The double standards are clear. In 2012, the US provided $100 billion for domestic food aid, up from the $95 billion it spent on feeding its 67 million undernourished population in 2010 including spending on food coupons and other supplementary nutrition programmes. In India, the Food Bill is expected to cost $20 billion and will feed an estimated 850 million people. Against an average supply of 358kg/person of subsidised food aid (including cereals) in the US every year, India promises to make available 60 kg/person in food entitlement. And yet, while the World Trade Organisation (WTO) is quiet on the subsidy being doled out in America for feeding its poor, the US has launched an attack on India for “creating a massive new loophole for potentially unlimited trade-distorting subsidies.”
India’s subsidies for feeding its hungry are being blamed for distorting trade in agriculture while the US, which provides six times more subsidies than India for feeding its hungry, is seen as doing humanitarian service. The US subsidies are unquestionable, while India’s hungry are being conveniently traded at the WTO. Public posturing notwithstanding, India is believed to have given in to US pressure. Commerce minister Anand Sharma is believed to have assured the WTO director-general that India is committed to take the multilateral trading regime to its logical conclusion. That India is not willing to contest the unfair provisions, and has agreed to a compromise, becomes evident from what the WTO chief said: “What we have agreed in Geneva is we are going to be working on a Peace Clause.”
The US/EU is pushing for a Peace Clause lasting two-three years. India is willing to accept it since it allows the food security programme to continue without any hiccup till 2014. The Peace Clause is a temporary reprieve. Although it expired in 2003, it is being reinvented now to allow India to continue with its food subsidies for the specified period during which its subsidies cannot be challenged before the WTO dispute panel.
The main issue here is the increasing amount being spent on public stockholding of foodgrains and thereby the rise in administered prices for wheat and rice that is procured from small farmers. According to the WTO Agreement on Agriculture, the administered price cannot exceed the ‘de-minimis’ level of 10% of the total volume of production. This exemption is allowed under the Aggregate Measure of Support. India has already exceeded the limit in the case of rice where the procurement price has shot up to 24% from the base year 1986-88 that was agreed upon.
It is, therefore, not the food subsidy Bill that is under the radar, but the procurement price system in India which is now on the chopping block. If India is forced to limit the rice procurement price at 10% of the total production, and refrain from increasing the wheat procurement price in future, it will sound the death knell for agriculture. Agreeing to a Peace Clause only shows how India is trying to skirt the contentious issue and is ready to sacrifice the livelihood security of its 600 million farmers.
According to the US-based Environment Working Group, America had paid a quarter of a trillion dollars in subsidy support between 1995 and 2009. In the 2013 Farm Bill, these subsidies have been further increased. This results in the dumping of foodgrains, thereby dampening farm gate prices, and pushing farmers out of agriculture. In India, wheat and rice growers have merely received $9.4 billion as procurement price in 2012. Forcing India to freeze procurement prices means that the WTO is being used to destroy Indian agriculture.
a very interesting compilation by Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements
Hopeful alternative:Utera farming enriches the soil quality and keeps away pests.
The beneficiaries:Ganpat and his wife Beti Bai at their farm.
Known as utera cropping, six to seven types of crops are sown simultaneously in this type of cultivation. For example, seeds of urad, jawar, paddy, tilli, tuar, sama and kodo are mixed and then sown collectively. Sown in June, the crop is harvested at different times; urad is harvested first, followed by paddy, jawar and tuar.
Practising traditional utera methods has helped Dhadaw farmers keep away the harmful aspects of chemical farming
New Delhi, February 20, 2013: Rejecting Sharad Pawar’s stance on GM crops being the answer to India’s food security, 17 Greenpeace activists unfurled a massive banner with the message “Say NO to GM, Yes to Food Security” at the Food Corporation of India’s godown in Delhi’s Mayapuri area. As the parliament prepares to kick off the budget session tomorrow, this act reiterates that the solution lies in adopting a holistic view of food security with focus on better food distribution systems rather than promoting false solutions like genetically modified crops (GM).
The police immediately came at the venue and detained the activists, they were later taken to Mayapuri police station. Commenting on the detention, eminent social activist Aruna Roy said, “The Greenpeace activists peacefully protesting against the position taken by Union Agri Minister, Sharad Pawar have been illegally detained. This detention is one more in a series of actions taken by the State to suppress dissent. They were infact protesting against the Minister’s attempt to trivialise the issue of food security by asserting that the controversial GM technology would, infact, offer security of food production. The Minister’s support for GM food crops is highly controversial and there is an ongoing international debate on this issue. We condemn the detention and demand immediate release of peaceful protestors.”
In the Monsoon Session of 2012, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture tabled their report on GM crops. One of the clear recommendations of the report was for the government to come up with a fresh road map to food security that does not adopt risky technologies like GM but addresses the shortcomings of storage, distribution and mismanagement of stocks. That GM food crops are a panacea for food security is an argument made to serve the interests of the biotech sector.
Echoing the voice of the Parliamentary Committee, more than 150 scientists from across the country have written to Smt Jayanthi Natarajan, expressing their displeasure at the Government of India for promoting GM crops as a way forward for food security.
Neha Saigal, campaigner, Greenpeace India said, “So far there has been no single GM crop developed for increasing yields and it has failed to show any such increase in yield in nearly two decades of its existence. Instead of forcing risky GM food down our throats, Mr Pawar needs to address the fact that millions of tonnes of grains in storage facilities across India, consistently fail to reach the people. And, as the environment minister, Smt Natarajan should take an unequivocal stand on GM crops.”
Kavita Srivastava, convenor, Right to Food campaign said, “The issue of food security is broader than production. The problem lies in the lack of a political will for a Universal Distribution System. The UPA Government must not be distracted by GM crops as a solution to food security, but focus on an inclusive food security bill..”
Greenpeace urges the Minister of Environment, Jayanthi Natarajan, who is the decision maker on the environmental release of GMOs to intervene so that the MoA does not mislead the debate of food security.
Our Nutrient World: The challenge to produce more food and energy with less pollution.This Global Overview on Nutrient Management addresses the scientific complexity of how humanity can rise to these challenges and maximize the opportunities of improved nutrient management. The message of this overview is that everyone stands to benefit from nutrients and that everyone can make a contribution to promote sustainable production and use of nutrients. Whether we live in a part of the world with too much or too little nutrients, our daily decisions can make a difference. Its preparation has forged new links between communities, gradually building a network of institutions and actors for better scientific understanding to support future decision making in this field. The work underpinning the report is an outcome from the Global Partnership on Nutrient Management (GPNM). It was prepared by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Edinburgh on behalf of the Global Partnership on Nutrient Management and the International Nitrogen Initiative.
Our Nutrient World (9.5 MB)
(New Delhi, 15 February 2013)
Speaking to an enthralled audience of 1,500 students and faculty at IIT (Delhi) today, Amartya Sen said that the idea of the National Food Security Bill was “a matter of appreciation and support”, and that the tabling of the Bill in Parliament was in itself a big achievement. However, he also drew attention to various shortcomings of the Bill and argued for it to be strengthened, particularly in terms of children’s entitlements.
Also in this panel discussion on “Hunger and Nutrition: Time to Act” were Montek Singh Ahluwalia (Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission), Shantha Sinha (Chairperson, National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights) and Shyama Singh (NREGA Sahayata Kendra, Latehar District, Jharkhand). Shyama Singh, an Adivasi activist from Latehar District in Jharkhand, opened the discussion with a spirited account of people’s struggles for their basic entitlements, including employment under NREGA, land titles and the Public Distribution System. She paid homage to her friends Lalit Mehta and Niyamat Ansari who have lost their lives in this struggle.
Recalling the critical importance of early childhood for lifetime health and wellbeing, Sen deplored the fact that children’s entitlements under the food security bill were so weak. Recent Supreme Court orders on midday meals and the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), he said, have made an important contribution to the health and nutrition of children. The Bill, he felt, should not dilute these entitlements in any way.
Sen also stressed that health, nutrition and elementary education were important in themselves as well as for long-run economic success. Neglecting children is not only unjust but also an economic blunder.
Shanta Sinha, chairperson of the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) also pleaded the case of young children and criticized the National Food Security Bill for giving them a raw deal. She took issue with the Parliamentary Standing Committee report on the Bill, which suggests replacing children’s entitlements with an additional allocation of 5 kgs of foodgrains per month for pregnant women under the PDS. The word “anganwadi”, she pointed out, is not even mentioned in the revised version of the Bill, despite the critical importance of ICDS services for children. Shantha Sinha also criticized the proposal to restrict maternity entitlements in the Bill to the first two children.
Amartya Sen recalled that the principles of free and universal provision of essential health, education and nutrition services were part of the country’s vision at the time of Independence. It can be found, for instance, in the Bhore Committee Report on health, 1946. The country needs to revive this broad view of the links between human capability, economic success, and social justice.
Professor Sen recalled in particular three advantages of universal coverage when it comes to basic public services and social facilities. First, it makes these facilities a matter of citizens’ right, and avoids any exclusion. Second, it ensures that powerful and influential people have a stake in them. Third, universal coverage helps to avoid corruption.
Montek Singh Ahluwalia agreed that malnutrition among children was indeed a national shame, as the Prime Minister himself put it a year ago, and gave credit to civil society for sensitizing the government to this issue. Also a matter of shame, he said, was the state of nutrition statistics, with the latest comprehensive data on child health and nutrition going back to the Third National Family Health Survey, conducted in 2005-6. He stressed the need for a range of interventions, related for instance to immunization, breastfeeding, drinking water and sanitation. He said that the government was also committed to a Public Distribution System that provided access to subsidized grain. Anticipating concerns from the business media and others about the costs of the food bill, Ahluwalia said: “I don’t think the government or anyone else should say that we can’t afford the food subsidy because of the fiscal deficit… that would be actually dishonest”. He added, however, that funding the Bill might call for a reduction of other expenditure.
Professor Sen also spoke about the politics of food and other subsidies. He pointed out that there are powerful lobbies for diesel and LPG subsidies, and even for exemptions of custom duties on gold imports, but not for children’s rights. Because of these imbalances of power and influence, there are also massive imbalances in India’s spending priorities. In his concluding remarks, Sen argued that better practice of democracy was the way to bring about constructive change, and invited everyone to contribute to it.
Dr. Reetika Khera (IIT, Delhi), who chaired the discussion on behalf of the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, spoke about the findings of recent field surveys of social programmes such as NREGA and the PDS, conducted by student volunteers. One of the main insights of these surveys, she said, was that these programmes can make a real difference to people’s lives – something that the media, and even academic research, often fail to report.
For a full video of the discussion see www.youtube.com/watch?v=