Anatomy of a health disaster

By P Sainath

Janreddy’s family survived crop failure. But debts of Rs 300,000 to cover health costs have nearly destroyed them. Loans taken to cover health costs have been a major contributor to the debt-suicide cycle in Andhra Pradesh

Janreddy sat wracked with pain, a picture of ill health. “Why isn’t this man on his way to hospital,” we asked the neighbours crowding around his bed. “Well,” they said nervously, “we just brought him home from one. He was there for days. This family has already lost all its money on hospitals.”

Janreddy died hours after we met him. His daughter-in-law, who became a bonded labourer to keep the family afloat, will remain one till debts of Rs 500,000 are paid off. Over Rs 300,000 of that was incurred on medical costs. His wife, who donated one kidney to her son — both of his had collapsed — does any work she can find. The son, Narsi Reddy, confined to the house, has to drink only the purest water in a place where there is none. His medicines cost around Rs 1,000 a month.

The huge medical bills of this family of six were incurred despite the son getting free operations at the Osmania Government Hospital in Hyderabad. They had first gone to private hospitals for check-ups, a biopsy and other tasks. As the costs mounted they sold off land and cattle to meet them. That Narsi Reddy had sunk four borewells didn’t help. All of them failed. Crisis on their four-acre farm in Chelliagudam village of Nalgonda district saw Janreddy’s health also cave in. “They might just have survived the crop failure,” say the neighbours, “but their medical costs destroyed them.”

Health spending is amongst the fastest growing components of rural family debt. More so in Andhra Pradesh. For years, the state boosted the private sector in health, promoted corporate hospitals and pioneered the ‘user fees’ system in government ones.

“The Chandrababu Naidu government dismantled the public health system,” says M Geyanand, a leading doctor from Anantapur district. Dr Geyanand is also state president of the Jana Vignyana Vedika (JVV), a body that aims to promote popular science and the scientific temper. “Ninety per cent of patients who go to public hospitals are poor. When that system fails them, they turn to private ones at a huge price. Health costs often count for as much as 20-25% of the total expenditures of such households. And a single medical emergency can ruin them.”

A common thread running through the farmers’ suicides plaguing the state has been very high medical spending. Just five households affected by such deaths had health costs totalling around Rs 400,000. All of them farming families who held between half-an-acre and three acres of land (some of that mortgaged). Janreddy’s family has not seen a suicide. But it fits this profile rather well.

As do countless other poor households. Even last year, we ran into a farmer who had attempted suicide in the Nallamada mandal of Anantapur district. His friends managed to get him to a hospital just in time. The rescued farmer abused his saviours. The reason: The four-day stay and treatment in hospital cost Rs 45,000. “I tried to commit suicide because I could not pay debts of Rs 150,000,” he said bitterly. “Now I owe even more.”

Many of those who succeeded in taking their lives in 2004 had huge medical bills. P Hanumantha Reddy’s family in Nizamabad district owes Rs 200,000. The survivors of A Narasimhalu in Medak have to rustle up Rs 70,000 plus interest. The tab for K Shivarajaiah’s family in the same district is Rs 50,000. All this was money borrowed at absurd rates of interest.

“There is a link between the suicides and the crisis of health in Andhra,” says Dr Geyanand. “The collapse of the public health system is crucial. In any poor village, you can see people dying of diseases that should not kill them. Malaria is just one example. For years now, all their support systems have been slashed. The costs are so high, they run out of money halfway through treatment. Those who fall ill are selling land, gold, cattle and other assets to pay medical bills. They also take loans they can never repay.”

In the past decade, the little access the poor had to health sharply declined. So Gunala Kumar discovered when he had to fork out Rs 40,000 in medical costs to private hospitals in Medak. That remains a big chunk in his total debt of over Rs 200,000. A debt that caused him to take his own life in Meerdoddi village this month. Like his father who committed suicide last year.

“Maybe it is better to die,” says Yekalapu Husein of Shabuddlapur in Nalgonda. “How will we pay the fees they ask us to at these hospitals?” A toddy-tapper who suffered a fall from a tree while at work, Husein has run up huge bills himself. Then came his malnourished wife’s illness. His ‘medical debt’ now stands at Rs 200,000. “Even if we get free care at Osmania Hospital,” he laughs, “we do not have money for the bus fare to Hyderabad and back.”

In G Edavalli village in the same district, the local rural medical practitioner sold all his land to pay his own treatment costs of Rs 400,000 at a corporate hospital in Hyderabad.

In the years these dramas unfolded, public hospitals were starved of funds, medicines and drugs. Given Rs 600 crore by the World Bank for public health, the Naidu government spent this mostly on buildings. Very few doctors or nurses were recruited. The buildings now show decay for lack of maintenance. Naidu also authored a government ‘tie-up’ with corporate bodies. Under this, employees of the state went to corporate, not public hospitals. The government reimbursed their costs. This meant a windfall for those hospitals. It also meant many scams in the shape of inflated reimbursement bills. Meanwhile, health institutions in the public sphere suffered.

“The introduction of ‘user fees’ made health even less accessible to the poor,” says a senior IAS officer. The fees have since been withdrawn by the new state government. Also dumped was an idea of handing over some super-specialty departments of public hospitals to ‘private management’. That is, to corporate hospitals.

The damage, though, has been done. The medical costs of those who preferred death to debt still plague the living. We pass Janreddy’s wife at the bus stand, looking for any ‘coolie work’ she can find. There are, after all, bills to be paid.

This article originally appeared in The Hindu , July 1, 2004

(P Sainath is Rural Affairs Editor of The Hindu.  He received the A H Boerma Award, in 2001, for his contributions to the development debate in the Indian media. This article first appeared in The Hindu)

Less for farmers, more for votes


NSS data and other studies have shown that the income of farmers have been low and stagnant due to several problems viz. increasing risk and uncertainty in cultivation, absence of a proper crop insurance scheme, spurious seeds and pesticide serious water problems, lack of extension services particularly for commercial crops, lack of proper marketing, remunerative prices for their crops, lack of irrigation facilities, lack of non-farm activities in rural areas and lack of health facilities. Finance Minister is non-attentive to these problems.

As this huge amounts were not written off, banks have to keep it as their assets and have to bear the consequent burden of it. These assets are called “Non-performing Assets” i.e. the assets which are actually not in existence. Virtually under the pressure of banking sector, the Finance Minister has shifted his treachery to the state treasury. How and wherefrom will the huge money come? Will he take resort to his new economic guru Keynes’ panacea of printing money? Definitely it will raise the inflation, concomitant effect of which will be felt in commodity market as well.

As a result of this lavish subsidies, the US and EU countries are flooding our market with artificially cheap agri-products with the help of their export subsidies, domestic supports and our free-market access policies.

UPA government is doing nothing to protect the agriculture sector besides appeasing a few farmers for voting purposes. Farm loan waiver scheme is nothing but a political agenda to woo the few gullible and credulous farmers. UPA government has actually buckled down the US and EU countries by agreeing to their conditional ties to harm our agriculture sector.

Shri P. Chidambaram, the ardent follower of Friedman brand of market-driven economy and critic of Keynes’ brand of state- controlled economy, has now taken the Keynesian panacea of using state exchequer to the tune of Rs. 60,000 crore to write off farm loans.
The Finance Minister has announced a complete loan waiver for marginal farmers with land holdings of up to two hectares and for other categories of farmers, he has proposed One Time Settlement (OTS), with the government giving a rebate of 25 per cent if a farmer pays 75 per cent of the loan overdue. Total burden on the exchequer will be Rs 60,000 crore. Definitely private banks will not be affected with this waiver because they have very little direct loans exposure to farmers.

Now the question which invariably arises in the minds of the common people is what will it actually benefit the target agriculturist and the agriculture sector of the country as a whole? How far it will provide respite to the small and marginal farmers? At present half of the farmers are in the small and marginal category i.e. more than four crore. As per budget speech of 2006, out of the total number of cultivator households only 27 per cent receive credit from formal sources and 22 per cent from informal sources. The remaining households, mainly small and marginal farmers, have virtually no access to credit.

The same Finance Minister is announcing respite to small and marginal farmers from bank farm loans. Is it not statistical jugglery? Or a mere paper adjustment? During earlier Congress regime it was the practice of the Government to write-off bank loans, as a result of which banks became moribund and the state-controlled bank capital converted to political capital. The amount of outstanding bank credit swelled from Rs 7,04,087 crore in 2003 to Rs. 21,82,311 crore in 2008, up to January.

As these huge amounts were not written off, banks have to keep it as their assets and have to bear the consequent burden of it. These assets are called “Non-performing assets” i.e. the assets which are actually not in existence. Virtually under the pressure of banking sector, the Finance Minister has shifted his treachery to the state treasury. How and wherefrom the huge money will come? Will he take resort to his new economic guru Keynes’ panacea of printing money? Definitely it will raise the inflation, concomitant effect of which will be felt in commodity market as well. There will be artificial scarcity of essential commodities and consequential spiraling of prices.

Now let us see whether the Finance Minister of Congress Communist-led UPA Government has actually taken honest endeavour to improve our agriculture. In the foregoing paragraph I have shown that 73 per cent farmers have no access to formal sources of credit. Quite evidently they are easily vulnerable to local money tenders. It is therefore, quite understandably true that this farm loan waiver scheme will have no tangible effect on the agricultural sector of India.

The whole scheme is just statistical jugglery.
The huge amount of state capital will be turned into bureaucratic political capital. It is not correct that this fact is not known to the Finance Minister. In July, 2007 the expert group on agriculture indebtedness submitted their report to the Finance Ministry and noted that most marginal farmers were highly dependent on private money lenders. The formal banking institutions account for only two-fifth of the total outstanding loans in the country. About 77.4 per cent of the farmers own only 0.01 hectare of land whereas the Finance Minister’s present magic scheme is meant for farmers owing less than two hectares of land.
As per expert group’s study it is therefore clear that 77.4 per cent of Indian farmers who own less than two hectares of land but are miserably stuck with money lenders, are out of the purview of Prime Minister’s onerous scheme. For this vulnerable section the expert group suggested the creation of Money Lender Debt Redemption Fund. But the Finance Minister did not pay any heed to this suggestion in this budget. Rather he walked through the easiest way of winning our age-old credulous villagers. To him, target voters precious than the Indian agriculture.

NSS data and other studies have shown that income of farmers have been low and stagnant due to several problems viz. increasing risk and uncertainty in cultivation: absence of a proper crop insurance scheme: spurious seeds and pesticides; serious water problems; lack of extension services particularly for commercial crops; lack of proper marketing; remunerative prices for their crops; lack of irrigation facilities; lack of non farm activities in rural areas and lack of health facilities.

Finance Minister is non-attentive to these problems. Farmers are not getting minimum prices, not to speak of profitable prices.
Commission for Agriculture Cost and Prices (CACP) has recommended substantial increase in Minimum Support Price (MSP) for all crops. Swaminathan Commission has suggested a formula of calculating MSP as cost of production plus an additional 50 per cent. Communist supported UPA Government is very much averse to all these recommendations and suggestions.

But why aversion? When it was clearly revealed in New York Times that developed world funnels nearly $ 1 billion a day in subsidies to encourage over-production and drive down prices; Oxfam, and internationally famed NGO, accuses the rich countries of giving more than $ 300 billion annually as subsides towards agribusiness. Even World Bank President, Paul Walfowitz admitted that the developed countries are spending $ 280 billion to support agricultural producers.

Our Indian Government allocates a bare minimum amount in agricultural research. The expenditure on agriculture research is only around 0.3 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This is much lower than the level of one per cent GDP for developing countries.

As a result of this lavish subsidies, the US and EU countries are flooding our market with artificially cheap agri-products with the help of their export subsidies, domestic supports and our free-market access policies.

Under South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA), Government of India has reduced the duty to zero per cent on meat, fish, milk, dairy products and dry fruits from Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives and drastically reduced the duty on such goods imported from Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Indian markets have become the dumping ground of foreign cheap products.
Indian farmers, in absence of domestics subsidies on geographical, environmental and natural hazards, export subsidies, remunerative Government supported price, proper exploitation of free market and honest research work, are now languishing under severe hunger and debt-trap of money lenders leading to thousands of cases of farmer suicides all over the country.

The greatest problem of Indian agriculture is the lack of proper marketing. Our Government had never tried to create a strong marketing infrastructure for all the crops.

As a result, some experts say, that there is a huge influx of cheap imported agricultural products. The subsequent bumper crops in some states of India, led to several cases of farmer suicides from 2006 on wards as farmers had to sell their farm produce very cheaply. Government did nothing to buy and conserve or find market for the produce by giving export subsidy.

UPA Government is doing nothing to protect the agriculture sector. It is only appeasing few farmers for voting purposes.

Farm loan waiver scheme is nothing but a political agenda to woo the few gullible and credulous farmers. UPA Government has actually buckled down the US and EU countries by agreeing to their conditional ties to harm our agriculture sector.

Our farmers are only born to die on expectations and disappointments year after years of budgets.

(The author, senior trade union leader can be contacted at B-35/4, Kalindi Housing Society, Lake Town, Kolkata-700 089.)

Budget 2008-09 Wolf in sheep clothing

By Dr. Vandana Shiva

Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, delivered his 2008-09, budget speech in Parliament on February 29, 2008 as revolutionary and path breaking and a solution to farmers distress. However, it continues on the path of trade liberalisation, corporate control and debt creation that has led to massive dislocation of farmers and the epidemic of farmers suicides. The budget is in fact a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Why are farmers committing suicide? The reasons are clear—rising costs of production and falling prices of agricultural produce. The government’s pride in announcing that agricultural credit has reached Rs. 2,40,000 crore by March 2008 hides the fact that more credit means more debt. Instead of promoting low cost sustainable farming systems based on principles of agro ecology, which frees the farmer of debt the government’s policy thrust is to continue financing high cost, non-sustainable agriculture, and hence a debt creating agriculture.

The highlight of the budget was the loan waiver of farmers debt to the extent of Rs. 60,000 crore. This is a mere four per cent of all bank loans. What happens to the remaining 96 per cent? And most farmers are indebted to money lenders, not to banks. The Finance Minister’s speech was totally silent on the private debt that farmers are victims of.

The Finance Minister referred to the loan waiver as “discharging a deep debt of gratitude to farmers”. However, the debt to farmers is far from discharged in the present budget. Farmers need fairness and dignity. All aspects of fairness and dignity for farmers are missing. Farmers are in distress because seed has been monopolised by corporations like Monsanto selling toxic Bt. Cotton to farmers on credit and trapping them in debt. Not a word in the budget addressed the seed rights and seed sovereignty of farmers or the need for action to prevent monopolies over seed, the first link in the food chain. The Finance Minister in fact announced tax exemption for the seed industry and equated a gene giant like Monsanto with small and marginal farmers. Nor did the Minister pay a debt of gratitude to farmers by announcing an increase in Minimum Support Prices (MSP). If the Finance Minister had announced for farmer run community seed bank, it would have been an indication that he understands the causes of the agrarian crisis and has some sense about real solution of farmers need.

The budget speech referred to the volatile global economy and its impact on domestic prices of wheat. Yet the government has continued to import high cost wheat, linking the food rights of the poor in India to a global casino economy based on betting on commodities future markets. The reference to the Prime Minister’s statement that “we are determined to become self-sufficient in food grain” becomes vacuous in the context of failure to increase MSP for farmers, and in the context of the governments continued preference to create markets for global MNC’s rather than our own farmers. Three vital elements for ensuring the nations food security and food sovereignty are-

1.

Stopping wheat imports,
2.

bringing back Quantitative Restrictions (Q.Rs)
3.

scrapping the U.S India Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture which in effect is a plan to hand over control of India’s seed sector to Monsanto, domestic and International grain trade to agribusiness corporations such as Cargill, Conagra, Levers etc and the retail market to Walmart and Reliance.

The budget has been put forward when North India has had massive crop damage due to frost and floods. Yet the weather related crop insurance is a pathetic 50 crore. There is no anticipatory strategy for adapting agriculture to climate change. In fact the very systems of small scale, biodiverse, organic agriculture which will solve the problem of farmers indebtedness will also help small and marginal farmers adapt to climate change. And instead of mitigating climate change, the budget actually is a recipe for increasing emissions. The Minister made a commitment to continue and increase subsidies for chemical fertilizers, even though chemical fertilizers emit nitrogen oxides, which are 300 times more lethal than carbon dioxide. The Ministers reference to raising more loans from the World Bank for large irrigation projects portends threats of water privatisation as shown in all World Bank water sector loans. How much of the Rs. 20,000 crore irrigation budget is redressing of the failed River Linking Project was not clarified.

Over all, the budget is more of the same. It is the policy wolf that has created the agrarian crisis parading as a sheep offering rescue to our distressed farmers.

(The author is a respected social activist and founder director of Navdanya and can be contacted at vshiva@vsnl.com)

Exit Policy for Farmers

As India is dumped with cheap agricultural products, farmers are being squeezed out of their livelihood, putting the nation’s food security at stake
Devinder Sharma Delhi
When Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram said the other day that India could do with 20 per cent of the existing farmers, he was merely echoeing what the World Bank/IMF have been saying for long. No wonder, the government seems to be in a tearing hurry to lay out an ‘exit policy’ for farmers.
From food self-sufficiency to market economy, the world has come a long way since the days of Green Revolution. But some 20 years back with the World Bank/IMF clearly tying up credit under the structural adjustment policies with crop diversification, the agricultural policies began to change. It is now forcing India to shift from staple foods (crucial for food security needs) to cash crops that meet the luxury requirement of the western countries. In the process, India, like other developing countries, is being forced to dismantle state support to food procurement, withdraw price support to farmers, and relax land-ceiling laws that enable the corporate sector to move into agriculture.
As I flip through the pages of the World Development Report 2008, I realise how meticulously the corporate takeover of Indian agriculture has been planned. The language used in the report may be fancy and seductive, but the message it conveys is crystal clear. Amidst the talk of sustainable agriculture and restoring soil fertility, it actually talks of providing appropriate training to the rural population to move them out to the cities. It also talks of encouraging land rentals, and thereby moving the agribusiness companies to gradually take over farming. Contract farming, food-retail chains and corporate agriculture are the ways it suggests for making agriculture more competitive.
This reminds me of what a former vice-president of the World Bank and the then chairman of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), Ismail Serageldin, had warned way back in the mid 1990s. Addressing a conference at the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation in Chennai, he had quoted a 1995 World Bank study, which had predicted that the number of people migrating from the rural to the urban centres in India by the year 2010, which is not far away now, would be equal to twice the combined population of UK, France and Germany.
The combined population of UK, France and Germany is close to 200 million. In other words, 400 million are expected to be taking the distress migration route. It now dawns on me that the 1995 World Bank study was not intended to be a warning. It actually laid out a roadmap, that was subsequently strengthened in the annual reports from the World Bank. The World Development Report 2008 only takes us to the final step. With the process to exacerbate the exodus from the rural to the urban centres already in place, it now suggests setting up industrial training institute where farmers could learn to be factory workers.
Facilitating the process is the plethora of national policies that are either being amended or recast at a frantic pace. Ever since economic liberalisation was ushered in 1991, every policy worth the name is being either amended or recast. Whether it is the seed policy, water policy, biodiversity policy, forest and tribals policy, environment policy, biotechnology policy, trade policy, food safety policy or the kisan policy, the underlying objective is crystal clear – pave way for private control. As far as agriculture is concerned, the policies framework is to facilitate the entry of the agribusiness industry.
Let me illustrate. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had sometimes back addressed a full meeting of the Planning Commission. He had stressed on a speedier amendment of the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act to “allow for contract and free marketing, organised retailing, smooth flow of raw materials to agro-processing industries, competitive trading and adoption of innovative marketing system,” so that these are in tune with the demand of the domestic food industry. This move is also aimed at integrating Indian agriculture with the global economy, something that is spelt out by the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
By simply tinkering with the food management system, so assiduously built over the years, the government allowed private companies to make purchases directly from the farmers. The result: unwarranted wheat imports – touching 55 lakh tonnes in 2006 and another 35 lakh tonnes in 2007 – basically aimed at dismantling food self-sufficieny, the hallmark of national sovereignty. More importantly, wheat imports are coming at a time when there is no shortfall in its domestic production. Within a matter of few months, India has turned into world’s biggest importer of wheat.
Not only the Planning Commission, the prime minister has also been holding brain-storming sessions with the chief executives of key industries and stakeholders. No wonder, the Indian industry and business is upbeat at the potential of agriculture (read agribusiness). What, therefore, repeatedly comes out is the urgent need to invest Rs 1,50,000 crore in the next 10 years to provide a boost to the agro-business industry so as to achieve an annual growth rate of 10 per cent in food processing. Isn’t it strange that while there is no money for bailing out farmers in distress, there are no dearth of resources for the agri-business industry?
While the negative impact of WTO Agreement on Agriculture has not been studied in full, the government is preparing to enter into still more exploitative trade treaties with the Asian countries. The Free Trade Agreement that the government is contemplating to sign with the ASEAN countries puts four of India’s major commodities – oilseeds, tea, edible oils and pepper – on the chopping block. India has promised to further reduce the import duties thereby turning the country into a dump yard.
Setting up a time-bound National Food Security Mission by enhancing production of wheat, rice, pulses and edible oils comes at a time when the government itself is lowering the custom tariff, thereby allowing cheaper imports. Take the case of edible oils. India was almost self-sufficient in edible oils in 1993-94. Ever since the government began lowering the tariffs, edible oil imports have multiplied turning the country into the biggest importer. Small farmers growing oilseeds and that too in the rainfed areas of the country had to abandon production in the light of cheaper imports.
Liberalisation of the farm sector has already seen import surges. Agriculture commodity imports have gone up by 300 per cent between 2000-2004. Coconut oil imports for instance increased from 7,291 metric tonnes in 2004-05 to 22,307 metric tonnes in 2005-06. The import of pepper similarly increased from 2,186.3 tonnes in 1995-96 to 17,725.3 tonnes in 2004-05. These are not isolated cases. Imports of spices and plantation crops, including tea and coffee have been on an upswing. Importing food commodities is like importing unemployment.
A Indo-US agriculture technology cooperation is being put in place without first ascertaining the reasons behind the terrible agrarian crisis, much of it is the result of imposing environmentally-unfriendly alien technology, as the government embarks on the faulty promise of a ‘second’ green revolution. Coming at a time when the commerce ministry is on a fast track to bring in Special Economic Zones, the Indian industry is moving ahead to set up ‘rural hubs’ that will displace a large population of farmers. Fertile land is being increasingly acquired for industrialisation and real estate.
Privatisation of mandis, opening of food retail trade to foreign direct investment and pushing aggressively the highly controversial ‘contract farming’ is part of the agricultural reforms being undertaken. Budgetary support to the states undertaking such reforms has already been spelt out. In the name of increasing food production and minimising the price risks that farmers continue to be faced with, encouraging contract farming, future trading in agriculture commodities, land leasing, forming land-sharing companies, direct procurement of farm commodities and dismantling the procurement system have little or nothing to do with revitalising agriculture.
It is certainly time for farmers to exit agriculture. With farmers already disappearing from the US and with EU fast keeping pace, it is now India’s turn. What is, however, not being realised is that with cheap agricultural products swamping India, and with farmers being deliberately pushed out of agriculture, we will soon be a witness to probably a much bigger and heinous environmental displacement. This time it is not going to be for big dams and hydel projects but agriculture. And still worse, it is not happening inadvertently, it has been part of the design. Wait and watch for the resulting consequences.

Vidarbha suicides: A concern for the nation

Narendra Ch

03 April 2008, Thursday
http://www.merinews.com/catFull.jsp?articleID=128983

ON GOING Vidarbha agrarian crisis has hit hard third year in row when 1211 distressed farmers committed suicides as per “Farmer suicide dairy” of Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti (VJAS), which has released monthly and district wise data of farmers suicides listed by the VJAS, activist group keeping track of farmers suicides since 1999.

In spite of a major new initiative from the Union Government, the National Food Security Mission (NFSM) which aims at increasing the production of rice by 10 million tonnes (MT), of wheat by eight MT, and of pulses by two MT during the 11th Five Year Plan with an envisaged outlay of Rs 4,882.48 crore.

And another major intervention in the agriculture sector is the introduction of the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) envisaging an outlay of Rs 25,000 crore over the 11th Five Year Plan. This scheme, for Additional Central Assistance to the states is designed to boost public investment in a whole range of activities relating to agriculture and allied sectors based on agro-climatic District Agriculture Plans.

Nothing has become operational in the suicide prone six districts of Vidarbha. More over Government has totally failed to provide any protection to million of dying farmers on credit and food security front, resulting more suicides than year 2006, said VJAS president Kishor Tiwari.

The toll claims of Indian Government that Agricultural Extension has been strengthened and Agricultural Technology Management Agencies (ATMAs) have been set up in 544 districts, is not even seen on the paper in Vidarbha region, Tiwari added.

As most of the political parties are doing crocodiles cry over the insult of cotton farmer, but they are not talking about the solution to redress the hardship of Vidarbha farmers. At present most of the farmers who are committing suicides, are the victims of poverty and hunger, resulted after the long accumulation of economic collapse in region due to on going agrarian crisis.

Tiwari said, they are demanding urgent steps to provide food security and health care facilities to these dying farmers rather making arguments over farm suicides being agrarian or non agrarian. “Now time has come to give complete loan waiver and price protection on all agriculture produce from free trade in World Trade organization (WTO) era to Vidarbha’s dying farmers”, he added.

Reacting to the reports of change guards in Maharashtra, VJAS termed it as too late to address the crisis, as this is the time to change policies not the leadership. According to Kishore restoration civil and social administration is need of the hour to stop this Vidarbha farmers mass genocide.

According to VJAS, ‘Farmer suicide dairy’ largest number of 332 farmers committed suicide in Yavatmal district during last year, while it was followed by 210 in Amaravati and 162 in Washim districts. While 112 farmer suicides were recorded during December in Vidarbha, highest numbers of 113 suicides were recorded during March and September months, respectively.

Punjab farmers debt ridden

http://www.thecheers.org/news/South-Asia/news_18202_Punjab-farmers-debt-ridden.html

Farmers of Punjab, the wheat bowl of India, are also more debt ridden when compared to agriculturists in other states of the country.

The debt burden in Punjab far outstrips the national average. Figures divulge that Punjab has an agrarian per capita debt of 1,025 US dollars in contrast to the national per capita debt of 300 US dollars.

They hope that the `loan waiver’ announced by the Centre for farmers would be implemented early, and ways would be found to provide relief for the farmers who have taken loans from the moneylenders.

As of now, under the present scheme farm loans granted by scheduled commercial banks and co-operatives would be waived. Will the 15 billion US dollar scheme finally put an end to the woes of the Punjab farmers who are forced to commit suicides?

The farmers took loans for buying pesticides to obtain a better yield. And why not, many ask. They also want the State to publicise the details of the scheme to enable all to benefit for it.

Mukesh Chand Sharma has to settle his bank loan of 4,500 US dollars. A small farmer in Punjab’s Morinda district, Mukesh owns two acres of land and is uneasy about repaying the credit.

His hopes only came alive after the Government announced the `Loan Waiver Scheme’, a bonanza for debt-ridden farmers.

“If our farm loans are waived off, it would bring immense respite. A proper list of debt-ridden farmers should be made and the record sent to the banks. The banks might give up our loans and hand over our papers with proper certificates. Proper loan waiving information should be forwarded to tehsils or city headquarters, so that we can easily sell our farmland. What else could we expect?,” said Mukesh.

The only setback faced by a majority of debt-ridden farmers is the fact that the scheme does not favour those who borrowed money from traditional moneylenders in the unorganized sector.

“If the state is eager to ensure the well being of the farming community and particularly marginal and small farmers, rather than these one time steps, they should restructure the process. So that the conditions, which time and again jam it, this kind of frustrates amongst the farming community. Those conditions stand altered and there is some sort of minimum income guarantee that is available to these people,” A C Julka, an economist.

If the `loan waiver scheme’ is implemented successfully, probably farmers’ suicides will reduce considerably.

A status us report filed by the Punjab Government to the Centre, reveals that 2116 villagers had committed suicide from 1988 to 2004.

The Punjab Government has been trying to find ways how to help the farming community emerge from the debt trap.

“Considering how the government can help people who have gone through this kind of stress, we might be in a position to give them some relief. But, also in the long term, the family, which has lost the sole breadwinner, they could be given, may be a lifetime pension or something. But, this is some policy, which Punjab is considering and whatever I think we come up with is going to be pathbreaking for the rest of the nation, “said Manpreet Badal, Finance Minister, Punjab.

It’s a major respite for the entire farming community, the country’s main food producers, as the government has finally listened to their woes.

Now these hapless folk are waiting patiently to have the burden of debt off their backs. (ANI)

Suicide Economy

http://archanapandey.com/?p=25

India is been almost a brand lately, esp. in last 5 years India is shining with all international brands, too many jobs, too much talent and every one in the world trying to lure the youngest population (read market with purchasing power). It’s India Inc. which is 3rd largest economy in the world in terms of purchasing power parity. Sounds impressive! Isn’t it.

When I was in school it was taught that India is agricultural based country and there was a time when India was independent for grains (“Harit Kranti”).

Then came the era when India became back office destination for global out sourcing and customer service. India is a major exporter of highly-skilled workers in software and financial services, and software engineering. Other sectors like manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, nanotechnology, telecommunication, shipbuilding, aviation and tourism are showing strong potentials with higher growth rates. Every thing started looking great! Too many jobs, Indians not only becoming one of the best work force but many entrepreneurs and new age businessmen emerged from India Inc.!! We all proudly said “I’m an Indian”

Everything was going right every rich, becoming rich, educated Indian thought things are great in India there was reverse trend people dumped their jobs in US of A and came to mother land to join better jobs or start a business. VC money started flowing in. Apparently every Indian was happy spending weekends in Mall incurring huge purchase bills, entertainment, amusement and what not. Gucci became god and Tommy became necessity of Time. Wow! Looks great….

But same time there was something happening to that 60-65% population who do farming for their living. 1997 reported 1st case of a farmer’s Suicide in Vidarbha – Maharashtra. More than 50,000 farmers took their lives for various reasons.

The global corporations changed the input economy overnight. Farm saved seeds were replaced by corporate seeds which needed fertilizers and pesticides and could not be saved.

As seed saving is prevented by patents as well as by the engineering of seeds with non-renewable traits, seed has to be bought for every planting season by poor peasants. A free resource available on farms became a commodity which farmers were forced to buy every year. This increases poverty and leads to indebtedness. As debts increase and become unpayable, farmers are compelled to sell kidneys or even commit suicide. In the state of Bihar, when farm saved corn seed was displaced by Monsanto’s hybrid corn, the entire crop failed creating Rs. 4 billion losses and increased poverty for already desperately poor farmers. Rs. 1 Lakh was given by Govt. to some of the families (yeah! That’s the cost of any life in India). I’m sure this money didn’t reach the deserving families either- It’s a different issue we may have to discuss that separately.

I will not give more reasons, facts and figures here because avg. Indian (read urban India which matters advertisers) has less attention span. Media is not doing anything about it as avg. Indian (read above definition) has no time to be concerned about it on weekends and watch it on News and such stories on channels and news papers wouldn’t get any advertisers. C’mon who likes poverty in India Inc. – they are busy in creating story of how one heroine dumped her boy friend for an old jerk.

Here I’m not supporting any “ism” or “ist” side of mine nor do I have any hopes of influencing even a single avg. India. But since it’s my blog and that freedom allows me to at least wonder why there is so much disparity amongst people? Why not at least 40% farmer driving a car of selling their crops in open market on their own terms.

I know avg. India would not even read this post fully as it seems long and he can’t relate to it. But I can’t help it and I’m ashamed that farmer is dying in an agricultural based country.

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

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)