Saturday, 23 June 2007

Displacing Indian Farmers

Displacing Indian farmers : UPA Coalition Government Prepares Blueprint
India will have 400 million agricultural refugees :

It was on the cards. With Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announcing the formation of a new rehabilitation policy for farmers displaced from land acquisitions, it is now official -- farmers have to quit agriculture.

Ever since the Congress led UPA Coalition assumed power after an angry rural protest vote threw out the erstwhile BJP-led NDA combination in May 2004, the Prime Minister had initiated a plethora of new policies for the spread of industrialization. After having laid the policy framework that allows private control over community resources – water, biodiversity, forests, seeds, agriculture markets, and mineral resources -- the UPA government finally looked at the possibility of divesting the poor people of their only economic security – a meagre piece of land holding.

“Special Economic Zone (SEZ) is an idea whose time has come,” the Prime Minister had said at an award ceremony in Mumbai sometimes back. Supported by all political parties, including the Left Front, he has actually officiated a nationwide campaign to displace farmers. Almost 500 special economic zones are being carved out (see The New Maharajas of India What is however less known is that successive government’s are actually following a policy prescription that had been laid out by the World Bank as early as in 1995.

A former vice-president of the World Bank and a former chairman of Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), a body that governs the 16 international agricultural research centers, Dr Ismail Serageldin, had forewarned a number of years ago. At a conference organised by the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation in Chennai a few years back, he quoted the World Bank to say that the number of people estimated to migrate from rural to urban India by the year 2015 is expected to be equal to twice the combined population of UK, France and Germany.

The combined population of UK, France and Germany is 200 million. The World Bank had therefore estimated that some 400 million people would be willingly or unwillingly moving from the rural to urban centres by 2015. Subsequent studies have shown that massive distress migration will result in the years to come. For instance, 70 per cent of Tamil Nadu, 65 per cent of Punjab, and nearly 55 per cent of Uttar Pradesh is expected to migrate to urban centres by the year 2020.

These 400 million displaced will constitute the new class of migrants – agricultural refugees.

Acerbating the crisis are the policy initiatives that promotes privatization of natural resources, take over of farm land, integrating Indian agriculture with the global economy, and moving farmers out of agriculture – in essence the hallmark of the neo-liberal economic growth model.

Agricultural reforms that are being introduced in the name of increasing food production and minimising the price risks that the farmers continue to be faced with, are actually aimed at destroying the production capacity of the farm lands and would lead to further marginalisation of the farming communities. Encouraging contract farming, future trading in agriculture commodities, land leasing, forming land-sharing companies, direct procurement of farm commodities by amending the APMC Act will only drive out a majority of farmers out of subsistence agriculture.

Although the land holding size is diminishing, the answer does not lie in allowing the private companies to replace farmers. Somehow the entire effort of the policy makers is to establish that Indian agriculture has become a burden on the nation and the sooner the country offloads the farming class the better it will be for economic growth.

Contract farming therefore has become the new agricultural mantra. Not realising that private companies enter agriculture with the specific objective of garnering more profits from the same piece of land. These companies, if the global experience is any indication, bank upon still more intensive farming practices, drain the soil of nutrients and suck ground water in a couple of years, and render the fertile lands almost barren after four to five years. It has been estimated that the crops that are contracted by the private companies require on an average 20 times more chemical inputs and water than the staple foods.

Sugarcane farmers, for instance, who follow a system of cane bonding with the mills, actually were drawing 240 cm of water every year, which is three times more than what wheat and rice requires on an average. Rose cultivation, introduced a few years back, requires 212 inches of groundwater consumption in every acre. Contract farming will therefore further exploit whatever remains of the ground water resources. These companies would then hand over the barren and unproductive land to the farmers who leased them, and would move to another fertile piece of land. This has been the global experience so far.

Allowing direct procurement of farm commodities, setting up special markets for the private companies to mop up the produce, and to set up land share companies, are all directed at the uncontrolled entry of the multinational corporations in the farm sector. Coupled with the introduction of the genetically modified crops, and the unlimited credit support for the agribusiness companies, the focus is to strengthen the ability of the companies to take over the food chain.

I have always warned that agribusiness companies in reality hate farmers. Nowhere in the world have they worked in tandem with farmers. Even in North America and Europe, agribusiness companies have pushed farmers out of agriculture. As a result, only 7,00,000 farming families are left on the farm in the United States. Despite massive subsidies in European Union, one farmer quits agriculture every minute. Knowing well that the markets will displace farmers, the same agriculture prescription is being applied in India.

A Planning Commission study has shown that 73 per cent of the cultivable land in the country is owned by 23.6 per cent of the population. With more and more farmers being displaced through land acquisitions, either for SEZ or for food processing and technology parks or for real estate purposes, land is further getting accumulated in the hands of the elite and resourceful. With chief ministers acting as property dealers, farmers are being lured to divest control over cultivable land. Food security and food self-sufficiency is no longer the country’s political priority.

The government has very conveniently taken refuge behind an NSSO study that says some 40 per cent of the farmers have expressed the desire to quit farming. After all, what the government is facilitating is to make it easier for the farmers to abandon their land. It believes that a rehabilitation policy for the farmers therefore is the need of the hour. What is however not being seen through is that an agrarian economy like India cannot afford large-scale displacement of farmers. It will lead to social unrest the kind of which has not been witnessed. What India needs desperately is a policy paradigm that restores pride in agriculture, stops take-over of agricultural lands, and ensures sustainable livelihoods for 600 million farmers.


Sridhar said...

What kind of Government are we tolerating ? It is ready to forcibly, even violently strip the farmer of his sole capital, his/her land, throw their families into urban slums and deprive them of livelihoods - and call it economic development ! It is ready to buy lakhs of tonnes of wheat from American and Australian MNC's at Rs. 1000 / quintal but would only pay Rs. 750 to the Indian wheat farmer, who has produced enough for the country - and call it ensuring food security !! It is ready to dismantle the PDS system which ensured availability of grains to millions, and hand over agri-produce marketing to the profit-greedy MNC's, both Indian and Foreign - and call it public-private partnership and FDI's !!! It is ready to take away the soveignity of farmers over their land (through contract farming ), over their seeds (through GM crops and Seed Bill), over their markets (by opening agriculture to WTO induced policies - FDI's in retail, e-trading, future markets) and over their culture (by moving them out of food production, farming and rural landscapes) - and call it rehabilitation !!!! And finally when the farmers are forced to take their lives, the PM, the greatest actor we have ever had, with a forlorn face comes to dole out packages after packages - none of which is fresh investment, but just re-arranged and redistributed scheme management, that only helps multipy the deaths, even five and six times. What kind of Government are we tolerating ?

चन्द्रशेखरन नायर said...

देविन्दर जी नमस्कार,
मैं कितना हिन्दी समझ सकता उतना अंग्रेजि समझेगा नहीं। आप के कोइ हिन्दी ब्लोग होगा तो जरूर बताइये। इधर केरल में डो.आर.गोपिमणि ८५ रुप्ये कि "अक्षयक्र्‍षी" नाम के एक किताब जैव खेती के बारे में लिखकर DC Books के जरीये बेचकर कोण्ट्राक्ट फार्मिंग और मोन्सन्टो और वाल्मार्ट के प्रचारक बन्कर किसानों को बेवकूफ बना रहे हैं।

Raghavan said...

No one seems to have the right answer to the problems of our agriculturists. Mr. Sharma is well known personality in the field of agriculture and I am somewhat skeptical as to why he says that Corporate will banish the agriculturists if they are let in to do agri-business on he farmer’s land. If he is going by the examples of what happened in US and Europe and drawing similar conclusions for India, it would be inappropriate. In Assam Union Minister for State Mr. Jairam Ramesh distributed the dividend to the farmers, their share of profits by growing spices with Spice Board’s equity partnership with the farmers. Similarly in Pune an entrepreneur has successfully done a similar exercise.
I see great benefit if Corporate to get into agri-business in collaboration with the agriculturist. They must do the cultivation based on latest R&D and bring in technology suited for the particular soils. In doing so, they shall not take away the land but use it by paying for in equity form. The farmer’s land can be converted into like a demat account. Engage the farmer in the process of development of agriculture and pay him wages, when the corporate will profit by the agri-business, pay the farmer a dividend for his share capital. This will enthuse and instill confidence into the minds of the farmers and they will not protest. There will be no suicides in the villages. There will be no tension around. Farmers will begin to experience economic well-being in them.
It is however necessary to first sell the idea to the farming community and the Government without whose assistance this can be successful. When the Corporate will benefit, it shall begin to envelop the environment by the principles of inclusiveness and begin to build the community. It can take to animal husbandry and produce milk in every village, it can begin to undertake rural health building exercise by opening hospitals/nursing homes to take care of health issues, build schools and engage competent teachers to educate the your and young children, develop infrastructure in building warehouses for storage of farm produces.
This will in real terms kindle growth and reduce the rural and urban divide. These measures will reduce the burden of subsidies of the Government. Instead of Chemical Fertilises, the corporate will embrace animal husbandry and produce Organic Fertiliser. The subsidy on power can be withdrawn. Can one see how this will snowball if corporate take to this business all over India? It will be unassailable India.

चन्द्रशेखरन नायर said...

The non availability of real price is the problem for the failure of Agriculture. Every body is a consumer, including producers. The value of every thing is increasing and prices of many of the agricultural produces same for last few years. Salary, pension, labour etc are increased 10 times with in 20 years, but the price of agricultural produces are under cultivation cost. How many farmers can cultivate on loss for few years?
Unwanted export and import of agricultural produces are bringing down prices in India. Related with rubber we can see import for the year 2006-07 import value was Rs. 87/kg and domestic price was Rs.92/- and International price was 98/- (figures are rounded up). The availability of rubber was sufficient for consumption. Export and import are the reason to help somebody with irregularities without any transparency. For import details Visit: