Farmers’ suicide on rise in Bengal; parties blame each other

by Manogya Loiwal

January 04, 2012

Farmers’ suicides have come back to haunt the West Bengal government. Unable to handle the rising inflation, several farmers have committed suicide recently.

In some parts the agriculture produce is being set ablaze due to lack of basic storage facilities, pointing at the abysmal condition in the state.

However, despite the crisis the state government has turned a blind eye to the farmers’ problems. Food and Supplies Minister Jyotipriyo Mullick said the recent suicide in the state was not due to falling crops but due to mental depression among the farmers. He claimed the farmers in Bengal were rich enough to buy high and mighty of Kolkata.

“Farmers should not been shown in bad light… that they are very poor. Farmers in Burdwan have 100 bigha of land. They can keep Buddhadeb and Pradip in their pockets,” Mullick said.

Farmers cite lack of storage facility

But when Headlines Today travelled to Burdwan — one of the worst hit areas of state — the farmers had something else to say. Facing a crisis due to infrastructure mismanagement on part of the state authorities, the farmers said they were unable to get even the minimum cost for their produce as most part of it got wasted due to lack of enough cold storage facility in the area.

“If the government will make some provisions to export the crop then the farmers’ suicide can be reduced. If government does not take proper action, more people will commit suicide,” warned a farmer.

Another farmer said, “The farmers have no other source of income. The state government is not doing anything at all.”

“If the farmers will not make any profit by selling their crops then it is definitely going to take a toll on them as a result of which more and more farmers will commit suicide,” said yet another farmer.

Woman files class action lawsuit against Frito-Lay for marketing genetically-modified snacks as ‘all natural’

January 05, 2012

by Jonathan Benson, staff writer

(NaturalNews) Many major food manufacturers have been on a kick to jump on the “all natural” bandwagon, with all sorts of processed food products now claiming to be healthy and free of artificial and synthetic ingredients. However, one such company, Frito-Lay, is the subject of a new class action lawsuit that pegs the company for illegally marketing its snack products, which are loaded with genetically-modified (GM) ingredients, as being natural.

Represented by Milberg LLP of Los Angeles, Calif., Julie Gengo of Richmond, Calif., recently filed a class action lawsuit against Frito-Lay alleging that its snack products are fraudulently labeled. Frito-Lay Sun Chips and Tostitos products are made with GM vegetable oils and potentially even GM corn, but they are both labeled as being “All Natural.” But GMOs are not all-natural ingredients, and are, in fact, admittedly synthetic, which makes any product that contains them unnatural.

Named in the lawsuit are Tostitos Restaurant Style Tortilla Chips, Tostitos Bite Size Rounds Tortilla Chips, Tostitos Crispy Rounds Tortilla Chips, Tostitos Multigrain Tortilla Chips, Tostitos Scoops Tortilla Chips, Tostitos Restaurant Style with a Hint of Lime Tortilla Chips, Tostitos Artisan Recipes Fire-Roasted Chipotle Tortilla Chips, Sun Chips Original Flavored Multigrain Snacks, Sun Chips Garden Salsa Flavored Multigrain Snacks, Sun Chips French Onion Flavored Multigrain Snacks, and Sun Chips Harvest Cheddar Flavored Multigrain Snacks.

“Each of the products that are the subject of this action contain corn and vegetable oil as their main ingredients. But the corn and vegetable oils (including corn, soybean, and canola oils) are made from genetically modified plants and organisms,” says the lawsuit. “Monsanto Company defines GMO on its website as food with a genetic makeup altered to exhibit traits that are not naturally theirs.”

The lawsuit alleges Frito-Lay’s marketing practices violate two California Business & Professions Codes, a California Consumers Legal Remedies Act, and the federal Magnuson – Moss Act, as well as constitute a breach of express warranty. It includes as a plaintiff anyone who has ever purchased a Frito-Lay product labeled “All Natural.”

You can view a copy of the lawsuit here (

Bt or Not to Bt? Risk and Uncertainty Considerations in Technology Assessment
Srijit Mishra & Sarthak Gaurav

The acreage under the transgenic Bt cotton seeds in India has risen significantly since its legalization in the year 2002. Discussions on the advantages from the technology have focused on increments in
productivity and income, without much analysis on risk. We point out that claims on productivity gains
seem to be misplaced, as appropriate counterfactuals do not exist for the same hybrids. In this article
we analyse production costs and crop incomes in drought years to test a simplistic theory of risk based
on first principles. We employ a mixed-methods framework to draw inferences by combining data from
two cross-sectional surveys in Gujarat (Saurashtra and Southern-Plains) and Maharashtra (Western
Vidarbha) for the period 2009-10 and compare it with unit-level data for the corresponding regions
from a nationally representative sample for the period 2002-03. Empirical evidence, though limited,
brings out the problem of how a high cost technology could be associated with higher risks and may be
dominated by traditional alternatives under certain conditions. Ethnographic accounts from the field
provide qualitative support to our understanding of potential risks and uncertainties associated with the
new technology.

Watch Rytu Swarajya Vedhika and TV9 Round Table on Youtube-updated

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Over 290 farmers died in past three months: HRF

HYDERABAD: The Human Rights Forum has urged the state government to formulate a comprehensive Drought Relief Code to provide effective drought relief and mitigation.
“Such a code is imperative because governments continue to exhibit an adhoc nature and tokenism in providing relief towards droughthit people,” HRF general secretary VS Krishna and secretary Anwar said in a statement on Sunday.
The HRF teams which visited 47 villages in nine droughthit districts, where farmers have committed suicide, have estimated that not less than 290 farmers have ended their lives over the past three months. “Over 90 per cent farmers taking their own lives are from the rainfed districts of Telangana and Rayalaseema. Cotton farmers in Telangana and groundnut farmers in Rayalaseema account for the maximum farm suicides,” the HRF members said.
“Farmers are taking their own lives because of the appalling state of institutional credit leading to excessive reliance on private moneylenders. The drying up of public credit because of ‘banking reforms’ is the single most important contributing cause of farmer suicides. Farmers also lack access to reliable and reasonably priced inputs and proper remunerative price for their output,” VS Krishna said. Apart from notching up the number of droughthit mandals at periodic intervals, the government is doing precious little by way of concrete relief. “Even implementation of the GO 421, which provides for an economic and rehabilitation package to family members of farmers who ended their lives, is pathetic. The RDOheaded verification and certification committee is barely visiting villages where suicides have taken place,” they said.
The HRF members urged the government to stop underplaying the extent of the agrarian crisis and initiate concrete steps to solve the problem. “All cultivators, including tenant farmers must be brought into the ambit of institutional credit. If concrete measures are not forthcoming, there might be a suicide epidemic in the coming year,” they warned.


2010 draft

A. Mission Objectives
• To devise strategic plans at the agro-climatic zone level so that action plans are contextualised to regional scales in the areas of research and development (R&D), technology and practices, infrastructure and capacity building
• To enhance agricultural productivity through customised interventions such as use of bio-technology to develop improved varieties of crops and livestock, promoting efficient irrigation systems, demonstration of appropriate technology, capacity building and skill development
• To facilitate access to information and institutional support by expanding Automatic Weather Station networks to the panchayat level and linking them to existing insurance mechanisms including the Weather Based Crop Insurance Scheme and the National Agriculture Insurance Scheme (NAIS), scaling the returns at that level
• To promote “laboratory to land” research by creating model villages and model farm units in rainfed and dryland areas
• To strategise long-term interventions for emission reduction from energy and non-energy uses by way of introduction of suitable crop varieties and farm practices, livestock and manure management
• To realise the enormous potential of growth in dryland agriculture through the development of drought and pest resistant crop varieties, adopting resource-conserving technologies, providing institutional support to farmers and capacity building of stakeholders.
B. Mission Targets
The NMSA has identified 10 key dimensions for adaptation and mitigation:
Mission Intervention #1 – Improved Crop Seeds, Livestock and Fish Culture
• Promoting the use of biotechnology
• Research and promotion of C4 pathways in C3 plants (higher carbon pathways in lower carbon plants)
• Conserving indigenous genetic resources
• Public-private partnerships (PPP) in R&D, management and dissemination of Improved varieties
• Conserving ‘agricultural heritage’
Mission Intervention #2 – Water Efficiency
• Promoting water use efficiency in irrigation
• R&D in the areas of energy efficient water systems
• Developing mechanisms for integrated management of rainwater, surface and ground water
• Policy instruments for PPPs
• Strengthen local institutions in managing water allocation and utilisation
Mission Intervention #3 – Pest Management
• Efficient, safe and environmentally sound methods of pest management
• Incentivising research, commercial production and marketing of bio-pesticides
• Developing insect forecasting models
• Decision and information support systems for pest and disease surveillance
• Institutional mechanism for a quick response in case of disaster
Mission Intervention #4 – Improved Farm Practices
• Improved agronomic practices to reduce farm losses through improved soil treatment, increased water use efficiency, judicious use of chemicals, labour and energy and increased soil carbon storage
• Conservation and precision farming
• Knowledge management
• Soil conservation, bio-fertilizer
• Policy instruments for optimum land use
Mission Intervention #5 – Nutrient Management
• Strengthening services for promoting production and use of bio-fertilizers
• Developing nutritional strategies for managing heat stress in dairy animals
• Strengthening the capacity of existing soil testing labs
• Quality standards and a quality control system for raising confidence among users
Mission Intervention #6 – Agricultural Insurance
• Developing various models for risk assessment
• Designing user-friendly decision support systems to help assess risks and develop region specific contingency plans
• Strengthening the existing risk cover mechanism under NAIS and the Weather Based Crop Insurance Scheme
• Implementing region-specific contingency plans based on vulnerability and risk scenarios
Mission Intervention #7 – Credit Support
• Developing new forms of credit assessment and risk management systems
• Promoting microfinance
• Developing mechanisms to enhance the flow of credit to critical infrastructure
• Up-scaling the Kisan Credit Card Scheme
• Designing customised credit policies and programmes to mitigate risks
Mission Intervention #8 – Markets
• To formulate market-aligned R&D programmes
• Improving supply chain efficiency
• Creation of new market infrastructure
• Supporting community partnerships in developing food and forage banks
• Strengthening access to quality and timely inputs by farmers for mitigating risks
Mission Intervention #9 – Access to Information
• Minimising information asymmetry through ICT-based systems
• PPPs to develop technology based solutions for providing farmers with information on price discovery, commodity arrivals, mandi prices etc.
• Building an ICT enabled knowledge management network
• To create, manage and develop a National Resource Portal
Mission Intervention #10 – Livelihood Diversification
• Mitigating risks by supplementing income from off-farm activities
• Crop diversification
• Crop-livestock-fisheries farming system
C. Mission Strategy
The NMSA has identified a Programme of Action for each of the 10 key dimensions for adaptation and mitigation through four functional areas:

1. Research and Development
• Regional alignment of R&D with customisation as per agro-climatic zones
• Expansion of livestock research beyond cattle
• Research on fodders
• Use of biotechnology
• Predictive models for pest and diseases
• Research on credit and risk management
2. Technology, Products and Practices
• Conservation and management of natural resources
• Conservation and precision farming
• Customisation of technology as per region specific requirements
• Crop diversification to maximize farm income
• Adaptation of technologies and practices that increase mitigation potentials
3. Infrastructure Development
• Physical, financial and institutional
• Irrigation and power
• Last mile connectivity in irrigation
• Dedicated grids for power
• Rural connectivity for better market access
• Improving supply chain efficiency through creation of storage and post -harvest facilities
• Credit and risk management
• Safety-nets through effective risk management, easy access to credit and reducing information asymmetry
4. Capacity Building
• Customising capacity building initiatives to suit regional needs
• Demonstrations to focus on innovative crops and region-specific technologies
• Mobile telephony based information system for farmers
• Strengthening extension centres for greater outreach and broad-basing farmer-market-industry interface
The mission also seeks to control GHG emissions through improved agronomic practices to increase carbon sequestration and carbon soil sink, wider adoption of bio-fertilizer to reduce nitrogen related emissions, promotion of the System of Rice Intensification for reducing emissions of methane and change in the dietary practices of livestock to curb methane emissions from enteric fermentation.
D. Institutional Framework
Policy initiatives would need to be developed in consultation with the States and approved at the level of the National Development Council. Keeping in view the cross-cutting areas of NMSA with other missions as well as Ministries/Departments, it would be essential to constitute an Inter-Ministerial Coordination Committee chaired by the Cabinet Secretary. Intra- Ministerial Coordination would be established in the Ministry of Agriculture in a platform that would function under the Secretary, Agriculture and include representatives of the relevant departments and non-governmental organisation (NGOs), civil society, knowledge institutes, private partners and other relevant stakeholders. A Mission Directorate that would function in the Natural Resource Management Division of the Department of Agriculture and Cooperation would support these bodies.
E. Monitoring
The NMSA does not specifically deal with monitoring mechanisms of the mission.
F. Timeframe
Using the budgetary support as an indicator, it would seem that the timeframe for the NMSA is between 2011-2012 and 2016-17, till the end of the XIIth Five Year Plan.
G. Financial Resources
Additional Budgetary Support (2011-12 to 2016-17)
Technology, Products and Practices Rs. 65,000 Crores
Infrastructure, including insurance Rs. 31,500 Crores
Research & Development Rs. 6,500 Crores
Capacity Building Rs. 5,000 Crores
Total Rs. 1,08, 000 Crores (at current prices)

Watch discussion on ‘Farmers suicides and Way forward’ on TV9 from 10.00 am to 1.00 pm on sunday 8th January

Watch discussion on Farmers Suicides and Way forward on TV9 from 10.00 am to 1.00 pm live from Jubilee hall, Hyderabad on this sunday 8th January.  Participants include leaders of various political parties, Journalist P. Sainath, Farmers and Rytu Swarajya Vedhika members.

The Round Table is jointly organised by Rytu Swarajya Vedhika and TV9

No therapy in retail: Vandana Siva

The entry of big corporations into the food chain pushes up retail costs and decreases the share of the farmer.
Last Modified: 06 Jan 2012 13:46
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As a commodity, food is divorced from its sources – the seeds, the soil, the farmer [EPA]

New Delhi, India – In November 2011, when the UPA government announced that it had cleared the entry of big retail chains such as Walmart and Tesco into India through 51 per cent Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail, it justified the decision saying that FDI in retail would boost food security and benefit farmers’ livelihoods.

But the assurance that FDI in retail would ease inflation did not resolve the political crisis the government was facing; it deepened it. Parliament was stalled for several days of the Winter Session, after which the government was forced to withdraw its decision.

The story of FDI in retail goes back to 2005, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed an agriculture agreement with the US, along with the nuclear agreement. On the board of the US-India Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture, as it is called, sit Monsanto (the world’s leading producer of GM seeds), ConAgra (among the world’s biggest agribusinesses, along with Cargill) and Walmart (the world’s largest retail giant).

Protests had prevented Walmart’s entry into retail, but, in 2007, it did get a backdoor entry through a joint-venture with Bharti (their stores go by the names of Easyday and Best Price Modern Wholesale). No back-end infrastructure has been built so far, one of the other claims of the government about why we need retail giants.

Industrialisation means hungerThe way the UPA government tried to ram through the decision on FDI in retail – without consulting the opposition parties, or even its allies – was clearly undemocratic. But the decision itself was also flawed. It illustrated a disconnect between an ideology based on market fundamentalism – which is the leaning of the present government – and the Indian reality of small farms and small retail.

There is also a disconnect between that ideology with its code word of “reform”, and the crisis that market fundamentalism is facing – worldwide, as well as in India. If anything needs reform, it is the failed paradigm of corporate globalisation.

Firstly, rising prices are driven by the commodification of food and speculation on food commodities. Industrialisation and globalisation of food and agriculture has transformed food from a source of life into a commodity, and as a commodity, food is divorced from its sources – the seeds, the soil, the farmer – and from its end use as nourishment for our bodies.

Industrialisation of agriculture and the commodification of food is justified on grounds of producing more food and reducing hunger. However, industrial agriculture wastes and destroys resources – the soil, the water, the biodiversity – produce food. The book American Wasteland by Jonathan Bloom reveals that the US wastes 50 per cent of the $925bn of food it grows each year.

Industrialisation of food also degrades and denitrifies food. We, therefore, have a dual malnutrition crisis – the crisis faced by one billion people who do not get access to food, and another two billion who have access to industrial food, but not to healthy food, and so suffer from food-related diseases such as obesity, diabetes and hypertension.

Industrialisation thus creates hunger. And by increasing the costs of production, it creates a negative economy, locking farmers and food producers into debt. In the “Third World”, debt translates into hunger. Hunger is also created by the commodification of food. The industrial model of food production is producing commodities, not food. More commodities do not mean less hunger, but more. And when food becomes a commodity, it becomes an object of speculation for profits, robbing the poor of their entitlements.

Big corporations, big retail costs

As a commodity, it does not matter what food is used for. Food can be transformed into feed for animals in factory farms, or into fuel to run cars. Seventy per cent of the food grain in the US is used to feed animals, 30 per cent to feed cars. The proposed increase through FDI will take this to 40 per cent, creating a conflict between feed and fuel, and pitting both against food. This diversion of food to feed and fuel competes with the food needs of the poor. It creates food scarcity and contributes to the rise in food prices.

When food is treated as a commodity, it does not matter how it is produced – whether GM seeds were used or not, whether it is produced chemically or organically. But how food is produced does determine what happens to our soil, biodiversity and water; it also determines whether farmers live or die. And how food is produced determines whether what we eat nourishes our bodies or contributes to disease and ill-health.

The entry of big corporations into the food chain polarises prices, decreasing the share of the farmer and increasing the retail costs.

When food is a commodity, it becomes the object of speculation. Putting food on the global casino table takes food away from people’s kitchens and plates.

Secondly, the entry of big corporations into the food chain polarises prices, decreasing the share of the farmer and increasing the retail costs. This polarisation of prices is structural; corporations make their profits through vertical integration and controlling the entire food chain.

They buy cheap from farmers and sell at high cost when they have a monopoly. The control of big retail over the food system has brought down the farmers’ share to as little as two per cent. Before liberalisation, the difference between wholesale prices and retail prices was a mere six per cent.

No need for a middle man

After the removal of quantitative restrictions, which opened up India to dumping of subsidised products, wholesale prices started to go down while retail prices continued to climb. The entry of retail giants will further push wholesale prices down, without taming the price rises. It is not the number of middlemen that matters, but the size of a middleman. A giant retailer is a giant middleman.

It might be a single player, but it harvests super profits at the cost of society. That is how the Walton family, which owns Walmart, owns $100bn of personal wealth – equivalent to the combined wealth of the bottom 30 per cent of US society. You do not accumulate that kind of money by paying farmers higher prices and bringing consumers cheaper products. Walmart and Tesco are not friends of farmers, as is being projected by the government and corporate spokesmen.

The Financial Times said on November 28, 2011: “A consolidated retail sector would require consolidated agriculture to supply.” Consolidation means concentration, concentration means displacement of small farmers, destruction of small farmers means deepening both the food crisis and the agrarian crisis.

Big retail means big agribusiness.

About 250,000 farmers have already committed suicide in India since 1997 because of increasing monopolies on seeds and chemicals, rising costs of inputs and deepening debt. Big retail will uproot small farmers, as it has done worldwide. India’s future cannot be “retail dictatorship” and “seed dictatorship”. It has to be “retail democracy” and “food democracy”, based on small retail and small farms.

Dr Vandana Shiva is a physicist, eco-feminist, philosopher, activist and author of more than 20 books and 500 papers. She is the founder of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, and has campaigned for biodiversity, conservation and farmers’ rights, winning the Right Livelihood Award [Alternative Nobel Prize] in 1993.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial policy of Al Jazeera.

Farmer suicides: South India leads list of shame

NEW DELHI: Saving Tamil Nadu, the three South Indian states account for the maximum number of farmers’ suicides in the country in the last three years.

Out of the total 3,160 farmers’ suicides reported from 2009 to 2011, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala alone account for about 1,800 suicides, as per the details collated in the Agriculture Ministry. Tamil Nadu is the only state in south India which has not reported any case of farmer suicide. Among the Southern states, Andhra Pradesh has the highest number of suicide cases. As many as 920 farmers have taken their lives  in Andhra alone in the last three years. Karnataka with 469 cases stands second in the list.

According to the Agriculture Ministry statistics, Kerala accounts for 11 farmer suicide cases in 2009. But no case has been reported there in the last two years.

If one goes by the states with the most instances of farmers’ distress, then the notoriety goes to Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar’s home state Maharashtra. It alone has as many as 1539 suicides. Farmers have committed suicide only in six states, as per the Ministry statistics. The other state which has reported farmer suicide is Punjab. It has reported 31 cases in the last three years.

“We have compiled the data after collecting information from the states. The 2011 data is not yet complete but there will not be any drastic change in the pattern,” said an official with the Agriculture Ministry.

According to him, the major reasons for farm suicide include indebtedness, crop failure and drought. “Sometimes, even socio-economic reasons are also being cited,” said the official.

The only silver line in the otherwise bleak picture is the fact that the number of suicides has been coming down drastically if one goes by the statistics. And this is true in the case of all states. The number of cases has almost halved in the case of the top states like Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.

“That the number of suicides is coming down is quite a relief. We believe that this is the impact of distress relief measures initiated by the Government,” he said.

As per the official, the Government has so far spent around `19,910.70 crore till September 2011 as part of the rehabilitation package announced in 2006. This package covered 31 districts of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala. The government claims that the Agriculture Debt Waiver and Debt Relief Scheme had benefitted about 3.69 crore farmers involving `65,318.33 crore.

According to the official, what has benefitted the farmers most is the enhancement of minimum support price for major cereals.

“According to our estimate, this single measure has acted as a major deterrent,” said the official.