Indian farmers abandoning cotton

By Zubair Ahmed

BBC News, Vidarbha

http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/south_asia/6434957.stm

Powar, 26, works as a farm labourer and is getting ready to leave for his day’s work. Others are preparing to take the cattle to the field.

Until recently, the Powars – like all others in their neighbourhood – were cotton farmers.

But things have changed now, the family no longer grows cotton.

Powar’s father committed suicide last year due to mounting debts and Prakash Powar decided to become a farm labourer.

The tiny Kulzari village of 500 people predominantly grows cotton, and the farmers here, as all across Vidarbha, are caught in a cycle of debt and there have been several suicides.

In Vidarbha, on average, three debt-trapped farmers commit suicide every day. And cotton has now been dubbed “the killer crop”.

In protest, a few months ago the entire village decided to stop growing cotton and switch to alternative cash crops, such as lentils.

Prakash Powar was part of the collective decision-making process.

Alternative crops

“The entire village sat together. There were influential people as well. We all decided that cotton will not be grown in the village, because we don’t get the right price for it,” he says.

Raju Rathode is a farmer who, like others, is in debt and thinking of abandoning cotton.

“In a month’s time, some more villages are going to have a meeting in which they’ll debate the idea of growing alternative crops,” he tells me.

Kulzari’s decision may sound like a desperate attempt to draw the authorities’ attention to their plight rather than a well-considered plan of switching to more profitable crops.

But the villagers insist their decision is final.

Says Rathode: “We will grow maze, soya beans and lentils, enough to feed ourselves, not to sell. We’ll work in other people’s fields as labourers or work in cities to earn some cash.”

The idea is catching on.

Dr RL Pitale, a former member of the National Commission on Farmers, says he is visited by cotton-growers who seem determined to switch to alternative crops.

Loss making

“They want to produce enough to just feed their bellies and for other expenses they say they want to work in cities as rickshaw pullers or daily wage workers.”

From farmers who owned plots of land to farm labourers who work on other people’s land – that’s the plight of many in this village.

A relatively rich farmer, Suresh Bulenwar, in a neighbouring village explains how growing cotton has become a loss-making activity which is fuelling suicides.

“It costs 10,000 to 12,000 rupees ($238 to $285) to grow cotton in one acre of land. But the yield fetches only 7,000 to 8,000 rupees ($166 to $190),” he says.

“The farmer borrows money from money lenders after defaulting on his bank repayment and then commits suicide when he is unable to pay back the money lender.”

Dr Pitale refers to a recent report which says the input costs of seeds, pesticides and fertilisers have risen by 50%.

“This has led to the agricultural production costs going higher and incomes going down.”

Urban lifestyle

Kishor Tiwari, who has been campaigning for the farmers’ rights for many years, believes their rising personal expenses too are to blame for their plight.

“The reach of television means the farmer watches the urban lifestyle. He wants a TV, a motorcycle, a fridge and the urban lifestyle. His income doesn’t permit it. So, he borrows, but is unable to pay it back.”

He says “the government and policy makers need to look into this aspect as well.

It seems the government is listening, but only partially.

Sreekar Pradesi is among Yavatmal’s leading district administrators.

“To solve the farmers’ problems, we are trying to reduce their input costs. We are inviting schools and women’s groups to participate in water conservation efforts so that the farmers can grow at least one more crop during the season,” he says.

Experts say growing two crops a year will help raise the farmer’s income level.

But for that to happen, the government first needs to convince farmers, such as Prakash Powar, not to give up cotton cultivation.

Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/south_asia/6434957.stm
Published: 2007/03/26 09:05:40 GMT

Soap opera aims to stop farmer suicides

Ashling O¿Connor in Bombay

  • March 26, 2007

Burdened by crop failures and unmanageable debts, thousands of desperate farmers are killing themselves every year despite the announcement of sizeable subsidies that were supposed to improve their lot.

There have been more than 200 suicides this year in the western state of Maharashtra alone, adding to 1,452 in the region last year. Official estimates put the death toll since 2001 on India’s western and southern farming plateaus at more than 5,000; unofficial surveys suggest that the number could be near double.

Faced with these alarming statistics, state officials have produced a docu-soap as a way of engaging with increasingly depressed and disenfranchised farmers.

The half-hour programme will run for three months initially on Sahyadri, the Marathi language channel belonging to Doordarshan, the state-owned national television network.

The concept is part enactment and part reality TV. A handful of professional actors would be required for some storylines but the central creative thread is that the farmers are the stars of the show.

The aim is to educate farmers on emerging cultivation methods, diversification options, available subsidies and loans as well as offer tips and counselling for dealing with a harsh and unwanted existence.

A popular quip among the 650-million-strong agricultural workforce is that, given the choice, they would rather be reborn a European cow than an Indian farmer.

Government officials are discussing deals with two production companies and hope to release the programme on June 6, World Environment Day.

“Television is a very important medium. It has a far reach, which means we can address their problems directly,” Leena Mehendale, principal secretary of Maharashtra’s animal husbandry department, said.

“One farmer can watch the serial and be entertained while another may pick up tips or good practices. The success of the programme will be judged on whether farmers have felt the need to participate and have felt that it will help them.”

The problem of farmer suicides has dogged a Congress-led administration aware that it must include agriculture in the Indian success story if the wider economy is to continue growing at 9 per cent a year and social frictions are to be avoided.

Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister, toured the worst-affected area of Vidarbha last July to assure farmers that their need for a fairer system of credit and improved irrigation facilities would be addressed.

His 37.5 billion rupee (£440 million) relief package has yet to make a real difference. After visits by more than 16 government committees, farmers in Vidarbha continue to borrow from loan sharks charging 60 per cent interest.

Nearly 2.8 million of the 3.2 million cotton farmers are defaulters and for every 100 rupees they borrow, about 80 rupees goes into servicing old loans, according to the Planning Commission. Meanwhile, only 3.5 per cent of the land is irrigated in a region that receives more than 800mm (30in) of average rainfall annually.

The docu-soap idea has emerged as pure monetary measures fail to stem the suicide rate. The Roman Catholic Church in India is thinking along similar lines. It recently began a counselling programme involving street plays, songs and art exhibitions to cheer farmers.

Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, the so-called hugging saint, has also announced a two billion rupee programme focused on farmers’ psychological, emotional and spiritual needs.

Soap opera aims to stop farmer suicides

Ashling O¿Connor in Bombay

  • March 26, 2007

Burdened by crop failures and unmanageable debts, thousands of desperate farmers are killing themselves every year despite the announcement of sizeable subsidies that were supposed to improve their lot.

There have been more than 200 suicides this year in the western state of Maharashtra alone, adding to 1,452 in the region last year. Official estimates put the death toll since 2001 on India’s western and southern farming plateaus at more than 5,000; unofficial surveys suggest that the number could be near double.

Faced with these alarming statistics, state officials have produced a docu-soap as a way of engaging with increasingly depressed and disenfranchised farmers.

The half-hour programme will run for three months initially on Sahyadri, the Marathi language channel belonging to Doordarshan, the state-owned national television network.

The concept is part enactment and part reality TV. A handful of professional actors would be required for some storylines but the central creative thread is that the farmers are the stars of the show.

The aim is to educate farmers on emerging cultivation methods, diversification options, available subsidies and loans as well as offer tips and counselling for dealing with a harsh and unwanted existence.

A popular quip among the 650-million-strong agricultural workforce is that, given the choice, they would rather be reborn a European cow than an Indian farmer.

Government officials are discussing deals with two production companies and hope to release the programme on June 6, World Environment Day.

“Television is a very important medium. It has a far reach, which means we can address their problems directly,” Leena Mehendale, principal secretary of Maharashtra’s animal husbandry department, said.

“One farmer can watch the serial and be entertained while another may pick up tips or good practices. The success of the programme will be judged on whether farmers have felt the need to participate and have felt that it will help them.”

The problem of farmer suicides has dogged a Congress-led administration aware that it must include agriculture in the Indian success story if the wider economy is to continue growing at 9 per cent a year and social frictions are to be avoided.

Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister, toured the worst-affected area of Vidarbha last July to assure farmers that their need for a fairer system of credit and improved irrigation facilities would be addressed.

His 37.5 billion rupee (£440 million) relief package has yet to make a real difference. After visits by more than 16 government committees, farmers in Vidarbha continue to borrow from loan sharks charging 60 per cent interest.

Nearly 2.8 million of the 3.2 million cotton farmers are defaulters and for every 100 rupees they borrow, about 80 rupees goes into servicing old loans, according to the Planning Commission. Meanwhile, only 3.5 per cent of the land is irrigated in a region that receives more than 800mm (30in) of average rainfall annually.

The docu-soap idea has emerged as pure monetary measures fail to stem the suicide rate. The Roman Catholic Church in India is thinking along similar lines. It recently began a counselling programme involving street plays, songs and art exhibitions to cheer farmers.

Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, the so-called hugging saint, has also announced a two billion rupee programme focused on farmers’ psychological, emotional and spiritual needs.

Banks set up financial counselling centres to help distressed farmers

HEMA RAMAKRISHNAN

TIMES NEWS NETWORK[ MONDAY, MARCH 26, 2007 12:11:20 AM]

SATARA: Several Indian banks are on course to set up financial counselling centres to help distressed farmers, particularly in states such as Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, that have witnessed a spate of suicides. RBI is sensitising banks to have such centres, said Usha Thorat, deputy governor, Reserve Bank of India.
The move follows the government’s decision to set up a Financial Inclusion Fund with Nabard for meeting the cost of developmental and promotional interventions. It also plans to set up a Financial Inclusion Technology Fund to meet the costs of technology adoption. Each fund will have an overall corpus of Rs 500 crore, with the initial funding to be contributed by the centre, RBI and Nabard.
Financial counselling centres may, however, not be a commercially viable proposition for banks. One of the options could be for the banking regulator to provide financial support to banks for setting up these centres.
Policy makers reckon that farmers need to diversify their risks instead of depending on just one crop. Finance is only one of the inputs and turn around in the farm sector hinges on a host of other factors including higher investments and an improvement in the yields.
Bank of India and ICICI Bank have launched credit counselling services. However, most banks in India are yet to have a formal financial system for financial counselling or improving financial literacy. Banks in the US, for instance, are expected to contribute towards educating persons from socially and financially disadvantaged groups on matters relating to their financial needs as per the Community Re-Investment Act.
Financial inclusion is delivery of banking services at an affordable cost to vast sections of disadvantaged and low-income groups. An estimated 600 million rural poor in India are either not served or under-served by the formal financial sector. The concept of financial inclusion was articulated by the RBI in 2005-06. Banks were mandated to make available basic banking “no frills” account either with nil or minimum balances and charges that would make such accounts accessible.
“The concept has caught on. But for real empowerment banks also need to ensure the continuity in use of these accounts by rural households. Such households need access to the entire gamut of financial services — including remittance facilities,” said Thorat. She said the RBI has asked all state-level bankers to identify at least one district in each state for financial inclusion.

MP committee slams govt's farmer policy


MP committee slams govt's farmer policyNDTV Correspondent
Wednesday, March 21, 2007 (New Delhi):

Empty promises, persistent government apathy where even the Prime Minister’s Vidarbha relief package does not take off.
This is not an attack by the opposition but a scathing indictment of the government by a Parliamentary Committee.
Farmer anger from Nandigram to Punjab over SEZ. The other face of despair is a suicide graph that stains state after state as a recurring shortage of onions and pulses fuels the price rise.
As agriculture lurches from one crisis to another, a parliamentary report has slammed the entire government saying these are mere symptoms of a deeper malaise.
“The Committee wonders whether the government is waiting for farmers of these states to commit suicides in large numbers before announcing any package.
“Whatever is announced in the budget and in Parliament don’t get into execution because of differences of opinion among ministries. We are not impressed by the rosy picture portrayed by the Planning Commission.”
“Planning Commission is not generous about releasing money,” said Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, Rural Development Minister.
Hard facts
But it’s not just rhetoric hard facts back this attack on the government.
There is prevalence of a draconian law in states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana, Orissa, which equips the police to arrest a loan defaulting farmer.
A Rs 1000 crore shortfall in allocation for agriculture in this year’s budget collapse of the credit system, and government apathy best evidenced in the failure of even the PM’s rehabilitation package for Vidarbha farmers.
“The government tells us it wants inclusive growth of tribals, Dalits or minorities it never mentions farmers,” said Sharad Joshi, Member, Standing committee on Agriculture.
Elections one after another and tall promises about rejuvenating agriculture but this 70 page document prepared by a committee of parliamentarians belonging to different political parties brings out the brutal truth.

11782 farmers commit suicide: Report

Parliament of India

http://www.headlinesindia.com/archive_html/20March…
New Delhi: Asking states to abrogate a law that provides for arrest of defaulting farmers, a Parliamentary Committee on Tuesday said the suicide of 11,782 farmers during last five years is attributable to distress sale of their produce and continuous crop failures. “The Committee is shocked to learn that in some states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, there is a law to arrest farmers who default in repayment of loans. Moreover, they are not only kept in jail but the expenditure incurred on their food, transport and others things in jail is also said be to recovered from them”, the report tabled in Parliament said. The Standing Committee on Agriculture, headed by Ram Gopal Yadav, observed that the Agriculture Minister in a letter to the Chief Ministers of Bihar, Jharkhand, Kerala, Orissa, Punjab and UP in April 2006 had taken up the matter of review of state laws to remove the provision for arrest and detention of farmers.

“The last letter (to states) for amending the relevant state laws was issued on August 12, 2005, and it seems that the government has no will to act but is only performing the duty of a postman in a way, that based on the recommendations of the Committee, a letter is written to the states to do the needful”, it said. Stating that the farmers have not got their full dues, the Committee said they have to sell their produce at very low rates and are not able to repay their debts due to drought and continuous crop failures. “Under the circumstances, the only escape route for them is to commit suicide. Thus, in the last five years, as per the records of Department of Agriculture and Cooperation, about 11,782 farmers have ended their lives out of frustration and humiliation”, the report added. (PTI)

ADB says rural loan may help stem farmer suicides

http://www.ndtvprofit.com/homepage/news.asp?id=291…

March 15, 2007
By Unni Krishnan and Surojit Gupta
NEW DELHI (Reuters) – The Asian Development Bank hopes a $1 billion loan aimed at reforming India’s rural credit structure will help stem farmer suicides in the country, a senior official said on Thursday.
An estimated 5,000 farmers have killed themselves over six years across India’s sprawling western and southern plateau — where the black soil has long borne a rich harvest of cotton — because they could not repay loans taken for their crops.
The spate of suicides in the country’s richest state of Maharashtra has not abated despite efforts by New Delhi to ease the farmers’ financial burden.
“We are hoping in terms of outcome I hope two years from now there will be a reduced number of farmers committing suicides,” Kunio Senga, director general of the South Asia department of the bank told Reuters in an interview.
The programme, carried out in five Indian states, aims to revitalise the cooperative credit structure and reach masses of small farmers, Senga said.
Economic growth of more than 8 percent in the past three years has made millions in the cities richer, but it has bypassed the farming sector that supports more than 60 percent of India’s one billion-plus people.
Most of India’s farming community is poverty-stricken and many farmers borrow from the village moneylender at rates as high as 30-60 percent a month.
Ensuring economic growth was inclusive of poorer members of society has become increasingly important in India and the communist-backed ruling coalition has made it the centrepiece of its economic agenda.
The Congress party-led coalition, which swept to power in May 2004, has been trying to bridge the rural-urban divide and include millions of poor in the country’s largely city-based boom. “We are very much into assistance directly to address inclusiveness of growth. Our $1 billion rural finance programme is one signal that we are very much now into inclusiveness of growth,” Senga said.
He said upgrading of rural infrastructure, particularly to develop the farm sector, was key to sustaining growth and the bank was optimistic about reforms undertaken by the government to reform the sector.
The Union budget for 2007/08 has doled out gifts aimed at giving a major boost to the ailing farm sector which puts food on the tables of 115 million farming families.
Analysts say the government should focus on linking farmers to the markets through private investment in production, post-harvest infrastructure and refrigerated distribution.
“Inclusiveness requires more reforms including agricultural related and I am quite optimistic,” Senga said.

Resoulutions passed in 35th National Convention of Bharat Krishak Samaj

http://raagbhairav.blogspot.com/2007/03/resolution…
The 35th National Convention of Bharat Krishak Samaj was held at Erode (Tamilnadu) from 17th to 18th February, 2007. The following resolutions have been passed:
Minimum Support Price

The minimum support prices (MSPs) of different crops estimated by the Commission for Agricultural Costs & Prices (CACP) and subsequently endorsed by the government are low and not remunerative. There is a need for up-gradation of the methods for estimation of real cost of production and arriving at the real remunerative prices. The process should be transparent and open to farmers.
Scrap SEZs, promote AEZs

Government should scrap all Special Economic Zones set-up on farmlands acquired from farmers against a mere compensation. SEZs should not be promoted; as such policy tends to usurp fertile farmlands leading to food security problems. Rather Government should promote and encourage Agri Export Zones (AEZs), which is aimed at integrated rural development.
Seed Bill-2004

If the government wants to re-introduce the “Seed Bill-2004”, it should incorporate the all recommendations of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture, because seed is the basic need for food security which should not be surrendered to corporates & MNCs at any cost. Further there is no need for any new act for regulating the seed sector. The Plant Varieties Protection & Farmers Rights (PVP&FR) Act is sufficient to regulate the seed sector and should be the only law in the country. The PVP&FR Act should be further amended to provide greater protection to farmers’ rights. The PVP&FR Act is already TRIPS consistent and there is no need for a patent regime on micro-organisms, genes and other life forms.
Agricultural Credit

Rate of interest on all agricultural credit should be brought down to 4% and made uniformally applicable in every State. The loans to farmers should be waved off subsequent on crop failure.
Impact of WTO

Unfortunately Indian agriculture has been dragged into the ambit of the WTO and we have given market access for some agro produces at a time when the developed counties have distorted global prices by their huge support to their farm sector. In this situation Indian farmers cannot compete with the farmers in the developed world. Both EU and US have protected their markets through high tariff barriers and non-tariff barriers. The US through its recent Farm Bill 2007 has increased direct payments to farmers by 10% over the previous years. It has increased direct payments by $ 5.5 billion.
Unethical manipulations and distortions by developed countries in Agreement on Agriculture (A.O.A) and unequal globalisation have negatively impacted Indian agriculture. Government should work out strategy to rectify the inequalities and try to restore the legitimate demands of India pertaining to phasing out of all types of subsidies and support by developed countries, reduction of import tariff, rationalisation of trade imbalances, enhanced market access for India.
Special Product & Special Safeguard Mechanism

As the developed countries have not fulfilled their commitments in the agreement on agriculture for reducing their subsidies and support to the farm sector, India should not open up its markets. For Indian farmers every crop is a Special Product and not a matter for negotiation. If the government wants to save agriculture from any consequent disaster, it should fight for recognition of every crop as Special Product at the WTO and seek for effective application of special safeguard mechanism. If this is not possible then India should ask for restoration of the right to impose quantitative restrictions (QRs) on imports.

Technology Mission on Oil Seeds & Pulses

The Technology Mission on Oil Seeds & Pulses should be revived and reactivated on war-footing because Oil Seeds & Pulses are the vital pillars of National Economy.

Immediate Ban on all GM Crops

Worldwide there are reports of farmers being put to heavy losses on account of cultivation of GM crops. There is a conspiracy being hatched against farmers in the name of increasing production for food security by forcibly introducing genetically modified (GM) crops. India should learn lessons from the failure of GM crops across the world. Recently the US court has called for a review of the approvals of GM crops in that country.
The failure of Bt Cotton, financially crippling thousands of Cotton growers, impelling a large number of them unable to repay the debt to commit suicides by the farming community is a National shame. The Government should put immediate ban on commercial cultivation and trials of all GM crops in the country, because GM crops will cause health & environmental hazards and destruction of bio-diversity.
Marketing of Agro-produce

The free entry of corporates and multinationals in agriculture marketing has raised new problems. They purchase produce from farmers slightly higher than the MSP to capture the market and dismantle the government’s procurement system. Subsequently they hoard the stock, manipulate the market prices and sell at high prices. This is the major cause for the present rise in prices of essential commodities. The manipulations in the futures market is another cause for price rise. Thus the present rise in prices benefits only traders and corporates. Government should immediately ban futures trading on agriculture commodities and restrict direct entry of corporates and multinationals in agricultural marketing.
Imports of Agro-produce

With a view to contain rising prices, the government is encouraging import of agro produces. This measure will be detrimental to farmers’ interest in the long run and destroy country’s food security. Imports of agro commodities should not be encouraged when they are available in plenty in the country.
Food Standard & Safety Act

With a view to destroy the traditional food habits and culture and to encourage the processed junk food of the MNCs and discourage consumption of fresh food, the Food Standard & Safety Act has been brought in. This Act should be immediately repealed.
Subsidy

The government does not give any direct subsidy to farmers. Whatever minimum subsidy the government intends to give for agriculture should be given directly to farmers.

Irrigation facilities

The Government should plan the policies to recharge the level of ground water. The irrigation projects and schemes to be made on priorities and the funds allotted to state Govt’s should not be diverted to other heads. Irrigation projects and linking of rivers should not be done at a cost to the ecology. The projects displaced persons should be compensated in full.
Because the water is the lifeline of agriculture, therefore, it should be saved. The farmers should use the sprinkler and drip irrigation system for irrigation to save the water. The Government should give 50% subsidy on it directly to farmers. The Government should also ensure availability of electricity for agricultural purposes at concessional rates. Exempt Agro Machines, Tools, Equipments etc., from Excise & Vat.
Utility items like tractor, agricultural equipments & machinaries, drip and sprinkler irrigation installations, fertilizers, seeds and agro-chemicals should be kept out from the ambit of excise and vat. Also, the subsidy on them should be enhanced and given directly to the farmers.

Export of Organic Foods

There is an increasing demand and unlimited scope for t
he export of organic food across the world and Indian farmers are missing this opportunity. The Government should bear the cost of certification of organic produces, which is presently high, and beyond the reach of farmers. The National Horticultural Board & APEDA should bear this responsibility immediately. The Government should also give adequate level of subsidies for cultivation of organic produce and for encouraging their exports.

Testing Laboratories

Well equipped soil, fertilizer, agro-chemicals and seeds Testing Laboratories should be established in every District Headquarter of the Country for the benefit of the farmers.
Promotion of Agro based Industrial Units
Sustenance is just not possible from ever increasing fragmentation of family farms. The Government therefore, should come-up with need based and area specific comprehensive blue print on agro based small and cottage industrial units in the villages and provide adequate incentive and financial assistance to the enterprising public of the rural belt.

Agricultural Insurance

Agri-insurance schemes must be made very responsive and its scope should be enlarged and widened to cover all sorts of calamities and the losses inflicted on the farmers should be adequately compensated. The assessment of losses should be done at village level as a unit in consultation with local farmers. Crop insurance programme should cover all crops in all areas of the country.

Employment Generation in Rural Belt

To generate employment opportunities in the rural belt, the Government should provide ready financial and infrastructural assistance to the farmers for dairy farming, animal husbandry, fisheries, poultry and bee keeping etc.

Agricultural Research

The cost of production has increased phenomenally due to the introduction of capital-intensive unsustainable agriculture. The use of costly chemicals has not only degraded the soil health and factor productivity.
Requisites of Indian agriculture and needs of the peasantry must be given top priority in the formulation of R/D policies. The Government should refrain from thrusting alien technologies on the farming community. Agri scientists should study traditional farming system and upgrade them, if necessary for implementation in farmers field. All farm policies and researches should be done in consultation with local farmers of the area.
Farmers’ representation

We demand that the Central and the State Governments should co-opt farmer leaders in all decision making bodies related to agriculture so as to make the policies more realistic, effective and action-oriented.
US-India Knowledge Initiative Agreement on Agriculture

Indo-US Knowledge Initiative Agreement on Agriculture should be immediately scraped as this treaty is designed to surrender country’s food security and research to US Government and US based multinationals.

Save small farmers and public health not DOHA

http://andolan.blogspot.com/2007/03/save-small-far…

SAVE SMALL FARMERS AND PUBLIC HEALTH, NOT DOHA
Statement of Indian People’s Movements against WTO on the “Save Doha” Seminar
The government of India with NGO’s who have been supporting WTO is organizing a seminar on “Saving Doha and Delivering on Development”. The Doha Round of WTO collapsed in Cancun and has been on life support since the Hongkong Ministerial. No progress has been made because more “progress” in trade liberalisation will devastate the lives of millions more than a decade of WTO has already devastated. More than 150,000 farmers have committed suicide in India due to distortions introduced in agriculture as a result of trade liberalisation. Seed monopolies have pushed up he prices of inputs, and market access forced through removal of Quantitative Restrictions (QR’s) has made the prices of farm products collapse. WTO has imposed a suicidal economy on India’s small farmers and peasants who constitute two third of the population.
The G-33 has been struggling to implement the commitments made in WTO to protect small farmers through instruments of Special Products And Special Safeguard Mechanism (SPSSM). The G-33 was to meet in Delhi. The meeting was shifted to Jakarta because the Indian government was reluctant to host it. Instead an anti-Third World, anti-farmers and anti-worker and anti-public health meeting is being organized in Delhi on 12-13th of March to push the corporate agenda of further liberalisation of trade, bypassing the multilateral negotiations where the WTO agenda is being blocked. This meeting has no democratic standing. It has no political legitimacy. It does not represent the will or perspective of the Indian people. It is a desperate attempt by the global corporate powers, and the governments they control to manipulate a “consensus” to “Save Doha”, when citizens access the world and the majority of Third World governments want to save democracy and the rights of people to food and water, jobs and livelihoods, medicine and health. The US government has been repeatedly stating that India must play a role in moving the Doha negotiations. And India is rushing ahead to provide market access to US agribusiness and industry as witnessed in wheat and corn and wine imports and in reduction of duties on industrial products. The US India Knowledge Agreement in Agriculture is effectively a bilateral agreement. On the board of the agreement are Monsanto, and Walmart. Under US pressure, the government of India has already implemented more than the Doha round commitments and have signed the Indo-US MOU on Patents. That is why the Indian government is being used by the US and EU to bulldoze Doha on other countries. And the “Save Doha” seminar is part of this bulldozing.
The bias of the ‘Save Doha” seminar is apparent in terms of who has sponsored it, who is being invited and what will be discussed.
Orchestration of Consensus
The two NGO’s involved have been supporting WTO over the past decade. CUTS initially supported WTO on grounds that trade liberalisation would make food cheaper for consumers. Today, food prices are going through the ceiling in India. The ruling Congress party has recently lost elections in two states, and the Party President, Sonia Gandhi, has admitted that increase in prices of food and essential commodities was the reason behind the electoral defeat. Trade liberalisation translates into falling prices for farmers and rising prices for consumers, with the increasing polarization of prices generating super profits for agribusiness. Further liberalization will deepen the livelihood and food insecurity of the poor. The recent NFHS 3 (National Family Health Survey) has clearly shown increase in malnutrition, anemia and maternal mortality in many parts. The serious public health implications are clear specially for women and children. Over 20% maternal deaths are anemia related
The second NGO involved in organising the seminar to “Save Doha” has been supporting WTO even when the massive people’s movements brought the WTO Ministerial to a halt in Seattle. While farmers’ movements across the world have been mobilising to protect farmers’ lives and livelihoods, as was evident in Seattle, Cancun and Hongkong, Oxfam International has been working to save WTO on terms of the corporate led North. It has been arguing that trade liberalisation serves the interests of Third World farmers even while farmers across Latin America, Africa and Asia are fighting for food sovereignty not for “free trade”. Hundreds of thousands of farmers are being pushed to suicides, and millions are being uprooted from their land and livelihoods to make for global agribusiness, which is the only beneficiary of the WTO rules of Agriculture. Oxfam International blocked a change in these rules after Seattle by supporting the Market Access rules of WTO which would mean unregulated imports, while farmers groups demanded FOOD SOVEREIGNTY. It is now blocking the SPSSM demands of Third World countries by “Saving Doha” instead of the peasants of the South.
If the seminar was committed to Delivering on Development, it would have addressed the agrarian crisis that the globalisation has unleashed on India besides in other parts of the third world. It would have had other farmers leaders like Krishan Bir Chaudhry of Bhartiya Krishan Samaj, Mahendra Singh Tikait of Bharatiya Kisan Union, Kishore Tiwari of Vidharbha Jan Andolan, or Puttaniah of Karnataka Rajya Ryotu Sangha to share their concerns about farmers and their families impacted by WTO led agricultural policies, not Sharad Joshi. Sharad Joshi has been supporting WTO and globalisation of agriculture even while globalisation robs 87 farmers per day of their lives in Vidharbha, Maharashtra, Joshi’s home state. When 100,000 farmers gathered at India’s historic Red Fort in 1994 to caution the government against signing the Dunkel Draft of GATT which lead to the signing of the WTO agreements in Marrakesh, Sharad Joshi was a lone voice supporting WTO. Today, too, his is the only voice talking of “Saving Doha”, while farmers’ movements are talking of “Saving Small Farmers”. This calculated exclusion of the people’s viewpoint and biased selection of issues reflects that a consensus is being orchestrated to protect and promote corporate interest.
This is obvious from the exclusion of TRIPS as the Save Doha seminar does not have any sessions on TRIPS even though the Doha Declaration included a commitment to review TRIPS and a commitment to public health. TRIPS review which was due in 2000 is still pending. The way Dunkel draft was pushed with only take it or leave it option, this exercise is being undertaken to push some corporate led agenda excluding others which are protective of public health and public interest. And this lapse is extremely significant since Novartis is challenging India’s patent laws clauses that provide safe guards for ensuring that affordable generic medicines are available to Indian citizens and citizens worldwide. India is the source of 67% of the World’s low cost generic medicines. The “Save Doha” seminar’s silence on TRIPS is infact support for Novartis, and hence on attack on citizens right to affordable medicines, and the movements fighting to defend peoples’ rights by preventing corporations monopolies. The spirit of Doha Declaration in TRIPS and Public Health is a matter of life and death for millions across the world specially the Third World.
The outcome of this seminar will not be based on a democratic dialogue in society or among the governments of the world. It will be a contrived “consensus” among corporate cronies in governments and among NGOs.
The seminar should not be used to subvert the rights of Third World countries to defend the rights of their peoples’ through democratic negotiations at the multilateral level and democratic policies at the national level. Asia, Caribbean, Pacific and African countries have already expressed unhappiness
over how the G-4 – US, EU, Brazil and India – were keeping others out of the process of reviving trade talks. They are worried that the G-4 would present a grand package and offer it as a “fait accompli”. The “Save Doha” Delhi meet driven clearly by the G-4 should not be allowed to be another step in this exclusion of the concerns of the majority.

Budget 2007 is an exit budget for farmers, says Devinder Sharma

Express News Service

Ludhiana, March 7: Well-known activist, and Director, Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security, New Delhi says the Budget is an exit-budget for farmers. “This budget does not want the farmers who earn their livelihood. This budget wants them to give up agriculture,” said Dr Sharma, who was in PAU today to deliver a lecture. “The intention of the government help the farmer can be gauged from the fact that farmer suicides continue despite the so called futuristic budgets,” he said.

Ridiculing Dr Manmohan Singh announcement of a grant for Vidharbha and subsequent claim that the impact of it would be visible in six months at farmer suicide ridden land, Dr Sharma said the impact was visible, as the rate of suicide rate has gone up from one in every eight hours to one in every four hours.

Dr Sharma said, “Farmers need credits and need income, too, and for that we need to work towards making agriculture sustainable. But the mindset of our policy maker has changed from that of sustainable agriculture to commercial agriculture. Our finance minister says that and more clearly does out agriculture minister who candidly says there is no place for small farmers