Monday, April 28, 2008

Endangered Food Security

The crisis looming over agricultural sector and food security

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Latest FAO report on the food crisis has sent worrying signals all over the world. Those of us who have been working on the issue of hunger and starvation understand that this crisis is not surprising and sudden. The threat to faming sector is world over as the masters of technology want to control our food habits and give us food of their choice. The agricultural production in India has been facing slump and was systematically reduced by successive governments. World over, it has been accepted norm that land and agrarian reforms were key to poverty alleviation programs but unfortunately here in India, the issue of land was made a state subject and therefore lot of manipulations and political gimmickries resulted their complete failures. Courts also came to rescue of the powerful and despite ceiling on land, people had huge track of lands, even in the names of their pets. So while more than 90% population involved in farming did not have 5 acres of land, a tiny population was controlling huge land holding. This tiny population of Zamindars have become today’s farmer leaders and dictate our policies in Delhi. With the advent of market in the post 90s, these Zamindars have become multi billionaires as the land prices soared up and they used power and positions to grab more. They were on a spree to hand over huge track of land to companies who allured them with huge money and the result is today the corporate are not the submissive to the government but have become masters of the government. They are accorded status of state guest; speak to special sessions of assemblies and chief ministers and their associates bow in front of them. This is the change in the post globalization regime that business tycoons have become our masters and those who who votes in large number are voiceless. The situation is depressing.
Three years ago on a trip to Bundelkhand with a friend from abroad who was pursuing her PhD on Indian agriculture, I got an opportunity to sit with the vice chancellor of of the University there, who informed how he belonged to a farmer community and is a pass out from IIT. Vice chancellor was speaking of the green revolution and the changes in the Indian farm sector. I was silently listening to his views which looked as if he was not talking of farmers but of the corporate honchos who have realized the farm sector as the next important thing to invade.

After much discussion, this woman posed a question to the vice chancellor about the growing stress in the farming community particularly in Maharastra. Since she had visited several parts of Andhra also that time particularly Chittoor district, she mentioned the agrarian crisis of Andhra Pradesh as well. The VC listened to her and said that the farmers in Maharastra and Andhra were too emotional and are unable to bear the stress and that is why they are committing suicide. He gave other reasons also which include loans for the marriage purposes of their daughters and failing to repay that. I was shocked to here this answer from a person of his stature. ‘But sir, farmers are committing suicide in Punjab too and Sikhs are always known to be very hard working community. And one village people were so disturbed with their inability to pay the loans that they put a board in the village Panchayat that ‘village was for sale’ as people had nothing to repay. Today, going by the latest stress factors, Bundelkhand is becoming another Vidarbha in the North which has send the government of not only Uttar-Pradesh but also of the centre into deep distress. Daily, the reports of farmers committing suicide are coming from the area.

To understand the agrarian crisis, we have to understand the nature of people we are talking about and the entry of the corporate in it. The dangers and implications of that. We can also learn a few lessons from African food crisis and how the colonization of that country created this crisis which was one of the most natural places of the world. The analyst of the agrarian crisis in India are switching between green revolution and post green revolution India and that is why it is easier for us to blame the economic policies or so-called privatization. The fact is that Indian farming and its methodologies of the green revolution ask for serious introspection not only in terms of economic growth but social exclusion, gender equity and bio-diversity.

Take the case of Punjab and Haryana which benefited from the Green Revolution, the most. What happened? Definitely, it was not the hard work of the Punjab Sikh community but also the real work done by the migrant Bihar labors. Secondly, despite all the profits, why are the Sikhs ready to become cab driver in London, New York or even farm laborers in Toronto and Montréal? What about Haryana. It is one of the most fertile states and latest NSSO data reveals that it has more Crorepatis than we have in Mumbai. But how come so many crorepaties. What is Haryana doing and you will see, again, big malls, SEZ for Mukesh Ambanis and many more things. But these crorepaties do not make Haryana great state at the social indicators are concern. We will come to that later but let us also talk of the third important benefactor of the Green Revolution and it is Western Uttar-Pradesh and here the farmers or so-called farmers are the powerful jaats and Gujjars of the sugarcane growers. All the three states, these farmers are basically middle class peasantry communities who live in their own traditions and patterns. Farming unfortunately faces two threats. It needs to change itself to save it from the corporatisation which definitely hurt the national food security and second, its traditional thinking creates a social chaos and oppression.

The green revolution in India actually killed the traditional knowledge system of farming. It created a new rowdy class of upper caste peasantry which would arrogate itself to talk on any subject under the sun, take moral positioning and became highly biased and gender prejudiced. Today, India is facing regular slump in agricultural production and the responsibility of this must be shared by high profile ‘farmers’ and innovators like M.S.Swaminathan. In the traditional pattern where small and marginal people could produce enough for their survival, but green revolution made us believe that farming needs big land holdings resulting in crisis in the family. The farmers became biggest enemies of land reform as the land meant for the Dalits and landless workers were illegally occupied violently or fraudulently in these regions by these farmers. The water level in Punjab and Haryana has depleted and therefore aggravated the crisis further. Moreover, the pesticides and their companies added salt to the injury. Punjab’s farmer’s switched to ‘cash crop’ and therefore would like to produce ‘rose’ for the Valentine day abroad and sun flower for the exporters, rather than producing wheat and rice. When he produces more, the prices are down but it is not his fault. It is the manipulation by the ‘market’ which our political class is involving every where as a theme song to eliminate the crisis. Whether it will eliminate the crisis or escalate it further needs discussion. And some more examples would suffice the point. Today, the farming by the corporate need big land holding. We abolished Zamindari system long back though much in papers but with the entry of corporate and SEZ’s we are entering into a new fascist zone where the corporate goons will take every step to kill the legitimate demands of the people. Yes, I remember not to long back a great friend said that India will face the corporate fascism in future and that is coming true. The vulgar display of wealth and material in public, the purchase of national players, the skimpy cloths girl who are dancing at every four and sixes at the cricket matches is the sign of the future India. While you may boast this, Adivasis would die of hunger in most fertile land of Kalahandi, Akru Valley, in industrialized Maharastra or a Bahujanised Uttar-Pradesh or in Santhal Pargana in Jharkhand. The political class is busy playing politics, people trapped in identities of caste and region, nobody is there to question their manipulations. It is a frustrating situation today.

What is happening today in Punjab and Haryana, will shock any new moralist but not the social scientists who have seen the dangers of the growth of the ‘agrarian crisis’. Since, green revolution asked for big land holdings, family system, division is creating further chaos. In many places in Punjab, to avoid division of land further, brothers married one woman to keep the land holding intact? In all these places, violence against the Dalits is rampant and mostly goes unreported. Women are considered as subject. There are no women in India’s so called farmer’s movement and not even the Dalit. It became another bashing point and platform for political manipulations by those who used farmer’s identity to boost their political ambitions. Thus, Charan Singh, Devi Lal, Ajit Singh, Prakash Singh Badal, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Om Prakash Chautala, Chandra Babu Naidu, Sharad Pawar, Y.Rajshekar Reddy, Mahendra Singh Tikait, all are farmers and unfortunately nobody questions their business interest and their stand on these crisis. We all feel proud of these farmers who just do not have time to look beyond their own families and their business interest that route through farming. Today, they remain unquestioned leaders of farming communities despite their important role in the current crisis. If we leave Tikait who never tasted political power though his social clout can give Bal Thackeray a run for his rhetoric.

These leaders and others like them (and the list could go on, it was just a sample) are ‘farmer leaders’ but is that true? What are their issues? We do not pay electricity bills, we do not pay fertilizers bill, ask sugar factories to raise the price of sugarcane and so on. When the agricultural sector is in crisis, our farmer leaders have no time for it. Actually, they use farming as a tool to mobilize their own interest and their strength come from their caste identity. Take the case of Sharad Pawar, the mighty Maratha man, who is busy with cricket these days and have rarely visited Vidarbha where his own community persons are committing suicide.

There are bigger issues in suicide. It is not just distress due to agriculture but due to our very own social system. As most of them hail from upper middle sections of the upper castes and politically mobile backward communities, prestige is a big issue. They are not supposed to do ‘NREGS’ work or labour work as it is beyond their dignity. Despite crop failures, our family system is that you can not stop important family functions like marriages of daughters and sons. It is here that this false prestige is taking its toll. We are on spending spree despite our problems and hence the loans that the farmers take may not be for the farming but getting other things done like marriage of daughter, buying a tractor, constructing house or buying for pesticide and so on. Once the crop fails, he has no option. But one factor is there that ‘dream’ sold to them by big companies and moneylenders resulted in the crisis which has turned manifold today. Farmer’s in Maharastra were in distress because they adopted a new technology highly unsuited for them. What should be a farmer’s choice has been left to profiteering corporate and the result is farmers who thought of making good money with high yields got nothing. And mind you, it is not just high yield, the quality of product that needs to be checked. Those who advocate latest technology for the current food crisis and for GM foods are corporate who want to control the vast market of India. India’s rural sector is the future of the country as far as marketing forces are concern. After some time, there would be saturation like Europe in the metros and cities and then these forces would go to the villages and hence they are trying to gain their access there. The idiocies of the farmer leaders are coming handy. The problem is not that technology is good or bad. Question is even criticism is politicized and take away the entire debate from one point to another point and debate become highly emotional and charged and leads no where.

Technology is good and we all welcome it. It is for us but it cannot be the only criteria. You may bring thrashers, tractors and many new machines and thus kill the labor force, the vast human resource that exists in our villages. The relationship between people and their role in production would be reduced by the mechanization process. Could we understand the enormous social cultural chaos that we would go through this? It would be unimaginable.

And let us be fair. Bring technology and socalled professionalism but first fulfill your promises. Have we implemented land reforms completely? Ask any state government? Contrary to fulfilling their own agendas, the state went on distributing people’s land, selling forests and water to industries. Do you think people would keep quiet at this and you would be allowed to do things that easily? No government or political class should think of that. The conditions are volcanic and one hopes that the examples from Orissa, Chhatisharh and Jharkhand are not encouraging where the governance is hostage to Naxals. It is tragic but truth. The failure of political class will send people to those who claim to revolutionise the system. Though it does not happen but betrayal of the political class is much bigger an issue. Nepal’s verdict has clearly been a vote against corrupt political leaders and people’s faith in those who bring changes with Danda. While, it’s not that the Maoists are too big a revolutionary yet given such situations of desperations, people want those who speak for them and talk their issues. We should introspect this as we just can not survive on the laurels of democracy which is totally in the hands of corporate czars and being played at their whims and fancies. While the Prime Minister can say that there is no crisis as it is a political statement, the fact is that it not just the crisis but volcano that is waiting to erupt and the impact would be widely felt and catastrophic to the nation.

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