Ol ivier De Schutter
Fi nal report : The t ransformati ve potenti al of the right to food*
Ol ivier De Schutter
Ol ivier De Schutter
Fi nal report : The t ransformati ve potenti al of the right to food*
More than 500 people of the Right to Food Campaign sitting at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi rejected the National Food Security Bill 2013 which was passed by the cabinet of the UPA Government today evening and will now be placed in the Parliament in this session.
NO TIME FRAME FOR IMPLEMENTATION
People were shocked to learn that according to the Bill that was passed, the law will not be applied in one stroke. The language of the law is that different dates may be appointed for different states and different provisions for the implementation of the Act. This clearly means that there is no time frame for full implementation or objective criteria for phased implementation. It means the government in power has the choice to decide which state and what provisions need to be implemented. We condemn this as being against the fundamental rights of the people and the federal nature of the Indian state. This also clearly shows that the Government is not really committed towards ensuring the end of food insecurity of the teeming millions of the country.
The Campaign feels strongly that there is a basic flaw in the framework of the Bill as there is a complete absence of guarantees for farmers’ livelihoods, increasing production, guaranteeing Minimum Support Price along with decentralised procurement and decentralised storage. These issues remain unaddressed and only lip service has been given to them by putting them in Schedule III (enabling provisions) of the Bill.
PUBLIC DISTRIBUTION SYSTEM (PDS) A MOCKERY
The Bill entitles only 67 per cent of the population to subsidised foodgrains under the PDS. This would continue the legacy of dividing the population into APL – BPL categories and the associated problem of unfair exclusion of food insecure households from the PDS.
Only the 2.5 crore households currently covered under the Antyodaya Anna Yojana (10 per cent of the country’s total population) will get 35kg of foodgrains a month. The rest of the population entitled to PDS will get only 5 kg of foodgrains per person per month. However, according to ICMR norms, the monthly foodgrain requirement of an adult is 14 kg, and of a child is 7 kg. The monthly provisioning for only 5 kg of cereal per person not only makes a mockery of the intent of the bill, but also goes against the Supreme Court order which entitles every BPL household to 35 kg of foodgrains a month under the PDS. Is this a Food Security Bill or a Food Insecurity Bill, we would like to ask. Especially when the godowns are bursting with foodgrains this entitlement could have been raised.
The absence of entitlements to pulses and oil in the PDS shows that the Bill fails to ensure good nutrition of the county’s population.
TWO CHILD NORM IN MATERNAL ENTITLEMENTS AN INTENT TO CRIMINALISING WOMEN WITH MORE THAN TWO CHILDREN
The Standing Committee recommendation of two child norm for maternal entitlements for lactating mothers after delivery is accepted, although they have tried to be ambiguous and state that it will be according to the specifications of the Central Government scheme. As the scheme has two child norm, so it stays. This clause is almost criminalising women and higher order children by denying them this maternal entitlement.
ICDS AN INITIATIVE TO HAND OVER CHILDREN’S FOOD TO CONTRACTORS
While the Campaign is relieved that the Standing Committee recommendation of removing ICDS from the Bill has been has been rejected by the Cabinet, the continuation of Schedule II for ICDS and Midday Meals is very disturbing. This retains energy dense food and nutritional standards of the Women and Child Development Ministry, which can only be met if there is centralized factory based food production. The orders of the Supreme Court of keeping private contractors out of food schemes for children would be reversed as this opens the door for contractors and companies in supply of food in ICDS, in Take Home Rations in particular. Also the effort to provide local food through Self Help Groups etc also finishes.
NOT EVEN FOR THE DESTITUTES
The complete omission of community kitchens, starvation protocol and other support to vulnerable and destitute shows the complete lack of commitment of the Government towards the poorest who need the cheap food most.
Grievance redressal continues to begin at the district level which is ridiculous as people with grievances need redressal at the panchayat and gram sabha level.
Since UID and cash transfers were there in the original 2011 Bill, and there are no amendment related to them, they continue to be there. The Campaign demands their omission.
Tomorrow (20 March) members of the Right to Food Campaign will meet members of the Parliament and give them 165 gm of foodgrains (the daily consumption of PDS grain by a person entitled to 5kg of foodgrains a month) to show how paltry the provisions of the Bill are.
Also, a press conference will take place tomorrow at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi at 3:30 pm.
Kavita Srivastava, Anuradha Talwar, Father Jothi SJ, Ashok Khandelwal, Balram, Neeta Hardekar, Rupesh and Sejal Dand
(On behalf of the Right to Food Campaign)
The study involved 450 below poverty line households living in Raghubir Nagar, a colony in west Delhi. Of these, 100 households (called the transfer group) received the cash through a bank account opened in the women’s name. The remaining 350 households (called control group) continued their routine of getting wheat, rice and sugar from the local ‘ration shops’ on their ‘ration cards’.
The final report of the study reveals that there was no difference between the amount of wheat, rice and sugar consumed by the transfer group and the control group. However, those getting cash transfers bought more pulses and eggs/fish/meat. Another significant finding was that those getting cash appeared to divert some of it at least to spending on medical attention from private hospitals. Earlier, when they were not getting the cash, only 2.4 percent households of this group used to go to a private hospital but after getting the monthly cash installments, this proportion shot up to almost 21%. Those not getting cash transfers continued to either go to government hospitals or seek alternative medicine which involved less spending.
Besides these two changes in lifestyle, cash transfers did not affect any other habits. There was no difference in fuel usage – cash receiving families did not switch to less hazardous fuels like LPG. Their children’s attendance or performance at school did not improve. They did not invest in income or skill enhancing measures. They did not spend more on sanitary improvements to their homes. Their savings did not improve. And, importantly, the men of the family did not increase spending on alcohol.
Not surprisingly, some of the cash transferred to the families was used by them to pay off pending loans, thus reducing their debt load. The families that had accepted the cash transfersystem were more indebted to begin with, having an average debt of Rs.74,746 compared to an average debt of Rs.43,216 among the control group.
The study also found that performance of the ration shops in the area improved after the study started – an unexpected spillover effect as the shopkeepers tried to keep their customers secure.
So, what is the bottom-line? Although 96% of those included in the year long study said at the end that they would like to continue with receiving cash, the report observes that “among the poor there is a strong public opinion in favor of the PDS system of subsidized food and fuel, in spite of its many defects”. Most of the poor are so used to the PDS system that they would be very insecure if it disappeared, the report says. Pointing to the multiple advantages of a BPL card in getting other government benefits the report says that people are “wary of experimentation” with this important document.
The study report also highlighted a surprising stumbling block – opening bank accounts. They found that “banks actively discourage no-frill accounts” in spite of directives from the RBI. “Opening a bank account is a tedious, time consuming and sometimes humiliating process,” the report says.
So, the study report recommends that the government very gradually introduce the cash transfer scheme and that too as an option, allowing the people to choose between ration cards and cash.
It was supported by the government of Delhi and the United Nations Development Program(UNDP) with Self Employed women’s Association (SEWA) doing the ground work.
VIKHAR AHMED SAYEED
|Interview with Joan Mencher, an anthropologist who has worked in India for long on issues such as agriculture, ecology and caste.|
K. MURALI KUMAR
JOAN P. MENCHER is a Professor emerita of Anthropology from the City University of New York’s Graduate Centre and Lehman College of the City University of New York. She is the chair of an embryonic not-for-profit organisation, The Second Chance Foundation, which works to support rural grass-roots organisations that work with poor and small farmers in India and the United States on issues of sustainable agriculture. She has worked primarily in South India, but also in West Bengal briefly, on issues relating to ecology, caste, land reform, agriculture, women, and so on over the past half a century. She has published widely both in the U.S. and in India on all of these subjects, primarily in academic journals. She has also, for several years, been a consultant with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the World Bank for their India operations. Excerpts from an interview:
Can you start off by discussing briefly your work in India? You are an anthropologist. So how did your engagement begin and what have been the academic areas that your work has extended to in this period?
After finishing my PhD research in anthropology, for which I researched on a slum in New York City, I got a Fulbright scholarship to come to Kerala to do research on child rearing and family life. That was the first time I came to India, in 1958, and even had a chance to meet Jawaharlal Nehru, who encouraged American students to visit India so that they would get a chance to observe India directly. I came from America when McCarthyism was at its peak, and as an American researching in Kerala, I also had to constantly prove my research credentials to the Marxists in Kerala.
I was in India for almost two years, until 1960, and then I went and came back in two years. This time I was looking at ecological issues and the differences between Tamil Nadu and Kerala and looked at how changes in ecology affected agriculture and social life. From then on I began to do other kinds of things. My most intensive work has been in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, but in 1963 I first spent about four to five months in West Bengal, and then I have kept coming back and forth for 50 years and have researched on various aspects, including women and agriculture, in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. I also began to publish about caste this time. Caste was always there while I was working in Kerala, but I began to be acutely aware of the issues in Tamil Nadu. I have also written extensively on the problems with the Green Revolution and the efficacy of land reforms in India.
In your view, what were the main problems with the Green Revolution?
I think the main thing was the damage done to the soil because of the use of pesticides and artificial fertilizers. The crop patterns also changed significantly from diverse cropping to mono-cropping during the time of the Green Revolution. The agricultural methods led to a much more excessive use of water. It was really quite striking how this could happen. It also ended up favouring large farmers. I remember farmers telling me that they did not want to use artificial fertilizer, that they did not believe in it, but they did not have a choice because everybody around them was using it and they were using pesticide too and so all the bugs were coming to their lands. It took away choice from many of the farmers. In rain-fed areas, many of the farmers continued to grow [crops] in the old pattern, but in irrigated areas they could not.
Even the cropping pattern changed significantly. In one of my early studies in India, in a village in Tamil Nadu they were rotating ragi with rice and they were also growing other coarse grains. It certainly led to a switch to rice and away from coarse grains, which were so much more nutritious. It’s beginning to come back with its health values beginning to be recognised.
Certain changes in agricultural methods took place in the U.S. before the Second World War when the government adopted a corporate model of food governance. Why has this model been emulated in India?
Well, to answer that complicated question, let me briefly start off by discussing how research in agricultural universities in America has been compromised, and its connection with India.
When agricultural universities were first established in the United States, the land was given to the universities and all the research at that time was financed by the State governments and not the federal government. When food corporations became more and more powerful, they began to pay for most of the research. Slowly, over time, most of the research done in America was supported by corporations rather than by the state, which means that any independent research was totally compromised. All the research began to serve an agenda of profit. The research was not supposed to benefit farmers but was supposed to help investors make more money.
The change in American agriculture started even before the Second World War. It was during that time that Dow Chemical, Dupont, and so on were making poison gases for the American government. When the War ended they shifted into making chemicals for agriculture. They started making fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides for agriculture. There were more companies in the beginning but slowly they consolidated and consolidated to form fewer companies. So this is something that didn’t happen overnight. It’s a process that took place over 50 years. And these ideas came to India through the Green Revolution.
In the 1960s, there was a bad time in India when the country went through a drought, and America offered aid, but India had to concede several things in order to get the aid. Several young scholars from India, the brightest in Indian agricultural studies, were sent to America to get educated and brainwashed at the same time. Even Indian agricultural universities were influenced by this model and began to teach a similar corporate syllabus. Two generations of agricultural scientists began to think in certain ways because of the brainwashing they got in America. There is a continuing alliance between agricultural universities in India and these American universities.
All these people began to be influenced by a certain ‘modern’ pedagogy. Well, modern means you don’t get dirty and you use machinery. Modern means you have many more machines and fewer people involved in agriculture. There is a certain belief in ‘growth’, ‘modernity’, or ‘progress’ in shaping policy, while the world faces economic collapse, unemployment, and [there is] a worldwide food deficit. The food deficit is being used as a rationale to deprive farmers of their autonomy and traditional assets and knowledge. People both in the West and in rural India are being manipulated to accept corporate approaches by myths like ‘individualism works best’, that all forms of ‘socialism’ in farming do not work, and the belief that private industry is the only mechanism that can solve today’s major food security problems.
What were the main processes that changed the face of Indian agriculture?
There were three processes that destroyed the traditional face of Indian agriculture. First, the Green Revolution; second, the 1991 liberalisation of the Indian economy; and third, the George Bush-Manmohan Singh summit in July 2005 [U.S.-India Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture], which really gave free entry to large American food corporations into India.
But there are people trying to revive ways of traditional forms of agriculture. One of the important things to be aware of is that large corporations are spreading the idea that anyone who tries to oppose all these scientific innovations is anti-science, anti-technology, [and] anti-modern, whereas I would argue that what they are calling modernity is not modernity and, furthermore, they ignore the much more complicated discipline of eco-science completely. Colleges have a big deal of knowledge about what works, but they do not support ecological sciences. Even eco-sciences are often pressured to do absolutely simple research. Eco-scientists are testing only one part of a thing when they do research on it without understanding the larger implications of such work. It’s the synergy between various parts that matters. Research in the ecological sciences needs to be improved.
What are your current concerns?
My current concerns are with issues of sustainable agriculture and alternative agriculture. Two things I have been concerned about are: one, the destruction of our environment, the total pollution of our environment through pesticides, herbicides, GMOs [genetically modified organisms]; and the other, corporate control, with companies getting more and more powerful.
I remember reading in a publication that one of the public relations men for Monsanto had the gall to say, “When we can control land, water and the sea, we can feed the world.” I was so shocked by this. The implications that one or a few companies could control the entire humanity’s food are just terrifying. I see it as really, really frightening.
It’s not that many large corporations control the food system in the world, I think it is four or five. What’s interesting about them is that they have interlocking directors so that people who sit on the board of one sit on the board of another. Even in India, after this treaty was signed by Bush and Manmohan Singh, between India and the United States, the way these companies have been allowed freedom in India is scary. One of the things I was impressed with earlier [before the liberalisation of the Indian economy since 1991] was that India had import substitution; India had kept out unbridled corporate power. I think that once liberalisation started, it broke the back of Indian industry in many ways. It broke the autonomy; once you are part of a large corporation you don’t have autonomy – maybe you make more money but you don’t have autonomy. India’s economy started growing at a much faster rate but who benefited from this? It still has not reached people who are poor; the agricultural labourers did not receive any of this benefit.
I want Indian agriculture to go back to an ecologically sound approach based on local food production, imitating nature instead of fighting natural processes, while increasing healthy food production by focussing on small family farms as well as medium-sized and cooperative farms. A recent study by IFAD [International Fund for Agricultural Development] noted the greater efficiency of production and the higher growth potential of small-holder farms, but there is an unstated belief among agricultural planners that getting rid of all family farms is good.
What should Indian agricultural scientists and economists focus on right now?
Indian agricultural scientists and economists need to pay more attention to poor farmers. They should not decide that a one-hectare farm is small. They should focus on small farms. I hope that agriculture departments will encourage small farms and give them money for alternative agriculture. Agriculture needs to be seen as tied to the human right to food, land, seeds and water. There must be support for NPM [Non-Pesticidal Management], water harvesting, SRI [System of Rice Intensification] rice, WSHGs [Women Self-Help Groups] and farmers with a range of holdings. There should be diversification of crops.
They should totally focus on sustainable agriculture with emphasis on reform from below. And they should combine it with poverty alleviation. Do not let traditional knowledge of agriculture disappear. Use it, don’t sell it to companies. Use it for the welfare of the community. Another is helping people to help themselves.
The reinvestment in agriculture, triggered by the 2008 food price crisis, is essential to the concrete realization of the right to food. However, in a context of ecological, food and energy crises, the most pressing issue regarding reinvestment is not how much, but how. This report explores how States can and must achieve a reorientation of their agricultural systems towards modes of production that are highly productive, highly sustainable and that contribute to the progressive realization of the human right to adequate food. Drawing on an extensive review of the scientific literature published in the last five years, the Special Rapporteur identifies agroecology as a mode of agricultural development which not only shows strong conceptual connections with the right to food, but has proven results for fast progress in the concretization of this human right for many vulnerable groups in various countries and environments. Moreover, agroecology delivers advantages that are complementary to better known conventional approaches such as breeding highyielding varieties. And it strongly contributes to the broader economic development. The report argues that the scaling up of these experiences is the main challenge today. Appropriate public policies can create an enabling environment for such sustainable modes of production. These policies include prioritizing the procurement of public goods in public spending rather than solely providing input subsidies; investing in knowledge by reinvesting in agricultural research and extension services; investing in forms of social organization that encourage partnerships, including farmer field schools and farmers’ movements innovation networks; investing in agricultural research and extension systems; empowering women; and creating a macro-economic enabling environment, including connecting sustainable farms to fair markets.