Meal schemes.

Government policies are biased in favour of the corporate sector. The proposal to shift from the PDS system to the food stamp or food voucher systems arises from this corporate bias. The assumption is that corporations will control the food supply, and the government will enable the poor to buy from corporations on the basis of food stamps and vouchers. However, the poor will then be condemned to unhealthy food as has happened in countries like the US.

The present paradigm has the bias that the poor can eat bad food. Good food is only for the rich. However, food security includes the right to safe, healthy, culturally appropriate and economically affordable food. Food stamps cannot guarantee this.

Further, the PDS system is not a one-sided system. It is both a food procurement and food distribution system. The dismantling and substitution by food vouchers will erode the food sovereignty of producers, abandon them to the vagaries of the market and finally destroy their livelihoods.

Adding 650 million rural people to the displaced and hungry will create a hunger problem no government and market can solve. That is why we must strengthen food sovereignty and the PDS system to strengthen food security. The proposal that the Centre will identify the poor goes against the federal structure of India’s Constitution.

As chief minister of Punjab Prakash Singh Badal has said, “States have to go like beggars to the Centre for everything. We have been reduced to glorified municipalities”.
A national food security systems needs to be based on the Constitution.Decentralisation is key to ensuring good and abundant food is produced on every farm and reaches every kitchen. Centralisation and corporate hijack of food go hand in hand. Decentralisation and food sovereignty go hand in hand.

The writer is an environmental activist

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Hillary Clinton and Walmart

Posted by Ramoo on July 19, 2009

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in India. On Friday, in first leg of her visit, she met Indian business leaders at the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel. It is reported that Clinton discussed an array of issues over breakfast with around 10 Indian top corporate names, including Mukesh Ambani. On Sunday, Clinton would be meeting India’s political leaders inDelhi. Along with arm twisting India on the issue of climate change by arguing to limit carbon emission, Clinton visit is to lay the groundwork for President Obama’s visit to India in 2010.

Frank Wisner, former US ambassador to India, was in New Delhi on Tuesday. “We have get out of the global mess that the Doha Round is currently in. If we don’t keep an eye on expanding global trade we all will be worse off than now. The current differences in negotiating positions at the trade round have to be sorted out on priority”, declared Mr. Wisner while addressing Corporate world.

The US is simultaneously pursuing a policy of protectionism and free trade to deal with the economic crisis. Its bail out plan includes designs to go for bilateral agreements to give free-playing field for its corporations particularly of agriculture, insurance, retail and financial sector.

Six out of top ten retailers of the world belong to US, including Wal-Mart, world’s largest retailer and largest private employer. Interestingly, Wal-Mart is the only giant corporation gaining in the recession as consumers flock to its low prices. Over-saturation of existing market force Wal-Mart to aggressively plan its foray into countries like India. Only recently, it opened its first wholesale outlet in Amritsar, Punjab. Its immediate interest lies in advancing its lobbying efforts to change policy of Indiabanning FDI in multi brand retail.

Considering the fact that Hillary Clinton’s relationship with Wal-Mart has been at deeper, longer and higher levels, it won’t be surprising if she uses her ongoing stay in India to bat for Wal-Mart.

In 1986, Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart, had appointed Hillary Rodham Clinton, a young lawyer at the Rose Law Firm as a member of its board of Directors. Bill Clinton was the governor of Arkansas, where Wal-Mart is based. The Rose Law Firm, has represented Wal-Mart in several cases.

Hillary Clinton’s six-year tenure (1986-1992) as a director of Wal-Mart, remains a little known chapter. It is believed that Hillary Clinton maintains close ties with Wal-Mart executives even now. Clinton’s home in New York has been a host for top executives of Wal-Mart for private dinner.

Hillary has also been a Wal-Mart shareholder — with stocks of more than hundreds of thousands of US dollars. Hillary Clintons also benefited financially from Wal-Mart. Hillary Clinton was paid $18,000 each year she served on the board, plus $1,500 for each meeting she attended.

Time to remain alert against state-corporate nexus.

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A hidden truth of farmer’s suicide

Posted by Ramoo on May 1, 2009

BY CHENNAIVISION AT 27 APRIL, 2009, 2:29 PM

Ludhiana, A glaring and sad aspect of suicides in the agriculture sector in Punjab is that the families of the victims not only had to sell land, but also other assets such as farm machinery, gold to repay their debts.

A government-sponsored study conducted by Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) in Bathinda and Sangrur districts came across 2,990 suicides in the farm sector from 2000 to 2008. Of these, 1757 were farmers and the remaining farm labourers. Of these, 1288 farmers and 671 labourers ended their lives because of debts.

As many as 227 families in Bathinda district sold land worth Rs 7.36 crore to repay their debts. The average value of land sold was Rs 3.24 lakh.

In all 550 farmers committed suicide in Bathinda district due to debt. A majority of them (87 per cent) were small and marginal farmers owning land upto five acres while 13 per cent cases were reported among the medium and large farmers owning more than 10 acres.

The debt ranged from Rs two lakh to Rs 8.20 lakh in case of farmers who committed suicide.

In the case of Sangrur district, 738 farmers committed suicide owing to indebtedness. Of these, the families of 353 farmers sold land worth Rs 19.05 crore to pay off their debt.

The average debt burden in Sangrur was Rs 5.39 lakh. Besides, 58 families of these farmers sold even machinery and other assets.

In Sangrur, 57 per cent farmers were in the marginal category and 29 per cent were small scale farmers. The remaining 14 per cent were medium and large farmers.

The debt against them ranged from Rs 2.8 lakh to Rs 7.87 lakh in Sangrur district.

Average debt against labourers who committed suicide was Rs 70,036 in Sangrur district, and their average income was Rs 19,419.

The average debt against labourers who committed suicide in Bathinda was Rs 47,347 and their average income was Rs 21,710.

In Bathinda district, the most affected villages include Vhauke where 18 farmers ended their lives while in Mandi Kalan 17 farmers and in Pitho 13 farmers committed suicide.

In Sangrur district the most affected village were Andana where 18 suicides were reported followed by Bhutal Kalan (20), Seron (14), Bhattiwala Kalan (11) and Nagara (10).

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Farmer & Agricultural Labourers Suicides due to Indebtedness in the Punjab State — a pilot project of Sangrur and Bathinda districts

Posted by Ramoo on April 20, 2009

A Punjab Agricultural Univeristy report Farmer & Agricultural Labourers Suicides due to Indebtedness in the Punjab State — a pilot project of Sangrur and Bathinda districts, submitted to the Punjab government a few days back has sirred a political storm.
The survey report says that 2,990 farmers had committed suicide in two districts — 1256 in Bathinda and 1634 in Sangrur district — between 2000 and 2008. This report, more or less like a household census, is considered to be the first authentic survey of the spate of suicides among farmers and agricultural workers.
This report comes within a month of the Punjab government’s decision to fix a price for farmer suicides — Rs 2 lakh to the families of those farmers who have committed suicide in the past one year.
In Sangrur district, 738 farmers who took the fatal path to escape growing indebtedness, had an average outstanding debt of Rs 3.36 lakh per farmer. For another lot of 246 farmers who committed suicide for other reasons, the average outstanding amount standing against their name was Rs 79,935. As far as farm labourers are concerned, the average debt was Rs 70,036.
In Bathinda, the average outstanding due against farmers who could not sustain the growing indebtedness, was Rs 2.94 lakh. As many as 550 farmers belonged to this category. For another lot of 223 farmers who too committed suicide but for other reasons, the average outstanding debt was Rs 85,825. For the workers, the outstanding amount against their name was Rs 47,347 on an average. The report also provides a list of such households.
Meanwhile, another report in The Independent, London, says 1,500 farmers in Chattisgarh State have committed suicide. It blames crop failure and the falling water table to be responsible for the serial death dance. If this is true, I don’t see why the Punjab farmers, who are endowed with assured irrigation, have to commit suicide. That means lack of irrigation alone cannot be the reason. The PAU report blames growing indebtedness for the spate of suicides. Indebtedness comes from various reasons, and somehow I find we shirk from pointing to the real causes.
Reports about suicides in Vidharba belt in Maharashtra also ascribe it to lack of irrigation and distress sale of produce. While all this may be true, but I sometimes wonder why are we all reluctant to dig it deeper and find out the real causes that triggers indebtedness.

Devinder Sharma Groundreality

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1,500 farmers commit mass suicide in India

Posted by Ramoo on April 17, 2009

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Over 1,500 farmers in an Indian state committed suicide after being driven to debt by crop failure, it was reported today.

The agricultural state of Chattisgarh was hit by falling water levels.

“The water level has gone down below 250 feet here. It used to be at 40 feet a few years ago,” Shatrughan Sahu, a villager in one of the districts, told Down To Earth magazine

“Most of the farmers here are indebted and only God can save the ones who do not have a bore well.”

Mr Sahu lives in a district that recorded 206 farmer suicides last year. Police records for the district add that many deaths occur due to debt and economic distress.

In another village nearby, Beturam Sahu, who owned two acres of land was among those who committed suicide. His crop is yet to be harvested, but his son Lakhnu left to take up a job as a manual labourer.

His family must repay a debt of £400 and the crop this year is poor.

“The crop is so bad this year that we will not even be able to save any seeds,” said Lakhnu’s friend Santosh. “There were no rains at all.”

“That’s why Lakhnu left even before harvesting the crop. There is nothing left to harvest in his land this time. He is worried how he will repay these loans.”

Bharatendu Prakash, from the Organic Farming Association of India, told the Press Association: “Farmers’ suicides are increasing due to a vicious circle created by money lenders. They lure farmers to take money but when the crops fail, they are left with no option other than death.”

Mr Prakash added that the government ought to take up the cause of the poor farmers just as they fight for a strong economy.

“Development should be for all. The government blames us for being against development. Forest area is depleting and dams are constructed without proper planning.

All this contributes to dipping water levels. Farmers should be taken into consideration when planning policies,” he said.

This article is from The Belfast Telegraph

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The dull days of White Gold

Posted by Ramoo on April 17, 2009

P Sainath , 08 Apr 2009

Across India, cotton growers make up the largest group of the over 180,000 farmers who committed suicide between 1997 and 2007. There’s nothing like an election to spur policy change, though, notes P Sainath.
08 April 2009 – They called it White Gold. In 1972, you could buy 15 grams of gold with what you earned from producing one quintal of cotton. In Vidarbha, for instance, you made Rs.340 for that quintal (long staple). And gold went at Rs.220 for 10 grams (Rs.330 for 15). True, the cotton growers were even then subsidising rich textile barons in Mumbai. They still do – a lot more, in fact. But ‘back then’ seems a lot better right now, relatively speaking.

By the 1990s, that trend had been reversed. From the 1970s to mid-1985, cotton was, as Vijay Jawandia calls it, “the poor man’s cloth.” Man-made fabric was all the rage. By the end of the 1980s, however, a growing bias towards natural fibre saw cotton emerge as the rich man’s cloth. All the big brand names were cashing in on cotton. Yet, cotton farmers in the poorer nations were doing worse. Corporations and traders were doing better. By the mid to late 1990s, obscene subsidies to cotton growers from the United States and the European Union were already pulling the prices downwards.

By 2005, you needed to sell five quintals of cotton to buy 15 grams of gold. By early 2008, gold was at Rs.12,125 for 10 grams, cotton at Rs. 2000 a quintal. You now needed to sell nine quintals of cotton to buy 15 grams of gold. The living standards of farmers in cotton-growing regions like Vidarbha had fallen sharply. Cotton prices and incomes were crashing, debt and cultivation costs soaring. The 2004 Lok Sabha polls saw a wave of farmer anger – and the BSP’s rise – bludgeon the Congress. The BJP-Shiv Sena alliance won 10 of the then 11 seats in Vidarbha.

But in the Maharashtra Assembly polls just months later, the Congress did better. It took 30 of the 66 seats from the region. True, Sonia Gandhi’s visit had a huge impact in this traditionally pro-Congress cotton belt. Turning down prime ministership further enhanced the respect she enjoyed there. But the Congress campaign captured voters with a single promise. It would raise the cotton prices – then Rs.2200 a quintal – to Rs.2700. That promise was to be betrayed just months after the polls – with terrible consequences.

In Maharashtra, cotton never received the support that sugarcane did. It was grown in poor regions by dryland farmers with far less political clout than the Pawars of western Maharashtra. As India embraced neo-liberal globalism, that clout waned further. On the one hand, cotton-growers were locked into the volatility of global prices. On the other, input costs were exploding. Local seed cost around Rs.9 a kilogram in 1991. By 2004, commercial seed had taken over and could cost as much as Rs.1,650 to Rs.1,800 for just 450 grams, thanks to Monsanto’s Bt cotton. State intervention later brought the price down to half that. But the damage had been done. And even today’s price of Rs.650-850 for less than half a kg is still many times higher than Rs.9 a kg. In Maharashtra, the State actively promoted the costly Bt seed, its own agency being a distributor. Huge sums also went to promoting it by using film stars as “brand ambassadors.”

Other inputs, fertilizer, pesticide, utilities like water and electricity, all saw a big rise in costs from the mid to late 1990s. Cotton covers about 5 per cent of cultivable area in India, but accounts for 55 per cent of all pesticides used. (That is in itself a huge problem with alarming long-term consequences for agriculture, environment and health as a whole.) With the massive spread of these, it is no surprise that most farmers taking their lives swallowed chemical pesticides to do so. They are so easy to access, perhaps far more so in this sector.

In Maharashtra, cotton has never received the support sugarcane has. It is grown in poor regions by dryland farmers with far less political clout than the Pawars of western Maharashtra.

Successive Indian governments did nothing to stop the dumping of subsidised U.S. cotton in this country. There are no duties on import of cotton today. India is the second biggest producer of what is one of the world’s most widely traded commodities. Yet between 1997-98 and 2004-05, we imported 115 lakh bales. That is, over three times the number we did in the preceding 25 years. This cheap imported cotton further devastated growers here. At the same time, like millions of other small farmers, they found bank loans harder and harder to access as rural credit shrank – by policy. Credit was increasingly diverted towards urban-metro consumption. Many farmers turned to moneylenders, ending up mired in debt.

While poor cotton farmers never developed much political and electoral clout, traders and textile barons did. Even if the barons were to pay a slightly better price – say an additional Rs.2 per metre of raw material went to the farmer – it would make a difference. It never happened.

By 2005, cotton prices collapsed. That’s when the Maharashtra government withdrew the Rs.500 per quintal “advance bonus” normally tagged on to the minimum support price (MSP) in the State. This saw the price plunging to Rs.1,700 a quintal. (Gold was at Rs.6,180 for ten grams.) Suicides in Vidarbha, already rising, shot up massively.

By September 2006, farmers in that region were killing themselves at the rate of one every six hours on average. The Vilasrao Deshmukh government had withdrawn the advance bonus in 2005 despite appeals from cotton growers, the National Commission for Farmers and many others. The next year, Vidarbha, indeed all of Maharashtra, recorded its worst rise in farm suicides ever. If the Deshmukh government could get away with that, it was because cotton had no strong lobby. Its electoral clout was feeble.

Across India, cotton growers make up the largest group of the over 180,000 farmers who committed suicide between 1997 and 2007. The cumulative impact of all these processes was crushing farmers locked into this model of production and into neo-liberal economics. In Vidarbha, for the first time ever, farmers grew more soybean than cotton as losses on the latter were killing them, literally.

There’s nothing like an election to spur policy change, though. In the run-up year to the polls, the Union government came through with its Rs.71,000 crore loan waiver for indebted farmers. In Maharashtra, the lion’s share of that waiver’s benefits went to just seven of the State’s 35 districts, none of them in the poor cotton-growing regions of Vidarbha and Marathwada. Most of them within the power base of Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar. And all this was about bank debt. Moneylender debt was not touched. Still, there was some relief.

The main loan waiver excluded those owning more than five acres. This penalised some of the poorest farmers. In unirrigated regions, even poor farmers tend to own more acres as productivity is so low. The government did respond to demands that dryland cultivators not be penalised for having more than five acres. After all, polls were now months away. The write-off that followed of Rs.20,000 for such farmers did help a significant group of growers in Vidarbha. And there was also some money that trickled down from even the awfully flawed packages.

Then came a healthy rise in cotton prices. The shifting of huge swathes of land in the U.S. to bio-fuel production pushed up prices last year. And a nearly 50 per cent rise in the MSP for cotton took the price to Rs.3,000 per quintal. In Vidarbha, it meant that about seven months of 2008 were the best period the region had seen in years. No basic problem had been resolved, but it brought some relief and reduced the stifling pressure. A pity it took so many deaths – and election year – for that to happen.

The rise in MSP to Rs.3,000 was also an admission of how disastrous the Deshmukh government’s torpedoing the price to Rs.1700 a quintal had been. And the removal of that Chief Minister also won the region’s approval.

To what extent this helps the Congress in these Lok Sabha polls is hard to gauge. There is the BSP factor that is very real and could mess up all bets. (It played a big role in 2004, too. In four seats, the BSP polled far more votes than the margin of defeat of Congress-NCP candidates.) But the Congress faces less hostility than it did three years ago. Whether it can play that to its advantage is another question. And the long-term future of White Gold here is an even bigger one.

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P. Sainath is the 2007 winner of the Ramon Magsaysay award for Journalism, Literature, and Creative Communication Arts. He is one of the two recipients of the A.H. Boerma Award, 2001, granted for his contributions in changing the nature of the development debate on food, hunger and rural development in the Indian med

Posted in Opinion pieces, Vidharba Crisis | Leave a Comment »

Farmers’ demand for conditional cash transfer scheme is justified

Posted by Ramoo on April 8, 2009

http://www.dnaindia.com/report.asp?newsid=1246132

By – P S M Rao

As politicians lend their ears only on the poll eve, those who are working for the cause of people too seek to bring in pressure during that time and try to articulate their demands. A similar exercise is seen in AP from the farmers’ associations and groups working for the betterment of the lives of the farming community.

Almost all the farmers’ unions in the state and some 100 NGOs working in the areas of sustainable agriculture have endorsed a manifesto for the farmers. The Centre for Sustainable Agriculture has articulated their demands in the manifesto, particularly for income support, a cash transfer scheme, to the farmers. The demands are interesting to examine closely not only in the context of the Telugu Desham taking up the proposal of Cash Transfer Scheme but also because they are relevant for the farming community all over India.

To ensure sustainable income and livelihood security, the farmers’ groups are asking for ensuring a minimum income to them through agricultural operations. Towards this end, they want the appointment, by the government, of an Income Commission as a statutory body that would examine the real incomes of the farmers every year and would come out with recommendation to ensure minimum income to support their life.
Income Commission to farmers

MS Swaminathan too is advocating for an arrangement like this. He wants the government to focus its attention in the regular budget for 2009-10 on appointing an Income Commission for farmers. Justifying his claim, Swaminathan argues that the recommendations of the 6th Central Pay Commission, which provide benefit to 4.5 million central government employees and 3.8 million pensioners, were not only accepted but were improved upon by the government. So, he suggests that the major political parties should commit themselves to establishing a Farm Income Commission which can go into the totality of the income of farmers from crop and animal husbandry, fisheries, agro-forestry and agro-processing, and suggest ways of ensuring a minimum take home income to farmers.

Reverting to the AP farmers’ demand, they want the proposed Commission should adopt a multi component approach. The components include: i) Remunerative prices should be fixed for agricultural produce. The pricing for agricultural commodities should be based on the real cost of production, that is through neutralising the effect of inflation. The minimum support price should be 50% more than the actual cost as recommended by the National Farmers’ Commission. The determination of support should be transparent and be announced before the beginning of the crop season. They also want a state-level agricultural costs and prices commission and a price stabilisation fund.
ii) Labour wage support should be provided for agricultural operations. It is ironic that the agricultural workers are unable get employment while the farmers are not able to afford agriculture workers due to increasing costs of living. The government should therefore provide input subsidy in the form of labour wages (up to 100 days in a calendar year) to the farmer to monetise the use of family labour or to pay external labour engaged on the farm in order to support both the farmers and farm labourers. The activities to be supported should include all agricultural operations, from sowing to harvesting. This can be operationalised on similar lines as NREGS, or by suitably increasing the number of days covered under NREGS and extending it to agricultural work.

iii) Steps should be taken to increase rural employment opportunities. This should be done through systematically promoting post-harvest operations and value addition enterprises at the village level; the net income of farmers can thus be directly increased. By promoting agriculture-centred small scale rural industry, the rural economy can be given a big boost, correcting the rural-urban imbalance and migration.
iv) There should be an arrangement for the social security measures like pension and insurance to the farmers and farm labourers.

Cash support to farmers
Finally, and more importantly, arrangement should be made for direct income support to farmers. Even after implementation of measures listed above, farmers are not expected to get living income. The direct cash support is, therefore, necessary. They want this support in the form of a fixed amount per family, given to all cultivators including tenant farmers. This direct cash support, together with other measures, should ensure that every agricultural family can maintain a fair living standard. This could be set at Rs 15,000 per family and revised every year by the Commission.

The farmers want support for sustainable ecological farming to ensure food security and livelihood support on a sustainable basis. Small and marginal farmers in many parts of India have achieved success through low-input sustainable methods which not only helped them but also boosted soil fertility.

Farmers want the government to promote sustainable agriculture to maximise the use of local resources. Farmers adopting organic/ecological farming should also receive financial support from the government for their own input use. They also want restrictions on agrochemicals that are banned the world over and a ban on GM crops till their bio-safety is proven beyond doubt. Also, they want support for research in organic farming, demonstrations by agricultural department on the success of organic farming and strengthening the farmers’ training centres in which the experienced farmers should be used as resource persons.

These demands of the farmers are not at all unreasonable, particularly for the direct cash transfer. This is because they are not asking for the support without working. They want to engage in farming activity and want support only to allow them to be in the profession; in other words they want a conditional cash transfer scheme.

In fact there have been repeated claims in the discourse on agriculture that farming on a small scale is not viable and as much as 50% of the farmers can be withdrawn from the occupation without affecting the total production. That means about 30 crore people are additionally depending on agriculture. Considering this to be true and, as many farmers are willing to come out of agriculture, where are the avenues of employment to them in the non-agricultural activity? If such employment is guaranteed, there is no problem, but it is impossible for the government to do so. It therefore should support the farmers and meet their reasonable demand including the cash support.

Besides this need, the bad state of agriculture in AP also calls for an urgent action to protect the farmers and farming. As many as 16 of the 32 districts identified by the central government as worst affected are in AP. As many as 1797 farmers have committed suicide in 2007 (2607 in 2006) – AP occupies the second place after Maharashtra in farmers’ suicides. Similarly, 82% of the farmers in the state are indebted and 66% to non-institutional sources, as per NSSO data. The input costs of farming have risen by 300% in the past five years and the prices of produce have not kept pace, leading the farmers into a crisis situation.

So, the cash support to 1.2 crore farmers of the state, which is estimated to cost Rs 25,000 crore or 25% of the state’s budget, is quite reasonable and warrants a serious consideration from political parties. In reality, the actual cost may be much less than this estimate because the government is going to save on the schemes of indirect support which are not found beneficial to the farmers. Even otherwise, this cost which should be treated as an essential social cost for the enormous social benefit of supporting the farmers will not be too much. Neglecting agriculture and avoiding timely measures will only lead to a catastrophic situation. After all, it was agriculture, as admitted by the UPA government, that saved India from falling into a deeper economic crisis.

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A smarter way to combat hunger

Posted by Ramoo on March 18, 2009

Pedro A. Sanchez1

  1. Pedro A. Sanchez is senior research scholar and director of tropical agriculture at the Earth Institute at Columbia University, 61 Route 9W, Palisades, New York 10964, USA.
    Email: psanchez@ei.columbia.edu
http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v458/n7235/full/458148a.html
Abstract

Traditional approaches to supplying food are an inefficient ‘band aid’, says Pedro A. Sanchez. New evidence shows that helping farmers to help themselves is more effective and would be six times cheaper.

After decades of progress in the fight to vanquish world hunger, the number of undernourished people is growing again. Estimates from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations suggest that 963 million people1 in poor countries are chronically or acutely hungry — up 109 million from 2004 estimates2. The underlying causes — changes in food and energy prices3 — have been exacerbated by the financial crisis and obsolete development policies.

Policies should shift from prioritizing food aid to providing poor farmers with access to training, markets and to farm inputs such as fertilizer and improved seed. In addition to being cheaper, such investments allow farmers to grow food to feed themselves, to sell the surplus and to diversify into high-value crops, livestock and tree products. This creates a sustainable exit from the poverty trap, thereby decreasing the requirement for aid. Although marginal populations, or those affected by disasters, will still require assistance, procuring this food from within developing countries provides a cheaper alternative than shipping it from abroad.

A smarter way to combat hunger

P. SANCHEZ

The predominant policies to tackle hunger epitomize a ‘band-aid’ approach — quick fixes that fail to address the causes of hunger. In 2006, the United States spent US$1.2 billion in food aid for Africa, but only $60 million on agricultural development there4. The international response has generally been similar. But according to estimates from 2004, only 10% of those who are hungry in poor countries are acutely hungry — those facing famine caused by wars, natural disasters or sheer destitution. The other 90% are chronically hungry, leading to malnutrition that compromises immune systems and contributes to the prevalence of diarrhoea, malaria and other diseases that result in high child mortality2. Most of those who are chronically hungry live in rural farm households in Africa and South Asia.

Food aid fails to provide a sustainable solution to hunger and poverty and it is comparatively expensive. It costs $812 to deliver one tonne of maize as US food aid to a distribution point in Africa5. As part of the Millennium Villages project, which I co-direct, smallholder farmers (those who farm 0.1–5 hectares) in hunger hot spots across Africa were provided with access to fertilizers, improved seed, technical support and markets. As a result, maize yields more than doubled — from 1.7 to 4.1 tonnes per hectare6. And following a national ‘smart’ subsidy programme for fertilizer and hybrid seed in Malawi, average maize yields increased from 0.8 to 2.0 tonnes per hectare in two years7.

The fertilizer and improved seed required to produce an additional tonne of maize grain by Millennium Village farmers cost an average of $135 at April 2008 prices6, six times less than through food aid. Purchasing that same tonne of maize locally — in an African country or a neighbouring one — costs approximately $320 (ref.5). If farmers in Africa raise their average cereal yields to 3 tonnes per hectare, the additional 200 million tonnes grown in the 100 million hectares of smallholder crop land will more than compensate for the 3.2 million tonnes of food aid8.

Although estimates of efficiency vary, they indicate a major leap for development assistance. Shifting 50% of the current US food-aid budget to ‘smart’ subsidies or credit could help millions supply their own food and meet much of the aid demand. Such a move would be budget neutral.

Even buying food locally represents an important step away from the inefficient food-aid approach. Some institutions have already begun to change their methods. In 2007, CARE International, a leading relief organization headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, announced that it would stop monetizing food aid (selling some of the food to fund their operations), essentially losing $46 million a year. Also in 2007, the World Food Programme procured 43% of the 2 million tonnes of food required for its Africa relief operations from farmers in Africa at an average cost of $280 per tonne — compared with the average cost of $436 for purchases elsewhere9. The new Purchase for Progress programme, launched in September 2008 and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation further empowers the World Food Programme to purchase food from African farmers.

Most importantly, the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon is leading the development of a coordination mechanism for large-scale financial support for poor countries seeking to provide farm investment. The Spanish government has pledged euro dollar1 billion (US$1.3 billion) over five years for this effort, which should begin this year, and the European parliament has promised a similar amount. With more programmes aimed at merging food aid with reliable farming investment, the numbers of those who are chronically hungry should begin to fall.

Join the debate at http://tinyurl.com/cy3xc6.

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References
  1. Diouf, J. Speech at High-Level Meeting on Food Security for All Madrid, 26–27 January 2009. Available athttp://www.ransa2009.org/docs/docs/speech_DG_FAO_ransa2009.doc.pdf
  2. Sanchez, P. A. & Swaminathan, M. S. Science 307, 357–359 (2005). | Article | PubMed | ChemPort |
  3. von Braun, J. Nature 456, 701 (2008). | Article | PubMed | ChemPort |
  4. The Chicago Initiative on Global Agricultural Development Renewing American Leadership in the Fight Against Global Hunger and Poverty(Chicago Council on Global Affairs, 2009). Available athttp://www.thechicagocouncil.org/globalagdevelopment/pdf/gadp_final_report.pdf
  5. Garrett, L. A. Food Failures and Futures Maurice R. Greenberg Center for Geoeconomic Studies Working Paper (Council on Foreign Relations, 2008).
  6. Sanchez, P. A., Denning, G. L. & Nziguheba, G. Food Security 1, 37–44 (2009). | Article |
  7. Denning, G. et al. PLoS Biol. 7, e1000023 (2009). | Article |
  8. http://one.wfp.org/interfais/2008/tables/Table10.pdf
  9. Jury, A. New Roles for Food Assistance: How Can Food Aid Support Agricultural Growth and Productive Safety Nets in Africa? Presentation at the World Food Prize Symp., 22 October 2008 (World Food Programme,2008).

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At Farm’s hand

Posted by Ramoo on March 17, 2009

http://www.downtoearth.org.in/full6.asp?foldername=20090331&filename=croc&sec_id=10&sid=1

At farm’s hand

An assured income for farmers will make agriculture viable and ensure food security
In his budget speech finance minister Pranab Mukherjee claimed that agriculture, services, manufacturing along with trade and construction were drivers of the country’s growth in the past few years. But actually agriculture should not be slotted in the same bracket as manufacturing and services. Agricultural growth averaged 2.5 per cent in the past five years. This pales in comparison to the 10 per cent growth achieved by manufacturing and services in the same period.
Agriculture, in fact, touched a terrible low between 1997 and 2008 with 182,936 farmers committing suicide—according to government records. The returns from agriculture are paltry in comparison to other vocations. Let us consider some figures. Between 1997 and 2007, salaries of government employees increased by over 150 per cent—we are not even looking at the hikes proposed by the sixth pay commission and the earnings of our mlas increased by 500 per cent, but the farmer could manage only a 25 per cent increase in the prices of his produce. Prices of non-agricultural commodities, meanwhile, shot up by 300-600 per cent. The prices of agricultural inputs went up by 400 per cent.
This disparity has struck the farmer hard. The Arjun Sengupta committee on the unorganized sector reckons that an average Indian farmer’s monthly income is Rs 2,115 while his expenditure is Rs 2,770 every month.
Successive governments have tried to keep agricultural prices low to ensure cheap labour—the rationale being that cheap food will make labour cheap. But the farmer’s bill on other inputs has gone spiralling. The minimum support prices do not ensure a fair return to the farmer who has to spend a fortune on hybrid seeds, GM crops and new generation pesticides. And in any case, the government announces msps for only 33 agricultural commodities and intervenes in market operations only for rice and wheat. So farmers growing other crops are left to the mercy of markets.
The National Commission on Farmers has stated the government should ensure farmers earn a “minimum net income”, and also make sure that agricultural progress be measured by the increase in that income. It should appoint a statutory body—a Farmers Income Commission—to examine the real income of farmers every year across the state.
The government should ensure remunerative prices for agricultural produce. The prices for agricultural commodities should be based on the real cost of production and linked with inflation. msps should be announced before the beginning of each crop season and procurement must be timely.
Today agricultural workers don’t find employment and at the same time farmers cannot afford to pay for labour. The government should provide input subsidy in the form of labour wages (up to 100 days in a calendar year) to farmers to monetize family labour or to pay other farm labourers. This subsidy should include all agricultural operations from sowing to harvesting. It can be operationalized on similar lines as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, or by extending the scheme to agricultural work. This will also help agricultural workers.
The net income of farmers can be increased by promoting post-harvest oerations at the village level. Agriculture-centered small scale industry can give the rural economy a boost
But these measures will only help partially. It is essential to provide direct cash payment to make up for the shortfall. All cultivators should be given fixed cash support to ensure them a fair living standard. This could be set at Rs 15,000 per family and revised every year by the commission.
If we consider the 9 crore farmer families in the country, the government’s annual expenditure on this support will come to Rs 1.35 lakh crores. If we add the labour wage support, the government’s subsidy bill will go up by another 1 lakh crores. But by spending Rs 2.35 lakh crores, the government can extricate more than 50 per cent of people from the below poverty line trap.

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G V Ramanjaneyulu is with Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Hyderabad. He can be reached at gvramanjeyulu@gmail.com

Posted in Economix, Opinion pieces, Policies | 1 Comment »

NREGA barrier to economic development

Posted by Ramoo on March 16, 2009

http://timesofindia.indiatimes..com/Business/NREGA-barrier-to-growth-World-Bank/articleshow/4266637.cms

NEW DELHI: The World Bank has described the much-acclaimed National Rural Employment Guarantee (NREGA) scheme of the UPA government as a policy

barrier hurting economic development and poverty alleviation.

Various schemes of the Indian government like NREGA, watershed programmes and schemes for development of small and medium towns are acting as “policy barriers to internal mobility”, the bank said in its ‘World Development Report’ 2009.
The internal mobility, the report argued, is necessary as “lifting people out of poverty requires shifting populations from villages to cities”. The process of migration should be encouraged, the bank said.
“Negative attitudes held by (the) government and ignorance of the benefits of population mobility have caused migration to be overlooked as a force in economic development,” it said.
The report said economic benefits of migration are not always recognised by policy makers and, in fact, two forms of policy have been attempted in India to counter migration.
“The first response has been to increase rural employment, in an attempt to stem movement out of rural areas … These measures include the recently introduced National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme,” it said.

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http://www.iom.int/jahia/webdav/site/myjahiasite/shared/shared/mainsite/published_docs/studies_and_reports/WMR2008/Ch7_WMR08.pdf

Posted in Labour, NREGA | 3 Comments »