Feb 25, 2009

Farmers Manifesto - 1

Elections are around the corner. And like in every elections, farming and agriculture appears to be something that the political parties do talk about, but to be forgotten soon thereafter. The election manifestos surely talk about agriculture, water, livelihood security and the plight of farmers but during the election process itself you would have noticed that these issues are seldom mentioned, and other useless issues dominate.

One obvious reason is that even farmers and farmer groups have failed to make a serious effort to put agriculture on the top of the political agenda. They have tried it here and there but haven't succeeded so far. Come elections, and the farmers forget about farming; and what takes over are other politically hot issues, sometimes local issues, caste configurations etc etc. If only farmers had seen to it that they are not forgotten on the political map, I see no reason why and how the political parties could have avoided putting farming and agrarian issues on the top of the political as well as the national agenda. Isn't it sad that world's one-fourth farming population -- 600 million farmers that India has -- have failed to use the democratic process to their advantage. Farmers have themselves to blame for the plight they are in.

No wonder, they have been relegated to the bottom of the pit.

Some of my colleagues in Andhra Pradesh, led by Dr G V Ramanjaneyulu of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture in Hyderabad, have worked hard to produce a Farmers manifesto for Andhra Pradesh. This document has been improved upon in the process of continuous interactions that Dr Ramanjaneyulu and Kiran Vissa, a young volunteer with Association of India Development (AID), had with several political leaders, cutting across party lines. What I gather is that there is a general acceptance for these proposals.

I am sure the farmers manifesto can become the Common Minimum Programme for all political parties. Not only for Andhra Pradesh, the same manifesto needs to be adapted with suitable modifications in other States. And of course at the Central level too. I am sharing the manifesto with you, with the hope that you will be able to sensitise various actors of the civil society, including the politicians. I present below the first part of the farmers manifesto:

A Manifesto for Farmers in Andhra Pradesh
What farmers want from the next government

The time has therefore come when we should focus more on the economic well-being of the women and men feeding the nation than just on production.
-National Commission on Farmers, 2007.

Introduction

Five years ago, the farmers of Andhra Pradesh who were going through a terrible crisis, much of which was precipitated by government policies articulated as Vision 2020, spoke loud and clear through the ballot to bring down the Telugu Desam party that was in power for two terms. The Congress government which came to power on the wings of the deep discontent and distress of the farmers has seen and projected itself as “farmers’ rule” or raitu raajyam. The government did take some steps which resonated with the farmer community and provided some relief from extreme distress – such as free electricity, loan waivers, employment guarantee scheme which benefited the agricultural workers and welfare measures targeted at the rural poor – though these measures left much to be desired. At the least, in the past few years, issues related to farmers’ welfare have been given prominence by the government and the media.

However, the reality after five years of raitu raajyam is that the agricultural crisis persists and has worsened in some ways, and the farmers’ deep distress continues. The recommendations of Proj. Jayati Ghosh Commission and Justice Ramachandra Rao Commission have not seen the light of the day. Farmers’ suicides have continued at an alarming rate despite good monsoons. They have seen the input costs going up steeply while the market price remains low. Meanwhile, their family living costs including health, education and transport have jumped as government withdrew from many of these public services, leaving them at a loss. In short, farmers across the state are in despair that agriculture is no longer remunerative, and feel that their children would be better off in any profession other than agriculture.

The visions for successive governments for agriculture development seem to exclude majority of the farmers. Earlier and current governments propose to move into highly mechanized-external input agriculture, based on the analysis that small holder agriculture is not viable and 50% of the farmers should be moved out of agriculture in 15 years. If 50% of the farmers move out of agriculture, as many policy-makers have proposed/predicted, or even 20% of them move out, there are no viable alternative livelihoods available either in rural areas or in cities which are already unable to cope with their current expansion. On the other hand, the growing ecological crisis and resulting climate change threat have clearly brought back the evidences that small farms practicing sustainable agriculture holds the promise for the food secure future.

The dire situation of crisis has not improved in a major way in the past few years, as the fundamental underlying problems have not been addressed. A comprehensive alternative vision for agriculture has not been developed which rejects the Vision 2020 formulation. The question looms, “Where do we go from here?” The last elections succeeded in putting the farmers’ issues squarely on the agenda but not in solving them. Can we use the upcoming elections and the next five years with a sense of urgency to introduce fundamental policy changes based on a new vision of agriculture? This manifesto is proposed as a step in this direction.

Agriculture in Andhra Pradesh – the Crisis Continues

We look at some salient points that highlight the agricultural crisis in our midst.

(1) Out of the 32 districts across India identified by the Central government as the worst-affected, 16 are in Andhra Pradesh!
(2) In 2005-06, it is observed that 95.48% of the operational holdings in the State are held by farmers who own below 4.0 hectares and operate on a total area of 10.85 million ha (constituting 74.90% of the cultivated area). The number of farmers in small and marginal farmers’ category is under gradual increase and the average land holding size is reducing.
(3) 1797 farmers committed suicide in 2007, and 2607 in 2006! AP stands second only to Maharashtra in terms of Farmers’ suicides. The number of farmers committing suicide in AP during 2004-07 is more than the number who committed suicides in 1997-2003. The rate of farmers’ suicides is 3.24 per lakh of population which is highest after Chattisgarh and Maharashtra.
(4) 82% of farmers in the state are indebted, out of which 66% is from non-institutional sources, which carry higher interest rates, are more exploitative and are of course not eligible for loan waivers or interest waivers (NSSO report, 2007).
(5) 30 % land has become saline and unfit for cultivation –latest report of Status of Environment by Min of Environment (http://www.soeatlas.org/), among many reasons important are irrigation and high fertilizer use.
(6) Input costs (specially seed, pesticides etc) have risen by 300% in the past five years
(7) New technologies like Bt cotton have brought new ecological problems like decreasing soil fertility, animal deaths and allergies.
(8) Agricultural commodity prices have not increased at the same rate as the rise in input costs. The fact-finding committee of Planning Commission found that the cost of production of cotton per quintal was Rs.2215 whereas the MSP was Rs.1960.
(9) This year, MSPs have been raised but unless procurement mechanism is implemented successfully, the farmers will not benefit from the rise. Cotton traders have already declared that they are unable to purchase at the MSP (refer to recent news item).
(10) There is an increasing tenancy in the state and the tenancy act is not implemented for more than 50 years and the tenant farmers do not receive any support from the government.

Major Problems

Decreasing incomes to farmers: The increasing costs of cultivation on one hand and un-remunerative prices have let to dwindling net incomes for farmers over years.
· The agriculture prices are not fixed taking into livelihood needs of the farmers.
· The rising inflation always had a double impact on farmers with increasing costs of living and decreasing incomes due to reduction in agriculture prices as a result of price intervention mechanisms of the government.
· Minimum Support Prices are announced for 33 commodities and market intervention operations exist only for rice and wheat. So farmers growing other crops are left to the mercy of the markets.
· Removal of quantitative restrictions and allowing cheaper imports as a result of WTO commitments

High External Input based agriculture: The high external input based agriculture production practices have caused heavy ecological and economic crisis.
· The heavy pesticide usage has polluted the soils and water across the country. Pesticide residues are found in all kinds of foods. Studies show that, residues were also found in alarming levels in mothers’ milk and human blood. The acute and chronic poisoning is rampant in the villages.
· Chemical fertilizers have killed life in the Indian soils and water bodies. The subsidy burden on chemical fertilizers on the country exchequer has increased to 15 % of Indian budget this year. Government is unable to supply the needed fertilizer.
· Seed industry is completely in the hands of corporations with complete failure of institutions (Agriculture university and State Seed Corporation) and regulations (Seed act is kept in abeyance for last four years, cotton seed removed from essential commodities act, still farmers die in police firing standing in long queues for seeds).
· The Genetically modified crops have brought in new threat not only in terms of ecological and economic crisis but also political (farmers and governments completely loosing control)
· Groundwater level is decreasing at alarming rate

Skewed Support systems: The agriculture support systems research, extension, credit, subsidies, minimum support prices, market procurement, insurance etc are all designed based on external input based green revolution model. The more sustainable practices do not receive any kind of support.

(to be continued)

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