Farmer unions speak out in Hyderabad on GM crops on National Food Safety Day

On National Safe Food Day (Feb 9, 2013), Farmer Unions and Civil Society groups in Hyderabad declare that GM crops are not required for Food Security, and demand that the government should implement Parliamentary Standing Committee and Supreme Court Tech Committee recommendations

Several farmer union leaders and civil society groups came together at press meet on National Safe Food Day to speak out about GM crops, 3 years after they raised strong concerns about Bt Brinjal which led to the Centre declaring a moratorium on Feb 9th, 2010. This day is being observed as National Safe Food Day by groups across the country.
The following points were highlighted:
(1) We reject the claims of the Bio-tech industry lobby groups and their agents pretending to speak on behalf of farmers, that farmers are demanding GM crops. As farmer organizations representing millions of farmers in Andhra Pradesh, we declare that what farmers are demanding is strong regulation of seed companies including quality, price and royalties on seed, and farmers’ rights over seed (instead of intellectual property rights by companies).
(2) We reject the claim that GM crops are essential for food security and for increasing food production. As farmer organizations representing millions of farmers in A.P., we assert that what is required for food security is urgent measures to ensure remunerative prices, provide support systems for farmers, incentives for food crops rather than risky commercial crops, and preventing diversion of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes. Instead of acting on these real demands of farmers, the Ministry of Agriculture is batting for the GM, seed and pesticide industries as indicated by the recent conference in Delhi.
(3) In the 3 years since the Bt Brinjal moratorium, various recommendations of the Minister of Environment and Forests, such as establishing independent testing laboratories, independent regulatory and monitoring body, incorporating long-term tests for bio-safety and health impacts of GM crops, etc. have not been implemented. Still, there is a clamour from the biotech companies and Ministry of Agriculture for releasing GM crops.
(4) The Parliamentary Standing Committee and Supreme Court-appointed Technical Expert Committee made detailed, well-studied recommendations on GM crops – including stopping certain field trials and permitting certain trials only after bio-safety has been established. These recommendations should be implemented immediately by Govt of India.
(5) The BRAI Bill which is designed to fast-track the approval of GM crops should be set aside, and a new National Bio-Safety Law should be adopted to regulate GM crops.
Several programs with farmers are being taken up to raise awareness about GM crops in the next one month in various districts.
Pasya Padma from A.P.Ryotu Sangham, Sai Reddy from Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, Kiran Vissa from Rythu Swarajya Vedika, Dr.Ramanjaneyulu from Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, and Dr.Narasimha Reddy from Chetana Society participated. Sarampalli Malla Reddy, National Vice President of All India Kisan Sabha, and David Showry, leader of Bharatiya Kisan Morcha (BJP) fully supported the statement but could not join due to health and unavoidable reasons.

 

Central government to redraft food security bill

Ajith Athrady, NEW DELHI, Jan 30, 2013, DHNS:

The UPA Government’s much-hyped cheap foodgrain scheme is likely to be delayed further with the Centre on Wednesday deciding to redraft the National Food Security Bill by incorporating suggestions made by the Parliament Standing Committee on Food and Consumer Affairs.

The decision was taken at a high level meeting convened at the Prime Minister’s Office to discuss the panel’s recommendations. It was also decided to withdraw the current bill from Parliament and table a new bill in the coming Budget Session.

Though Union Food and Consumer Affairs Minister K V Thomas claimed that the new bill would be passed in the Budget Session, officials are sceptical.

“Drafting a new bill means the entire exercise has to start afresh. Even the Food Ministry has to call a meeting of the states — either of food ministers or chief ministers — to consult on this issue again,” sources in the government told Deccan Herald.

No more review by panel

The new bill, which will be drafted by the Food and Consumer Affairs Ministry, will not be sent to the Standing Committee again as all its suggestions on the existing bill will be incorporated in the new one, sources added.

The new bill will, however, protect the Anna Antyodaya Yojane category beneficiaries, wherein the poorest among poor will get 35 kg of foodgrain in a month. Besides, there will be coverage up to 75 per cent in 250 backward districts, while it will be 90 per cent in 13 states including the northeastern region.

The total coverage under the scheme will remain 67 per cent in the country in the new bill and the cost to the exchequer will also be less than Rs 1.20 lakh crore a year, said an official from the ministry.

Instead of modifying the existing bill, the government has decided to draft a new bill to incorporate the many recommendations made by the Standing Committee on Food and Consumer Affairs headed by Congress MP Vilas Muttemwar, the official said.

Though the government had long ago announced to introduce the cheap foodgrain scheme through legislation, it is struggling to fine-tune it.

Conference organised by the Ministry of Agriculture on “Doubling Food Production in Five Years” – Ignoring Parliament – In brazen support of corporate interests at the expense of farmers

Coalition for a GM-Free India

New Delhi

29-01-2013

To

Shri Sharad Pawar,

Ministry for Agriculture,

Goverrnment of India.

Re: Conference organised by the Ministry of Agriculture on “Doubling Food Production in Five Years” – Ignoring Parliament – In brazen support of corporate interests at the expense of farmers’ – reg.

It has come to our attention that the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) is organising a Conference on “Doubling Food Production in Five years” from February 1-3, 2013 at Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi. On the face of it, it appears to be a regular program of the Ministry. However, two things draw our attention to this particular Conference : first, the predominance of vested interests acting behind it i.e, the ones promoting the Conference with full page advertisements in national newspapers – the Pesticide Manufacturers and Formulators Association of India(PMFAI), the National Seed Association of India(NSAI) and the biotech lobby group-ABLE and second, some of the “eminent” speakers selected to address the Conference – some of them controversial figures well known for their support of GM crops without supporting scientific facts or evidence.

Sir, you know very well that the Standing Committee on Agriculture of the Indian Parliament has in its path-breaking report of August 2012, come down heavily on this dangerous path that your Ministry is leading the country into. It said “In their tearing hurry to open the economy to private prospectors, the Government should not make the same fate befall on the agriculture sector as has happened to the communications, pharma, mineral wealth and several other sectors in which the Government’s facilitative benevelonce preceded setting up of sufficient checks and balances and regulatory mechanisms, thereby, leading to colossal, unfettered loot and plunder of national wealth in some form or the other, incalculable damage to environment, biodiversity, flora and fauna and unimaginable suffering to the common man.” [Para 3.48].

Many of the members of the Committee were UPA Parliamentarians, as you are aware.

It is grossly irresponsible, unscientific, misleading and completely unethical for the Ministry to blatantly promote technologies such as GM crops, when as a country, India is trying to come out of the pesticide tread-mill and make its production, agriculture and its farmers livelihood sustainable, safe and remunerative. It is also reprehensible that the Ministry of Agriculture, which is answerable to the larger public and the farmers is acting at the behest of the industries who stand to profit from these unneeded, hazardous technologies. We would also like to point out that the Ministry’s own inquiry through the Sopory Committee has brought to the fore egregious failings with regard to transgenic research and regulation in this country.

This blatant attempt by the Ministry makes it clear that MoA is not genuinely interested in addressing food security in any lasting fashion or acting in a scientific way when it comes to many problems in our farming, but is interested in blindly promoting certain technologies, for private and possibly vested and corrupt interests.

Food security of a country like India is not an issue the MoA should let vested interests sabotage; it requires serious efforts from the Ministry and its officials to listen to all stakeholders and to arrive at a well thought out and optimal solution to address it, drawing from various areas of expertise, experience and knowledge domains. We reproduce what the Parliamentary Standing Committee had said on this matter.

The present worrisome situation” as regards food security is primarily because of “faulty procurement policy, mismanagement of stocks, lack of adequate and proper storage, hoarding and lopsided distribution, massive leakages in the public distribution delivery system, etc.” It also adds categorically that “If these shortcomings and problems are attended to along with liberal financial assistance to agriculture and allied sectors, proactive measures are initiated to arrest the decreasing trend in cultivable area and farmer friendly and sustainable agricultural practices are put in use, there would not be any compelling need for adopting technologies which are yet to be proven totally safe for biodiversity, environment, human and livestock health and which will encourage monoculture, an option best avoided.”

The committee finally recommends that “the Government come up with a fresh road map for ensuring food security in coming years without jeopardizing the vast bio-diversity of the country and compromising with the safety of human health and livestock health.” [Para – 7.71].

It is unclear how your Ministry thinks that food security can be achieved with the help of the pesticide industry, the seed industry (that is increasingly playing into the hands of the biotech majors such as Monsanto) and the biotech industry with a single agenda of promoting genetically modified seed that is not only inadequately tested but also adequately patented so as to ensure a complete rout of our agricultural sovereignty!!! It is quite perplexing how the post-modern science and discourse in agriculture has evolved towards sustainability and agro-ecology all over the world, but is being denied vehemently by your Ministry in this country. The same applies to the nuanced understanding around the complexity of hunger and malnutrition, including structural poverty-related issues, whereas your Ministry wants unproven techno-fixes to be deployed as a one-size-fits-all solution.

It is surprising that solutions offered by globally recognised initiatives such as the IAASTD do not seem to have attracted your attention at all. And again here the Standing Committee on Agriculture has some excellent suggestions. It says “the Committee would like to remind the Government of India that they are a signatory to this path breaking effort (IAASTD Report) and in the opinion of the Committee, the Government would do well if they adopt this Report as the way forward for development of agriculture and allied sectors in India, in a sustainable and environmental friendly manner, and with no unwanted risks to biodiversity, human and livestock health, flora and fauna. The Committee also desire to be apprised of the concrete action taken by the Government on each of the findings contained in IAASTD Report during the four years after the release of the Report.” [Para 5.52]

All said and done, the Ministry of Agriculture seems to be least interested in anything that is even remotely connected to sustainability (farm as well as farm livelihood) and is only interested in helping corporate and MNC powers to dominate and profit, even at the cost of the lives of farmers and the hapless Indian consumer. There is also deep disrespect being shown towards the Indian Parliament, whose report your Ministry is ignoring and acting in contravention to its recommendations.

Hence, we are writing this letter to express our deep anguish and anger at the really worrying direction that your Ministry and hence the Government of India is leading Indian agriculture into. The fact that you are hosting people like Dennis Avery, Peter Raven, Patrick Moore and Mark Lynas to name a few demonstrates the desperation that your Ministry shares with the GM and pesticides industries to shove such dangerous technologies down the throats of the Indian public. As recently as last week the ruling party in its conclave promised that it will listen more to the people of the country, and this is definitely not the peoples wish!

Therefore, we are sending this letter to express our condemnation of such blatant vested interests being involved in policy-making and within the government. Moreover, there are accountability questions with public funds utilised for such promotional activities of profiteering industries and unscientific worldviews. The government should appreciate that this will only instigate a greater public outcry from citizens for their science, knowledge, experience and worldviews to be heard and taken on board, while shaping future directions.

We urge you not to go ahead with such a wrongly-founded Conference and also urge you to not host these controversial speakers and provide a platform to hazardous industries and waste precious public funds on events such as these.

With due respects and concerns

ridhar Radhakrishnan

Convener,

Coalition for a GM-Free India.

Copy to :

  1. Dr Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India

  2. Smt. Sonia Gandhi, Chairperson, United Progressive Alliance

  3. Sri.Jaipal Reddy, Minister for Science and Technology

  4. Smt.Jayanti Natarajan, Minister of State for Environment and Forests

Coalition for a GM-Free India is a broad national network of organizations, scientists, farmer unions, consumer groups and individuals committed to keep the food and farms in India free of Genetically Modified Organisms and to protecting India’s food security and sovereignty.

 Coalition for a GM-free India

c/o INSAF, A-124/6, First Floor, Katwaria Sarai, New Delhi 110 016, Phone/Fax: 011-26517814

Website: www.indiagminfo.org, email: indiagmfree@gmail.com, Facebook – GM Watch India

ANNEXURE:

The announcement of the Conference lists atleast two Chief Ministers, many ministers and officials from the Ministry of Agriculture. In addition there are representatives from FAO and ILRI. The CEO of one of the largest  agro-business corporations in Latin America and the President of EMBRAPA ( Brazil) find a place in the speakers list.  It also has four known  GM crop promoters. Some information on them is provided below:

A short note on the affiliations of some of the ‘eminent speakers’

  • Dennis Avery – Director of Hudson Institute1 , considered a conservative think tank, which is supported by large corporations including agri-business corporations2. He is an anti-organicfarming advocate and a strong supporter of biotechnology in agriculture, pesticides and a climate change skeptic.3 4
  • Mark Lynas  The biotech industrys newly minted star, according to his own profile is a speaker on climate change5, nowhere he is featured as an anti-GM activist. He began promotingGM crops since the last three years.6 He has claimed to have ‘helped start’ the anti-GM movement and also said to have ‘coordinated with Indian groups both untrue! The Coalition has already put out a detailed statement which can be accessed here.7
  • Patrick Moore Runs his own consulting firm which reportedly does “public relations efforts, lectures, lobbying.8According to Greenpeace (Moore uses his past link to GP even now)Patrick Moore is , “a paid spokesman for the nuclear industry, the logging industry, and genetic engineering industry, frequently cites a long-ago affiliation with Greenpeace to gain legitimacy inthe media.9 Greenpeace says “Patrick Moore frequently portrays himself as a founder or co-founder of Greenpeace, and many news outlets have repeated this characterization. AlthoughMr. Moore played a significant role in Greenpeace Canada for several years, he did not found Greenpeace.10 It is interesting to note that even in this profile for the Conference of Ministry ofAgriculture, he gives his long ago Greenpeace affiliation( which ended more than 25 years back) rather than his lobbying work of the past 20 years .
  • Peter Raven President Emeritus of Missouri Gardens which has a long standing and close relationship with Monsanto and is an advocate of GM crops.11 Missouri Gardens has beenworking with and receiving funds from Monsanto since 1999. Even as recently as May 2012 Monsanto gifted three million dollars to the Missouri botanical gardens.12 In addition many of thefacilities in Missuori Gardens are funded by Monsanto like the Monsanto Hall, Monsanto Center etc.13 Along with Monsanto the Missouri Botanical Gradens was one of the key groupsinvolved in forming the Danforth Plant Science Centre, which promotes GM crop research.14

10 ibid

Food as entitlement: Harsh Mander

Ash in the Belly: India’s Unfinished Battle Against Hunger by Harsh Mander
Ash in the Belly: India’s Unfinished Battle Against Hunger by Harsh Mander
Reinventing the discourse around human rights today presents new opportunities to advance the possibilities of justice. An excerpt from Harsh Mander’s just released book Ash in the Belly: India’s Unfinished Battle against Hunger.
 
There are many ways that the story of human history can be told. One of these is of the unending struggles of oppressed people — to fight their chains, to free themselves and others from the bondages which have enslaved and crushed them.
 
Each epoch has fashioned its own ideas around which dreams and struggles for justice have been forged. In recent centuries, these struggles for justice have increasingly been fashioned at least partly around some notions of rights, or moral and legal entitlements. In post-War, postcolonial decades of the second half of the twentieth century, somewhat sterile debates rose around the conflict and hierarchy of rights. Non-Communist liberal democracies prioritized civil and political rights, such as protection against torture and arbitrary arrest and detention, over social and economic rights of food, shelter, health care and education. Communist regimes ensured food, education, health-care and social security for its citizens, but trampled civil and political rights. However, epochal changes wrought the world over after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the demolition of the Berlin Wall in the last two decades of the twentieth century have posed new and urgent challenges to the notions of both rights and justice.
 
Discussions about ending hunger and securing every person’s access to food is increasingly being articulated around some notion of rights, rather than appeals to charity, the goodwill of people, religious organizations or public officials, or even development services or basic needs. It is built around the growing acknowledgement of the equal intrinsic worth of every human being, primarily by virtue of their being human. This leads to a belief that governments have the primary duty to ensure that people have the material resources, freedoms and protection required to be able to live a human life of dignity, security and material levels, considered the entitlement of every human being. Rights are these claims that every human being can make from the government stemming from the essential equal humanity and worth of all people. These rights have moral binding, but some are also legally enforceable in courts of law. In other words, rights are entitlements backed by legal or moral principles.
 
During much of the twentieth century, poverty, hunger, want and inequality were always with, and around us. Their existence formed an essential element of middle class consciousness. Radical socialist and communist formations fought for power in the name of poor and oppressed people, and when in power governed explicitly for their social and economic rights. Postcolonial States derived legitimacy from claims of redistributive justice. Liberal democratic capitalist governments experimented with Keynesian or welfare state solutions to poverty, basic needs and social security. Whatever States actually did for social and economic justice and for better lives for underprivileged people, there was no doubt that they derive legitimacy substantially from these claims and acts. The lives and struggles of poor people were a staple of popular cinema and literature and found spaces, even if limited, in print and television media.
 
All this changed dramatically in the last decade of the twentieth century. The notion of ‘good governance’ was influentially fostered by international financial institutions like the World Bank, incorporating globalised free markets, private provisioning of public goods and fiscal austerity, and like the assembly line of consumer goods adopted increasingly by populations across the world. There arose also a global assembly line of ideas and culture. In other words, not only did people across cultures and nations start eating the same burgers and wearing the same branded blue denim jeans; they also began to believe that the same set of economic and public policies would benefit people of all classes and gender across nations. Important among these ideas was that the primary duty of the State was no longer to address poverty, hunger and injustice, and to ensure the security of all citizens. It was instead to create the most effective conditions for globalized trans-national capital to flourish with the least encumbrances and uncertainties, so that investment and consequent economic growth could be best secured. States did not even have to provision public goods like food, education, health care and public transport; even these could be competitively secured through the functioning of markets.
 
This change is also brought about with the breakdown of Keynesian welfare State and the emergence of Schumpeterian workfare regime, in which welfare was downgraded and workfare become the ruling idea. That is, one can only ask for relief if one is willing and able to ‘work’ in ‘productive’ ways as defined by material society. Crucially, a whole group of people (including the destitute, aged, sick and disabled) become devalued and invisible, because they are deemed to be unproductive, even ‘unemployable’. This also leads to de-prioritizing and in a way de-legitimizing the rights of people to means of dignified existence, independent of their perceived inability to ‘produce’.
 
The contemporary international regime of human rights was established by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the UN General Assembly, 1948, which affirmed that the ‘recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world’.
 
Reinventing the discourse around human rights today presents new opportunities to advance the possibilities of justice, faced by the challenges in our times. This is because people can even less than in the past depend only on appeals to the moral authority and legitimacy of the State and conventional processes of representative democracy to secure the rights of citizens, particularly those who are most marginalized.
 
Rights already exist, but they are often implicit in the fundamental constitutional rights (especially the rights to life and equality), in the normative framework established by international covenants, or in a more universal moral regime that binds all States and informs its actions. These rights can and have indeed been widely and manifestly violated by State authorities. Yet there seems little recourse to the victims and survivors of these violations in the existing regime. The likelihood of these rights being enforced is greatly dimmed in a world where the success of States is judged by their abilities to attract international capital and accelerate market led growth, rather than to actively build a better life for its disadvantaged citizens, and when they are under enormous pressure by international financial and aid institutions to decelerate State spending. A range of rights such as social and economic rights, perhaps the first of which if the right to food, need now to be elaborated, codified and above all made judiciable.
 
Excerpted with permissions from Penguin Books India from the book Ash in the Belly: India’s Unfinished Battle Against Hunger by Harsh Mander. Penguin India/ Rs.350.
 

Need for new food security law – Political gimmick won’t do


THE UPA government’s Food Security Bill (FSB) has managed to draw flak from almost every quarter, starting with agencies within the government led by the Minister of Agriculture himself, followed by several experts and public interest groups. This controversial law originates from the National Advisory Council which has drafted it without consultations with scientists, experts, farmers or civil society groups working on agriculture and food issues. Because it has the powerful backing of Sonia Gandhi, this imperfect draft legislation is being pushed in Parliament. The Bill exists in a vacuum and makes no effort to correct any of the problems in the existing food support schemes. It merely suggests another way of distributing food under the PDS and could legitimately be called a Revised Public Distribution System (PDS) Bill rather than a Food Security Bill.
To achieve food security, the Bill proposes to revise the PDS and provide 7 kg of rice and wheat at Rs 3 and Rs 2 per kg, respectively, per person to people below the poverty line. More recently, the government is suggesting that the priority and general categories should be done away with and only one category of people retained for support. These people should be provided 5 kg grain per individual. Not unexpectedly, this has been met with stiff opposition.
The country already has several food support schemes to tackle hunger. These are principally the (PDS), the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) and the Mid-Day Meal Scheme. In addition, there is the Annapurna Scheme for old people and Antodaya for the very poor. The implementation of most of these schemes is highly problematic and there are several leakages. PDS grain lands up in the black market, eligible women and children are not able to get their full entitlements from the ICDS and many of the really poor do not have BPL (Below the Poverty Line) cards because the well-off and influential in villages have had them made in their own names. We don’t really need new Bills, we need to plug the loopholes in the existing laws and policies. The new Bill makes absolutely no effort to correct any of the defects in current schemes; it just goes ahead with its own, not necessarily better, version of doing things.
It is understood by people in the know that food security has three essential components. These are food production, food distribution and food absorption. The National Advisory Council draft is faulty because it addresses just one issue — food distribution. It does not touch upon the crucial aspect of food production, nor does it deal with food absorption, which is necessary to ensure that the food that is eaten is absorbed by the body and provides nutrition. To enable proper absorption, we need clean drinking water and sanitation so that people do not suffer from diarrhoea and other stomach infections. Clean drinking water and sanitation will, therefore, have to be essential components of a law that aims to provide food security.
Possibly, the most challenging aspect of achieving food security is the cultivation aspect. Farmers are abandoning farming because it does not pay any more. Farming is the riskiest business in the world, but in India it is also a loss-making enterprise. Input costs have gone through the roof but the minimum support price (MSP) has not. In most states, the MSP does not cover the cost of production of the crops which are procured by the government. This applies to all the major food crops: paddy, wheat, jowar, bajra, maize, ragi, arhar, moong, urad, chana (gram) and barley.
The Food Security Bill fails to respond to the enormous disaster in the making as the agrarian crisis worsens. In the kharif season of 2011, tomato farmers in Karnataka hired tractor- trolleys to dump their produce on the highways because they could not get a price for it. In the same season, farmers in Andhra Pradesh declared a crop holiday and refused to plant their fields since under the present conditions, they end up losing money. In rain-fed regions like Jharkhand, farmers have been leaving their upland fields fallow for the last several years. Now even the more productive lowland fields are not cultivated because the maths simply does not add up.
The current Food Security Bill appears to be a political gimmick rather than an honest effort to tackle the problem. If we are serious and mean to do the right thing, we must start afresh and draft a new piece of food security legislation which is comprehensive. It must address the three main aspects: the production of food, its distribution, and its absorption by the body.
The writer is a scientist with several years of research and teaching experience. She works with Gene Campaign, a research and advocacy organisation, working on food and livelihood security and can be reached atmail@genecampaign.org and www.genecampaign.org

Fighting for food security in India

http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/poverty-matters/2012/jul/16/fighting-food-security-india?fb=native&CMP=FBCNETTXT9038

The food security bill being debated in Delhi is a big step forward, but we need a lot more than a law to combat hunger

MDG : India food safety : woman working in field

A farmer works in a field in Uttar Pradesh. India’s national food security bill could mark a significant step towards eradicating hunger. Photograph: Nagender Chhikara/Oxfam

In India over the past 15 years, the debate about food, under a rights-based perspective, has become increasingly complex. Concerns about famine, emergency relief and technology-driven green revolutions have given way to discussions on the state’s failure to deliver public distribution programmes, the discrimination these programmes perpetuate, legal entitlements to land, climate change, price volatility and the role of NGOs. In other words, the debate has shifted from starvation and subsistence to dignity and justice.

 

In 2001, we saw the scandal of the country bursting at the seams with60m tonnes of stored food grains as starvation, death and migration afflicted six states. The People’s Union for Civil Liberties sued the government, arguing that it must open its grain reserves to feed the hungry. The writ demanded the government provide jobs to people in drought-affected villages and support those who could not work.

 

Eventually, India’s supreme court agreed the state was indeed responsible for providing nutrition and public health. The most persuasive argument to the court is that the right to food is directly related to the constitutional guarantee of a right to life. When the government said it simply could not afford to provide every citizen with the right to food, the court said lack of money was no excuse.

 

The national food security bill is an outcome of the 11-plus years of litigation, street protests and media and public scrutiny. In response to the pressure, the government, when it came to power in 2009, madefood security one of its electoral promises. The draft bill was finally tabled in parliament in December 2011. Despite omissions in the draft bill, it still marks a great step forward – and food rights champions hope that when it gets passed into legislation it will be far more progressive and inclusive than it is now.

 

To discuss the background to this legislation, prominent authors and commentators joined with Oxfam India and the UK’s Institute of Development Studies to put together the bulletin Standing on the threshold: food justice in India.

 

From the father of India’s green revolution, MS Swaminathan, to public intellectual CP Chandrasekhar and supreme court commissioners on the right to food, NC Saxema and Harsh Mander, the bulletin’s contributors agree approval of the bill is an important step forward for India. However, a law on its own can do little. India is still in the bottom 10 for child malnutrition, infant mortality and protecting land rights – a gloomy picture produced by institutional failures, gaps in legal frameworks, a lack of political will and the weak monitoring mechanisms of existing public distribution programmes.

 

If India’s second green revolution is to contribute to an accelerated reduction of poverty, hunger and malnutrition, it has to be a state-led project. Far from being old-fashioned, the state’s pricing policies, legal entitlement system, public distribution and natural-resource management programmes are key to reaching the poorest of the poor. The food, nutrition and agriculture programmes are failing to tackle deep-seated discriminatory practices. Stronger, transparent monitoring by accountable state agencies is a must.

 

If food security is about having certainty about the future, the common goal must also be growth in agriculture and food security that gives the same rights on the land to men and women farmers. A complete halt on any new land acquisition is required until a way of calculating and compensating social, economic and environmental costs is in place, particularly with regard to tribal communities, for whom the right to the land is still particularly uncertain. The media also have a crucial role to play: the most common references to food by them still revolves around restaurant reviews, food festivals, and books on cooking and dieting.

 

Finally, India has to realise that any global climate policy must have solid domestic foundations, reflecting the concerns of poor people, including farmers and fishermen – in India as elsewhere.

 

The future will belong to nations with grains and not guns. We have enough grains for all – we need to open and expand our thinking on what can be done, and how to build a future where everyone on the planet always has enough to eat.

 

• Biraj Swain is Oxfam India‘s campaigns manager, and co-editor of Standing on the threshold, to be launched at New Delhi’s Constitution club on 17 July

The politics of food for the hungry

ARUNA ROY & NEHA SAIGAL

The 28th of May, marked as “World Hunger Day,” has come and gone but for Pannu Bai Bhil, every day is hunger day. How does someone dealing with chronic hunger view a day marking her plight? Let those of us who overeat at least take stock of a hungry India pitted against bumper crops, number crunching, technologies for profit, markets, and growth rates. The solution for hunger lies in proper distribution of grain, and not in bringing technology as the Prime Minster avers when talking of GM crops. If this government cannot prevent the huge stocks from rotting by distributing food grain adequately and equitably, other questions remain mere rhetoric.

Whenever issues of deprivation, hunger and social security are raised, the government deliberately talks of the declining Sensex, the rupee exchange, growth rates, and balanced budgets. Most innocent readers and viewers of news blame the demands of the marginalised for pulling down a rising India. Nationalist India will have to make a choice. Can we shift from fighting the ‘foreign hand’ to fight the biggest enemy within — the hunger of millions? India has not addressed the unpardonable sin of letting bumper crops and huge dumps of grain rot, when millions of Indians battle with endemic hunger and lack of access to food.

Since it is a global event, a quick overview of international standards would be useful. The World Food Summit (1996) defined food security as “access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life.” The Global Hunger Index released by the International Food Policy Research Institute ranks India 66th among 88 vulnerable countries. Ironically farmers are amongst the millions who go hungry. A principal reason is that the economy has neglected agriculture, continuously discriminated against and exploited to subsidise the manufacturing and service sectors.

How to lie with statistics : The first method to downplay the issue is to crunch numbers, and reduce the statistics of hungry people. There are many contradictory reports and studies commissioned by the government. Conclusive figures vary. For example, according to the Planning Commission’s contentious Tendulkar Committee Report, calorie consumption is calculated at 1776 calories per person per day for urban areas, 1999 for rural areas. This is much below the ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) norms for the average person in India which is 2400 calories in rural areas and 2100 calories in urban areas. Having already restricted the supply of subsidised food grains to BPL families, the government brought down the BPL figures from 37.2 per cent in 2004-05 to 29.8 per cent in 2009-10. In one stroke, the government absolved itself of the responsibility of providing affordable food grain to those who, by medical standards, needed them. Yet while releasing the ‘Hungama’ report (2012), the Prime Minister was shocked to find 42 per cent of children malnourished, calling it a “national shame”.

The technology fix : “The country cannot feed its hungry millions, unless there is high tech Corporate agriculture!” According to the figures of the Ministry of Agriculture, in the last three years of 2009-10, 2010-2011 and 2011-12 food grain production broke records. The country produced approximately 240 million tonnes of cereals and 17 million tonnes of pulses last year. If this is procured and distributed efficiently, it should be enough to provide the stipulated calories for the entire population of the country. Instead, there is poor procurement, and potential wastage of millions of tonnes of food grain that will rot in railway yards, mandies , FCI godowns across the country. The population that will and has benefited most from this stark inability to deal with distribution are rats! Exporting food now, far from being a solution, will only aggravate hunger further.

Technology or political will : Facts and figures proclaim surplus despite accusations that the agriculture sector pulls down growth. But, the government has been making hunger and low production the reason to push a series of techno-fix solutions. It is part of a mindset that sees the solution in Northern style Agro-Business Corporations. The balance sheet of a technological solution can now be better measured in the cradles of the Green revolution — Punjab and Haryana — where the costs to the land and water table, and dependent relationship on the financiers and agro companies were never factored in. This model, propagated across the country, spelt rapid depletion of the natural capital for farming — soil, water and biodiversity. It also resulted in indebted farmers. It is inexplicable that a set of market economy policymakers, with a commitment to cost benefit analysis, should ignore depletion of basic capital — land that produces, and the (in)security of farmers in the market. There is also the wider national impact of these agrochemicals on health.

The latest addition to this treadmill of technologies being sold to farmers is Genetically Modified (GM) crops. It represents a paradigm shift in agriculture, with the potential to affect the consumers (food safety) and farmers (livelihood) security.

GM crops are controversial all over the world. Questions have been repeatedly raised against this technology being introduced in food and farming. When Bt Brinjal was introduced, it was the first GM food crop proposed for commercial cultivation. There was public opposition from all sections of society, including the fact that the bio-safety assessment on Bt Brinjal was not satisfactory. Jairam Ramesh, then Union Minister for Environment and Forests, concluded a series of public consultations on this contested policy, with a decision to enforce an indefinite moratorium on the proposal.

Alarm bells

In fact, the assessment of Bt cotton, the only commercially approved GM crop in the country, should ring alarm bells for policymakers obsessed with the idea of increased food production through GM technology. While the area under Bt cotton cultivation has certainly gone up over the last decade, data analysis shows productivity has not significantly increased, nor has pesticide use markedly decreased. In fact, cotton productivity has been on the decline in the last five years — a period when Bt cotton covered the majority of the cotton cultivated area in the country. Far from being a technological solution to rural poverty, Bt cotton has only increased the distress of those dependent on farming, and acutely so in the semi-arid cotton belt. Costs have increased due to the appearance of new pests and others developing Bt resistance, higher water and fertilizer requirements, and no major benefit in the output. The main beneficiaries of this transfer to Bt Cotton seem to be multinational seed companies like Monsanto which have profited through patents and royalty.

Attempts to flood agriculture with GM crops — around 71 at different stages of development in the pipeline — in fact pose a threat to long-term food security. The government seems unconcerned that this technology will further shift the control of agriculture to seed companies and corporate intermediaries. There is a growing body of science that points to the risk that GM food might pose to human health and environment. What insures us against the potential disaster to life and environment when side-effects emerge a few decades later?

While hasty techno-fixes to deal with the crisis in the farming community are afoot, malnutrition and genuine problems in the agricultural sector in the country fail to be seriously addressed. Farmers committing suicide are linked to the commercial pressures of tech dependent agriculture, along with the controls of companies, the market, and credit agencies. Increasing production is not the only solution to hunger in an unequal society. The debates around the National Food Security Bill reveal the lack of political intent to use food stocks to help remove malnutrition and address inequity. While talking of food security (a much larger right than just PDS), policymakers are reluctant to grant universal entitlements of even food grain to eradicate hunger.

India is, and will be, an agricultural economy. Communities dependent on farming have tremendously difficult jobs and very low incomes. In shifting to intensive mono cropping during the Green Revolution, farmers stopped cultivating diverse and subsistence crops, undermining their own basic food security. We need to ensure that people in agriculture lead economically secure lives. A rationally calculated Minimum Support Price is non-negotiable. Agricultural workers and farmers must have the purchasing power, for their own food security needs.

If we take “hunger day” seriously, every Indian who feeds more than twice a day, wasting food, and critiquing food entitlements, should feel contrite and join the campaign for a universal entitlement through the PDS. We should take a serious look at the politics of food, and not be taken in by potentially dangerous technological solutions like GM foods. The Indian government must move from platitudes to action. Undistributed grains must be moved immediately to people through the PDS and increased universal allocations under the proposed Right to Food Bill. Can we afford to wait for Parliament debates in the monsoon session as rains soak and rot open food stocks, and farmers struggle to find the money for inputs to sow their next crop?

(Aruna Roy is a social activist. Email: mkssrajasthan@gmail.com, arunaroy@gmail.com Neha Saigal is Sustainable Agriculture Campaigner, Greenpeace India)

 

Policymakers talk of food security

but are reluctant to give universal

entitlements to eradicate hunger