THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE “AFES DOCUMENT” ON GM MUSTARD
- The Assessment of Food/Feed and Environmental Safety (AFES) document on GM mustard was created by the Biosafety Support Unit of Dept of Bio-Technology. DBT is one of the main funders of this GM mustard project. The Sub-Committee might have created only a brief 5.5 pages document, if at all. It is unclear if the AFES document was signed off by GEAC before being put out for public comments for 30 days. It is also unclear if this AFES document is legally valid in the first instance.
- The biosafety appraisal of GM mustard clearly did not have various areas of expertise required for such an appraisal (even within the limited numbers of safety parameters tested for).
- The study protocols were designed by the crop developers and a majority of the studies were done by themselves. One of the studies passed off as having been done by National Institute of Nutrition has been outsourced to a private laboratory.
- The progress of GM mustard this far has been in the absence of any regulatory guidelines for environmental risk assessment in the Indian regulatory regime! ERA 2016 was created only now.
- Where the sub-committee could have prescribed several tests to be undertaken by the crop developers (the need for such studies is expressed in their meeting minutes), they push various such studies to post-release monitoring of GM mustard. We present a list of such studies.
- Many illustrations are shared that show GEAC in other cases going into details of various protocols to be adopted and additional studies to be taken up. They chose not to do this with GM mustard.
- The GEAC meeting minutes show that there are inconclusive discussions and processes initiated within the regulatory body on whether HT crop applications should be considered for commercial cultivation at all, whether toxicity test conclusions being drawn are right, and whether GM mustard should undergo feeding trials or not. The regulators show no consistency in following up on their own discussions on these matters.
- Most importantly, the AFES document’s lack of reliability is exposed. While individual test reports have concluded something, the AFES concludes something else. We show with illustrations how data from weediness studies are inconclusive in the first instance, how certain claims of some tests done by the AFES document are unfounded, how and why pollen flow study conclusions are unreliable, and how agronomic evaluation is deceptive and doctored.
- Concealed data so far on the health safety front shows significant differences in compositional analyses between GM and non-GM counterparts. These are being brushed aside and attributed to agro-climatic changes which should not have been allowed firstly in a rigorous experiment. Based on falsely-established-equivalence, several other tests are being denied on GM mustard.
- Sub-Chronic Toxicity Studies reveal statistically significant differences in biochemistry parameters, histo-pathological differences and body weight gains. However, these are being brushed aside too.
WE SHOW ONCE AGAIN HOW THE AFES DOCUMENT IS UNSCIENTIFIC, UNRELIABLE, DECEPTIVE, FALSE IN SEVERAL ASSERTIONS AND INVALID IN ITS PROCESSES AND CONCLUSIONS.
THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE “AFES DOCUMENT” ON GM MUSTARD
On September 5th 2016, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) put out a document on the website of the Ministry for Environment, Forests & Climate Change (MoEFCC) called the AFES (Assessment of Food and Environmental Safety) for environmental release of Genetically Engineered Mustard (Brassica juncea) hybrid DMH-11 and use of parental events (Varuna bn3.6 and EH2 modbs2.99) for development of new generation hybrids. While doing so, they asked for public comments on the AFES document within 30 days’ time and stated that if somebody wants to review the biosafety data, they can come all the way to Delhi and get a “dekho”. Not to be photocopied or photographed, but for any concerned citizen or expert to sit in the Ministry’s office, guarded by a designated person from the department, to do any memorizing and mental analyses to enrich the comments to be given. Provided you believed that the GEAC is serious about taking any feedback on board in the first instance. They went out of their way to stick to their modus operandi and provided no extension to the timelines nor published the biosafety data despite many senior scientists and eminent citizens writing to them.
Several of us refused to engage with their farcical process and this document is an attempt to show why it is futile to engage with a deceitful and unscientific regulator who is under pressure to clear this GMO whatever the compromise to scientific integrity in the process.
Things have come to such a pass that in a Rejoinder to an interlocutory application in an ongoing PIL on GMOs in the Supreme Court (WP260/2005), the Government has no qualms in saying that the AFES report posted by GEAC is adequate to meet the public’s interest and need for transparency. Additional detail will not provide any greater value to the public…..The petitioners want to engage in an independent review of the dossier. In no functional regulatory system anywhere in the world such independent review is entertained. The claim for independent review by the petitioners is misleading for general public by questioning credibility of Indian scientific community and demeaning of the regulatory system”. It is obvious that they don’t want the world to know how inefficient and unscientific they are.
What the government does not know or does not want to acknowledge is that it is also the scientific community in India which has been engaging with the issue of GM mustard, which is indeed questioning the credibility of the regulatory system. Numerous experts and senior scientists from different fields, from within the NARS system who do not want to come out into the open but who have many valid questions to raise, have been supplying people like me with pointers about inaccuracies and inadequacies of GM mustard safety testing and assessment. It is upto the regulators whether they will interpret it as demeaning the regulatory system, or will be grateful for the support from independent scrutiny of data, which will help the regulators fulfill their obligation in a robust fashion. The current state of affairs is also a reflection on a scientific establishment in India where dissenting views and evidence cannot be presented where the government has decided in an unscientific fashion that GM mustard is needed and safe. As inside reports reveal of a recent GEAC meeting with state government representatives ostensibly to discuss future research and field trials of transgenic crops in the country, officials of government departments are not averse to arm-twisting state governments with threats of finance cuts if everyone does not fall in line with the blind promotion of transgenics in the name of ‘biotechnology development’. It is time that the regulatory biases are exposed fully.
WHAT IS THIS AFES DOCUMENT, ITS SANCTITY AND VALIDITY? WHO WROTE IT?
The GEAC, on its website, claims that this AFES document is the “Safety Assessment Report of the Sub Committee on GE Mustard”. It says that the “sub committee has examined the dossier on food safety, environmental safety, compliance etc. and has prepared a document “Assessment of Food and Environmental Safety”.
However, we know that the Sub-Committee has probably only created a 5-page report from its assessment, and not the AFES document as put out on the regulators’ website. Information available from GEAC’s 128th meeting minutes (Agenda 4.1.1.), along with an RTI application through which two reports of the only two meetings of the Sub-Committee were obtained (On February 2nd when they finished their main work hastily within 15 days from the time of creation of the Sub-Committee, and on April 11th 2016 when they wrapped up their work) show that it is the Biosafety Support Unit of DBT which wrote this AFES document.
In the normal course of such a (sub-)committee functioning in any regulatory system, there would be a mention of the Terms of Reference, the members of the committee, their meetings and their attendance, the methodology adopted and even signatures of the members, or at least the Chair. In the normal course, such a sub-committee would have first obtained public feedback after putting out all biosafety data and then come up with its own conclusions and recommendations. GEAC’s own earlier sub-committee/expert committee reports are an illustration in case. This so-called sub-committee report-cum-RARM (Risk Assessment Risk Management) document-cum-AFES document was not your normal appraisal and review document with recommendations, however. It was not written by the sub-committee to begin with, but the BSU.
The BSU is supposed to have 16 multi-disciplinary scientists, with a couple of years’ of experience on an average each. They apparently are the ones who will suggest which guidelines should be followed, and which can be dispensed with, on a case by case basis!! They were reportedly briefed by American officials, and an Australian team trained them in document writing for risk assessment, we understand.
In the first meeting of the Sub-Committee, it is seen that the Committee recommends that the GEAC direct Delhi University to prepare the Risk Assessment and Risk Management document for consideration of the GEAC. In the second meeting of the Sub-Committee, on 11/4/2016, they decide to call the RARM document authored by the BSU as AFES, upon the recommendation from Dr S R Rao of DBT. In the end, both the names suit the purpose of Rao and others – to call something as an assessment document, and also name it as a document that has figured out future risk management too, with a pre-concluded assumption that approval will take place, and post-release risk management has to be brought into the picture!
The AFES document itself is a shoddy document which selectively puts out some bits and pieces of information, where convenient, in a manner that is opportunistic and not scientific and is mostly a weak defence document for the regulators’ lack of rigour. It is clear that those sections which have been excessively elaborated upon are those where some critical sub-committee comments have been received, and are being responded to in a pre-emptive fashion. Some such portions are also in anticipation of criticism from civil society groups too, given that some such detailed analysis was shared by a delegation on July 18th 2016.
In the end, it’s clear that the sub-committee’s main feedback came in a rushed manner within 15 days, followed by going back and forth through the BSU with the crop developer team and finally coming up with a 5.5 page report and may be not even with a signing-off the AFES document that was put out on the website. It is unclear why the GEAC did not discuss the AFES document in its full meeting before putting it out on the website – was it pressure from the PMO?
We had already pointed out to how GM mustard’s appraisal and public consultation processes are vastly different from Bt brinjal’s. It is only such scrutiny that showed that Bt brinjal cannot be claimed to be safe. It is clear that the regulators did not want to take such a risk this time. Hiding the biosafety dossier and putting out a shady document called AFES suited their purpose immensely. Meanwhile, it is insulting for any serious scientist to be reacting to the limited information available in the AFES document for any meaningful or intelligent feedback to be provided.
Some questions will not go away. What after all is the sanctity of this AFES document, even by the rule book? Is GEAC allowed to have sub-committees and should such documents be signed off by them? Should it have been put out for public feedback at all?
EXPERTISE NEEDED FOR APPRAISAL AND WHAT THE SUB-COMMITTEE HAD WITH IT
The collective arrogance of the sub-committee and GEAC, in not welcoming any independent scrutiny of the biosafety data and their arguments in the Supreme Court right now is worth going into briefly.
In the environmental safety studies, it is clear that soil scientists, plant pathologists, entomologists and within that, specialists on bees and other pollinators, mustard breeders, agronomists etc., should have been present. That is the only way that weediness and aggressiveness potential, agronomic evaluation, crossability and pollen flow potential, impact on soil microbiota, pests, diseases and beneficial organisms could have been appraised soundly by the Sub-Committee in a scenario when the rest of the GEAC is not either consulted, or has abdicated its duties of appraisal.
On the food safety front, genetic toxicologists, clinical toxicologists and pathologists to interpret the study findings properly, public health experts and nutrition scientists were important to have for reliable appraisal of safety. On the molecular studies’ front, there was a need for a molecular biologist/plant biotechnologist/geneticist.
Risk assessment does not end there. There are of course other risks related to modern biotechnology, and this GM mustard too. Therefore, there is a need for trade experts, IPR experts, sociologists, rural livelihoods experts etc.
|Expertise that was needed||Expertise that was available in the Sub-Committee|
|1. Plant Biotechnology/ Genetics/ Molecular Biology
2. Mustard breeding
3. Plant pathology
4. Soil science
7. Bee expertise (given India’s case by case approach in regulation, GM mustard appraisal should have drawn in a bee and honey quality expert)
8. Genetic Toxicology
9. Clinical pathology
11. Nutrition Science
12. Trade expertise
13. Social sciences/agrarian studies
14. Livelihoods expertise
15. Any other required area of expertise
|1. Botany/Molecular Biology/Biochemistry*
2. Plant pathology
3. Ecology/Environmental Studies
4. Plant Genetics and breeding*
(in fact two experts each as indicated by the * above had similar academic training/qualifications)
When a sub-committee with a limited combination of expertise appraises this GM mustard in a hasty fashion and when several of them also hold conflict of interest, would there be reliable risk assessment? Does their certification of safety of GM mustard actually indicate any safety at all?
SUB-COMMITTEE PUSHES STUDIES THAT OUGHT TO BE DONE NOW, TO POST-RELEASE MONITORING!
One of the most striking aspects of the sub-committee’s assessment is that they obviously find the testing inadequate, think that sticking to only the guidelines laid down is “untenable”, and then recommend several studies to be done in the post-release monitoring phase. Now, how is this justified? What is the tearing hurry to approve GM mustard now and postpone these studies? What benefits are being expected and what risks are being taken in this shortcut adopted by the sub-committee? Will planting of GM mustard in Rabi 2016 make such an impact on India’s oilseed scenario, if that is the unfounded belief? What justifies the haste? Here are some illustrations:
- “The Committee advised for continuous monitoring and further investigation for fitness and transfer of transgenic trait from DMH-11 to their progenies and feral populations that will be essential for implementing management strategies to minimize persistence and dissemination from release site…. The Committee advised that a suitable Post Release management strategy should be implemented”. (Point iv of Sub Committee’s February report)
- “Can we address the question of whether grazing of transgenic mustard by farm animals would affect them? ‘DU Reply: Only transgenic hybrid DMH-11 will be grown extensively. Barnase expresses only in the tapetum. Barstar expresses in the tapetum but also at very low levels in the leaves. However, both Barstar and Barnase have been found to be safe in sub-chronic and acute toxicity studies on model animals. Seed meal derived from GM canola lines is being fed to farm animals for more than 13 years without any ill effect’. The (sub-)Committee reviewed the reply and noted that the above answer may be taken as a post-release monitoring component” (Point 4. Of Prof K Veluthambi’s questions, Page 7 of Sub Committee’s February report). THIS OF COURSE IGNORES THE FACT THAT THE REPLY IS UNSCIENTIFIC, IGNORES HERBICIDE USE ON GM MUSTARD, IGNORES BAR GENE EXPRESSION, IGNORES THAT GM CANOLA REFERENCE IS TO A DIFFERENT SPECIES ETC.!
- “Honey made from barnase expressing Varuna and DMH-11 needs to be tested for barnase levels and biosafety. ‘DU Reply: As nectaries are well developed in barnase lines, we do not expect expression of the barnase gene. This can be checked post-release to allay any concerns’. The Committee requested that honey be collected from the vicinity of cultivated area and check whether honey accumulates barnase, barstar and bar gene proteins. This is suggested as a post release management requirement”. (Point No. 17. Dr S K Apte’s questions, Page 13 of Sub Committee’s February report). IT IS MYSTERIOUS WHY THIS STUDY COULD NOT HAVE BEEN PRESCRIBED RIGHT NOW. IT IS IMPORTANT THAT HERBICIDE CONTAMINATION IS BEING IGNORED AGAIN.
- “Prof C R Babu recommended to the Committee that long term Post release monitoring should be implemented to study (i) weediness; (ii) pollen flow to wild relatives; (iii) the impact on beneficial insects and (iv) the impact on beneficial soil microbes if any”. (Point e, Page 15 of Sub Committee’s February 2016 report). NOT CLEAR HOW THE SUB COMMITTEE WAS HAPPY WITH ONE SEASON, ONE LOCATION STUDIES IN THE FIRST INSTANCE, AS IN THE CASE OF POLLEN FLOW STUDY!
- “Effect on beneficial soil micro-organisms (as per 1989 guidelines of RCGM document) may be evaluated as a part of Post Release Monitoring”. (Sub Committee’s 2nd Meeting on April 11th 2016, Page 2). THE COMMITTEE NOTES THE SERIOUS LIMITATIONS OF THE STUDY ON SOIL IMPACTS BUT DOES NOT GO THE ADDITIONAL REQUIRED STEP OF ACTUALLY PRESCRIBING SOUND TESTING!
- “As part of sustainable use of de-regulated GE mustard in future, it is important to demonstrate that honey derived from GE mustard be tested for the absence of barnase for a definite period as a part of Post Release Monitoring”. (Sub Committee’s 2nd Meeting on April 11th 2016, Page 2).
- “The Committee opined that ‘establishment of self reproducible populations of Brassica juncea in the hills’ may be taken as a scientific question which should be addressed from a research angle in the interest of long term sustainability of GM mustard technology”. (Sub Committee’s 2nd Meeting on April 11th 2016, Page 2).
Although food and environmental biosafety elaborated in this document did not reveal any measurable risk, for sustained use of technology in breeding for newer hybrids, some post-release monitoring / stewardship is suggested as a precautionary measure. These measures include: monitoring honey bee behavior particularly with respect to presence of target proteins in honey; impact on non-target organisms and intra and inter-specific interactions. Additional measures should be taken not to include any chemicals for weed control in the package of practices. (AFES document, Page 112).
It is worth noting that it is bad enough that several important safety considerations are pushed as recommended studies to be taken up as part of post-release monitoring. In the final AFES document, even these (7 points above) are not repeated faithfully, but only selectively (italics, above).
The important question here is why should the crop developer be not asked to take up these tests now? Why should this be done after release?
Who will be made responsible for any liability for these willful shortcuts and shortcomings?
WHO CREATED THE PROTOCOLS AND WHO DID THE TESTS?
As per an RTI response obtained from CGMCP, all the study protocols were designed by Delhi University (the applicants), in association with testing labs and institutions (RTI reply included as an Annexure 1 to this note). In terms of actual conducting of tests, the following seems to be the picture:
Environmental safety assessment:
- Weediness potential: Crop Applicant CGMCP, Delhi University
- Crossability and gene flow studies: Crop Applicant CGMCP, Delhi University
- Studies on soil microbial community: IMTECH, Chandigarh (a CSIR body)
- Studies on pests, diseases and beneficial organisms: Crop Applicant CGMCP, Delhi University
- Agronomic evaluation: Crop Applicant CGMCP, Delhi University*
Food safety assessment**:
- Allergenicity assessment: Food and Drug Toxicology Research Centre, National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad
- Toxicity assessment (acute oral toxicity, sub chronic toxicity): Food and Drug Toxicology Research Centre, National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad (M/s Premas Biotech Private Limited, Manesar was involved in preparation of purified proteins for some testing.
- Nutritional and compositional analysis: Outsourced to M/s QPS Bioserve India Private Limited, though claimed and signed off as study by Food and Drug Toxicology Research Centre, National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad
Molecular level characterization/studies:
- Expression levels of proteins: Crop Applicant CGMCP, Delhi University
- Molecular characterization: Crop Applicant CGMCP, Delhi University
*AFES claims that these were supervised by DRMR, an ICAR body. But a DRMR RTI response indicates otherwise.
** We have already brought out a report that points out that these studies are not reliable as far as we can see – it is the same person who advised CGMCP on the studies to be taken up as part of an institutional expert committee [DR B Sesikeran] who also has a formal association with a industry-funded body called ILSI, who headed NIN at the time that these studies were done. What’s more, he also was a regulator deciding on the results of studies conducted in his institute on his own advice!
6 of the above 10 aspects of safety assessment were not only designed by the crop developers themselves but were undertaken by them. 3 other studies on the health front were done by National Institute of Nutrition, including one outsourced study (GEAC in fact has discussed in one of its meetings that such outsourcing is not to be allowed). We will let the reader decide for herself/himself whether they would like to rely on the tests and results.
HAS GEAC ALWAYS LEFT EVERYTHING TO GUIDELINES?
The 2008 guidelines created in India, in the name of harmonization with international guidelines, and supported by USAID and industry lobby groups are clearly a case of lax regulatory guidelines, and are no protection from the risks of modern biotechnology. (http://igmoris.nic.in/files/Documents%20for%20IGMORIS%2014%20july/International%20Conference%20on%20GM%20foods/Proceedings%20of%20the%20Intl.%20conference%20on%20GM%20Foods.pdf, http://www.cera-gmc.org/files/cera/docs/sabp_activities/report_fs_2006_07.pdf)
GM mustard crop developers and the unknown authors of the AFES document hide behind the 2008 guidelines for safety assessment time and again. It is interesting to note that the Sub-Committee in its first meeting said that it is untenable for the crop developer to justify lack of some pertinent studies by taking recourse to the fact that such tests were not prescribed. It is also interesting to note that the Sub-Committee ends up prescribing a test to be taken up using the 1998 guidelines in its second meeting, but in a post-release setup!
117th meeting, 119th meeting, 120th meeting, 121st meeting and 122nd meeting minutes are good examples of what GEAC can discuss and decide upon, if the members want to, irrespective of what the Guidelines say. These are also useful illustrations of how GEAC abdicated its responsibilities when it came to GM mustard.
These are meetings where GEAC is seen laying down detailed study protocols – rightly so – in the case of Monsanto, Mahyco, Metahelix, Bayer et al applications for different GMOs, both for field trials and agronomic evaluation, for environmental studies and for molecular characterization.
For instance, only commercial check hybrids are insisted upon for certain crops like maize, rice and brinjal (even for event selection trials) – 117th, 119th, 121st meetings. Here, GEAC does not hide behind unscientific and silly arguments that the proof of concept is only around herbicide tolerance or insect resistance and that better hybrids can be bred later, as is being done with GM mustard.
As another example, GEAC insists on expanding pollen flow study protocols beyond a 50 meter radius to include additional lines in an additional 50 m, after the proposed pollen trap in one case (117th GEAC meeting minutes).
Agronomic practices are discussed in detail, including chemical sprays and fertilizer use.
GEAC also did not leave soil micro-biota studies to some microbial abundance studies but insisted upon a careful assessment of impact on collembola species and earthworms too, amongst other organisms. This was however not done with GM mustard. In fact, the protocol did not even cover agriculturally important species when it comes to GM mustard safety evaluation on soil microbiota, and this has been noted by the sub-committee, but meekly pushed aside to post-release monitoring studies.
GEAC in the past has changed protocols proposed from Randomised Block Design to Alpha design where appropriate, prescribed the exact amount/quantities and numbers of samples to be tested for some parameters etc.
For herbicide tolerant crops, GEAC had prescribed tests on bio-efficacy of the herbicide, residue analysis in HT crop soil, effect of leftover residues on succeeding crops, untreated controls etc. (117th meeting). Protein expression data was prescribed to be recorded at the time of each herbicide application in one case (119th meeting). Data related to soil microflora, earthworms and soil insects related to soil rhizosphere was also prescribed to be recorded during pre- and post-spray of herbicide in an instance. (119th meeting). Visual observations on herbicide treated plots for yellowing, scorching and wilting were prescribed to be recorded. Control treatments will be manually weeded in this case. Dosage of herbicide sprays, approval of CIBRC, nature and extent of bio-degradation, residue estimations etc., were all areas of additional information sought for HT crops.
Feeding studies on broiler chicken and dairy animals were also prescribed (121st meeting).
It is clear that all of this has not been done in the case of GM mustard and has been left to the crop developers fully. The GEAC has to justify why this is so and whether safety of the technology will improve all by itself just because a public-funded, public-sector GMO comes into the picture.
In the 121st meeting of the GEAC on 18/7/2014 (soon after the new government was formed at the Centre), there is a partial discussion on whether GEAC should ever be entertaining a HT crop application for commercial cultivation at all. This is obviously a pending matter even within the regulatory body (apart from this being a policy decision for the government and for judicial adjudication in the GMOs PIL), while the Committee is also rushing headlong towards GM mustard approval, which is a herbicide tolerant crop.
“2.1. Minutes (of the 120th meeting) were confirmed with the following editorial changes:
- The Committee also took note of the following observations made by Dr PM Bhargava during the 119th GEAC meeting: ‘At this meeting, we had an important and long discussion on whether or not we should entertain any applications that relate to the incorporation of herbicide-resistant gene. Many members were strongly of the opinion that such applications should not be normally entertained as the evidence against the use of herbicide resistant crops is overwhelming. We, of course, should not stop any research work in the area but we should make it clear that no permission would be granted for field trials of such crops. It was decided that all those who are against the release of herbicide-resistant crops (their names should be mentioned in the minutes) will present evidence in favour of their view at an appropriate meeting where this item would be an agenda item’”.
What is worth noting from all these minutes is the additional questions on Herbicide Tolerant crop applications and additional requirements on the applicant – for instance, whether CIBRC permission exists or not, and a copy of the same to be furnished. The bio-degradation details. Studies on the herbicide’s eco-toxicity and residue possibilities etc. In the case of GM mustard, all of this has been ignored and left unprescribed.
On the other hand, we also have conflict-of-interest-laden members like Dr Sesikeran, who took up health safety studies for applicants, explaining the study results to the rest of the GEAC on behalf of the applicants and declaring some product or the other to be safe (Agenda 4.3.1 of GEAC’s 121st meeting is a fine example of this unacceptable component of regulation)! Similarly, Dr Akshay Pradhan, a crop developer of the GM mustard in question and also a GEAC member, gets to provide explanations to the GEAC in the same meeting on GM mustard (Agenda 4.4.9, Page 14)! This is a classic illustration of why we keep talking about removing all such members from GEAC completely.
It is important to note that the Biology Document of Brassica juncea which is supposed to have guided the biosafety testing of crops like GM mustard was prepared only in 2016. The regulators have failed in their duty but want the nation to bear the consequences for their irresponsible functioning.
It is also worth noting that even the Environmental Risk Assessment guidelines were prepared and released only in 2016. Without such guidelines in place, how did GM mustard get tested in the first instance? Isn’t this the government’s falsehood in the Supreme Court way back in 2008 too, that guidelines exist and they will be uploaded on the website?
There is another matter which is worth mentioning here, pertaining to conclusions and inferences drawn from toxicity tests (acute and sub-chronic) where the reports often conclude that “some statistically significant differences were observed, but were also within the normal range and therefore, found not to be biologically significant”. In the 121st meeting of the GEAC, this was explicitly discussed.
4.3.11. Some of the Members were of the view, that the Protocols for 14-days acute oral toxicity study and 90 days sub-chronic toxicity study may need to be revisited as the number of days and sample size of 20 animals (10 male and 10 female ) may not be adequate. It was clarified that the animal numbers used in the study are accepted world-wide for pre-clinical or non-clinical evaluation of safety and as per WHO document on safety evaluation of vaccines. Principles of statistics are the same, it is just the test material which is different. It was further stated that the size of the treatment group depends on the animal model chosen, i.e., the number of animals included in studies using non-human primates would be expected to be less than in studies including rodents. For small animal models, e.g., rats and mice, it is recommended that approximately 10 animals/sex/group be studied.
4.3.12 As regards the acceptability of the statistical variations in the toxicity studies even in the absence of any biological significance, Dr Ramesh Sonti supported by three other Members were of the view that “In acute and sub-chronic toxicity studies, for parameters where there is a statistically significant difference between control and treatment, the test should be repeated for that particular parameter/s (and not for all parameters). If there is a statistically significant difference on repetition, the matter should be investigated further. The matter should be dropped if there is no difference upon repetition. This is being suggested as a matter of ‘precautionary principle’ because these are foods that will be consumed by a large number of individuals over a long period and we would like to minimize risks. Furthermore, we should go the extra mile to minimize concerns regarding GM foods, at least in the initial years of their commercialization.”
4.3.13 The Committee after a lengthy discussion, decided to constitute a sub-committee to review the toxicity data in the context of the above discussions.
It is clear that this is an inconclusive discussion within GEAC – however, the GEAC’s sub-committee steamrollered ahead, without an independent health safety expert participating, and concluded that GM mustard is safe even with statistically significant differences in various parameters as we show later on in this document.
WHAT IS THE WITHHELD-DATA SHOWING AND WHAT IS THE AFES CONCLUDING?
- Environmental Safety Studies:
- Environmental Studies: Weediness Potential
Chapter 6, Section 6.1, pg 75-80 of AFES concludes the following about weediness potential: “The weediness potential of GE mustard hybrid DMH-11 is similar to that of the varieties commonly grown in India. There is no risk of any aggressiveness or any weediness potential in the hybrid DMH-11”. Such weediness was measured by (i) seed germination; (ii) speed of seed germination; (iii) seedling vigour; (iv) small seed size; (v) long continuous seed production and (vi) pod shattering. We present more details here.
(Permission Ref. BT/BS/17/30/97-PID dated 7/2/2011, as mentioned in Appendix Table on Pg114)
|Data in the dossier
(Permission Ref. RCGM letter No. BT/BS/17/30/97-PID dated 7/2/2011)
Ref. Report: “Studies on weediness potential and aggressiveness parameters of transgenic Brassica juncea, during Rabi 2011”
“Seed germination percentage revealed that there was no difference between the GE and non-GE hybrid”
|Lab studies showed handmade non-GE hybrid to have significantly higher percentage germination over transgenic hybrid at 10 days. (Table 1 of “Studies on weediness potential and aggressiveness parameters of transgenic Brassica juncea”, during Rabi 2011).|
|Speed of seed germination:
“The number of seedlings emerged after 5, 10 and 15 days of sowing showed that speed of germination had stabilized by 10 days in both GE and non-GE hybrid”
|Table 4 of the report shows that by Day 5, DMH-11 had 84.7% germination as opposed to 70.3% in VEH2-F1, at Day 10, it was 94.7% vs. 88% and at Day 15, it was 95.3% for DMH-11 vs. 88.3% for non-transgenic hybrid. Is the conclusion drawn by AFES right?|
|Shoot and root weight:
“The data revealed significantly higher shoot and root weight in handmade non-GE hybrid as compared to the GE hybrid DMH-11 under field conditions”
|Table 2 based on laboratory based studies, shows mean shoot length as 5.64 cms of 10 day old seedlings of VEH2-F1 as opposed to 5.21 of DMH-11. Table 3 shows 12.61 cms of mean root length of 10 day old seedlings of VEH2-F1 handmade hybrid, as opposed to 12.68 cms of DMH-11. This reveals no significant difference.
When it comes to mean shoot and root weight in gms of 15 day old seedlings grown under field conditions (Table 5), VEH2-F1 has 10.49 gms fresh shoot weight, 0.852 gms dry shoot weight, 0.141 fresh root weight and 0.043 dry root weight, as opposed to DMH-11 having 7.95 gms, 0.648 gms, 0.109 gms and 0.029 gms respectively. This reveals significant difference, with higher values in handmade non-GE hybrid.
|Long continuous seed production:
“The data on seed production shows no difference among GE hybrid DMH-11 and non-GE hybrid VEH2-F1”
|No such comparison was done between DMH-11 and VEH2-F1. AFES conclusion false.
During BRLII trials, such data on long continuous seed production for not recorded for all entries. Data presentation was left as year-wise, site-wise tables with no aggregation and no conclusions can be drawn, especially given that other hybrids were not used as comparators.
|Seed size, Pod shattering:
“The seed size of two parents of the hybrid DMH-11 ie., Varuna and EH-2 are different”
|No such comparison was done with pod shattering and no quantified data was collected. No conclusion can be drawn here, and the AFES document making it appear that it has been studied is misleading.|
|Given the above, the AFES conclusion on weediness potential is unreliable|
- Environmental Safety Studies: Crossability & Pollen Flow Studies (inter-species and intra-species)
(Ref. Letter No. BT/BS/17/30/97-PID dated 15/10/2010 for crossability studies at Bawana as cited in Appendix Table on Pg.114)
|Data in the biosafety dossier & other relevant documents
(Ref. permission letter no. BT/BS/17/30/97-PID dated 15/10/2010, for crossability studies in Rabi 2010 and 2011.
|AFES document, outside the Appendix Table of Page 115 refers to only one experiment on intra-species pollen flow in the year 2010, in DU’s Research Farm in Bawana, New Delhi (page 83). However, the season/year of inter-species crossability experiment is not mentioned.||While Bt brinjal and Bt cotton went through multiple seasons of such pollen flow studies, GM mustard was put through only one season pollen flow/crossability studies, that too in one location. Is this a reliable assessment?|
|AFES document, page 83:
Chances of escape of transgenes to related Brassica species may occur only if these are present in the receiving environment.
Successful crossability requires that the populations of donors and recipients must overlap temporally and spatially, and be sufficiently close biologically.
|A Biology document of Brassica juncea is prepared by the Indian regulators in 2016 (carefully undated on the publication of course), years after the R&D and testing begins on GM mustard, ostensibly to become the baseline for safety testing (as Minister and AS messages confirm helpfully to us)!! It can only be assumed that some guidance was indeed taken from this document for safety assessment of GM mustard in the current instance. Table 6 in page 5 lists the rapeseed mustard crops grown in India. The description of rapeseed mustard collections for our gene banks also shows how many varieties are present in different states of India. It is noted that outcrossing varies from 7.6% to 22% even though it is a predominantly self pollinated crop. While extent of wind pollination was recorded upto 11-17.5%, insect pollination is an important component. It is further noted that bees may carry pollen over long distance and have been found foraging in fields more than 4 kms away from the hive, resulting in outcross seed set.
A very low frequency of natural hybridization amongst B. rapa, B. juncea and B. napus does occur if they are cultivated closely (4.1, Pg. 11). Such hybrids are partially fertile and can set a few open pollinated seeds. B. juncea shows the second highest crossability with B.napus after B.rapa.
Low introgression varied between species and existed to an extent with wild relatives.
|“Hence, in the absence of synchronous flowering under growing season, the possibility of outcrossing with these (4) species is unlikely”.
“Seeds were harvested from the related species, germinated and sprayed with herbicide Basta. The study showed no Basta resistant plant in F1 generation – hence, it could be concluded that the likelihood of crossability of GE DMH-11 with other Brassica species under natural conditions is highly unlikely” (Pg. 85 of AFES document).
|Data of 1000 seeds planted in 2011-12 from the harvested seeds of 2010-11 season from the experiment does show that all the plans of other species are susceptible to Basta and were destroyed (Table 3).
Our comment: Should the limitation of the experimental protocol, of planting all species at the same time, rather than synchronise flowering stage for different species, become the basis for inferring that possibility of outcrossing itself is unlikely?
Also, should this study have been done only in one location in one season for reliable conclusions to be drawn and to estimate the risk potential from inter-species crossability, given the literature evidence on inter-species crossability in northern hills?
|Intra-species Crossability or Pollen Flow:
|Study limitation cannot be the basis for concluding something incorrectly. The outer plot of non-GM mustard of Pusa bold was sown only upto a distance of 50m. Further, while an inner plot of GM crop with the outer plot being non-GE mustard presents estimates of pollen flow of one kind, in reality, non-GM plots could be sown in a long contiguous fashion next to GM mustard crop, depending on plot sizes and shapes.
The relevant report in the dossier shows pollen flow upto 20 mts. Further, 7 or 9 plants out of 1000 are seen to be herbicide tolerant. This is a 0.7% to 0.9% contamination. However, nothing has been reported about bee abundance or activity here, nor the chemical treatment especially related to herbicides, if any, used in the experiment. This level of outcrossing is too low compared to the levels reported in literature.
The study being conducted in one location, in a small plot size, that too in only one season cannot be taken to be conclusive evidence on negligible outcrossing. The sub-committee of GEAC has to explain where they draw their confidence on their conclusions from.
Even while citing from the biology document of B juncea, the rate of outcrossing is being mentioned as 11 to 17.5% on page 86 of the AFES document, whereas the biology document mentions upto 22%. Literature also exists showing higher outcrossing than this, in addition to GEAC’s own assessment in the past with another GM mustard.
The Sub-Committee’s assessment in concluding that the crossing with B juncea will be similar with other non-GE hybrids is an incorrect statement since no transgenes spread from non-GE CMS based hybrids, to begin with.
Importantly, the conclusion that intra-specific crosses between DMH-11 and other varieties of B juncea would not have any selective advantage in the absence of Basta herbicide spray has no basis for that presumption (that there will be no Basta spray). There will indeed be herbicide usage by farmers.
In the box at the bottom of Page 86 it is stated, “progeny of such crosses will not have any survival advantage unless sprayed with a specific herbicide Basta”, and we contend strongly that this survival advantage does exist, and without accounting for this, any conclusion by the Sub Committee is invalid. The figure 6.2 is rendered invalid too, on these grounds.
Elaborate presentations have already been made to the GEAC on the impacts of such outcrossing and how farmers will lose out in the end, especially organic farmers.
|The Sub-Committee’s conclusion of negligible risk is unscientific, unreliable and incorrect. The outcrossing figure presented is unreliable (see the box below for another GEAC discussion on the subject). The conclusion drawn about negligible risk is unscientific given that farmers will spray herbicide glufosinate conferring selection advantage.|
It is worth noting that in 2002, Pro-Agro (a Bayer subsidiary) which walked up to the GEAC for commercial cultivation permission of a similar bar-barnase-barstar based GM mustard, reported “transgene escape” to a maximum distance of 35 meters, with an estimated 0.01% transfer at that distance. It had no information on level of contamination at distances of 1 to 5 meters. The GEAC records in its 34th meeting on 7th November 2002 that “considering the agro climatic conditions and small land holdings of Indian farmers, the Committee was of the view that the non-GM mustard seed from the adjoining fields is likely to get contaminated by male sterility barnase gene, barstar, neomycin and bar genes. This factor may affect the stability of the properties of the non-transgenic varieties. Trial studies conducted by the company also indicate the presence of male sterile plants in the progeny population of non-transgenic Brassica growing in the vicinity of transgenics. Further, in the 36th meeting of GEAC on 25th April 2003, under Agenda 3.0 A., the commercial release of transgenic mustard by M/s Proago Seeds Pvt Ltd is discussed again. Here, the following is recorded: ‘ICAR has conducted trials at only 4 locations which is not adequate. The ICAR trials indicate pollen flow upto 75 meters whereas the company has reported pollen flow upto 50 meters’”. (Relevant minutes can be accessed here)
- Environmental Studies: Impact on pests, diseases and beneficial organisms
There was detailed feedback provided in a special meeting of the GEAC on July 18th 2016 how the protocols for various studies are not rigorous enough, and how the data is unbelievable and appears cooked up. Those comments are unaddressed, and remain pertinent to the AFES section “6.4 on Studies on pests, diseases and beneficial organisms”, from page 94.
|Trial||Location||Mustard Aphid||Painted Bug||Leaf
|Cabbage Butterfly||Mustard Sawfly||Termites|
|Kumher||P||All Nil||All Nil||All Nil||All Nil||All Nil|
|Alwar||P||P||All Nil||All Nil||All Nil||All Nil|
|SG nagar||P||All Nil||All Nil||All Nil||All Nil||All Nil|
2nd Year (2011-12)
|Kumher||P||All Nil||All Nil||All Nil||All Nil||All Nil|
|Alwar||P||All Nil||All Nil||All Nil||All Nil||All Nil|
|SG nagar||All Nil||All Nil||All Nil||All Nil||All Nil||All Nil|
The above table, presented to GEAC on July 18th 2016, is an illustration of the unbelievable data on insect pests generated from the field trials.
More specifically about beneficial organisms, and within that, pollinators like bees, the following are some specific comments.
- What was essentially a rudimentary testing on bee abundance was concluded and stated to be a bee foraging study. It is not.
- Within the bee abundance study, while eye observation is one methodology, given that there are serious doubts about the competence of the people who recorded the observations and conducted the study, this methodology is not foolproof and should have been supplemented by other superior tools like videography, sweep net, soap bowl etc.
- The competence of the data enumerators during the trials is certainly under question given that the observations appear spurious and unbelievable. It is also a fact that none of the study locations have bee experts and the one location (PAU, Ludhiana) which does have a competent expert did not involve this expert in the biosafety testing.
- The data appears to be bogus from the wide variation seen in the observations and even lack of consistency in findings. No inference can be drawn from such findings. The least that should have been done is to repeat the studies to further understand the observations captured. There appears to be a serious flaw both in terms of sample locations chosen and competence of data collectors. Together, they put a question mark on the reliability of even the limited testing that was done with weak protocols.
- There is also a major contradiction in concluding that Mustard is a predominantly self-pollinating crop and showing results of yields in different treatments which actually demonstrate high outcrossing – it is obvious from the impact on yield increases that bee-keeping results in, that cross-pollination potential is very high with pollinators’ presence and activity. It is therefore important to fully acknowledge the high possibilities of cross-pollination, and therefore, the consequent impacts of GM mustard.
- The studies are completely inadequate in that they did not treat GM mustard as a herbicide tolerant crop – once released, farmers will certainly use it as a HT crop. Today, they are not using herbicides on mustard essentially because there are no HT crops. Once this is introduced, they will rationalise that spraying a herbicide is easier and cheaper than dealing with agricultural labourers for manual de-weeding. This use of herbicide will leave its own impacts on honeybees and other pollinators. The assessment of GM mustard is completely inadequate in this context. The illegal use of HT GM cotton in India is a good illustration of the point being made.
- Apart from the methodology adopted, and the inferences drawn from unreliable observations, there is the issue of the scope of the studies undertaken related to impact on Bees as well as Honey. Needless to say, mustard is a very important crop for bees and other pollinators in general, and these pollinators are in turn critical for our food security.
Impact on Pollinators and Bees:
* It is unclear why impact on other pollinator species was not studied – these are equally important in mustard pollination too.
* The tests should have included observations on diversity of species (with competent field enumerators who can distinguish between these).
* The tests should have studied actual foraging behaviour and not just abundance. This in turn should also make a distinction between nectar and pollen foraging.
* The tests should have been taken up with standard and essential protocols adopted for such assessment in EU, as per some bee experts.
* The tests should have been done on plots sown to DMH-11 farm saved seed too (with its segregation of traits in F2 generation) or on seed saved from DMH-11 X Non-transgenic mustard crop (with its outcrossing of traits).
Honey Production & Quality:
* Apart from studying impacts on several pollinators and within that, particular species of bees, there should have been studies on honey production – this then means studies that will last for several seasons and locations and not just few locations and seasons.
* Transgenic protein and herbicide residue levels should have been measured in the honey.
* Ex-ante impact assessment on trade security issues with honey from GM mustard fields should have been prescribed and done, given that our honey consignments will be rejected in some markets and would not be cost-effective/competitive in some other markets. On this hinges the livelihoods of around 5 lakh bee keeper households in the country.
Given all the above, the conclusion of the Sub Committee is irresponsible, unscientific and invalid. Even secondary literature-wise, studies do indicate significant impacts on non-target organisms, including beneficial organisms. In fact, it is unclear why the Sub-Committee hesitates to prescribe more tests that ought to have been done. There is no justification at all for not prescribing these tests right now or getting the testing done through independent capable organisations.
- Environmental Studies: Agronomic Evaluation
We have already given very detailed comments on many things that are unscientific and fraudulent about the agronomic evaluation of GM mustard, especially given that the very basis for coming up with transgenic pollination control is supposed to be claims around yield increases. Such yield increases being proven against parental lines is laughable. The only valid way of assessment is to test GM mustard against non-GM hybrids. The 121st meeting of the GEAC clearly prescribed the following: “Collect data regarding agronomic performance of the hybrid DMH-11 in comparison to national and zonal checks”. Please note that it did not say against the parents. There is absolutely no justification for GEAC to say anything opportunistic and unscientific at this point of time.
We have also shown based on raw data accessed, that in any case, any findings even within a rigged protocol are unreliable given the lack of consistency in the data (Slide 34 and 35 of this presentation, for example).
If the sub-committee is still going ahead with its unreasonable clean chit on this front to GM mustard, it is irresponsible. The evaluation being termed as a proof of concept for heterosis and hybrid vigour as compared to the parents is laughable. From where an application claimed that its permission would lead to an increase in India’s mustard yields to the point of bringing down its edible oil import bill, for a sub-committee to reach a stage where it is only ready to say that there is “presence of hybrid vigour in the hybrid” that too against the parents, is quite an admission of the failure of this GMO to prove anything in its favour. Any proof of concept on pollination control cannot be an end in itself if distinct benefits cannot be proven – such benefits can only be tested in a comparative framework vis a vis other hybrids, both in terms of superior pollination control and thereby superior heterotic possibilities.
The famous lines of the former Environment Minister describing Bt brinjal as a solution going around looking for a problem apply equally well or better to this GM mustard. Proof of concept of pollination control is not proof of concept of heterotic superiority or even superior pollination control. This has simply not been tested for and no statements of benefit can be made in favour of GM mustard on this front. In fact, if the so called environmental release is meant to breed superior hybrids with further research, the crop applicants can very well get back to RCGM for the same, and it does not require GEAC to provide any approvals for ‘environmental release’! We also have pointed out in the past that even pollination control is not adequately or rigorously proven with varying test protocols adopted in different centres which point to male sterility breakdown.
- FOOD SAFETY STUDIES
- To begin with, the acute toxicity study with purified proteins and the two sub-chronic toxicity studies with seeds and leaves are incomplete, invalid and unreliable since they did not treat GM mustard as a herbicide tolerant crop which will also carry toxic herbicide residues and would probably have combined effects of both GE and pesticides.
- The biosafety of glufosinate has not been established in the pesticides-related regulatory regime in India. In fact, use of glufosinate in mustard crop is illegal.
- No chronic health impacts assessment has been done with this GM mustard.
- It is perplexing how the sub-committee without an independent health expert has pronounced GM mustard as being safe for human consumption.
- It is also clear that the AFES green signal has come at a time when GEAC has not concluded any of its debates on related matters – related to herbicide tolerant crops, related to toxicity studies. Sub-Committees are referred to in different meeting minutes, but there is no evidence of such committees being constituted, or having come up with their final reports after comprehensive reviews.
- Here, we present evidence on how the AFES document is presenting either outright lies or selective bits of information to camouflage the lack of safety of GM mustard.
|AFES document||Data in the biosafety dossier|
The AFES document presents Table 5.1. on total glucosinolates and Table 5.2. on fatty acid composition. It is interesting to note that DMH-11 data is kept out of the tables.
“Thus the data submitted suggest that there are no significant differences in key fatty acid component levels in seeds or leaf of GE parental lines as well as hybrid GMH-11 as compared to their respective comparator”, claims the AFES document (page 58 and 59).
Table 5.3. presents data of glucosinolate and key fatty acids with DMH-11 compared with ‘normal range in commercially cultivated varieties’ and lists Varuna barnase and EH2 barstar also!
Further, it is claimed that values in hybrid DMH-11 are comparable with commercially cultivated Varuna and check RL 1359, and the nutrient compositions of DMH-11 are within the range of non-GE varuna and zonal check. How is this comparison valid?
“Conclusions: on the basis of data analysed, the compositional differences between GE line and their conventional comparators are within the range of natural variability encountered in mustard”.
“Also, hybrid DMH-11 is very similar in its composition, to the commercially cultivated varieties in India which have a history of safe use”. (page 61, AFES document)
|Composition differences between leaves and seeds of six different cultivars was taken up with samples from 3 locations.
Report of NIN is dated 2/4/2014, numbered as Study No. 2/2012. (Last field trials would have been only in 2011-12. It is not clear if the report was released in a delayed fashion). The actual testing was undertaken at M/s QPS Bioserve India Private Limited.
The Results section (No. 7, pg 124/360 and 125/360) shows that under different parameters, there were indeed significant differences for various parameters (minerals, vitamins, secondary metabolites, amino acids etc. in either the leaf or the seed.
However, the conclusion section (8) says: “The compositional analysis includes macro, micro nutrients were substantially equivalent inspite of the significant changes which may be due to agro-climatic changes”!!
It is important to note that the entire reasoning behind not taking up feeding studies or other food safety tests was an argument that no significant changes were detected in the Compositional Analysis.
However, it is clear now, that there were significant changes, but have been discounted in an unreasonable fashion.
In any experiment, agro-climatic changes should have been controlled for, to begin with, for such compositional studies.
In fact, the only valid protocol for compositional studies is to compare GM mustard with isogenic non-GM lines. In this study too, handmade non-GM hybrid VEH-2 should have been used. However, this was not done.
Importantly, the conclusion reported in the study reports is very different from the conclusions being claimed in the AFES document.
|Acute Oral Toxicity (5.5., page 64-65):
Recombinant proteins expressed in E. coli and purified, were used in this study, and each protein was administered orally, separately, to swiss albino mice.
“The data generated showed that none of the three proteins cause mortality or any adverse effect in the test animals when administered orally”.
“It may be noted that this gene (bar) is used as a selectable marker in the experiments and does not imply that basta spray is required during cultivation of the said hybrid”.
|It is interesting to note that the Coordinator of PCT in NIN which took up the testing, till 31st August 2012 was Dr B Sesikeran.
The number of animals were 8 males and 8 females for study and control groups each (32 in all) for Bar and Barstar proteins, and only 6 males+6 females in each group (control and test protein group) for barnase, showing some inexplicable lack of standardisation. These sample sizes are also below the numbers discussed on the subject in a GEAC meeting.
Taken up in Swiss Albino Mice as oral route administration, for 14 days each, as tests of different individual recombinant proteins. Approved by RCGM in its meeting on 22/11/2011 and the permission letter was BT/BS/17/30/97-PID. A concentration of 1000 mg/kg body weight was used for this test, using purified test proteins of bar and barnase. For barstar, 1700 mg/kg was the concentration used.
In the study with barnase protein, it is seen that the control group animals (12) had a small body weight gain, whereas the barnase-protein fed animals had a small weight loss. This was seen more in the case of male mice.
This study was done separately for Recombinant Bar Protein, Barnase and Barstar. However, the proteins are bound together in DMH-11.
Further, this study ignored the fact that GM mustard is herbicide tolerant and herbicide usage will be taken up by farmers.
The AFES document citing literature on pat gene to justify bar gene safety, after recording only 87% similarity between these two genes is unscientific.
|Sub-chronic Toxicity (5.6, page 65):
“The sub chronic toxicity studies with leaf and seed material showed that there was no significant difference in body weights…urine analysis, biochemical parameters and haemotology was in the normal range and similar for animals fed with normal and GE materials. No toxicologically significant adverse effects were observed in necropsy and histopathology studies of the vital organs of the test animals”.
|The sub-chronic toxicity study was 88 days’ long, done as two studies with leaves and seeds from three transgenic mustard lines, in Sprague Dawley Rats.
The relevant RCGM approval letter is BT/BS/17/30/97-PID dated 12/1/2012. Test material was received in April 2012 for leaves and actual administration was between 11th June 2012 and 8th September 2012. The test materials were lyophilized powder of leaves of 3 transgenic lines. The study was done using 120 sprague dawley rats (60 males, 60 females), divided into six groups fed with different test materials.
The results are recorded thus:
Although there was a significant difference in glucose levels in EH-2 (non transgenic) group when compared to transgenic group of DMH-11, as the values fall within the standard normal range, these variations are of no significance. (7.4.2. on Clinical Chemistry).
Except a significant difference was observed in weights of Lungs in Varuna (NT) and EH2 (NT) groups compared to transgenic DMH-11 group, all organ weights were normal in all six groups including control group. (7.5.1. on Organ Weights, under 7.5. Necropsy and Histopathology).
Focal interstitial nephritis in kidney was seen only in transgenic group animal but the occurrence was sparse and hence not considered significant. (7.5.3. on Histopathology).
Our Comment: It is unclear if the study is interpretable as equivalent to fresh leaves’ consumption.
Importantly, the study was not conducted on GM mustard with herbicide tolerant crop protocols.
|Sub-Chronic Toxicity with Seeds
“The sub chronic toxicity studies with leaf and seed material showed that there was no significant difference in body weights…urine analysis, biochemical parameters and haemotology was in the normal range and similar for animals fed with normal and GE materials. No toxicologically significant adverse effects were observed in necropsy and histopathology studies of the vital organs of the test animals”.
|Study permission letter from RCGM (No. BT/BS/17/30/97-PID) dated 12/1/2012. Receipt of test material on 17th April 2012. Study was done between 18/6/2012 to 15/9/2012. 120 sprague dawley rats were used for the study (60 male, 60 female), randomly divided into 6 groups. Test material, of Brassica juncea seed powder, was administered at 20 mg/rat for 90 days.
The report presents its findings and conclusions in the following manner:
“There were significant changes in clinical chemistry parameters but were within normal range and hence of no significance” (There was a significant difference of TBILI level in EH-2 (NT) group with respect to transgenic group of DMH-11”.
“MCV in Varuna barnase and EH-2 barstar was found to be significantly decreased as compared to DMH-11 group. Monocyte counts in Varuna barnase and EH-2 barstar found to be significantly increased as compared to DMH-11 group”. “Although variations were observed, but as all these variations fall within a normal range for rats, these cannot be considered as significant”.
“Histopathological observations of all organs were unremarkable except lungs, liver, trachea, larynx and lymph nodes which showed changes in a few animals of each group. Few of those changes were also evidence in the control group”.
“The histopathological result was also seen to be unremarkable”.
|In all these tests, statistically significant differences were indeed recorded, even though study protocols themselves had limitations. However, all such differences were ignored and discounted in the conclusions of safety drawn.|
- Bioinformatics analysis was passed off as allergenicity study, along with pepsin digestibility and thermal stability of the 3 proteins. Further, an argument the protein expression levels of the introduced genes were low is not proof of health safety of GM mustard (entire 5.4 section of page 63). The lack of safety of GMOs is from the inherent changes created by the process of genetic modification, and in the case of GM mustard, additional risks from the herbicide tolerance trait and associated herbicide usage.
- Rationalising the existence of safety based on “no reports of any observed ill effects from more than a decade of consumption, exports and trade in Canada” is unscientific. Lack of evidence is not proof of safety. If this were so, GM mustard can be approved in India straightaway without any regulatory assessment at all! Further, citing data on B napus opportunistically is not acceptable, and data on Brassica juncea should be presented.
- Sections 5.7. (Toxicity assessment of transgene proteins for livestock and wildlife, including cattle, goats and pigs) is invalid in its arguments. It is not based on any testing. Arguments based on PAT protein not tenable. The claim that substantial equivalence has been established based on no difference between GE and their non-GE juncea lines through compositional analysis is an outright lie as the conclusion in the report in the biosafety dossier shows (as opposed to falsehoods stated in the AFES document). All bullet points on Page 68 are either outright falsehoods or scientifically untenable arguments.
- We have already pointed out how ICMR guidelines as quoted on Page 68 are not the last word for safety assessment, and GEAC itself has taken various decisions in its past meetings to prove this.
- The statement of AFES that “it may be noted that GE canola is being cultivated in several of these countries for more than 20 years” is an incorrect statement given that only 3 countries have been cultivating.
- Section 5.9 is meaningless in its rationalization since no protocols have been evolved to actually test the impact of a GMO on Ayurveda or any other system of medicine.
- Section 5.10, Page 73 ‘Potential allergenicity assessment of barnase, barstar and bar proteins’’s claim that “this analysis further confirmed lack of significant sequence similarly of barnase, barstar or bar proteins to any known allergenic protein” is a matter of concern. What does lack of significant similarity mean and how much similarity actually exists?
It is worth drawing the attention of the reader here that in the 121st meeting of the GEAC, the following has been decided upon:
“4.4.10. On the issue of the toxicology studies consensus were expressed that unlike in the west, GM Canola is used as oil where as in India mustard leaves and seeds are also consumed and therefore, toxicology data should be reviewed with great caution. The Committee decided to refer the matter to the sub-committee proposed under agenda item no 4.3.
4.4.11 In addition, it was decided to obtain the following additional information:
- What are the other hybrids of Canola approved for commercial cultivation in the West and how much of the cultivated hybrids fall under barnase and barstar genes. ….
4.4.12.The Committee further decided to obtain additional information as indicated in para 4.4.11 above and also decided to refer the matter to the sub-committee proposed for the purpose of review to the toxicology data under agenda item 4.3.13 and 4.4.10”.
From all information available, no such sub-committee for reviewing toxicology data has been constituted whereas the GEAC put out an AFES document for public comments even without an independent health expert! No data has been shared, it appears, on other hybrids in the West and how much is under barnase-barstar technology.
It is also apparent from a perusal of the discussions and debates within the GEAC on this subject, that this is a matter pending to be resolved in India’s regulatory regime (on how toxicology data is to be interpreted).
The insistence that feeding studies will be taken up only if nothing is found in compositional analyses has also been violated in the context of GM mustard. Importantly, a decision on whether feeding studies are needed or not is pending, as per the same 121st GEAC meeting minutes, given below (it is worth noting that such a feeding study at NDRI, Karnal was actually proposed and discussed in the GEAC):
“4.5.2 The Member Secretary, RCGM informed that the applicant had sought exemption from feeding studies with leaves and seeds as they are not toxicological studies but basically meant to evaluate nutritional imbalance. As compositional equivalence of edible plant parts (leaf and seeds) has been established, and no Allergenicity has been observed, additional feeding studies may not be required. Further, the same genetic system has been in use for more than 15 years in several countries around the World. The matter was considered by the RCGM in its 133rd meeting held on 22.4.2014. While the RCGM agreed to the above, the Secretariat was advised to send a brief note to the GEAC with justification on why feeding studies are not required in the present case.
4.5.3 After a brief discussion on the matter, the Committee requested that the Note forwarded by RCGM may be circulated to all members of the GEAC for consideration of the case in the next meeting. Accordingly decision on the two proposals mentioned above were deferred”.
From all available information in the public domain of all subsequent meetings of GEAC and its sub-committee, such a discussion for a decision on the deferred proposals was not taken up subsequently by the GEAC.
The following reasoning is offered by us as to why the conclusions around ‘biological irrelevance of statistically substantial differences in any health safety parameter even when values are found within normal range’ are illogical and undependable:
- If the objective of the study is to check whether consumption of a GM food leads to abnormal health parameters (biochemistry, histo-pathological, body weight related etc. etc.) and whether these values fall within normal range of values for a particular species, then it is obvious that such feeding tests can be conducted straightaway on one set of animals and results verified against the normal range without having to resort to a comparative framework in the protocol;
- It is clear that the objective is not to verify only biological relevance of results, but to see in a comparative framework if GM-fed animals have significant differences in any parameter being studied, vis-à-vis the control group. Even here, it is important to note that chronic impact parameters like endocrine disruption or carcinogenic impacts are not likely to be captured in a linear, dose-dependent way. This will also be not applicable equally to both sexes whereas GEAC’s toxicology inferences have always sought to brush off early warnings of lack of safety by insisting that such differences should be dose-dependent and applicable to box sexes.
The only scientific and rational thing to be done in all such cases is to increase the number of assessments as well as do this for a long enough time to capture chronic impacts, until a reasonably reliable conclusion can be drawn, apart from more fundamental policy decisions to be taken on the subject.
In a discussion on the subject in the Sub-Committee (Page 4 of the February 2016 meeting), DU reply argues that it is important that even if there are significant differences found, such differences should be checked to see if they are in physiological range, and then one should correlate biochemical and haemotological data with histopathological changes. From available information, it appears that differences are indeed significant on all these fronts, and this should have been taken very seriously by the regulators and not ignored. If safety is being asserted by the regulators, they should justify the same by putting out all data in the public domain and explain the basis for their clean chit rather than present false conclusions as was done in the AFES document.
- Protein Expression Studies
This was taken up during October 2011-March 2012. Some findings worth mentioning are:
BAR PROTEIN: Expression of bar protein was noted in all transgenic lines, in all the tissues tested.
- Bar protein observed in the pollen of DMH-11 transgenic lines ranged between 0.159 to 0.363 µgm bar/mg of the total protein. This obviously has implications for honey quality/contamination. It is interesting to note that the sub-committee only keeps referring to barnase protein but not bar protein whose expression is driven by a double enhancer promoter in one of the parental lines.
- In the leaves of GM mustard, bar gene expression was more than 1 µgm bar/mg of the total protein in the range observed across different days of crop growth and different locations. In fact, in Bharatpur in Rabi 2011, in EH2-barstar leaves at 60 days and 110 days, it was more than 3 µgm bar/mg of the total protein. The dosage fixed in toxicity studies however looked at the average expression levels. Given large variability, how have the health effects of this been assessed?
- The highest expression levels of bar were observed in the root tissue. It is interesting to note that this was not looked at in the context of Horizontal Gene Transfer, soil pathogens or other organisms, use of herbicide glufosinate on the GM mustard crop and resultant implications.
BARNASE AND BARSTAR GENE EXPRESSION: It is seen that in DMH-11, low levels of expression of barnase are present in the whole bud. Further, barstar expression is also noted in different parts.
The following is excerpted from a GEAC discussion in the 121st meeting:
“4.4.9 Dr Sonti informed that the Barnase Protein is fundamentally a toxic protein and used as an anti-cancer drug. It was clarified that the protein is expressed only in the tapetum and is not expressed in any other tissue as per the analysis carried out in the report. Clarifications were also sought on why very low level of expression barstar is found in other tissues in addition to anthers but not barnase even though both the genes are expressed under the same tapetum specific promoter. At the request of the Committee, Dr Pradhan clarified that in the barstar construct the selection marker bar gene is driven by 35S double enhancer promoter (a stronger promoter than the normal 35S promoter) and the barstar gene by tapetum specific TA29 promoter. In the barnase construct the bar gene is driven by normal 35S promoter and barnase gene by TA29. The barstar expression observed in tissues other than the anthers could be due to the enhancer element of 35S double enhancer promoter influencing the TA29 promoter and thus resulting in very low expression of barstar in tissues other than anthers”.
It is apparent that when the DU scientists picked up the Bayer bar-barnase-barstar technology, they chose to tweak the technology to change the barnase construct ostensibly to avoid any leaky expression of the protein but also possibly to break the IPRs of Bayer in this sphere. Here, the barnase protein expression was regulated and controlled. However, when it comes to the barstar construct, the double enhancer promoter is a giveaway for the intent to commercialise herbicide tolerance trait with very high expression levels in the male parent. This is also driving the “leaky” expression of barstar in different tissues, however and the crop developers had absolutely no intent to address this.
Allergenicity testing: The low levels of protein expression in different tissues (bar gene expression is higher of course) and some bio-informatics based analysis of lack of similarity with known allergens has been used to present the safety of GM mustard in several parts of the AFES document, ignoring the fact that the health safety concerns around GMOs flow from 3-4 factors: the individual foreign genes, the changes due to the GE process, the additional risks from the chemical usage accompanying such GMOs and any combined effects, if any.
OTHER OBSERVATIONS AND COMMENTS ON THE AFES DOCUMENT:
- General comment on the AFES document: The AFES document reveals anything about GM mustard, as selectively as it does, in only 70 pages or so, within a 133 page document. There is hardly anything that can be gleaned about the biosafety test results from these 70 pages and GEAC is being outright stubborn in not revealing more information in the name of protecting IPRs which is unreasonable as already explained in detail, in person by the Central Information Commissioner in the first hearing in case number CIC/SA/A/2015/901798 and by the government in arguing in the Supreme Court that the public does not need to know more.
- Chapter 1 Introduction: The AFES document deceptively lists out several years of work done on GM mustard – the actual biosafety testing has been condensed into very few studies, and packed into four years in all (2010-2014). Any statement that hints at studies conducted from 2003-04 or from 2008 as mentioned in Page 5 of the AFES document is outright incorrect (Chapter 1 Introduction: “Studies on the biosafety of the parental lines and the resultant hybrid DMH-11 have been carried out since 2008…..”).
- Chapter 1 Introduction: The AFES document makes no mention of the fact that CMS technology exists for male sterility and hybridization possibilities. This is also a mischievous framing of the issue. Please note that CMS is included in the List of Abbreviations on Page 119 but not anywhere in the AFES document! (Chapter 1 Introduction, Page 1: “Since B. juncea is predominantly a self pollinating crop, a pollination control mechanism is required to facilitate cross-pollination for production of hybrid seeds. To achieve this, one of the parents has to be male sterile….”) (8.2. Summary: “….therefore, a transgenic technology based hybrid seed production system has been developed”.
- Table 1.1.: Before this section, there should have been some description of who prepared this document, adopting what methodology, with what participation and attendance, over how many meetings, with what inputs etc.
- Table 1.1.: “Selection marker bar required only for hybrid seed production” – ‘required’ does not mean anything when it comes to farmers using herbicide on the crop. This is a herbicide tolerant crop, period. Any lessons to be gleaned from large scale illegal cultivation of herbicide tolerant cotton should tell us about the reality of lack of regulation at the farmer level. This is a good example of regulatory incapability on the part of GEAC and mere statements like the one in Table 1.1. do not mean anything in reality.
- Table 1.1: “Compositional Analysis conducted at Food and Drug Toxicology Research Centre of NIN”: outright lie. It had been outsourced to a private laboratory.
- Table 1.1: Clearly shows that several studies have been conducted by the crop developers themselves. It also reveals that DRMR/ICAR not in the picture.
- 2. Global status of hybrid seed production technology in Brassica napus using MS-RF system deploying genes used for B. juncea: Only 3 countries have approved transgenic canola for cultivation, even though there are numerous countries which grow rapeseed around the world as the regulators’ Biology Document of B.juncea reveals. Table 1.3. should make the sub-committee and GEAC ask a pertinent question based on the information provided: Why are most countries not opting for transgenic technology? Don’t they have scientists who can develop transgenic hybrids? How are they able to produce hybrids without the use of GM technology? What are their yields like? We give the response by presenting a graph below about the situation of rapeseed cultivation in different countries which are major producers of rapeseed, and their yields in the recent past. The data has been sourced from Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)’s statistics.
- Table 1.4 on Rapeseed oil exports from Canada: Can the export figures of Canada be attributed to the adoption of transgenic technology, or is it to do with overall cultivation area, surplus production, and trade rules that came into being post-WTO? Are the regulators and crop developers right in putting forward Table 1.4 to defend an argument around GM canola? If yes, what is the argument and what is the evidence backing up the same?
Meanwhile, it is worth noting that the exports to India are quite negligible. This should be noted by those who think that GM canola oil imports into India justify and become the basis on which India should and can approve commercial cultivation of GM mustard within the country. Such an unsound argument ignores the fact that GM canola imports are minuscule compared to the overall edible oil consumption in India, and approval for commercial cultivation brings with it additional health and environmental risks, in addition to risks related to GM oil consumption which have not been tested by our regulators so far.
|CONSUMPTION OF IMPORTED GM CANOLA OIL WITHIN INDIA’S OIL CONSUMPTION
(All oil figures in Million Metric Tons)
|(LATEST 5 YEARS’ PICTURE)|
|Year||Total Edible Oil Consumption||Total Edible Oil Imports||Largest Import: Palmolein Oil||GM Oil Imports||%age of GM Canola in total oil consumption||%age of imported GM oils (soy & rapeseed in total consumption|
|Soybean oil||Rapeseed/ Canola oil*|
|Source: USDA GAIN Annual Reports on Oilseeds & Products.|
|Reports IN6047, IN5049, IN4026, IN3034, IN2030|
Table 1.4: GEAC has to be clarify whether all the imports listed against India have received permission from the regulators (including DGFT and whether such oil is being labeled in the market as per the Legal Metrology Act being implemented in the country). If yes, the permission details should be revealed to the nation and proof provided for regulatory clearances given and basis for the same.
- Chapter 2: Biology of Indian Mustard – the fact that this document has been created and uploaded into the public domain only in 2016 is one more proof of serious regulatory failure in the country, given the fact that a document which is supposed to be a baseline for biosafety testing has been brought into existence years after all testing has been ostensibly completed!
- 5. Weeds, major pests and diseases: “Weeds in rape and mustard crop are reported to cause approximately 20-30 per cent yield reduction”. The regulators have to make up their mind on whether they want to project weeds as a problem in mustard crop or not, since the crop developers downplay this in their anxiety to make sure that GM mustard is not rightly understood as a herbicide tolerant crop!
- 5. Weeds, major pests and diseases: It is interesting to note that the data that emerged from field trials does not reflect the pest and disease reality summarized in this section of AFES document. This reinforces our doubt that data has been doctored in the field trial reports.
- Chapter 3 Indian Biosafety Regulatory Framework: Listing out regulatory regimes from other countries does not suffice for the fact that our growing and consumption conditions are unique in themselves and we need sui generis, suitable and rigorous regulation. Further, the institutions listed out on pages 18 and 19 have proven themselves to be incapable of fulfilling the mandate of regulation capably. SBCCs and DLCs don’t exist in reality. Further, listing 1998 guidelines does not make sense since these have not been applied in the case of GM mustard. Same applies to the SOPs for field trials of 2008, which have been violated in the case of GM mustard trials. GEAC chose not to act on complaints and reports on the same.
- Chapter 3 Indian Biosafety Regulatory Framework The ERA coming into existence only in 2016 reinforces the contention of many groups and citizens, including the SC PIL petitioners that approvals have been taking place without sound guidelines in place. In fact, in the AFES document, the 1998 guidelines have been referred to in a misleading fashion as Revised Guidelines for Research in Transgenic Plants, rather than the full nomenclature of these guidelines which is: Revised Guidelines for Research in Transgenic Plants and Guidelines for Toxicity and Allergenicity Evaluation of Transgenic Seeds, Plants and Plant Parts, 1998 (http://www.moef.gov.in/sites/default/files/geac/biosafety.html). These are only for toxicity and allergenicity evaluation and have nothing to do with environmental risk assessment. It means that GM mustard had proceeded this far in a vacuum of regulatory guidelines!
- Chapter 3 Indian Biosafety Regulatory Framework (page 20): To argue that revised documents are subjected to wide ranging consultations is ironical for a government which is refusing to take cognizance of the recommendations made by the Supreme Court Technical Expert Committee’s independent report which includes Government’s nominees.
- Figure 3.1.b Step by Step process followed by the applicant for regulatory approval: It is clear that GM mustard did not follow this process of approval when parents were swapped after 2006-07 trials. In the Supreme Court reply filed by the Government of India in IA 47 of 2016 (WP 260 of 2005), under “Reciprocal change in the parents of hybrid DMH-11”, the government fails to provide any proof for formal permission having been accorded. It states “100. It is submitted to the Honourable Court that the developers had informed the RCGM in the year 2006 that after the trials of 2006-07 for all the testing of barnase/barstar system and hybrid DMH-11, Varuna barnase line and EH-2 barstar line would be used”. This is one of those sections in the rejoinder when the government failed to produce any Annexure as proof and it is amply clear that no permission has been accorded (the claim is not about permission given but information provided by the applicant which can be cooked up any time like many other cooked up materials in this GM mustard dossier).
- 2. Step by Step process followed by the applicant: This is a misleading heading since there is no clear sequence laid down or followed – tests happen in a parallel fashion as per convenience more than anything else. Further, page 23’s bullet point on confined trials’ conditions mitigating the ‘persistence of the GE plant and its progeny in the environment’ ignores and does not reveal the fact that GM mustard trials violated these conditions and we had provided photographic proof of the same to GEAC, which chose not to act on the complaint at all.
- 2. Step by Step process followed by the applicant, Page 23: “the data is generated to compare GE lines with their non-GE counterparts for various parameters” is an outright false statement since DMH-11 did not have any non-GE counterpart or equivalent control for several parameters.
- 2. Step by Step process followed by the applicant, Page 23: “In addition, the statutory bodies can exempt or prescribe generation of additional information or data on biosafety….”. It would be useful to know from the regulators why this provision was used only to exempt and not to prescribe additional data in the case of GM mustard?
- 2. Step by Step process followed by the applicant, Page 24: CCC could not have ensured compliance as claimed in the AFES document, given the timing of monitoring visits. However, they pointed out to violations which were not taken seriously by GEAC and no action initiated.
- 2. Step by Step process followed by the applicant, Page 24: “The evaluation of food/feed and environmental safety is carried out by the RCGM” – why should this be done by RCGM in the first instance when DBT has funded the project and approved the protocols?
- 3. Step by step regulatory compliance and data generation in the case of GE mustard parental lines and hybrid DMH-11, Page 24: “Based on the BRL I studies, approval was granted by GEAC for BRL II field trials in October 2014” – there was no appraisal of any data generated in the BRL I studies given that nearly all studies were claimed to be completed in the 2 years of BRLI studies as the list of studies given in the GEAC’s 121st meeting minutes show. All food safety and environmental safety studies were claimed to have been completed by then. However, GEAC does not study the results before proceeding forward and the minutes are a clear demonstration of this lack of responsible discharge of duties. It is also apparent that the final dossier was submitted in February 2016, as per the AFES document Page 25 description. This means that no further assessment, including of the many points made by civil society representatives were ever put to the developer or addressed.
- 4. Assessment of Food/Feed and Environmental Safety (AFES) – Risk Assessment Process: Invoking relevant excerpts from the ERA 2016 guidelines is laughable given that this document was not in place when GM mustard appraisal took place!
- Figure 3.2.: GEAC has to state explicitly who are the stakeholders who were involved in the decision-making process in the figure presented for “components of risk analysis” and also show proof of how they were involved in the case of GM mustard.
- Risk Context, page 26: From a perusal of the AFES document and from knowing the way the GM mustard appraisal took place, it is clear that GEAC does not know about the Risk Context – this includes socio-economic realities of poor rural female agricultural workers, about chemical use in states like Punjab, about growing and consumption conditions in India, about the impact of environmental toxins on an already malnourished population etc. etc.
- Risk Assessment, Page 26: It is apparent that GM mustard was not evaluated as a HT crop and the entire risk assessment stands invalid just on this count.
- Figure 3.3 to describe an iterative process of risk assessment, page 30: Can GEAC demonstrate what iterative processes did they run at all, and why they did not take the opportunity of rigorous evaluation before the large scale trials or BRL II of GM mustard?
- Risk assessment process for breeding stacked events, page 30: We have already shown that parental events did not undergo all studies and the claim in the last line on this page is incorrect.
- Risk Communication: “…Indian government’s commitment to clarity, transparency and accountability for decision-making processes”. This is most ironical, these claims on transparency, clarity and accountability. Here is a classic illustration of how none of these are adhered to by the Indian government and its regulators!
- Page 31: “However, such authorization shall also be subject to all other laws…relevant at that time”. The GM regulators are complicit along with the crop developers in violating the Insecticides Act in India by allowing glufosinate use on mustard crop. It is clear that no such conforming to other laws is being practiced.
- Chapter 4, Molecular Characterisation: We have already shown how inconsistent protein expression levels data is across different reports. Does this indicate stability of the events?
- Chapter 4, Molecular Characterisation: This is where the AFES document should also have provided information on all the IPRs on all the genetic materials used in GM mustard creation – the spacers, the promoters, the terminators, the desired transgenes, the constructs, the processes as well as the products, here in India and elsewhere. Any MTA terms and conditions should also have been revealed. This is where information on Glufosinate patent held by Bayer (through its subsidiary) in India should also have been revealed which is valid till 2018.
- 2. The male sterility-fertility restorer technology: “The system has the potential of hybrid seed production to bring about a substantial increase in crop productivity…amount of yield increase depending upon the parental germplasm”. Where has this potential that makes claims on yield increases depending on parental germplasm been proven or established? Only pollination control potential has been shown, that too inadequately.
- 2. The male sterility-fertility restorer technology: Claims on successful deployment of barnase-barstar system based heterosis breeding in 3 countries does not stand scrutiny from the fact that most other higher-yielding countries have not used this technology as we have already shown.
- 2. The male sterility-fertility restorer technology: Brassica juncea being described as a predominantly self-pollinating crop demands a thorough justification for how Varuna barnase male sterile line produced such good yields in the GM mustard trials!
- Page 34: “later, the elite barnase event was transferred to Varuna genotype of B.juncea while the barstar gene construct event was used to transfer the barstar gene to EH-2 genotype via backcross breeding” – GEAC has to produce evidence of permission granted for this.
- Page 39 and 40, narrative description, Table 4.1. and Figure 4.4. on double enhancer promoter driving the bar gene: “In the barstar gene construct, the bar gene, used as a plant selectable marker, is controlled by CaMV35S double enhancer promoter. This promoter confers a 10-fold increase in the expression levels over the corresponding single enhancer counterpart”. GEAC has to explain what is the purpose of using a double enhancer promoter for bar gene expression. This alone is a dead giveaway for the herbicide tolerance trait intended to be exploited by the crop developer and there is absolutely no purpose for this double enhancer promoter, especially given that it is also causing the problem of barstar expression unnecessarily at higher ‘leaked’ levels.
- Table 4.1. should be accompanied by IPRs related information on all these genetic materials/gene components introduced.
- 4. Method of genetic transformation of B. juncea: “The combining ability studies earlier had shown that hybrids between these two lines are significantly more productive than the parental varieties and the national and/or regional checks” – Outright lie. No national and regional checks were used as required and therefore, no significant productivity increase has been shown!
- 5. Characterisation of the inserted genetic material and stability of the genetic modification: “The male sterile barnase line has been analysed over ten generations under containment/field conditions and shown to stably inherit the male sterile phenotype with no breakdown of sterility” – outright lie. Data from field trials shows that male sterility broke down given that seed setting happened in bagged male sterile branches also.
- 6. Expression of the introduced genes: “Some level of expression (of barstar gene) was also observed in the leaf, stem and the root tissues. This could be due to the presence of a strong 35S double enhancer promoter driving the expression of bar gene”. This certainly has to be explained by GEAC as to why the double enhancer promoter had to be used, especially given that barstar is expressing in other parts because of this!
- 6. Expression of the introduced genes: “In addition to anthers, low levels of barstar transcripts were also observed in other tissues of hybrid DMH-11”. What then are the implications for honey quality and contamination, for instance? GEAC should put out data on the protein levels detected.
- Table 4.2. on Expression Levels of Barnase, Barstar and Bar proteins in the GE mustard lines: Interestingly, this is the only table where data is presented in a summarized fashion, across 3 BRL season trials from field grown plants, and one season of contained net house plants. However, this does not help a reader to understand the variability found across seasons and growing locations and to cross-verify whether the highest levels were taken into account when toxicity testing dosages were fixed. Given the obfuscation of data that GEAC indulges in, it is important that the full data is shared separately for each year and location for this parameter.
- 6. Expression of the introduced genes, Page 49: While description of proteins in seed and edible oil is presented, there is no information on oil cake and impact of use of such oil cake for soil amendments. What impacts are present from the oil cake of a herbicide tolerant transgenic mustard crop, sprayed with herbicides by farmers? What about cold pressed oil and oil cake specifically from such processes? Is risk assessment complete without exploring these aspects?
- 8. Functionality of the introduced proteins for male sterility and restored fertility: “…the functionality was confirmed by the absence of seed set upon self pollination by bagging the inflorescence”. Outright lie, as field trial data shows. In fact, protocols should have been standardized and this aspect tested further, rather than making false statements.
- 10. Cloning, purification and production of pure Barstar, Barnase and Bar proteins for biosafety studies: It does not help to describe such production and use of pure proteins, given that in reality, individual proteins do not exist, but they move as bound complexes. Testing did not account for this and to that extent, the tests are invalid.
- 11. Conclusions of this Chapter are questionable on how the transgene is inherited stably with no breakdown in sterility over many generations in the male sterile line.
- Chapter 5 Food and Feed Safety Studies: In this Chapter, it is rationalized that animal feeding studies are required only if compositional analysis shows statistically significant differences, especially in comparison to values/ranges for conventional varieties available in literature or recognized databases (“weight of evidence approach”). However, such differences were ignored and discounted completely as we have shown in this note.
- Page 79, Assessment of any potential weediness of GE hybrid DMH-11 and the parental lines: “The data also shows that GE hybrid DMH-11 is not prone to pod shattering”. We challenge GEAC to produce evidence for this, since no data on this has been collected other than a simple yes or no, that too not across all trials!
- Page 79: “farmers are not required to spray Basta in the hybrid GE DMH-11 field for weed control as Basta is not a recommended herbicide in the package of practices for mustard cultivation in India” – this is either a naïve statement or an over-smart one. No farmer is waiting to use only recommended chemicals in this country!
- Page 80: The statement that there is no evidence that GE herbicide tolerant crops are more invasive than their conventional counterparts is not borne out by the feral populations detected in various locations.
- 3. Studies on soil microbial community: The tests and conclusions are invalid since GM mustard has not been tested as a herbicide tolerant crop. It is also unclear whey other species like collembolan and earthworms were not prescribed in soil impact studies. The rationalization of safety based on excessive discussion on barnase protein (Page 90) is not reliable given that bar protein gets expressed in high levels in root tissues. The unscientific justification that the proteins are already widely present in nature and their presence in GE mustard is not expected to present any new toxicity risks to soil micro-organisms is laughable given that it ignores the fact of increased proteins like bar in large quantities from cultivation of GM mustard. How is it possible that the proteins will be present at the same levels with and without GM mustard? “Overall, not a single physical or chemical stressor was introduced in soil by GE mustard” is untenable given that HT mustard will certainly add to the chemical stressors to be introduced in soil. Only bacterial count was taken up in these studies and even here, there were variations that were found but ignored.
- Page 95 ignores studies that do exist of negative impacts on bees from GM crops.
SEVERAL OTHER ISSUES RAISED BY US IN THE PAST, OF A MORE FUNDAMENTAL NATURE AROUND GM MUSTARD, REMAIN UNANSWERED TO THIS DAY.
ALL THE ABOVE ARE ILLUSTRATIONS OF HOW THE AFES DOCUMENT IS UNRELIABLE IN ITS ANALYSIS AND CONCLUSIONS.
Annexure: RTI that shows that CGMCP evolved all the test protocols!
 This note has been prepared by Kavitha Kuruganti (email@example.com). This note seeks to show how GMOs like GM mustard which are unneeded and unsafe, can be cleared only by compromising on scientific rigor. Utmost attention has been paid to be accurate & scientific and if there are any mistakes, request that the same be pointed out to me.
PROTECTING THE TENANT FARMER
A fact finding report on farm suicides in Telangana in 2015 by Rythu Swarajya Vedika showed that nearly 65% of 142 farm suicides investigated by the outfit were of tenant farmers/sharecroppers. Another report just this week of 40 cases of farm suicides found that in 22 cases, the victims had leased in land. Admittedly, this may not be the situation in all states of India. However, in a country reeling under agrarian distress, it is hardly surprising that the worst affected farmers would be those who are never considered or classified as ‘farmers’ by the agriculture establishment given their invisibility of existence as far as official records are concerned. If you are not on the records, then you are unlikely to get any share in the meagre support that is meant for farmers, whether it is agriculture credit or insurance or disaster relief or marketing support. In fact, you are not considered a farmer even after committing suicide, if you are landless and are a tenant/sharecropper.
The NSSO 70th Round survey on Land and Livestock Holdings in India counted that 10.10% of land in India is leased in at the all-India level (amounting to 99 – 107 lakh hectares of land), with the state level figures ranging from 1.08% in Nagaland to 33.75% in Andhra Pradesh. Most reports related to extent of tenancy/sharecropping are to be seen as under-reporting of the phenomenon and even these point to the substantial numbers of families involved in this kind of farming. Admittedly, the situation varies quite substantially across different states of India.
Last year, NITI Aayog mooted initial proposals around legalizing agricultural land leasing in India – given that this news came right on the heels of the government having to backtrack on Land Acquisition Ordinances, it was viewed with skepticism as a way devised to get around the opposition to land acquisition ordinance/amendments. The NITI Aayog Vice-Chairperson’s blog piece on his website was a give-away in that respect. The tension between approaching this as liberalizing land lease Vs. legalizing land lease was apparent even then.
In September 2015, NITI Aayog set up an Expert Committee headed by Dr Tajamul Haque to examine the existing tenancy laws and to suggest appropriate amendments to meet the felt need around legalising land leasing. The underlying assumption was that legalizing land leasing would increase agricultural efficiency, occupational diversification, rapid rural transformation and would address equity issues. The Expert Committee was also asked to create a Model Agricultural Land Leasing Act, for the benefit of state governments.
On April 11th, the Expert Committee presented its report to NITI Aayog, including a Model Land Leasing Act. The Model Act limits itself to land leasing in the context of agriculture and allied activities as well as only for farmers and farmers’ collectives. This allays the initial fears around legalizing land leasing being seen as a way of bypassing land acquisition laws. The report makes a case for why legalizing of land leasing is necessary both from the tenant’s point of view and the landowner’s. Efficiency and productivity arguments are extended to justify the need to formalize land lease agreements, whereas they are unrecorded and invisible at this point of time, making the tenants extremely vulnerable in a risky profession. The example of collective land leasing by women’s groups in Kudumbashree in Kerala is given as an illustration for increasing efficiency and viability in farming when land leasing is legalized.
However, it is seen that the Model Land Leasing Act has not addressed various concerns that persist. For instance, concentration of operational holdings in a few hands is a possibility, and therefore, the Equity rationale for legalizing being given the short shrift. The report in fact seeks to make a case for existing (big?) land-owners leasing in lands of smallholders freeing them up for wage work and self-employment of any other kind. However, we do know that opportunities for the landed for such self-employment of the non-agricultural kind are more, given their existing socio-economic advantages, and not the other way around. Therefore, to build in ceilings into the Model Act would be important and it is hoped that state governments which seek to adopt this Model Act would put in clauses that prevent inequitable concentration of land.
The Model Act also did not build in clauses that would have protected the interests of tenants – for instance, while the report talks about facilitating all tenants to access insurance and bank credit that too against pledging of expected output, the Act leaves it to the tenants own efforts to access these support systems. Many farm movements have been asking for more express guidelines from the RBI to bankers with regard to greater support to tenant farmers and for the government to set up a credit guarantee fund to give more confidence to bankers. Further, the Bhoomiheen Kisan Credit can be scaled up to cover tenant farmers in a JLG approach but with more investments built into building up the Joint Liability Groups of such tenant farmers into workable institutions.
The biggest lacuna in the Model Act can be said to be the lack of onus put on state departments to protect the interests of tenant farmers in any way. It is assumed that adverse land possession clauses in tenancy laws being addressed through a new law would address the many vulnerabilities of tenant farmers. In the end, the Model Act limited itself to being a legal contract between a lessor and lessee completely on their mutually agreed terms and conditions.
This may not resolve the many problems being faced by tenant farmers today. Other than giving the confidence to land owners to get into legal contracts with tenants without the fear of losing the land, or being criminalized in some way, the Model Act should have mandated the agriculture and revenue departments of state governments to proactively record and register all lease agreements and share the database on a seasonal or yearly basis with bankers for credit, run special camps to enroll them for crop insurance, ensure that at the time of disaster relief payments, such data is accessed by the competent authorities preparing the cheques etc. To that extent, the Licensed Cultivators’ Act of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana has mechanisms worth emulating elsewhere. It is hoped that state governments will indeed legalise land lease keeping the best interests of tenant farmers in mind while devising their statutes.
- Kavitha Kuruganti is one of the Convenors of ASHA – Kisan Swaraj Alliance (Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture)
The following is the UNEDITED VERSION of what has been submitted for the report of the High Level Committee on the Status of Women in India, of which I was a Member. Many have been asking me again and again for the full report, as well as this part of the HLC report. The un/edited reports are yet to be put out in the public domain, as editing is still underway. However, the following is being shared from my side, not to be treated as the Rural Livelihoods chapter of the HLC report, but as information and analysis that is useable in any case pertaining to rural women’s livelihoods in India, especially of women farmers. Please note that formatting that has been done in the form of boxes is not appearing as such in this post.
RURAL WOMEN IN INDIA AND THEIR ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT:
Farm and Non-Farm Livelihoods
This section focuses on Rural Women’s Livelihoods, to cover both Farm and Non-Farm sectors. ‘Farm livelihoods’ as a term here adopts the broad framework as proposed by the National Farmers Commission (Rashtriya Kisan Ayog), further incorporated into the National Policy For Farmers (2007) to include cultivation, agricultural labour, sharecroppers, tenant farmers, forest-based livelihoods, fishers, pastoralists and so on. The following structure has been adopted for presenting the analysis with regard to rural women’s livelihoods:
- Rural India’s dependence on Agriculture and Situation of Agricultural Households;
- Rural women’s participation in the economic sphere;
- Trends in Agriculture and impacts on women’s livelihoods;
- Land rights of, and land ownership by women in India;
- Women’s Forest Livelihoods;
- Women in Fisheries and Livestock Rearing;
- Women in flagship agriculture-related programmes and schemes;
- Women in Cooperatives;
- Recommendations on Farm Livelihoods;
- Rural Non-Farm Livelihoods – state of affairs; and
- Recommendations on Rural Non-Farm Sector and Women’s Livelihoods
Women in the economic sphere in Rural India
It is seen that women’s work force participation rates in rural India are significantly higher than those of urban India, but also significantly lower than those of rural men. Further, employment in subsidiary status is quite high when compared to men. These trends show no systematic variation over the decades, except some small improvements in urban female employment. However, in the past decade or so, trends show a marked decline in rural employment for women and this contraction was led almost entirely by a drop in employment in agriculture, as shown in the sub-section on employment trends for women in rural India.
Within rural women, scheduled tribe and scheduled caste women’s WPR is higher. However, that of Muslim women is nearly half the national rate for women of all religions. In rural India, the Workforce Participation Rate in 2004-05 of illiterate women was greater than literate primary, middle, secondary, higher secondary or even graduate women – diploma/certificate course is the only exception, which is a point worth noting on ‘skilling’. An overwhelming majority are employed in Agriculture, though on a steady and slow declining trend – this decline is much sharper for men, leading to ‘feminisation’ of agriculture. Both in Agriculture and Non-Agriculture, “Self Employed” status, which could consist of significant unpaid work, is a major employment status for rural women, followed by Casual work. It has been seen that women often get wages lower than stipulated minimum wages in this sector. It is also seen that as economic status improves, work participation rates decline for rural women, suggesting social norms strongly influencing such participation when there are no compelling economic reasons. Further, gender wage gap exists in all categories of employment, and women are concentrated in lowest wage-paying work.
The most important issue for women working in agriculture is the lack of visibility, recognition and support as farmers in their own right. This denies them various entitlements and support systems that are due to them, since the status of “farmer” is usually conferred to land-owners.
- RURAL INDIA’S DEPENDENCE ON FARMING AND SITUATION OF AGRICULTURAL HOUSEHOLDS IN INDIA
In 2007, based on the Kisan Ayog recommendations, the National Policy for Farmers defined a farmer as ‘a person actively engaged in the economic and/or livelihood activity of growing crops and producing other primary agricultural commodities and will include all agricultural operational holders, cultivators, agricultural labourers, sharecroppers, tenants, poultry and livestock rearers, fishers, beekeepers, gardeners, pastoralists, non-corporate planters and planting labourers as well as persons engaged in various farming related occupations such as sericulture, vermiculture and agro-forestry. The term will also include tribals engaged in shifting cultivation and in the collection, use and sale of minor and non-timber forest produce’. Such a definition adopted in the official agricultural policy of India should have conferred the rightful recognition to, and supported women cultivators and agricultural workers, the ones who are visibly working in agricultural production but also those that declare themselves to be ‘principally engaged in housework’ (61.6% of rural women aged 15 to 59 years report household work as their principal usual activity status, with 45% engaged in various activities for obtaining food for the household: working on kitchen gardens, maintaining household animal resources, collection of food and food processing activities).
However, this definition of farmers is yet to be operationalized in the context of women farmers and this is one of the most critical aspects to the invisibility and lack of support to rural women’s livelihoods.
1.1. It is often said that the key to achieving several development targets around poverty, hunger and malnutrition is in the hands of women farmers and their empowerment. This section looks at women’s farm livelihoods in India, in addition to non-farm sector in rural India.
1.2. During the Eleventh Plan period, the contribution of agriculture and allied sectors to the GDP stood at 15.2% in India, down from 19% during the Tenth Plan. By 2009-10, agriculture sector’s share in employment came down to 51.6% compared to 58.5% in 1999-2000. It further decreased to 47.1% in 2011-12. In absolute numbers, this was 204 million persons. As per the 68th Round of NSSO, 64.1% of rural workers in India (59% of the ‘usual status’ male workers and 75% of female workers) were engaged in Agriculture, when it comes to distribution by industry of work. As per Census 2011, while there were 9 million less cultivators in 2011, compared to 2001 (in percentage terms, it is a decline of 7.1 percentage points in the total workforce, to 24.6% in 2011), there were 36.8 million agricultural labourers added in 2011, compared to 2001 (an increase of 3.3% in terms of distribution of total workforce into agricultural labourer status, arriving at a figure of 30% of India’s workforce being categorized as agricultural labourers). In rural India, 33% were classified as Cultivators in the total workers and 39.3% as Agricultural Labourers by Census 2011. That adds up to 72.3% engaged in agriculture.
1.3. The NSSO’s 70th Round survey, the findings of which were put out in December 2014, for only the second time in independent India, focused on the status of agricultural households (the first Situation Assessment Survey was taken up in 2003). Here, 57.8% rural households have been classified as agricultural households. Here, it is important to note that the NSSO 70th Round tried to de-link the definition of agricultural household with possession of land and has expressly kept out those households which are completely dependent on agricultural labour out of the scope of the survey.
1.4. From all the above, the continuing importance of this sector for the largest sectoral workforce in India cannot be overemphasized. While on the one hand, the growing economic opportunities for corporate India in agriculture are highlighted in numerous ways, whether it be the inputs industry (seed, farm machinery, irrigation inputs, agri-chemicals etc.) or the outputs (commodity trading, agri-processing and packaging industry etc.), the grassroots level situation in terms of viability and profitability of farm livelihoods remains bleak. Out of 89.35 million farmer households in 2003, 48.6% were reported to be indebted, with the average amount of outstanding loan per farmer household being Rs. 12585/- at all-India level. At that time, 57.7% households had loans outstanding from institutional sources. In 2013, indebtedness in terms of average amount of outstanding loan per agricultural household was Rs. 47,000/- approximately, with 52% of agri-households estimated to be indebted; out of this, 60% were from institutional sources, which is a minuscule improvement in terms of institutional coverage. In the lowest size class of land possessed, only 15% of outstanding loans were from institutional sources and the debt burden can be imagined from this piece of information. Increasing risk in farming with greater weather variability with very little insurance coverage, greater investments, undeveloped and unremunerative markets and increasing indebtedness are hallmarks of the existence of a vast majority of farmers in the country. The average monthly income of agricultural households, from all sources of income, was only Rs. 6426/- while the average monthly consumer expenditure per household was Rs. 6223/-. 47.9% of this income was from cultivation and 11.9% from livestock. This would mean about only Rs. 107/- daily earnings per adult from all sources, taking two adults on an average per agri-household. In most places, this would be below minimum wages prescribed for unskilled workers. A closer look at the income and expenditure findings across different landholding categories shows that around 6.26 crore agricultural households are running on a debt economy, so to speak. On an average, there is a deficit of Rs. 856/- per month per household in terms of their expenses exceeding receipts, for these households. This is the situation of nearly 70% of agricultural households in India. In terms of land ownership, it appears that between 2002-03 and 2012-13, a decrease of nearly 14.86 million hectares of land has happened for rural households in India. In terms of land operated, this is about 13.17 million hectares. This, then, is the most current picture available of agricultural households in India (December 2014, NSSO 70th Round findings).
1.5. In the National Policy For Farmers (NPFF 2007), India attempted a decisive shift away from a productivity and production-centred agriculture policy, to bring in a socio-economic thrust on the well-being of farmers. The aim of the policy was stated to be the stimulation of attitudes and actions which should result in assessing agricultural progress in terms of improvement in the income of farm families, not only to meet their consumption requirements but also to enhance their capacity to invest in farm related activities.
1.6. However, one manifestation of the continuing agrarian distress is apparent in the form of the unabated phenomenon of farm suicides, which continue to be at rates above than the general population’s suicide rates. National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data shows that nearly 3 lakh farmers have committed suicide in India from 1995 onwards, which many analysts and activists point out is actually under-reporting, including through tinkering with data classification in the recent past.
1.7. The agrarian crisis that has erupted in India much more starkly post-liberalisation of the Indian economy has been noted and analysed by many scholars. These scholars have shown that a number of crucial and inter-related indicators of rural well-being have worsened. Agricultural growth rate (which is picking up again), rural employment growth, rural development expenditures, formal credit to cultivators especially smallholders, food grain absorption per capita, farm suicides, indebtedness, land alienation, (lack of) opportunities for decent work etc., have all shown worrying trends and have been inconsistent with claims of decline or constancy of poverty.
1.8. At the root seem to be several reasons. As CP Chandrasekhar (2007) put it, domestic agricultural growth is no longer a constraint on the growth of the non-agricultural sector. Pointing out to decisive shifts in inter-sectoral linkages, he shows that trends in non-agricultural growth point to a tendency where demand for agricultural wage goods would grow at a much lower rate than output, partly because of the slower growth in employment and partly because increases in per capita incomes accrue to those whose demand for food is satiated. The net result is that agriculture is increasingly faced with a growing demand constraint at a time when input costs are rising.
1.9. Utsa Patnaik blames sharp cuts in rural development expenditure and deflationist stance of governments despite rising unemployment, contributing to the crisis. She argues that there is no basis to the rationale that drives such cuts (that ‘public investment crowds out private investments’). She also points that this led to declining per capita output of food grains, that it is consistent only with worsening income distribution of a particular type, involving an absolute decline in incomes and purchasing power for a major part of the population.
1.10. According to others like Jayati Ghosh (2009), the advanced stage of crisis in Indian agriculture is related to farmers being exposed to highly subsidized competition from abroad through more open trade, reduced protection to farmers exposing them to market volatility and private profiteering without adequate regulation, reduced public expenditure that too in critical areas, destruction of important public institutions and non-generation of enough non-agricultural economic activities. Apart from other measures of intervention that she recommends, she also calls for cheaper and more sustainable input use, protection of farmers from volatile output prices and emphasis on rural economic diversification. She recommends that NREGS must be expanded to cover all adults (not per household), for as many days as required, with the list of permissible works expanded to cover all activities “that improve rural quality of life”.
1.11. There are others like Jha (2006) who have looked specifically at agricultural labour in the current agrarian crisis, on the assumption that in a period of agrarian distress, agricultural labourers are likely to be worst hit, through adverse impacts on wages and employment opportunities directly in agriculture and through multiplier effects, indirectly in non-agriculture as well. Using NSS data, he shows that the proportion of rural households without any access to land has increased from mid-1990s to mid-2000s and landlessness has been a growing trend for most states of India. He concurs with the view that ‘the crisis of the countryside is intimately linked to neo-liberal policies themselves, and that it cannot be overcome within a neo-liberal regime’. As far as agricultural labourers are concerned, the growth rate of real wages (an important variable for the well-being of agri-labourers) declined substantially; he shows that other indicators like consumption and indebtedness have also worsened.
1.12. When it comes to explicating the financial/macro-economic crisis to the situation of women’s work and employment, there seem to be divergent schools of thinking, as explained by a recent paper by Ghosh (2013). One approach says that women workers tend to be disproportionately employed with fragile/flexible contracts and therefore, tend to have weaker bargaining positions, prone to job loss and the first to lose jobs in a downturn. That they are further disadvantaged by social attitudes and seniority rules that favor men. Another approach notes that concentration of women workers in insulated industries and occupations provides relative protection from job loss given that such activities are not as quickly or significantly affected by cyclical changes in outputs. A third approach argues that women workers’ lower bargaining position and lower pay makes them attractive substitute workers for men in times of crises. Discussing the agrarian crisis resulting from public policies that favored trade liberalization and reduction of protection to producers, Ghosh points out these factors become a major drag on the viability of cultivation. The difficulty is heightened in the case of women farmers because of lack of land titles and other forms of property rights recognition, which in turn has deprived them of benefits such as access to institutional credit, extension services and subsidized inputs. Women tend to have higher cultivation costs than their male counterparts and less state protection as a result. In addition, in the absence of specific measures, they are also more likely to be deprived of the benefits of crisis-relief packages. Ghosh explains that women’s unpaid labour is also directly and indirectly affected by financial crisis. The extent and conditions of unpaid work are crucially affected by the state of physical infrastructure, access to natural resources like water and fuel, and to basic public services such as health and care services.
It is against this backdrop that the livelihoods of rural women in India, farm (in a major way) and non-farm, have to be understood.
- RURAL WOMEN’S PARTICIPATION IN THE ECONOMIC SPHERE
2.1. While the NSSO’s 68th (2011-12) round indicates some improvements in women’s economic participation compared to the 66th round (2009-10), the Census shows an overall declining trend in work participation rates of women. The 66th Round was pointed to be a drought year which may not reflect the overall trend, while 2004-05 round is seen to be an unexplained outlier. Therefore, comparison between 1999-2000 and 2011-12 rounds is more apt and this reflects what the Census points to: a sharp decline in employment of women in rural India.
2.2. Most rural women are self-employed, that too in agriculture, working on the family’s land and hiding a large proportion of unpaid labour. While there have been some changes in the status of employment in terms of distribution across self employed, regular wage/salaried and casual labour categories, especially for urban females, this cannot be said of rural females, however. Defying the national picture, in states like Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Tripura etc., more rural females were working as casual labour than as self-employed, when it comes to status in employment, though the pattern at the all-India level is different (more rural females as “self-employed” (593), than casual labour (351) or regular wage/salaried (56) in every 1000 rural female workers (2011-12).
2.3. Scholars have also pointed out that the “self employed” segment in women masks a large segment of unpaid workers (nearly three fourths of the women in the self-employed category) and in reality, casual labour is the principal form of paid work for rural women.
2.4. In terms of industry of work, a majority of female workers are in agriculture, with some increases in Construction sector also. By 2011-12 (68th NSSO Round), there were 48.9% of total workers in Agriculture (43.6 male and 62.8 female), 24.3% in Secondary (25.9% male and 20% female) and 26.8% in Tertiary (30.5% male and 17.2% female). A steady decline of female and male work participation in agriculture sector can be seen. The decline is more rapid for women.
2.5. In rural areas, nearly 59 per cent of the usual status (ps+ss) male workers and nearly 75 per cent of the female workers continue to be engaged in the agricultural sector (2011-12). Among the male workers, 22 per cent and 19 per cent were engaged in secondary and tertiary sectors. The corresponding proportions for female workers were 17 per cent and 8 per cent, respectively.
2.6. Here, it is seen that this pattern is different in states like Kerala (with only 3869 per 10000 being in Agriculture sector), Manipur (2412), Tripura (1912), Goa (707) etc., while the highest concentration in agriculture is reflected in states like Arunachal Pradesh (9037), Uttarakhand (9025), Chattisgarh (9019), Nagaland (9017), Maharashtra (8912) etc., as against the national figure of 7494 per 10000 rural female workers in the agriculture sector (NIC 2008 industry sections, Table S35 of NSSO 68th Round report on Key Indicators of Employment and Unemployment).
2.7. As per the Census of India 2011 findings (Chapter 4, Main Workers and Marginal Workers), overall work participation rate for males and females (proportion of workers to total population, with persons who have participated in any economically productive activity with or without compensation or profit, with one year reference preceding the enumeration) in India increased to 39.8 in 2011 from 39.1 in 2001 census. For urban, it increased from 32.3 to 35.3, while for rural, it was a marginal increase from 41.7 to 41.8. It has to be remembered that in 1961 census, it was 43.0, with rural being 45 and urban being 33.5.
2.8. For females, the decadal change from the previous census (2001) to latest (2011) is a decline in overall (from 25.6 in 2001 to 25.5 in 2011), led by a marginal decline in rural work participation rate (from 30.8 in 2001 to 30.0 in 2011) and an increase in urban work participation rate (from 11.9 in 2001 to 15.4 in 2011).
2.9. States like Punjab, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir exhibit a significant decadal decline in rural work participation rate while a few states have posted an increase (Rajasthan, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Himachal Pradesh etc.). It is worth recalling that in the 1961 Census, the rural work participation rate for females was 31.4, (which dipped dramatically to 13.1 in 1971) and touched 22.4 in 1981. Since then it has been picking up again (touched 30.8 in 2001), except for the latest decadal decline (to 30). In absolute numbers, the female worker population is around 15 crore persons, with 12.18 crores in rural areas.
2.10. The gender gap in rural work participation rate, which was 26.8 in 1961 has not reduced in any noteworthy way, with it continuing to be 23 even in 2011, which is actually wider than it was in 2001 (21.3 points, in terms of difference between male and female rural work participation rates).
2.11. Cultivators: Coming to percentage of cultivators to total workers, there is a significant decline from 31.7% in 2001 to 24.6% in 2011. Amongst males, this decadal decline was from 31.1 in 2001 to 24.9 in 2011; however, the decline amongst cultivators expressed as percentage to total workers is more in the case of females, where it has declined from 32.9 in 2001 to 24% in 2011.
2.12. While the decline over the past census decade in percentage of cultivators to total workers amongst males has been significant in Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Sikkim, Meghalaya, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka etc., when it comes to female cultivators, the decadal decline has been noteworthy in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, in the North Eastern states except Manipur, West Bengal (where it nearly halved), Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat etc. There is not a single state which showed any improvement in percentage of cultivators over the last census decades amongst women. This is incidentally a pattern similar to male cultivators.
2.13. Agricultural Labourers: With regard to Agricultural Labourers, there has been an increase in the past census decade in the percentage of agricultural labourers to total workers, with 30% of the total workers being agricultural labourers in 2011, up from 26.5% in 2001. While the trend in increase in male agricultural labourers was from 20.8% in 2001 to 24.9% in 2011, when it comes to females, it increased from 38.9% in 2001 to 41.1% in 2011. In absolute numbers, this is around 6.16 crores of women, compared to 8.27 crores of male agricultural labourers.
2.14. In states like Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Jharkhand and Tamil Nadu, the percentage of female agricultural labourers to total workers is remarkably high, at 60.8%, 58%, 57.8%, 54.4%, 51.5%, 47.1%, 44.8% and 41.6% in 2011. This is significantly higher than the overall 30% figure of agricultural labourers amongst total workers at the national level, male and female, rural and urban.
The proportion of women in agriculture (cultivators as well as agricultural labourers) as compared to men, in 2011 and 2001
|Table : WORKERS IN AGRICULTURE: 2011 CENSUS|
|Percentage of men and women||100||69.68||30.32|
|Percentage of men and women||100||57.33||42.67|
|Percentage of men and women||100||62.90||37.10|
|WORKERS IN AGRICULTURE: 2001 CENSUS|
|Percentage of men and women||100||67.09||32.91|
|Percentage of men and women||100||53.69||46.31|
|Percentage of men and women||100||60.98||39.02|
Source: Compiled from Primary Census Abstract, Census 2011 and Census 2001
2.15. The following table shows the decadal trend across states, between rural male and rural female workers in agriculture (cultivators and agricultural labourers). Data here, compiled from Census 2011 on Cultivators and Agricultural Labourers shows very clearly that 65.1% of female workers depend on agriculture, either as cultivators or agricultural labourers, while only 49.8% of male workers do the same. In states like Chattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Andhra Pradesh, it is apparent that livelihoods of women workers depend quite substantially on Agriculture as the table below shows.
Table : %age of Cultivators and Agricultural Labour to Total Workers
|Percentage of cultivators to total workers||Percentage of Agricultural Labour to Total Workers||%age workers in agriculture, to total workers||%age of cultivators to total workers||%age of Agricultural Labour to Total Workers||%age workers in agriculture, to total workers|
|Jammu & Kashmir||54.7||42.5||5.2||11.8||54.3||24.0||13.0||37.0|
Source: Census of India 2011
- TRENDS IN AGRICULTURE AND IMPACTS ON WOMEN
3.1. The seasonality and the risks (production-related as well as market-related) associated with agriculture as an area of economic enterprise are well-recognised. Needless to say, the trends emerging in agriculture have a direct bearing on a large chunk of ‘working women’ in the country. This is also a sector in our economy which has been bogged down by slow growth rates, and with severe agrarian distress manifested in increasing numbers of farm suicides.
(as defined in the Women Farmers’ Entitlement Bill introduced as a private member’s bill in the Indian Parliament on 11th May 2012; a broad definition for Women Farmers is provided in this Bill, with certification at the Gram Panchayat level as the main mechanism to lend formal recognition to women farmers, without waiting for land ownership to determine the definition of “farmer”, so that women can be covered under credit, insurance, extension and so on)
The term “farmer” will include, but not limited to, agricultural operational holders, landless cultivators, agricultural labourers, planting labourers, pastoralists, sharecroppers and tenants. The term will not include corporate entities operated by or involving farmers. In case of landless farmers migrating or moving from one State to another, if anyone stays in a State for at least six months, such a person may be considered as a farmer in that particular State.
“Woman farmer” means and includes, irrespective of marital status or ownership of land, any woman who is a farmer as defined in subsection (c) of section 2 and includes (i) any woman living in rural area and primarily engaged in agricultural activity, though occasionally engaged in non-agricultural activity; or (ii) any woman living in urban or semi-urban areas and engaged in agriculture; or (iii) any tribal woman directly or indirectly engaged in agriculture or shifting cultivation or in the collection, use and sale of minor or non-timber forest produce by virtue of usufructory rights.
A variety of factors determine women’s participation in agriculture. These include agro-climatic conditions, type of crops grown, availability of irrigation, subsistence or commercial cropping, crop intensity, degree of diversification, technological choices, mechanization as well as socio-cultural-economic factors like poverty, landlessness, caste, class, cultural norms of social mobility and seclusion, education and skills and accessibility to non-farm opportunities. Studies point out that most of the states with high female WPR (Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Karnatka and Tamil Nadu) are predominantly dryland regions. 56% of all women agricultural workers in the country are in primarily rainfed states. Here, high participation is attributed partly to livestock economy and partly to the predominance of specific crops like rice, groundnut and cotton. Distress migration of men is also cited as a cause. The predominance of certain migrant castes and tribes has also been associated with a large proportion of landless female agricultural labourers.
Source: N C Saxena (2012): Women, Land and Agriculture in Rural India, UN Women
3.2. Land Use Shifts: The economic opportunities and more expansively, the livelihood opportunities for a large majority of women in (rural) India depend on natural resource availability and use, control over the same in addition to the state/quality of such resources. Within this, particular land use patterns go a long way in positively influencing a rural woman’s livelihood potential in addition to easing many of her gendered roles in a household (livestock management, food security roles, fodder and fuel-wood access and use etc and such other gender-imposed roles).
|Land Use Statistics, India (presented as Percentage of Total Reported Area)|
|Total Reporting Area (in Million Hectares)||284.32||298.46||303.75||304.16||304.86||305.19||305.61|
|1. Forest Area|
|2. Land Not Available for Agriculture|
|(a) Area put to Non-Agriculture Use||3.29||4.97||5.42||6.44||6.92||7.78||8.56|
|(b) Barren & Unculturable Land||13.42||12.03||9.26||6.56||6.36||5.73||5.49|
|3. Other Uncultivated Land, Excluding Fallows|
|(a) Permanent Pastures and Other Grazing Land||2.35||4.68||4.37||3.94||3.74||3.49||3.32|
|(b) Miscellaneous Tree Crops and Groves||6.97||1.49||1.44||1.18||1.25||1.13||1.1|
|© Culturable Wasteland||8.07||6.44||5.76||5.51||4.92||4.47||4.21|
|4. Fallow Lands|
|(a) Other than Current Fallows||6.14||3.75||2.87||3.2||3.17||3.36||3.43|
|(b) Current Fallows||3.76||3.9||3.49||4.88||4.49||4.84||5.15|
|5. Net Sown Area|
|Net Sown Area||41.77||44.63||46.37||46.12||46.91||46.31||45.82|
Source: Agriculture Statistics At A Glance, 2012. Directorate of Economics and Statistics, Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India (www.eands.dacnet.nic.in)
3.3. Some important points to note:
- Land put to non-agricultural use has increased by around 280% in 2009-10, compared to the extent in 1950-51. In the reporting area, it increased from being 3.29% in 1950-51 to 8.56% in 2009-10. In absolute terms, this is an increase of about 168 lakh hectares of land put to non-agricultural use. The reasons for such a shift are many, including urbanization, land put to “development use” etc.
- Current fallows have also been on the rise – around 50 lakh hectares over 60 years; in the early 2000s, this figure touched 220 lakh hectares. This obviously has implications for availability of agricultural employment.
- The decline in pastures, grazing lands, culturable wastelands, tree crops and groves also has its own livelihood implications – an 88% decline in these categories of land and a decrease of 230 lakh hectares of what essentially constituted the non-forest commons has its own bearing on various facets of rural livelihoods.
- Forest area has increased in absolute terms by around 296 lakh hectares (from 14.24% of reported area in 1950-51 to 22.92% in 2009-10). However, it is important to note that while on paper this area has increased, the kind of forests that exist in addition to ownership/access/management models are the more critical elements when it comes to livelihoods. Forest based livelihoods of women are discussed in a separate section of this note.
- Net area sown has increased by about 213 lakh hectares, by 2009-10, when compared to the extent in 1950-51. The implications for women’s role and participation in the agricultural activity however, is very much dependent on various factors that go into farming – the cropping patterns, access and ownership of resources, technological approaches adopted and so on.
3.4. It is to be noted further that there are many civil society groups that have been pointing out that the data in official records of national land use still does not begin reflecting the rapid shift of land towards non-agricultural use. Speculative acquisition of land, in addition to acquisition in the name of development and public purpose however much the scale might be, may not begin showing up in the official records, for instance. There is much anecdotal evidence to show that there is substantial ground-level change in land use systems. This includes access of the poor, and in particular, of women to village commons for a variety of needs and roles to be fulfilled (food and energy security, for example). More direct and tangible economic benefits for millions of rural women are linked to the commons, including the forests.
3.5. These numbers also do not reveal the reality of the state of various resources as contained in the land use statistics or the level of degradation. Needless to say, this has a direct bearing once again on livelihoods. Intensification of women’s work burdens, along with a deterioration of their work conditions is seen related to resource use changes, including degradation.
The link between women’s livelihoods and natural resources is explained some more in this HLC report, in the Women and Environment section. This section also brings up issues of governance and management of these resources, and women’s role in the same.
3.6. Cropping pattern shifts: It is widely recognized now that women’s contribution to farming, forestry and fishery has been grossly underestimated and to this day, the full recognition of the extent and nature of their roles and contribution is missing. Women’s contribution to food production has been projected anywhere between 50% to 80% based mainly on their labour contribution, in various studies across the world.
|Year||Total area under Crops (in ‘000 ha)||Food Grains (cereals/pulses)||Non-Food crops|
Source: compiled from Agricultural Statistics at a Glance, 2012, GoI
3.6.1. Shift in Food Crop Area: It is seen that there is a 122.7% increase from Food Crop Area in 1950-51, to 2008-09. In absolute terms, this is an increase of 230 lakh hectares. However, in terms of percentage of food crops within total cropped area, there has been a decline from 76.7% of total cropped area in 1950-51 to only 63.7% in 2008-09.
3.6.2. Shift in Non-Food Crop Area: There has been a 212.8% increase in area sown to non-food crops over the decades, compared to the area in 1950-51. In absolute terms, an increase of 280 lakh hectares can be seen under non-food crop area. Within total cropped area, the increase has been from 18.8% of total cropped area in 1950-51 to 27% of total cropped area.
188.8.131.52. There is also an argument that classifying certain crops like hybrid maize or hybrid pearl millet as food crops is not appropriate any more since most of the produce from these crops goes into industrial uses or livestock/poultry feed, though the official classification puts them under Food Grains.
3.6.3. Literature from elsewhere has classified crops as Male or Female crops in a gendered context. In the Indian context, however, more than the classification of a crop as a food crop or a non-food crop and a male or female crop, the context of cash cropping might be a more appropriate determinant of women’s role in decision-making and control over income, and her economic or livelihood status.
3.6.4. This distinction is being made in the context of so-called food crops where such food crop cultivation need not be synonymous with subsistence farming, but for commercial markets, while non-food crops are usually destined for markets, in any case. It goes without saying, however, that most food crops, even if they do not meet nutrition security and sustainable production requirements, might reduce to an extent the household level food security responsibility that a woman bears in most societies. It is this responsibility that often drives the classification of, and perception related to certain crops as “female crops” and certain others as “male crops”.
FOOD SECURITY AND WOMEN
‘Women are critical to household as well as national food security’ is an under-statement. Their productive as well as reproductive activities related to food (farming, post-harvest processing, cooking and care) are key to the very survival and sustenance of entire populations. It has been noted in literature time and again that women, by choice or restriction, focus largely on subsistence production of food crops and this further adds to the fact that women contribute significantly to world’s food output. Further, foods gathered from forests and commons make an important contribution to the overall food basket in many communities – when such commons decline/degrade along with women’s access to these resources, this will have a direct bearing on women’s food security.
On the other hand, it is well established that women are more vulnerable to, or are more affected by hunger and poverty. This is all the more so in the case of women from marginalized communities. Evidence points to women eating the last, eating less, having lesser calorific intake, eating lower quality foods and even skipping meals in times of food shortages. Even nutritional needs of pregnant women are found to be neglected, especially in nuclear families. It has also been noted that the period of greatest nutritional stress for rural women is also the period when energy demands of agricultural work tend to be the highest. Gender has been found to be the most statistically significant determinant of malnutrition among young children and the most common cause of death among girls below the age of 5 years by some scholars.
At another level, micro-studies establish that women’s low status is one of the primary determinants of under-nutrition across the life span, and that maternal autonomy (women’s personal power in the household and her ability to influence and change her environment) is inversely related to child stunting. Literature points to under-nutrition not being correlated as much to income (including household agri-income) as to non-income determinants such as female secondary education, access to safe water and sanitation facilities etc. Further, important nutritional entry points appear to be irrigation, crop diversification and livestock ownership contributing to household dietary diversity. Needless to say, women’s empowerment and these determinants are closely connected too.
In this food/nutrition security responsibility thrust on them, women are neither supported by entitlements over resources and support services nor are the socio-cultural norms favorable to a woman taking care of her own individual food/nutrition security needs. Bina Agarwal’s research shows that women’s access to even a small plot can be a critical element in a diversified livelihood system and can significantly improve women’s and the family’s welfare, even if the plot is not large enough to provide full family subsistence.
Micro-studies reveal ‘persistence of strong social norms and ideologies of male provisioning and female dependence which women in particular and men to some extent feel obliged to reiterate’. Findings reveal real barriers to women’s engagement with markets and other public spaces or laying claims to their land rights, contributing to women’s non-participation in decision-making, reinforcing the vicious cycle.
In policy discourse, at the international and (sub-) national levels, there is increasing emphasis on women’s empowerment in various ways including through securing her land rights for increased food security in addition to other development goals. There exists an express realization in many quarters that without addressing women’s empowerment, food and nutrition security targets and mandates cannot be met. The FAO exhorts that the ‘gender gap’ in agriculture needs to be closed urgently, whereby women’s contribution to food production and enterprise needs to be increased by providing equal access to resources and opportunities. It estimates that this could reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 100-150 million people.
Indian policy documents like the New Agricultural Policy (2000) talk about providing joint titles to men and women for improving food security at the household level, arguing that “women spend most of their income on household expenditure unlike men and this would help improve the nutrition of the children”. Micro evidence does suggest that women invest larger amounts of money in nutrition and health and households wherein women have access to their own incomes tend to have an expenditure pattern different to the one existing in male dominated households. A study based on a sample of 6990 households of 6 districts of Vidarbha found that higher the food crops’ production, lower are under-nutrition levels in regions like Vidarbha. “A large proportion of farmers opting for commercial/cash crops instead of food crops but still facing malnutrition implies that this visible change in agricultural patterns as such cannot be taken as an indicator of better nutritional status of household members”. The Kisan Ayog also emphasizes the need to empower women farmers. In a sense, there has been an express transfer of burden for household food security onto women. Authors have argued that while the discourse could be right in bringing the focus onto women, the increasing attention on women may not really reflect growing gender equality, but might actually be enhancing the burden on women without changing their status.
For food and nutrition security to be actualized for all citizens including the last marginalized girl, women’s empowerment in all dimensions is a must – this then must also include redistribution and sharing of roles even as control over resources is a prerequisite. As Amartya Sen (2001) said famously, “Since maternal undernourishment is causally linked with gender bias against women in general, it appears that the penalty India pays by being unfair to women hits all Indians, boys as well as girls, and men as well as women”.
While continued emphasis on food production and supply dominates the food security discourse, actual food and nutrition security outcomes cannot be delivered without reducing gender inequalities, that too ‘in direct access to the means to acquire food’.
With the recent backdrop of the global food crisis, unequal trade regimes and the current era of climate change, scholars have argued for the focus to be squarely on women as food producers, consumers and family food managers. Bridging productivity differentials between male and female farmers by helping women overcome production constraints, and a group approach to farming are advocated in this context.
3.6.5. The debate around cash crops’ questionable benefits to women’s empowerment is essentially about the existing asymmetries that come into play when it comes to either input or output markets in a gender-unequal world. These asymmetries pertain to asset ownership and control, on existing norms and values related to women’s roles in the economic sphere, on literacy and education etc.
3.6.6. There is evidence that female participation in cash crop cultivation is often lower than male participation. It is seen that women face constraints accessing both input and output markets. In many parts of India, marketing activities are wholly specific to men; even female headed households are dependent on male relatives for marketing.
3.6.7. Importantly, it is seen that decision-making is taken out of the control of women and men tend to appropriate the income earned, and are less likely to use such income for the welfare of the family. An IFAD paper based on experiences in India points out that shift to market-oriented production can pose a risk to household food security, particularly in the short term. In such a situation of reduced family food supply, women were seen to reduce their own consumption of food as well as to work harder to meet the food needs of the family. It was also seen that cash income led to greater alcoholism. Literature from elsewhere shows that food price volatility can make being a net buyer of food quite risky, which will be the case with cash cropping where the household has to exchange cash crops for cash, and cash for food (net seller of one crop and net buyer for other crops). This risk is compounded by price volatility of the cash crop that the household wants to sell in the market. Added to all of this are the constraints posed by volumes/scale of produce to be marketed, as is often the case with smallholders. A majority of women cultivators are known to be smallholders, in India as elsewhere.
3.6.8. Crops and cropping patterns, along with technologies adopted, do have a bearing on women’s role and participation in agriculture, for their practical as well as strategic needs. For crops that are traditional, women manage the resources and also have the knowledge and skills associated with the resources. When the shift to cash-cropping happens, there is a certain amount of de-skilling, which also affects decision-making processes. The de-skilling is in the context of the resource itself not being used (seeds saved from the crop and re-used, for instance), which then de-values the associated knowledge and skills, leading to further de-skilling over a period of time.
3.6.9. On the other hand, there are also studies that show that cash cropping has the potential to improve women’s incomes, provided gender-based market and other asymmetries are addressed. It is seen that gender inequalities in resources result in different levels of participation, methods of production and modes of marketing cash crops, and bear consequences for women’s potential outcome in the cultivation of high value crops (Vargas Hill and Vigneri, 2011). There is also evidence that even general market linkages (not necessarily ones that favour women) with definite buyback arrangements, in the case of certain crops, have facilitated greater female labour absorption that too in the skilled category, as a village in Tamil Nadu illustrates.
3.6.10. It is to be noted here that compared to the literature that has been generated in Africa with regard to cash cropping and its impacts on women’s livelihoods, there is a certain dearth of literature in India. Within cash cropping or commercial agriculture is another important segment related to contract farming or corporate farming. Here, literature from around the world shows that very often, women farmers tend to lose out in such arrangements in the intra-household dynamics, in addition to the fact that smallholders themselves are documented to miss out any potential benefits out of contract farming arrangements (since the contracting firms tend to minimize their transaction costs by dealing with large farmers) – it is worthwhile to remember that most women cultivators are in the smallholding category.
3.6.11. It is seen that there is a masculinization of the markets and the post-harvest system for rice, for instance, especially in a commercialized context with particular technologies (scholars like Ester Boserup have called this ‘Productive Deprivation’), and that technological changes displace female labour disproportionately to that of men. Further, it is shown that grain markets are strongly regulated through gender relations. It is seen that such masculinization co-exists with a high level of female economic participation; here, the process of proliferation of markets and commodities is instituted in ways that have perpetuated petty scales of production and unwaged women’s work in conditions of economic and social insecurity. In India, the official procurement by government agencies for the Public Distribution System rests on land ownership documents produced, and here again, women get marginalized despite state support system existing for marketing opportunities.
3.6.12. Cash cropping should also be seen in the context of unequal international trade rules in a globalised scenario. While farmers here seek to integrate themselves into a market economy through commercial farming, they might get priced out given the unfair international trade rules on agriculture of WTO/bllateral trade agreements.
GLOBAL TRADE AND FARM WOMEN’S LIVELIHOODS
As a report by Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (RFSTE) presents, WTO (which is a highly visible symbol of globalization and liberalization, and embodies global trade in a significant way, apart from various other free trade agreements) with its Agreement on Agriculture, Agreement on TRIPS (Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights), Agreement on SPS (Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary measures) is pitted against the interests of women farmers – whether it is their income, or their rights over resources like Seed, or discounting of their expertise and skills in agro-processing etc. The secondary impacts are in the form of displacement of people from agriculture and causing agrarian distress, which in turn manifests itself in increased violence against women in various forms. Devaluing and disempowerment of women in agriculture is correlated in many ways to globalization and liberalization, whether it be a shift towards commercial cropping, or intensive agricultural technologies with increased hazards and riskiness. A micro study commissioned by the Department of Women and Child Development, Government of India found that shift in cropping patterns from cereal crops to aquaculture, floriculture and horticulture led to significant loss of women’s employment to a tune of around 10.89 days per month, not compensated by the shift. The study argues that the shift was mainly aimed at the global market and to an extent, the internal market. Wages were marginally lower than in cereal cultivation, and this study captures the increase in indebtedness of respondents after the shift, in addition to environmental impacts.
One sector that captures the more direct implications for women with trade liberalization is the Dairy sector. The livestock sector contributes over 25% of the output of the agriculture sector. While majority of the landholdings are small and marginal, in addition to 32% of rural households being landless, these categories of households own around 75% of the country’s livestock resources (value of output from livestock is valued at Rs. 1733 billion in terms of trade, in 2004-05), making it a pro-poor sector. Within the livestock sector, small and marginal farm households account for almost 60% of female cattle and buffaloes, making dairying an important source of income. Milk is the single largest agri-commodity in India, in terms of value of output (higher than paddy or wheat output value). Dairying provides employment to 75 million women, and the Indian dairy sector, based on income parameters, provides the largest employment opportunity to women in India. While the importance of this sector in women’s livelihoods is apparent, in the global trade scenario, the vast multitude of cooperatives in India could not compete with domestic support that is enjoyed by dairy producers elsewhere (with ‘box-shifting’ of the subsidies leading to ‘hidden dumping’), nor penetrate the impregnable markets of the developed world with their tariff rate quotas and special safeguard provisions to insulate their markets. Analysts point out that import of subsidized skimmed milk powder from EU in 1999-2000 and butter oil from New Zealand in 2002 in huge quantities nearly crippled the domestic dairy sector. Meanwhile, costs of production are increasing for our producers for various reasons. However, it is often seen that India’s negotiations in WTO or FTAs do not appreciate the vulnerabilities or the uniqueness of the dairy sector, and its importance to women’s livelihoods. Analysts project that FTAs with investment clauses that will allow foreign investors to acquire land and other resources legally would limit women’s access to various resources affecting their livelihoods. While many farmers’ groups have been asking for WTO (and FTAs) to not include agriculture sector, some advocacy groups have been asking for special protection mechanisms, including gender-specific mechanisms, to ensure that the livelihoods of the marginalized are not adversely impacted.
3.7. Technological choices: It is indeed a combination of cropping decisions and technological choices that leaves many impacts on women in agriculture. Those crops and technologies that require a greater interaction with mainstream markets tend to crowd out women given the pre-existing gender-based asymmetries in market access and control, which often are related to asymmetries born out of socio-economic and cultural factors like asset ownership, literacy, knowledge, mobility etc. In the matrilineal community of Garos in Meghalaya, for instance, technological modernization and shifts to settled agriculture from shifting cultivation has been associated with marginalization of female labour, registration of private plots in male names and a systematic deprivation of Garo women of their traditional land rights.
3.7.1. On the economic front specifically, multi-cropping (or diversity-based agriculture) as the basis of agro-ecological farming would reduce costs of cultivation, is known to ease labour demand-supply situation in villages, reduce risks of failure in cropping through increased resilience, restore crop eco-systems which in turn reduces risks of pest or disease attacks, addresses soil productivity management issues to an extent, in addition to meeting the practical needs of women (food, fuel, fodder etc.). In the context of climate change, it is often seen that diversity-based cropping makes for a more resilient system in the face of unpredictable weather variability. Field studies in the 1970s when the Green Revolution was being established in states like Haryana show that the new technology seemed to have made remarkably little different to the absorption of female labour while demand for hired labour had gone up by as much as three times. Cross section evidence was used to show that the adoption of Green Revolution technology reduced women’s share in employment except in special circumstances, with an inverse relation to the proportion of area under HYV technology. This was also related to the re-allocation of unpaid family labour (female and child) to animal husbandy at that time. Added to this was the introduction of weedicides, mechanized threshers and harvesters, fertilisers replacing manure application all of which depressed women’s share directly.
3.7.2. On the other hand, intensive external-input-based agriculture, that too in a non-food cash cropping setting, tends to alienate and disempower women in numerous ways. For maximizing profits, (male) farmers tend to bring in monocultures without adequate appreciation of the medium and long-term implications of such monocultures on their economy and environment. Such monocultures set off a vicious cycle of more and more external inputs, which end up degrading the resources. This means more investments to sustain such farming, even as market prices are unremunerative due to a variety of reasons. To make matters worse, climate change brings in more disasters and weather variability to the scene and high-external-input monocultures increase the risk. All of these factors add to the greater riskiness to the enterprise even as faulty technologies erode/degrade the very productive resources on which farm livelihoods depend. While risk increases, no safety nets are in place.
FARM SUICIDES IN INDIA
Official data on farm suicides in India puts the figure at around 3 lakh deaths since 1995 which is roughly one suicide of a cultivator every half an hour. As per a reply to a Lok Sabha question on 6/8/2013, just in the years of 2010, 2011 and 2012, the number of suicides recorded under “Self Employed: Farming/Agriculture” by the National Crime Records Bureau adds up to 43745 (which in itself is seen to be under-reporting by activists). While the government does not accept all suicides as “genuine” or agrarian distress-related, there are many analysts who have blamed the government policies squarely for the suicides, which are seen as a manifestation of the agrarian distress in the country.
K Nagaraj’s paper in 2008, based on 2001 census data points out that farm suicide rates were higher than general suicide rate in the population, both for males and females (8.5 in general population, female and 10.1 in cultivators, main workers, female – the corresponding figures for males were 12.5 in general population and 17.7 in cultivators in main workers. He acknowledges that there could be an undercounting of female farm suicides, since identification as a farmer is linked to land title. After the 2011 Census findings emerged, authors like P Sainath argue that the rate of farm suicides should be re-visited given the drastic reduction in number of cultivators.
What is often overlooked in this debate is the fate of the family members, especially the widows, who are left to bear the burden of running the agri-enterprise as well as deal with the debt burden that the deceased leaves behind. Civil society groups have documented the disproportionate burden on daughters of such suicide victims whose educational and other opportunities get disrupted severely in the aftermath of the suicide. There is gross inadequacy of relief and rehabilitation support lent to such families by the state.
Further, given that only men are seen as ‘farmers’, the official figures also under-report the suicide phenomenon with regard to women producers who also take this extreme measure in the absence of any support. In 2013 for instance, at the all-India level, 11772 farm/agri-suicides took place (NCRB report on Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India 2013, Table 2.6). Out of this, 1283 deaths were of women, with most of them below 45 years of age.
P Sainath narrates the story of Kovurru Ramalamma of Digumari village in Ananthapur district of Andhra Pradesh, and describes how even compensation claims around her death are sticky for the family: how do they prove they were farmers when the suicide happened, given that Ramalamma had leased in land? The pressure of running the agricultural enterprise, by running to the banks and money lenders, even as they bring up the children and run the household became too much to bear for many women in the absence of husbands who had migrated out – such cases have been documented by the All India Democratic Women’s Association in AP. In 2001, more than 311 women’s suicides were recorded officially in Anantapur district alone, and a lot more could have gone unreported. It was seen that the worse the farm crisis got, the more the dowry demand and problems. Weddings were delayed due to lack of money and instances of young girls committing suicides not wanting to be a burden on the family were recorded. Analysts point out that all of these are linked to the farm distress, even though it appears that this distress is not the immediate or proximal cause.
There is an urgent need to address the root causes of such extreme distress, especially as embedded in inadequate market support policies, unfair trade rules, faulty technological choices, lax regulatory regimes, negligible coverage against various risks and inappropriate or insufficient investments and support to smallholder agriculture. While this will ameliorate the situation in the medium and long term, there is also an urgent need to ensure that relief and rehabilitation measures are in place to support the livelihoods of the suicide victim families, mostly headed by women.
Ref: K Nagaraj (2008): Farmers’ Suicides in India: Magnitudes, Trends and Spatial Patterns
3.7.3. In the intensive agriculture paradigm, technologies are new and constantly evolving, and extension support is not available to women, since the system often does not recognize women as farmers in their own right. In a setting of scarce knowledge unsupported by appropriate extension advisory, with little institutional support for working and other capital extended to women, and given that even skills related to operating particular machinery are missing, men tend to dominate the scene with women relegated to more marginal roles.
3.7.4. It is also seen that in this intensive agriculture approach, women’s gendered care roles are affected adversely by depletion and degradation of resources (water depletion as well as contamination for instance). Lack of mixed cropping tends to affect fodder and fuel supply, which in turn might impact income possibilities from livestock in addition to nutrition security.
3.7.5. Women’s economic opportunities are affected by technologies like herbicides and combined harvesters, especially in the given setting of gendered division of agricultural operations across India (manual de-weeding, harvesting, sowing and transplanting are usually roles assigned to women – while these are admittedly drudgery-laden, they also provide work/earning opportunities to women but these operations are increasingly being performed by other methods displacing women).
3.7.6. In the case of seed, though this cannot be said to have directly contributed to economic empowerment of women, earlier farming systems where seed was farmer-bred and farm-saved provided a critical role to women in agriculture. Women played a central role as seed keepers, with seed selection, storage and maintenance taken care of by them. This was associated with intimate knowledge and skills of seed keeping. With seed (of their preference) in their control, some practical needs of women could be met. Today, Seed Replacement Rate is the main strategy adopted by the government for its productivity increase drive. Seed is supplied from external (proprietary) sources increasingly, and in this, women’s choices and say do not figure much. Seed comes as a package, in a manner of speaking – the seed choices of farmers more or less determine other agronomic choices like chemical use or mono-cropping. To that extent, women’s role has been marginalized.
3.7.7. In the fisheries sector, commercialization of harvesting through mechanized fishing has also had implications for marketing processes which were mostly the women’s domain in this sector. While some women have managed to become small scale wholesalers in trends of increased production, it is seen that for most women, lack of access to capital and constraints on mobility in the changing geography and political economy of fish trade ended up burdening women. They have had to formulate new survival and coping strategies, like working in collectives, taking up agitations for government funded transportation facilities, tactics like changing their names effectively challenging the purchase records of commission agents and ‘disappearing’ from particular marketplaces for an extended period of time.
3.8. Feminisation and Masculinisation of Indian Agriculture
3.8.1. It is very clear from all the data above, drawn from various sources, that an overwhelming majority of women workers depend on agriculture for their livelihoods – 12.18 crores of around 14.98 crore total female workers are rural workers, and a vast majority of the 14.98 crore female workers are in agriculture (cultivators: 3.60 crores and agricultural labourers: 6.16 crores, which is 65.1% of total female workers). By 2011-12 (68th NSSO Round), there were only 43.6% male workers in agriculture.
3.8.2. There are two trends apparent in Indian agriculture, as evident from all the above data and analyses. One can be termed as ‘masculinisation’ of agriculture – where cash cropping is on the increase and high-external-input agriculture is being practiced. This, as discussed above, crowds out women and disempowers them in numerous ways, including on the economic front, though some argue that addressing other asymmetries will ensure that cash cropping brings in more income for women too. Where this is not expressly addressed, it is seen to disempower women since this market-oriented intensive agriculture model has very little role for women in decision-making.
3.8.3. It has been noted in the context of research on livestock based livelihoods, for instance, that state policies leading to dramatic changes from food to commercial crops meant several implications – this has threatened food and fodder security, biodiversity of crops, natural flora, local livestock and poultry breeds and led to unsustainable extraction of ground water and high levels of indebtedness, with women having to bear the brunt of these changes. Women who formerly played key decision-making roles have been marginalized, their knowledge and expertise made valueless.
3.8.4. On the other hand, there is also another trend, of ‘feminisation’ of agriculture. The context is that the share of men working in agriculture has declined much more compared to women, since the 1980s, as men leave farms in the care of their wives and parents and migrate in large numbers in search of jobs, even for short periods into other sectors. As more men move towards non-farm jobs outside the village, there has been a “feminisation of agriculture”. This applies to agricultural wage employment as well as cultivation. Agrarian crisis is also supposed to have propelled this feminization, as has been seen in districts like Kasaragod in Kerala. Analysis shows that in the period of agrarian distress, there is a significant rise in employment rates of women in the district in casual employment, even as small scale farmers abandon their productive agricultural activities to join the ranks of agricultural labourers. In some areas, this is seen to change the social status of women, with greater decision-making power in their hands.
3.8.5. It is also noted that women are increasingly left to cope with the burden of managing farms and ensure earnings through farm labour, with very little formal, institutional backing of any kind to manage the agricultural enterprise. There is a marked increase in agricultural work, including a wide range of farm tasks, a heavier workload and less time for domestic tasks and childcare. In such a situation, it is shown that women may resort to limiting agricultural operations. There is a higher demand for unpaid female family and exchange labour in these conditions. A study from Telangana shows that despite having a considerably higher share of wage employment as compared to men, women’s relative wages and working conditions are acutely depressed (due to lack of ability to diversify into non-farm work and due to little control over household assets and resources), even as men who migrate are further able to use migration incomes to strengthen their ownership over land and other productive assets. The authors argue that this is causing the already considerable wealth gap between men and women to widen further.
3.8.6. The feminisation process has blurred gendered division of roles in farming to an extent, even as it has burdened women to carry on an enterprise in an increasingly unremunerative setting. There is also an acknowledgement amongst several scholars that feminisation of agriculture has always been there in various parts of India, with women performing many roles and tasks in agriculture; that this is not a new trend. However, the current trend of feminisation is requiring women to take more decisions and risks on their own in an unequal relationship with the external world.
3.8.7. Overall, both the masculinisation and feminisation of agriculture in India are only bringing more hardships to women in agriculture, given the lack of formal recognition of women farmers, often disempowering them actively or not supporting them adequately.
3.9. Women in Farming Invisible and Ignored
‘Agricultural development’ programmes from government are usually planned by men and aimed at men.
3.9.1. Even though the largest chunk of working women in India are in Agriculture, working as managers or workers in farms and tending to livestock, their presence and contribution in these roles is largely invisible and ignored. This neglect of attention towards women in agriculture is unconscionable, given their large contribution to agriculture. There is a lot of evidence that shows that women, if provided the same support systems that are extended to male farmers and same access to resources, will produce 20-30% more in terms of productivity. There is also enormous evidence to show that recognizing women farmers is critical to addressing food security issues at all levels.
3.9.2. This invisibility raises questions on women’s identity and citizenship in this sphere, where the household and the male identity of a farmer very often subsume individual women workers. One of the main reasons for this lack of any formal recognition as farmers is the lack of women’s ownership over Land (this issue is discussed in greater detail in the following section). This invisibility of farming women to the various institutions in agriculture translates into predominantly gender-blind research, lack of coverage of women under institutional credit, lack of extension outreach to women, dearth of marketing support to women, missing insurance coverage etc.
3.9.3. When it comes to Agricultural Research, for instance, there has been very little understanding on gender issues that determined the priorities set. It was in the Eighth Five Year Plan processes that an idea for a National Research Centre for Women in Agriculture was mooted. In April 1996, this was set up and subsequently upgraded as Directorate for Research on Women in Agriculture in 2008. DRWA is thematic approach in creating a repository of gender disaggregated data and documentation; technology testing and refinement; drudgery assessment and reduction; gender sensitive extension approach; capacity building of scientists and functionaries; efficient resource management; and gender mainstreaming. While the Directorate is certainly a step in the right direction, this is not adequate for engendering agricultural research in India. In fact, all major research projects including the network projects should be appraised afresh with a gender lens with women’s needs prioritised. Within the Agriculture Ministry, the Home Science project is considered to be meant for women and classified as such, for example.
3.9.4. There is not enough research that builds on women’s knowledge and skills, on the other hand. It is not evident that women’s needs and preferences go into agricultural research including plant breeding or agronomic research. Similarly, it is not evident whether any gender patterns have been discerned in terms of crops themselves being perceived as “women’s” or “men’s” crops and research agendas being set by this. Some amount of work has certainly gone into reducing drudgery of operations that women perform.
3.9.5. Coming to agricultural extension too, there is very little evidence that women in villages are treated at par with men by the agricultural extension machinery. It is reported that extension messages is not provided in a language that women easily understand. Where exclusive Farmer Field Schools with women farmers have been created or where farmer field schools have proactively included women, this asymmetry has been addressed to some extent (a USAID collaborative project with USAID on IPM in different countries, for example; or an IFPRI review of experience in IFAD projects with FFS). Within the departments of agriculture, there is no ready data available on how many women work as extension officials.
3.9.6. Looking at agricultural credit to women, it is seen that women received on an average only about 6 percent of the total direct agricultural credit in the period 2004-06. By March 2013, the female individual accounts in terms of percentage distribution of outstanding credit of small borrowal accounts of scheduled commercial banks in rural India was 16.8%, as opposed to 79.8% for men, with the amount outstanding at 16.2%, compared to 80.2% for men. On the other hand, when it comes to deposits, female accounts are 24.8% and deposit amount is 19.2%, as against 58.4% and 57.8% respectively for men in rural India. In Jharkhand, it was seen that only 4% of Kisan Credit Cards were issued to women, while in Gujarat this was only 2%, and in UP not a single woman had a KCC in field studies. There is also considerable regional variation when it comes to access to banking services for women, with the Southern and Western regions faring better. Between 1997 and 2006, it is seen that the share of dalit and adivasi women in the total bank credit has declined steadily and in 2006, they received only 1.3% of the total credit given under Small Borrowal Accounts as compared to 4.8% in 1997 (though this is not just about agricultural credit, this gives an indication of what the situation is, when it comes to SC/ST women). Only 9% of an average woman’s credit was received by dalit/adivasi women in 2006.
3.9.7. While Bank-SHG linkage has been touted as the solution to lack of coverage of women in financial services of different kinds (22.3 lakh SHGs, an overwhelming majority being women’s SHGs, have received financial support between 1992 and 2006 in India), the extent of support is still significantly small. As Chavan illustrates, the total cumulative credit disbursed through bank-SHG linkage programme from its inception in 1992 to 2006 formed only a minuscule 6 percent of the total agricultural credit disbursed in just one year of 2005-06. It appears that no data is collected on women cultivators receiving any insurance coverage for their enterprise (the overall crop insurance coverage itself is quite low).
3.9.8. Experience from the ground shows that women farmers can comfortably receive financial services’ support through the SHG model. The credit programme of PMGKS (Priyadarshinee Mahila Grameen Kalyan Sanstha), a micro-finance organization in Vidarbha of Maharashtra, for instance, offers a crop loan product to its women members where the loan is repayable in nine months and carries an interest rate of 24 percent on a declining balance. The loan is disbursed in the first week of June; interest was payable quarterly and the principal to be returned post-harvest, between December and March. Lending was through cluster level federations, which in turn lent to SHGs. This product’s terms and conditions were designed to suit the cyclical cash flows in agriculture. Further, savings facility was also offered to the clients which can potentially act as a backup support to farming households in lean times. While this was a civil society initiative, it is important that bank credit earmarked for agriculture has specific coverage for women.
3.9.9. Kisan Credit Cards (KCC) are issued only to farmers who are land-owning and this effectively keeps out a very large proportion of women agricultural workers and cultivators, though recent initiatives for Kisan Credit Cards for Bhoomi Heen Kisan are supposed to address this long-standing problem. However, recent RTI-obtained information shows that gender-disaggregated data is not being maintained to assess if women are indeed benefiting from this de-linking of agricultural credit from land ownership.
3.9.10. As it is, very often financial services are interpreted only as credit products. While KCC system does not offer much hope for women farmers, other financial products like insurance, seed capital etc., are difficult to come up for women farmers.
3.9.11. The other area to look at is marketing support. In terms of market support for women in agriculture, an indication of the neglect that women face is apparent in terms of small indicators with market infrastructure. A national survey of 5,000 markets in India showed that none of the markets had a rest house for women producers who come to markets. The markets are lacking in basic facilities such as toilet blocks. Appropriate market infrastructure for women farmers is grossly missing in the market yards, which reduces market participation of women.
3.9.12. It has been seen that female farmers risk losing control of their products as they move up the value chain from farm to market, for a variety of reasons. Restrictions on mobility, lack of appropriate transportation, time constraints, lack of literacy/education, lack of knowledge about a plethora of rules and regulations etc., may also be barriers to women’s greater participation in marketing. In Karnataka, it has been seen that even land owning women do not participate in decisions related to what to sell – it is seen that men market the produce and handle the transactions irrespective of who owns the land. “This signals that women are much less integrated into agricultural product markets than men, being much less aware of market procedures”.
3.9.13. The Ministry of Agriculture’s flagship programme, Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana does not have anything specifically allocated for women, or for addressing gender issues in farming. In the 12th Five Year Plan document, under “Women’s Agency and Child Rights”, it is proposed that “women’s access to various agricultural schemes being implemented by the government will be ensured. A quota for women will be incorporated by modifying the guidelines of agriculture related schemes like Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana. Further involvement of women can be ensured by providing financial and infrastructural support to SHGs for seed production, storage, preservation and distribution” (23.21, pp 168). The Plan document further says that “technology transfer to women would be prioritized in all aspects of farming and farm management, including dryland farming technologies, animal husbandry, forestry, sustainable natural resource management, enterprise development, financial management and leadership development”.
A study conducted on the status of women farmers in Uttar Pradesh shows that only 6% of women own land, less than 1% have participated in government training programs, 4% have access to institutional credit and only 8% have control over agricultural income. NGOs working with small and marginal farmers in Uttar Pradesh got together to launch the Aaroh campaign in 71 districts across the state. The main aim of the campaign is to help women gain recognition as farmers so that they own agricultural land and access institutional credit, new technologies and government programs. Three years of intensive community mobilization is yielding results: some women are gaining ownership of agricultural land in the different districts and 8000 husbands have shown their willingness in writing for joint land titling.
3.9.14. While the above is the case of lack of identity and citizenship for women farmers in general, the situation of more marginalized women like dalit and adivasi women requires much more attention and action. According to an ILO study, dalit and adivasi women farmers comprise 81% of farming women in India.
3.10. WOMEN AGRICULTURAL LABOURERS
3.10.1. This is a significant category of women workers in India. There is a disproportionately high concentration of the most marginalized groups in this category of rural casual agricultural labourers – half of them are dalits and adivasis, far higher than their share in the population. It is also noted that women here get fewer days of work and rarely get the minimum wages laid down by the government.
3.10.2. Studies indicate that female agricultural labour supply in India is significantly correlated to the proportion of particular castes and communities in the population (dalits and adivasis, as women from other castes are governed by status and stigma norms) as well as opportunities available to men in non-farm sector (women find lesser opportunities than men outside the farm sector).
3.10.3. Further, in India, as found in other countries too, there is a gendered division of agricultural operations. Certain tasks are seen as exclusively women’s (transplanting, de-weeding, harvesting of particular crops, certain post-harvest processes etc.), while certain others are seen as men’s (ploughing, operating certain machines, transporting materials etc.). Estimates indicate that nearly 60% of agricultural operations are performed exclusively by women. It is also seen that many of the activities that women are expected to perform in farming also have a greater degree of drudgery (transplanting, for instance).
3.10.4. Grassroots data estimates show that women work nearly 3300 hours in a crop season while men work for 1860 hours. In the Indian Himalayas a pair of bullocks works 1064 hours, a man 1212 hours and a woman 3485 hours in a year on a one-hectare farm, a figure which illustrates women’s significant contribution to agricultural production.
3.10.5. Further, evidence shows that gender wage gap in absolute terms in rural India’s casual labour is increasing. The following table presents the latest picture with regard to daily Wages received by casual labourers and regular wage/salaried employees of 15-59 years, in rural areas:
|Regular wage/salaried employees||Casual labour in works other than public works||Casual labour in public works other than NREGS||Casual labour in NREGS public works*|
|Daily wages of rural workers of age 15-59 years, as per NSSO 68th Round (2011-12)|
|Daily wages of rural workers of age 15-59 years, as per NSSO 66th Round (2009-10)|
|Daily wages of rural workers of age 15-59 years, as per NSSO 61st Round (2004-05)|
Note: * While the above is the wage rate as per the NSSO 68th round, the stipulated MGNREGA daily wage rate ranges from Rs. 135 in states like Arunachal, Nagaland, Tripura and Sikkim to Rs. 214/- in Haryana. The apparent anamoly can be also due to the schedule of rates applied for various works in NREGS.
3.10.6. When it comes to rural wages, it is seen that the average wage differential between rural male and female casual labours (in works other than public works) at the national level was Rs. 46.04 in 2011-12 (and Rs. 32.59 in 2009-10, and Rs. 20.09 in 2004-05). In states like Kerala, however, this difference was starker (at Rs. 175.53, in absolute terms and less than half the wages of men and this large difference was present in earlier rounds of the survey too). A large wage differential is found also in the case of states like Karnataka, Goa, Haryana, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh etc. In Jammu and Kashmir, Mizoram and Sikkim, the wages received by females were higher than those for males for rural casual labour (Manipur also in 2009-10). When it comes to public works (other than NREGS), however, the situation improves, with many states reporting higher wages for women or near-equal wages. Jammu and Kashmir, Maharashtra and Uttarakhand however have higher wages for male casual labour even in public works. Under NREGS, the difference has been bridged to a significant extent, with several states reporting higher wages for female workers accruing here.
3.10.7. In rural casual labour which encompasses agricultural wage work also, the gender wage ratio in 2011-12 was 69.17% whereas in 2009-10 it was 67.90% and in 2004-05, it was 63.49% at all-India level.
Daily wages (Rs 0.00) received by regular wage/salaried employees and casual labourers of ages 15-59 (at current prices), Rural and Urban, Male and Female
|Rural (other than pub works)||4.89||15.33||29.39||34.94||68.94||103.28|
|Pub works other than MGNREG||18.52||39.48||49.19||86.11||110.62|
|Rural (other than pub works)||7.80||23.18||45.48||55.03||101.53||149.32|
|Pub works other than MGNREG||—||24.65||49.04||65.33||98.33||127.39|
Source: NSSO 66th and 68th Rounds
3.10.8. An analysis by Chavan and Bedamatta (2006) that looked at trends in agricultural wages in India from 1964-65 to 1999-2000, found that there was a slowdown in the rate of growth of real daily wages of male and female agricultural labourers in more than half of the districts in the sample in the 1990s, in contrast to the rise seen across all states between 1983 and 1987-88. Second, there was a rising trend in the variations in real wages across districts in the 1990s. The authors also found that the differences between the average wages of male and female agricultural labourers have widened over the years, and importantly, the daily wages of male agricultural labourers exceeded the minimum wage levels in most states, while those of women were below the minimum in most states. This, combined with the rising male-female earnings ratio indicates that gender disparities in wages in rural India are widening, the authors concluded.
3.10.9. While the above is a picture with rural casual labour daily earnings and analysis with regard to agricultural wage rates in particular, India’s gender wage differentials in general, at the national level are reported to be declining.
Gender Wage Differential, 2004-05 and 2011-12
|Average Daily Wage in 2004-05, in Rupees||Gender Wage Gap in Percentage||Average Daily Wage in 2011-12, in Rupees||Gender Wage Gap in percentage|
3.10.10. The ratio of female to male agricultural wages varied widely across regions ranging from 90% in Gujarat to 54% in Tamil Nadu in 2004/05 while it was around 70% on an average at the national level. Surprisingly, the southern region of the country, which is supposed to exhibit greater female autonomy along various parameters, exhibits larger gender gaps. This spatial variation is explained by scholars mostly in terms of high female labour supply for particular farm operations in this region (sexual division of work, non-farm opportunities for males and substitutability between men and women), in addition to greater proportion of women from particular social groups like dalit communities. Irrigation and land inequality are also implicated in increasing the wage differential. Authors suggest that even though there are no direct benefits accruing to women at the same magnitude as men in the non-farm sector, there are indeed positive effects on male and female wages with the withdrawal of men from agriculture. Gender wage gap as well as gender gap in labour force participation are both therefore flagged as dimensions that deserve equal attention.
(RURAL, AGRICULTURAL) GIRL CHILD LABOUR IN INDIA
It is estimated that worldwide, some 215 million children work, full time. It is also estimated that 60% of all child labourers in the age group of 5-17 years work in agriculture, including farming, fishing, aquaculture, forestry and livestock. The majority of child labourers (67.5%) are unpaid family members. Child labour is seen as both a cause and consequence of poverty. Census 2001 showed that in India, there are around 12.66 million working children which was increase from the 1991 figure in absolute numbers (while the Main Workers declined, Marginal Workers increased). 11 million were rural child workers. The share of child workers was 6% of all children in that census, and 4% of the total workforce (3% for boys and 5% for girls). Boys were 6 million while girls were 5 million amongst the rural child workers in 2001. ST female children’s work participation rates were higher than the ST boys’ as well as all girl children (almost double of all girl children). Between 1991 and 2001, it was seen that the percentage increase in girl child workers was 13, while for boys it was 9%. As per Census 2011, the number of child labourers is down to 4.35 million. The NSSO estimates in 2009-10 were close, at 4.9 million, with 1.8 million of them being girls. NSSO 2009-10 estimates suggest that around 30% of India’s child labour are engaged in agriculture. The agricultural work is mostly as unpaid family labour, especially in small and marginal landholding operating households, during certain operations with peak labour demand. It is interesting to note that proportion of girl children exceeds that of male children in rural manufacturing too, once again mostly in household enterprises. Various rounds of NSSO from 1993-94 reveal that amongst boys, the proportion of working children fell from 6.4% in 1993-94 to 2.7% by 2009-10 and amongst girls, it fell from 6.1% to 1.9%, showing a greater decline in girl child labour. The decline in rural India has been higher than in urban India, which deals with fresh influx into urban areas of rural children looking for employment. Studies reveal that incidence of child labour is significantly and negatively correlated with expenditure on education.
Within the scenario of girl child labour, the plight of migrant girl children used for hybrid cotton seed production is much reported. Here, not only are the work hours long and underpaid (this being one of the primary reasons why child labour is preferred to payment of adult wages when seed corporations produce hybrid seed) but dangerous, with toxic pesticide fumes affecting the children in addition to cases of sexual abuse reported routinely. After Bt cotton was introduced in India, hybrid cotton seed production increased manifold resulting in greater attention to this issue, spurred by civil society reports and activism in various states.
- WOMEN’S LAND OWNERSHIP
FEMALE LANDHOLDINGS, AS PER AGRICULTURE CENSUS 2010-11
The All India Report on Number and Area of Operational Holdings of Agriculture Census 2010-11 was released in October 2012. The total number of operational holdings in the country has increased from 129 million in 2005-06 to 138 million holdings in 2010-11. There is a marginal increase in the operated area, from 158.32 million hectares in 2005-06 to 159.18 million hectares in 2010-11. The average size of operational holding has declined to 1.16 hectares as compared to 1.23 hectares in 2005-06. The percentage share of female operational holders has increased from 11.70 in 2005-06 to 12.79 in 2010-11 with the corresponding operated area of 9.33 and 10.36.
Key Indicators of Land and Livestock Holdings in India, NSSO 70th Round
The latest figures related to land ownership at the time of writing this report are from the 70th Round of NSSO related to Land and Livestock Holdings in India (December 2014). This data however does not present gender-disaggregated information on land ownership. According to this survey, the estimated area of household land ownership in rural areas in India has come down by 14.86 million hectares, between 2002-03 (59th Round) and 2012-13 (70th Round), bringing the area owned to 92,369,000 hectares. The average area owned per household came down to 0.592 hectares from 0.725 hectares in 2002-03. Landlessness in terms of percentage of households is reported to have decreased from 10.04% to 7.41%, 75.42% of households fall in the marginal landholding category (with the average land ownership per household being only 0.234 hectares), but they own only 29.75% of area owned.
4.1. The lack of control and ownership over Land as a primary and critical resource for farming seems to be one of the main reasons that women do not receive formal recognition as Farmers. This becomes all the more critical in a context where it is estimated that women-managed households are now about 32% of rural households. Quite apart from this is the fact that women have a right to their due share of resources as well as identity/recognition. Further, there is also a need that they be entitled to different support systems as farmers, irrespective of land ownership. However, there is no clear and accurate picture available on women’s land ownership since there is no disaggregated information maintained on the same. Different sources of official data gathering, whether it is NSSO or Agriculture Census do not have any gender-disaggregated picture on ownership.
4.2. By law, most women in this country have an equal share in property but in practice, this is not followed. It was only in 2005 that the Hindu Succession Act (HSA) was amended (Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains are governed by this), to bring all agricultural land on par with other property, to make Hindu women’s inheritance rights in land legally equal to men’s across states, overriding any inconsistent state laws. Further, all daughters were included as coparceners in joint family property. The Act also began giving all daughters the same rights as sons to reside in or seek participation of the family dwelling house. It also allowed certain widows (of predeceased sons, for instance) to inherit property even if they remarried. In the Muslim Personal Law, women are allowed to inherit – however, the woman is given only one half the share of the male. Further, the mother is entitled to a share in her (deceased) son’s property and even a grandmother has a share in her grandson’s property if there is no mother or paternal grandmother for the said grandson. A widow is entitled to get a quarter share in her husband’s property when there are no children. A widow also has a right of retention here, with her maher (ranking as a debt of the husband as per law), with priority over the other heir’s claims to have it satisfied out of his estate. In the Christian Law, daughters have an equal inheritance right and widows have an entitlement of a one-third share of the deceased husband’s property.
4.3. Coming to the amendment to HSA, Andhra Pradesh (1986), Tamil Nadu (1989), Maharashtra (1994) and Karnataka (1994) had already amended the law to give equal rights to daughters by the time the HSA amendment was brought about. A study taken up to assess impact of the law by comparing inheritance in states like AP, TN, Maharashtra and Karnataka with other states using panel data found that there is indeed a distinctly greater likelihood of female inheritance in these states, pointing towards a significant impact of the amendments. On the other hand, a study of 403 women owning land in Gujarat found that 48% were widows who had claimed a share in their husband’s property, 41% were wives who had received titles with a view to claiming particular state announced tax benefits and only less than 5% were women who had inherited natal property and even here, it was because their parents had no legal heirs. The preference for claiming a share of marital property rather than staking claims to natal property has been found elsewhere too, like Jharkhand.
4.4. However, what is striking to note is that there is no disaggregated data available on land ownership (no accurate data on land ownership based on land records exists in the first instance in a country where settlement surveys are pending for years, and updation of land records is not taken up; then there is the issue of no data being available separately for men’s and women’s land ownership; within that is the picture needed for different classes of women). What we do have information on, is “Operational Holdings” and that is what we analyse here, to begin with.
4.5. Female operational holdings are only 12.79% in 2010-11, while they were 11.70 in 2005-06, a marginal increase of 1% over half a decade. The operated area had increased from 9.33% to 10.36% in the same period. 9.5% of the female operational holdings are with Joint Titles (several state governments have sought to incentivize this approach to land ownership). This is within 138 million operational holdings in India, covering an operated area of 159.2 million hectares. In the absence of a picture on women’s land ownership, we rely on looking at operational holdings of women.
Percentage of female operational holdings as per results of various Agriculture Censuses
|Marginal (<1 ha)||11.84||12.60||13.63|
|Small (1 ha – 2 ha)||10.27||11.10||12.15|
|Semi Medium (2 ha – 4 ha)||8.67||9.61||10.45|
|Medium (4 ha – 10 ha)||6.86||7.77||8.49|
|Large (> 10 ha)||5.22||6.00||6.78|
|All size groups||10.83||11.70||12.78|
Source: Annual Report 2014-15, Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India. Pp. 133
4.6. Some Characteristics of Female Operational Land Holdings
4.6.1. Average female operated area size: 0.81 Ha, whereas it is 1.16 Ha for men and women together. SC female operated area is only 0.68 Ha on an average, per holding (while the average SC male operated size is 0.81 Ha). In the case of ST women, the average holding size is somewhat larger, at 1.35 Ha (while the average ST man operates around 1.55 Ha per holding) – so, it is a situation where in all cases, women’s operational landholdings are less than the male counterparts, even as there is variation within different categories of women.
4.6.2. Within female operational holdings, 10.8% belonged to SC women. In the overall landholdings, 12.4% belonged to SCs (SC men and women together), showing that SC women are worse off than their male counterparts. Within female operational holdings, 6.8% belonged to ST women. In the overall landholdings, 8.71% belonged to STs (ST men and women together), showing that ST women are also worse off than their male counterparts.
4.6.3. Amongst all SC landholdings, 12.3% belong to women covering 10.4% of the area operated by SCs. Amongst all ST landholdings, 11.2% belong to women, covering 9.9% area. As mentioned already, in the overall landholdings of all social groups, 12.79% are female operated.
4.6.4. When it comes to area, while operated area by SCs is 8.6% of the total operated area, the area operated by SC women is also 8.6% within the female operated area. While the overall operated area by STs is 11.49%, the area operated by ST women is 11% of the total female operated area, reflecting a certain parity with men of the same community when it comes to area, and marginally higher than what women across social groups are operating
|Female Operational Holdings in India (2010-11), by size class|
|Number of Holdings (‘000)||%age within female operational holdings||Within this, Joint titles (‘ooo Nos)||Area operated (in ‘000 Ha)||%age area within female operational holdings area|
|Marginal (less than/upto 1Ha)||12616||71.6||1089||4538||27.5|
|Small (1-2 Ha)||2999||17.0||292||4205||25.5|
|Semi Medium (2-4 Ha)||1438||8.2||192||3827||23.2|
|Medium (4-10 Ha)||495||2.8||91||2813||17.1|
|Large (10 Ha and more)||70||0.4||18||1101||6.7|
Source: Compiled from Agriculture Census 2010-11, Government of India
|Women operational holdings and operated area: India (in ‘000s)|
|Some chosen states||Operational Holdings||Operational Area|
|Female||Total||%age female holdings to total||Female||Total||%age female operated area to total|
|Jammu & Kashmir||106||1449||7.3||48||895||5.4|
Source: Compiled from Agriculture Census 2010-11, Government of India
4.6.5. Studies indicate that women’s landholding varies between 0.9% (in a state like Punjab) and 25% (in Andhra Pradesh). There appear to be wide regional disparities in the constraints faced by women in owning and controlling/managing land and this is evident in the landholding data thrown up by the latest Agriculture Census. No ready studies exist on how the south Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have reached upto 19%- 25% female operational landholdings (as far back as the 2000-01 census, this regional variation is apparent) and this needs to be understood better to chart out a similar road map in other states. What is interesting to note is that the trends here are not reflective of what is conventionally seen as regions of greater feminization of agriculture. Further, while this is about operational land holdings, large studies from the ground indicate individual land ownership by women to be around 14% in a state like Karnataka, as against 71% by men individually.
4.6.6. In the case of AP, it is unclear right now how far a new legislation that sought to support and encourage as well as visibilise tenancy has started reflecting in the operational landholdings data of the latest Agriculture Census given that the law came into force after July 2010-June 2011 when the Census was undertaken. The undivided state of Andhra Pradesh also attempted to bring in a separate legislation for facilitating collective land lease and cultivation by women’s SHGs – while the Bill did get passed by the legislature, it never got notified and enacted.
One of the members of the HLC found an interesting trend during visits to Yavatmal district in Maharashtra and Karimnagar district in Andhra Pradesh (during June and July 2014). It is found that a lot of land is getting registered by male farmers in the name of wives in villages like Tivsala in Ghatanji block of Yavatmal, and Repaka in Illantakunta mandal of Karimnagar. The ‘gift deeds’ in the name of wives is mostly so that households can access various subsidies and schemes meant for small and marginal holders, like crop loans in the name of two persons in a family rather than one, sprinkler and drip irrigation systems, loan waivers, sale of produce to government procurement agencies etc. In the past, such transfers in the name of wives or mothers would be seen usually in cases where land ceiling statutes were sought to be bypassed. Here is a new trend where access to schemes is driving the change. While it does not appear that there is any empowerment motivation behind this trend, asset ownership in the name of woman should surely mean potentially better spaces in decision-making for the woman in question. Tivsala today has 21% women’s landownership while Repaka has 20%. The most rapid change has happened in the past 5-6 years. It is unclear how widespread this trend is.
4.6.7. It is well known that there are three sources by which women can acquire land for themselves: government re-distribution efforts; purchasing from the market and by inheritance. In terms of the discourse, there has been some progress when it comes to state land re-distribution efforts and the acknowledgement to secure land rights for women.
184.108.40.206. (Public) LAND DISTRIBUTION:
220.127.116.11.i. While the first round of land reforms lacked any policy agenda around women’s land ownership, from the 1980s onwards, there has been a policy articulation around Joint Pattas for land distributed by government. The 11th Plan had suggestions for providing women access to cultivable land, including through joint or sole ownership, facilitating group ownership or leasing and allotment of homestead lands with priority to single women etc. It was only in this Plan that individual titles or group titles rather than joint titles (with men) were advocated, given that some evidence exists of joint titles with husbands actually putting women in a difficult situation in the case of marital breakup or domestic violence.
18.104.22.168.ii. Meanwhile, the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006 (popularly known as FRA or Forest Rights Act) requires fifty percent of the land pattas given to forest communities to go to women.
22.214.171.124.iii. The draft national land reforms policy (circulated for public feedback in July-September 2013) for instance does not talk about joint titles, but titles to women and women’s collectives. However, the ground reality on actual ownership of land by women is different. More importantly, there is only a minute fraction of land exchanging hands in these redistribution efforts (less than 2% of arable land in all these years of land ceilings enactment and land reforms efforts).
Draft Land Reforms Policy, 2013
A draft National Land Reforms policy was put out for public discussion and feedback in July 2013 by the Ministry of Rural Development. This draft acknowledges the strong linkage between land and social status of an individual in a predominantly agricultural society like India and that landlessness is a strong indicator of rural poverty. Social unrest and violence in some parts of the country, being connected to inequitable distribution of benefits from recent land use patterns, are seen as the relevance of revisiting land reforms. The draft says that “increasing participation of women in agricultural labour and other farm activities also calls for a policy strategy that addresses the issue of access and landholding rights to women”. Apart from expressly promising a policy that will seek to empower women with land titles wherever state-enabled land redistribution occurs, the draft policy exhorts states to adopt a group approach in land cultivation and investment in productive assets, and grant group titles to women’s groups. Land purchase support is promised in addition to reviewing and “strategically acting upon” various provisions of the Hindu Succession Amendment Act (HSAA) 2005.
The draft Policy’s proposals with regard to governance, management and development of Common Property Resources (CPRs) grossly neglect the importance of these commons for women’s empowerment and fail to provide any strong role to women in governing and managing these resources.
Even in the case of implementation of women’s land inheritance rights, the draft policy fails to put any measures in place to hold line departments accountable for not ensuring devolution of rights.
126.96.36.199.iv. It should also be noted here that while draft policies like this one on land reforms appear to empower women in hitherto unstated ways, the reality of large scale shift of land ownership and utilization in the land markets is very different. When land is acquired on a large scale by big corporate players (through SEZs) and also held for speculative purposes by others, the intent expressed in such draft policies cannot be actualized and poor women’s livelihood needs cannot be secured.
188.8.131.52. MARKET BASED TRANSACTIONS FOR WOMEN’S LAND OWNERSHIP:
184.108.40.206.i. When it comes to purchase of land from the market, there are serious limitations again both in terms of quantum of land traded in the market as well as in women being able to acquire land by purchasing it from the market. Certain schemes like the SC Corporation’s joint land purchase scheme in Andhra Pradesh are worth a mention here. However, such schemes are not being scaled up. This is very important given that land ownership may be limited in the first instance, whereby even if inheritance rights are implemented, there may be nothing to be inherited. The work of Deccan Development Society in securing own land for poor landless dalit women both through land purchase schemes as well as long term collective leasing is well-acknowledged in policy circles in India by now.
220.127.116.11.ii. In Kerala, Joint Liability Groups (JLGs) in Palakkad as part of Kudumbashree program have been able to purchase small plots of land out of profits generated from collective farming on leased in land and this is worth emulating.
18.104.22.168. INHERITANCE OF LAND BY WOMEN:
22.214.171.124.i. The third source, which is Land from the family is the most important, while talking about land rights for women. That is because 86% of the arable land is private property, and nearly 75-78% rural households own some land, as per some estimates. This is where the largest possibility of women acquiring land is from – moreover, it is their entitlement as per the law (Hindu Succession Act amendment in 2005). Social and administrative biases seem to be at the root of women not realizing their rights when it comes to Land. Women, as evidence shows, are “voluntarily” giving up their right in favour of their brothers. This is also drawn from social norms on how a ‘good sister’ or ‘mother’ has to behave, imbibed by the women. Despite laws for equal rights existing, in a state like Karnataka, field studies have shown that women only 12-20% of land (wealth).
Increased commercialization with consumer goods, television, advertisements etc., invading rural India in addition to increasing seasonal migration is leaving a noticeable impact in an increased desire for consumer goods. Dowry is seen as an easy way to meet this desire. Dowry is thus spreading to communities where it did not exist before. A study on land rights for women in West Bengal found that 39.9% of the households surveyed have had to part with land or raise loans at high interest rates in order to pay dowry. 79% of the families who sold land to pay dowry were Muslim, a community where dowry was not a tradition. In addition, the people who were selling or mortgaging their lands for dowry were agricultural labourers and marginal farmers.
126.96.36.199.ii. It is believed that having to give away land to a daughter is an additional cost to the family, which is already having to invest in (illegal) traditions such as dowry and on the education of the daughter where it happens. Parents also face a social taboo of turning to daughters in case of crisis and would rather keep the land with the sons who are supposed to look after them. In addition to these issues is a real practical problem of inheriting land and managing it in a distant village since women are often married into distant locations, away from their natal village. But on this count, given that absentee landlordism is very much prevalent amongst male landowners and should not be an impediment in the case of women.
188.8.131.52.iii. The case for securing land rights for women is a well-settled one. Bina Agarwal’s theorizing around efficiency, welfare and empowerment linked to women’s land ownership has gained much space in policy circles too. This is not to say that this alone (land ownership) will address various problems of discrimination and inequality; however, there is overwhelming evidence to show that a woman’s position is vastly improved with land ownership.
184.108.40.206.iv. As is well known, one of the economic bases for land reforms was to create an ‘incentive effect’ so that production inefficiencies associated with tenure insecurity can be removed and that the actual cultivators can possess rights over land. Even here, the State did not hesitate to intervene in entrenched rural class structures (somewhat synonymous with caste too) to ensure this redistribution. In the case of women, evidence shows that with all things being equal, women farmers can produce 20-30% more than male cultivators. This itself should be a great motivating reason for the State, to ensure food security. A recent report from ADB and FAO (2013) argues that challenging the constraints that women face must be treated as a key component in the fight against hunger and malnutrition. Such an approach is achievable, it is inexpensive and it can be highly effective, the report asserts. The cost to society of not acting urgently and more decisively will be considerable.
220.127.116.11.v. Importantly, this report goes beyond an argument around meeting the practical needs of women, so to speak (not just for the “instrumental value” but women’s empowerment being a priority goal in itself and an intrinsic human right), and makes a strong case for empowerment of women. “This means a greater role for women in decision making at all levels, including the household, local communities and national parliaments”. It argues that social and cultural norms and the gendered division of roles they impose must be challenged.
18.104.22.168.vi. Numerous micro-studies indicate a plethora of positive spin-offs with women acquiring property/land in their name. These benefits accrue to the family and the community as well as to the woman herself (intra-household bargaining outcomes). It is in the form of health benefits and better education for the children. It is seen that the impact of reforms that strengthened women’s inheritance rights is seen in the level of primary education of daughters. Another paper that also examined the impact of women’s property inheritance rights on their education found that this has an impact on educational attainment of women as measured in primary school going age group and suggests that the underlying mechanism is that in order to prevent fragmentation of household property, parents compensate daughters by investing in their education.
22.214.171.124.vii. Land ownership also leads to women having a greater say in decision-making related to various aspects of agriculture, and greater control over income from the agricultural enterprise. Recent studies point to the fact that endowing women with inheritance rights equal with men increases their autonomy within their marital families, and the effect seems to be stronger for women whose husbands’ occupation is complementary to the form of property inherited especially in rural areas. It has been seen that land ownership protects women from eviction from the household and reduces domestic violence against women. The socio-cultural attitudes towards women are seen to change with ownership vested in their hands.
126.96.36.199.viii. A study from Karnataka shows that women’s ownership of land or a house enhances her mobility as well as ability to take decisions about employment, health and use of money independently. However, it is also seen that women landowners are quite variably involved in central decisions regarding agricultural production (in a cross-country study, Karnataka in India scored the lowest in terms of participation) – the degree of participation in decision-making depends on whether they are partnered or unpartnered, according to individual or joint ownership of land with the partner/others and also based on the specific decision. It is seen that within land owned by women, the unpartnered women have higher decision-making participation related to what to cultivate and how to use income and to a lesser extent on what to sell. In a study that looked at gender asset gap in Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts of Karnataka to compare patterns of asset acquisition by women in matrilineal and patrilineal communities, it was seen that women in matrilineal communities continue to enjoy their traditional rights to own and inherit land and other physical/financial assets – they also exercise a greater degree of decision making power over their assets, contributing to a greater sense of empowerment among women from the matrilineal communities in comparison to women in patrilineal communities.
188.8.131.52.ix. It is not just for all these livelihood benefits that land should be put into the hands of women – but because it is her right to acquire and control land. Because land in India is about social status, security, freedom and dignity. It is about the condition as well as the position of women. Scholars have argued that there is a need for male cooperation in this effort to secure women’s land rights, going by lessons from past land struggles (“gender relations are an arena not just of conflict and contestation but also of mutuality and emotional attachments”).
184.108.40.206.x. Even though the law has been amended for a majority of women in India so that equal rights are recognized in the case of women, in reality the situation is very different. It is seen that women forego their claims for numerous reasons. Further, women also face impediments in operationalising the statutes and getting their names included in the records. This is not surprising given that this situation is prevalent in the case of men too, but certainly more so in the case of women. Further, ownership on paper does not mean actual control, especially if ownership has been transferred only for opportunistic reasons by the man involved. Very often, women lack the awareness and wherewithal to claim what is duly theirs. It is acknowledged that conscientisation is the way forward since the issue is cultural as well as administrative. Decades ago, it was acknowledged that ‘in poor rural women’s struggles for subsistence, in which control over land is a crucial element, the material and the ideological are closely interwoven, so that joint struggles on both the economic and cultural fronts become necessary’.
220.127.116.11.xi. It is clear that the absence of land ownership keeps women out of the State’s outreach to farmers on numerous fronts. The lack of serious action and intervention from the State in putting the control and ownership over land in the hands of women as their legal entitlement is perplexing and worrisome. The State has not hesitated to intervene in the case of discriminatory social institutions like Caste, when it comes to securing land rights for the dispossessed; similarly, the intervention of the state into Family as an institution is evident in legislations against domestic violence, or upholding the rights of parents to care and support from their children. However, when it comes to women’s property rights, no resolve has been witnessed so far.
A study done by FAO in 1997 identified certain trends in women’s land rights in tribal communities. Despite women not having inheritance rights to land under customary law among most settled tribes, various social arrangements have existed to ensure adequate care of women in situations of widowhood, breakdown of marriage, single women and for families having only daughters. Thus, widowed women acquired use rights to their husband’s property for maintenance for life. On their death, the property passed into the hands of the husband’s nearest male relatives. Both unmarried daughters and daughters who returned to their paternal homes due to breakdown of marriage, similarly acquired use rights in their paternal property for life maintenance. In the case of families having only daughters, sons-in-law could inherit their parental property if they agreed to settle in their wife’s paternal village. Severe social sanctions for violation of these norms reduced the vulnerability of women in such situations. However, the weakening of traditional institutions has reduced such traditional social protection enjoyed by tribal women. The rising value and scarcity of land are leading to a breakdown in women’s maintenance rights. Several incidents of women inheriting land being labelled witches and being hounded out (occasionally even killed) by male relatives to grab the land, have been reported from the Jharkhand area. The worst sufferers in this category are widowed women in the age group of 55 and above. During the field visits, it was found that unmarried daughters of Ho families are now allocated only one acre of their paternal land for life maintenance, while the rest is divided equally among the brothers, irrespective of the total size. Given the taboos against women ploughing, sowing and building roofs, such women remain dependent on their male relatives both for cultivating the land and for shelter. With many such women continuing to live with one of the brothers after the parents’ death, their status and condition within such households needs to be understood better. There were also indications that the number of daughters remaining unmarried may be increasing for a variety of reasons.
18.104.22.168.xii. India has seen land struggles by women in different states like Bihar (the famous Bodhgaya math land struggle by scheduled caste and backward caste women), Maharashtra, Jharkhand etc. and a Supreme Court case by tribal women supported by women’s rights activistis questioning customary laws. These have yielded mixed results. In the recent past, newer approaches have been adopted to secure land for women: efforts like that of Deccan Development Society in Telangana, Working Group on Women’s Land Ownership (WGWLO, a network of organisations and individuals in Gujarat which seeks to secure the rights of women farmers with a thrust on their land rights), of Kudumbashree in Kerala in creating Joint Liability Groups for collective land cultivation by women farmers, of state governments like Telangana which has recently taken up a large scale effort to distribute public lands to landless dalit women, or that of the undivided Andhra Pradesh where Velugu/Indira Kranthi Patham focused on securing land for poor households with the women at the centre of the effort, with additional focus on sustainable agriculture, of schemes that incentivize men to transfer the titles in the name of their spouses or children are all ringing in change. Successes have emerged from struggles and collective action. Changing attitudes of bureaucracy was a central part to these efforts. However, these achievements are small compared to the huge task at hand, and there needs to be concerted efforts put in to ensure that women’s land ownership is secured. It is also important to prevent land grabs in whatever garb, from the resource-poor in the meantime.
22.214.171.124.xiii. Any discussion on Women’s Land Rights should also be contextualized in the larger reality of increasing landlessness in rural India. In fact, for some analysts, this is one of the main reasons for the contraction of female employment in rural India (see section on employment trends for women in India). The NSSO 70th Round survey on land and livestock holdings in India shows that rural landownership has declined by nearly 14.86 million hectares in absolute terms (Statement 3.1: Changes in household ownership of land in 2012-13 over 2002-03). Further, analysis of data on land owned, land possessed (=operational holding) and land cultivated (net sown area) by households in the NSSO surveys on consumer expenditure and employment and unemployment shows that landlessness is on the rise, and as per NSS 2011-12 data, 49 per cent of households did not cultivate any land (up from 35% in 1987-88). Amongst Dalits, this proportion of households that did not cultivate any land in rural India increased from 51 per cent to 62 per cent; from 28 per cent to 39 per cent amongst adivasis; from 40 per cent to 60 per cent amongst Muslims and from 31% to 43% amongst “Others”. Note that in 2011-12, dalit households accounted for 21% of rural households but cultivated only 9% of land; similarly, Muslims accounted for 11 per cent of rural households but cultivated only 6 per cent of land. Further, the NSS data shows that increase in landlessness has primarily happened within households that are mainly dependent on manual wage labour (the ones who used to combine manual wage labour with cultivation on very small holdings are now exclusively dependent on manual wage labour reflected as a rise in the proportion of non-cultivating households among manual workers).
- WOMEN’S FOREST-BASED LIVELIHOODS
5.1. In a situation where private ownership of land and other property is difficult to secure to this day for women, it is common property resources like forests and village commons that have been a great source of sustenance for women. Forests have been a source of food, fuel, fodder and medicines for women in forest-dependent communities in addition to also being sources of income. Raw as well as processed products have not only sustained communities but have also connected them with markets, albeit in an exploitative setting when outsiders have been involved. The intimate cultural linkages that women and entire communities have with forests is well-documented in addition to the fact that they hold enormous knowledge and skills related to forest resources for their sustainable management which are not recognized by the mainstream world. It is also seen that the traditional relationship between women and forests was regenerative and not extractive and exploitative. A symbiotic win-win relationship existed at one point of time. In this era of climate change, the significance of forests is greater than ever before for a variety of ecosystem functions that they perform.
5.2. It is estimated that around 275 million poor rural people in India depend on forest produce for at least part of their subsistence and cash livelihoods. This dependence is more intense in the case of 89 million tribal people. It is also estimated that NTFP sector creates about 10 million workdays annually in India – the 12th plan documents visualize a doubling of this. The business turnover of the so-called NTFP (Non Timber Forest Produce) or MFP (Minor Forest Produce) is estimated to be more than Rs. 6000 crores per annum. Despite the misnomer of Minor Forest Produce, this is supposed to account for about 68% of the export in the forestry sector. MFP/NTFP is also supposed to contribute upto 40% of the annual income of forest dwellers, despite all the restrictions and constraints imposed on them. Further, anywhere upto 24% of the cooked food consumption of forest communities is from uncultivated forest foods, that too in critical hunger months.
5.3. The intimate connection between women’s lives and livelihoods and natural resources like forests is well established by now. It is seen that women in forest based communities are economically more independent and have a higher status than their counter-parts in other communities in India because of their involvement and income from forest produce gathering. There are studies that show that with newer kinds of markets, receding of forests (due to deforestation and thereby distance from the village increasing), (public and private) transport facilities providing an advantage to men and a greater role in marketing for them, changes have happened in tribal areas over the ability of women to sell directly and collect income.
5.4. Gathering of minor forest produce is an important economic activity for women in forest-dependent communities. It is seen that their status within the household is higher in well-forested villages rather than commercialized villages which lack forests. Within their forest gathering activity, women collect food, fodder, medicine and fuelwood for the household. Food in a forest community context consists not just of cultivated foods but also of many edible wild foods, like uncultivated forest fruits, berries, leaves, tubers, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, greens, fish etc. Men are collectors of wild game, honey etc., while also occasionally partaking in gathering of other uncultivated foods. Apart from food, fuel and firewood for the house, forests are a source of many minor forest products (MFP) or Non Timber Forest Produce (NTFP) like bamboo, cane, grasses and leaves for artisanal and other products for sale (brooms, baskets, leaf plates etc.) in addition to supply of gums, waxes, dyes, resins, medicinal plants and herbs, some seeds etc., which are sold processed or raw to others for their enterprises. Women’s knowledge of these resources, their collection, processing and storage is impressive and is considered to be more than what men in these communities possess. What is worth noting with the forest produce is that women are documented to be more involved than men, when it comes to marketing of the produce (unlike in the case of agricultural produce). This also means greater economic independence.
5.5. Exploitation of forests for raw materials for industry, the moulding of forests in way that timber is given the greatest importance and the replacement of rich forests with commercial plantations contributed to several problems that women in these communities face. There is much evidence documented on the restrictions placed on communities by the forest department with regard to MFP cultivation as well as marketing in practice. Wherever there was threat of degradation of the resources or alienation of the same, women have been waging historical struggles to regain their rights. Mass movements to protect forests have succeeded better where women have been involved. Conversely, there is a realization that forest conservation and protection efforts can only partially succeed if they do not involve women. There is an important role that women have played in governance of forests in a variety of institutional shapes it has taken whether it is social forestry, or JFM or CFM. Research has found that groups with a high proportion of women in their executive committee show significantly greater improvements in forest condition, mainly due to women’s contributions to improved forest protection and rule compliance, in addition to women using their knowledge of plant species as well as greater cooperation amongst women. It has been documented that groups with more women in executive committees in forest governance and especially all-women ECs tend to make stricter rules which is attributable to these groups receiving smaller and more degraded forests. Research in this area has covered not just women’s relative exclusion but in the recent past, how their proportional strength being increased could make a difference. Here, research studies show that in community forestry institutions, the group’s gender composition affects women’s effective participation, with ‘critical mass effects’ seen with proportions of one quarter to one third. Apart from this, women’s economic class also mattered when it comes to participation in governance of local forests (‘women from disadvantaged households, especially if present in sufficient numbers or with prior exposure to women’s empowerment programs can be more outspoken in public forums than women from well off households’). Facilitation by a gender-sensitive NGO or by the forest department also mattered.
5.6. PESA (Panchayat [Extension to Scheduled Areas’]) Act in 1996 conferred the ownership of MFP on the Gram Sabha. The Forest Rights Act of 2006 reinforces this. However, other laws like the Indian Forest Act 1927 treats products like bamboo on par with Timber; similarly, the regime created under the Wildlife Protection Act does not treat local communities as owners of MFPs. As the recent report of the High Level Committee on the Status of Tribal Communities in India under the Ministry of Tribal Affairs (May 2014) notes, access to and ownership of Minor Forest Produce is not PESA-compliant under various state rules. In several places, the ownership rights over MFP have been made ‘subject to the monopoly rights of GCCs (Girijan Cooperative Corporations)’. The HLC notes that this is an erosion of the autonomy of adivasis despite possible good intentions behind these rules. In the meantime, even under the FRA, operationalizing the rights over MFP, given as a community right under this Act appears to be a huge challenge. Institutional mechanisms are unclear for this. There are other issues too. There are many villages outside Schedule V areas however where MFP is an important source of livelihood to women; further, to this day, the forest department has not allowed any access to reserved forests. In FRA, it is seen that individual claims are being settled and not community forest resource claims.
5.7. The lackadaisical and tardy implementation of the FRA is a matter of concern. As Karat and Rawal note in their paper note, by September 2013, 60 per cent of the claims have been rejected when it comes to applications filed for claims. Out of 71000 community claims filed, only 18000 have been accepted. The high rates of rejections in states where there is a substantial adivasi population such as Gujarat and Maharashtra indicates that adivasi communities have been denied their rights under the FRA, they say.
5.8. Today, while regulation related to access and sale of MFP has been eased in favor of local communities at least on paper in at least some places, this does not readily translate itself into economic benefits for the forest gatherers. The state does not prioritise such livelihood enterprises of forest communities, while prioritizing the forest requirements of big industry and facilitates the supply of raw materials for them. In terms of forest models that are conserved, it is important to ensure that plantations do not replace the diverse, rich forests on which lakhs of livelihoods depend. For this, decentralized nursery raising with species diversity based on women’s preferences is needed. This also provides employment opportunities for women.
5.9. It is also very important to look at forests as habitats that produce food and a variety of other MFP beyond their market value too. A recent circular from the Ministry of Tribal Affairs notes that about 25% to 50% of forest dwellers depend on MFP for food requirements. This multi-functionality of forest produce has eased women’s gendered roles quite a bit wherever the forest has been kept rich and dense and has burdened women greatly where it has been left in a degraded state. Inappropriate block plantations have been documented to reduce employment opportunities for women.
5.10. MFP markets are highly diverse and volatile. Traditionally, they have run in an exploitative fashion with price often determined by the traders. Very often planning entrepreneurship on future markets is a big challenge here. Further, in the era of climate change, it is also being pointed out that the unpredictability around MFP harvesting is increasing. There are no insurance products as of now for MFP like they exist for crop insurance. There has been a long standing demand for a Minimum Support Price or MSP system to be created around MFP, like it exists however ineffectively for agricultural produce. Ministry of Panchayati Raj had constituted a Committee under the Chairpersonship of Dr T Haque to look into ownership, price fixing, value addition and marketing of MFP which submitted its report in May 2011. Additionally, at the same, another Committee (Sudha Pillai) also studied the issue of MFP trade and recommended strategic intervention in the form of Minimum Support Price (MSP). Accepting this, it is interesting to note that MoTA has initiated a new scheme in January 2014 (“Marketing of MFP through MSP and Development of Value Chain for MFP” alluding to a section under FRA for a ‘package of interventions viz., Minimum Support Price, Trade Information System, Supply Chain Infrastructure, Value Addition and Scientific Harvesting of MFP’ with an outlay of around 1400 crores for the 12th Plan, covering 12 select MFP items to be implemented in states with scheduled areas and STs. TRIFED is the nodal agency for implementation of the scheme. However, this scheme has a major caveat that said that any MFP nationalized for procurement would stand deleted from coverage under the scheme for that state. This is a major deficiency in the scheme and preempts any potential benefits that could accrue. This also does not necessarily empower the grassroots collectives of forest gatherers, because expansion of storage and trading facilities or fund to cover losses are all given to the state marketing agencies but not the ground level collectives.
- WOMEN IN FISHERIES
6.1. The Fisheries sector in India is characterized by its small scale nature and that it is mostly a traditional economic activity practiced by particular communities. Fishers are broadly classified as inland fishers, marine fishers and fish farmers (these terms are supposed to encompass both men and women). As per the Indian Livestock Census 2003, 14.49 million people were engaged in fisheries-related activities, with 75% in inland fisheries and 25% in marine fisheries. This sector has been showing an average growth of about 6% over the 5-year plan periods.
6.2. According to the CMFRI Census 2010, there are 3,288 marine fishing villages and 1,511 marine fish landing centres in 9 maritime states and 2 union territories. The total marine fisherfolk population was about 4 million (20.1% in Tamil nadu, 15.3% from Kerala and 15.1% from Odisha) comprising in 864,550 households, out of which 192697 were in Tamil Nadu, 163427 were in Andhra Pradesh and 118937 in Kerala. 91.3% of total households were traditional fisher families. Nearly 61% of the fishermen families were under BPL category. The average family size was 4.63 and the overall sex ratio was 928 females per 1000 males (and as low as 865 in West Bengal). Almost 58% of the fisherfolk were educated with different levels of education. About 38% marine fisherfolk were engaged in active fishing with 85% of them having full time engagement. About 63.6% of the fisherfolk were engaged in fishing and allied activities. Nearly 57% of the fisherfolk engaged in fish seed collection were females and 43% were males. Among the marine fisher households nearly 76% were Hindus, 15% were Christians and 9% were Muslims. The overall percentage of SC/ST among the marine fishermen households was 17%.
6.3. 37.8% of the marine fisherfolk were into active fishing, 2.4% in fish seed collection. Nearly 57.4% of the fisherfolk engaged in fish seed collection were females, and similarly out of 36.5% of total fisherfolk who are engaged in marketing of fish, 81.8% were women. Similarly 88.1% of fisherfolk engaged in curing and processing were women, similar to 89.6% engaged in peeling. This marketing activity was highest in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Odisha. Unfortunately, while this Census captures some data on coverage in cooperatives, it does not capture asset ownership or coverage in fisher cooperatives in a gender-disaggregated fashion.
6.4. The number of fisher families wherein only women were involved in fishing and allied activities was 41,000 which was a 17% increase over corresponding 2005 figures. However, the percentage of such families to the total fishermen families remained the same at 5%. Maharashtra happened to be the state with maximum proportion (12.5%) of families with only women involved in fishing or allied activities.
6.5. It is seen that women are actively engaged in post-harvest practices in the fisheries sector which includes processing (peeling, curing, drying, sorting, value addition etc.) and marketing. In coastal aquaculture, they are involved in seed collection, segregation, stocking, feeding, harvesting and marketing. A study from Kerala shows that women earn the highest incomes in fish vending followed by curing. Women fish vendors buy fish from the fishermen at landing centres through auctions, or from traders through bargaining and further become the retail points for consumers. A study from coastal Karnataka suggests that only 16% of the fisherwomen surveyed for the nature of their work, earnings and role in decision-making, are fully involved in decision-making although their contribution to family income and household work is substantial. Provision of modern marketing facilities was flagged as an important recommendation to improve the status of fisherwomen.
6.6. Like in the case of other farm women, fisherwomen’s lives and livelihoods are marked by invisibility, lower incomes, indebtedness with moneylenders and in the recent past, marginalization as traditional fisheries get replaced by commercial/mechanised fisheries. There is very little ‘occupational mobility’ and community level decision-making processes often are reported to exclude fisherwomen due to existing socio-cultural norms. It is seen that very little support is extended to enhance the livelihood roles of women in fishing, including fish vending. In Odisha for instance, women are reported to walk 8 to 12 kms a day with heavy loads of fish on their heads. In a study on the status of fisherwomen in India, the women listed lack of work in lean season, physical strain in carrying fish to the selling point, low income, lack of credit, exploitation by middlemen, lack of drying yards and wage discrimination as their major problems in that order. In this case, landlessness means that the women cannot start other income generating enterprises such as agriculture, dairying and poultry.
6.7. Several field studies indicate that the SHG approach adopted towards collectivizing fisherwomen has been yielding results in terms of some socio-economic improvements. However, there are also studies which show that despite the incomes brought in by women, their subsidiary role to men in the family has not changed. “Divisions based on caste, the emulation of upper caste behaviour, the continued practice and inflation of dowry, and traditional perceptions of women’s responsibilities within the family combine to keep women in a secondary and subservient position relative to men”.
- WOMEN AND LIVESTOCK REARING/ANIMAL FARMING
7.1. Livestock is an integral part of Indian farming and rural economy from ancient times, with a cyclical relationship between the animals and cultivation, with each mutually supporting the other. Livestock rearing also extended the village communities’ relationship to the commons including the forests and the grazing lands. Animals also feature in farm communities’ culture and rituals quite prominently with an express recognition according to their contribution to people’s livelihoods (including some special thanksgiving festivals etc.). Today, in a rapidly-mechanising farming era, the use of animal draught power might have come down but livestock’s contribution to food and income of households is quite high. India’s livestock is one of the largest in the world and livestock-generated outputs were valued at Rs. 2075 billion in 2010-11, which comprised 4% of the country’s GDP – this is higher than the value of food grains.
7.2. Livestock contributes 1/4th to the agricultural gross domestic product and engages about 9% of the agricultural labour force. Much of the demand is being pushed by income changes and resultant dietary changes in the country. It is a sector that has outpaced crop agriculture in its growth. However, the rate of growth is declining (an annual growth rate of 5.3% during the 1980s, 3.9% during the 1990s and 3.6% during 2000s).
7.3. It is also seen that livestock ownership is a major asset that poor households have. The NSSO 70th Round (findings put out in December 2014) on Key Indicators of Land and Livestock Holdings in India shows that agricultural households which have livestock farming as their principal/major source of income numbered around 2.7 million households (3.7% of all agricultural households, but 23% of households that possess the smallest landholdings), with the lowest percentage of land owned by this category in a classification based on major source of income (translating into 1.75% of agricultural households having 1.47% of total land owned with the average area owned by per household being only around 0.489 hectares). The importance of livestock as an asset in rural India when land ownership is so low can be gauged from this fact. Within the negligible use of agricultural land put to use for animal farming (only 0.88%), the largest areas go for dairy farming, following by ‘farming of other animals’. In all, around 40% of households reported farming of animals in this 70th Round NSSO Survey. Rajasthan, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand, Odisha, Arunachal Pradesh etc., feature high on the list of animal farming. More than 9% of agricultural households in Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Punjab and Haryana reported livestock as their principal source of income.
7.4. At the all-India level, while the average monthly income of agricultural households was calculated at Rs. 6426/-, it is estimated that 11.9% (Rs. 763/-) of this is from livestock. For households belonging to the lowest landholding size class, farming of animals fetched more income than cultivation (Rs. 1181/- per month from animal farming and only Rs. 30/- from cultivation, and around Rs. 2902/- from wages/salary). This once again reiterates the importance of livestock as a major livelihood source for the poorest, especially landless rural households, and the potential it holds for pro-poor inclusive growth. Scholars argue that the incidence of rural poverty in states like Punjab, Haryana, Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Gujarat and Rajasthan is less, where livestock accounts for a sizeable share of agricultural income as well as employment.
7.5. In India, while the same cannot be said of land, livestock management is mostly in the hands of women (in a decision-making sense). It is seen that ownership of cattle increases the confidence and self worth of women. It is seen that in decision-making related to milk sale, feed purchase, sale of animal and purchase of animal, women have a key role, and that they also have greater control over income. Women are estimated to 71% of the labour force in livestock farming. 75 million women are supposed to be engaged in dairying in India, as against 15 million men. Dairying in particular has been seen to be an important source of livelihood for (landless and other) women, and as has been noted elsewhere, this is the largest sector in terms of women’s incomes. This is a sector that was always feminized and getting increasingly more feminized. While disproportionately high amounts of responsibilities related to most animal farming activities like fodder collection, feeding, watering, cleaning, milking, healthcare, household level processing and value addition as well as marketing are performed by women, studies also indicate that income from animal farming is mostly in the control of women.
7.6. It is however seen that formal support systems related to managing risks or purchase of good quality animals etc., are not always available to women. In fact, animal husbandry loans out of total term loans in agriculture is coming down as a percentage of total loans for agriculture (crop loans, investment credit or term loans together). From being around 15% in 2002-03, by 2009-10, it declined to 9.5%. It is also seen that the share of poultry and small ruminants has come down significantly. However, budgetary outlays of Government of India for animal husbandry have been increasing as a percentage of total outlays for agriculture with the tenth plan seeing a sudden spurt to 11.87% compared to 3.6% in the Ninth Plan. It has been seen that investments have not been commensurate to the benefits that this sector brings.
7.7. The dairy cooperative network in the country includes 177 milk unions covering 346 districts and over 1,33,000 village-level societies with a total membership of nearly 14 million farmers. Fifteen major State Cooperative Federations have some 173 dairy plants (of total 254 cooperative processing units) with a handling capacity of about 270 lakh liters of milk per day. It is seen that cooperatives market liquid milk while private sector which occupies the other equal half in the market is into processing and dairy products. Threat to the Indian dairy sector from liberalized trade is very high and this has been discussed elsewhere in this section.
7.8. Apart from liberalized trade which could threaten existing cooperatives and federations, it is often seen that access to remunerative markets is not always available for dairy farmers, who are mostly women. On the one hand, the modernization approach (in sub sectors like poultry, dairying etc.) seeks to look at yield-centric breeding, feed and fodder development, disease control and healthcare in a specialized fashion. This approach is geared towards maximizing production. On the other, for the poorest women for whom livestock is a major income-generating asset, the animal farming operation is usually at a subsistence level. There are newer threats in the form of grazing lands shrinking, cropping patterns shifting, risks increasing in the age of climate change etc. Conservation of locally adapted breeds has received a short-shrift and it is seen that in the absence of an effective and affordable insurance regime for livestock, infusion of exotic breeds has not been helpful. Further, critics point out that capacity building investments on women to manage their cooperatives have not always been made.
7.9. The famous Amul experience and the dairy cooperatives’ contribution to Operation Flood cannot be overstated in any discussion on animal farming in India. However, the membership in most of India’s dairy cooperatives is heavily dominated by men. Only about 18% are estimated to be women within these dairy cooperative societies. Importantly, their presence in leadership/governance roles is far lesser, and is estimated at just 3% in board membership.
7.10. Like in the case of women in cultivation, women in dairying are invisible and ignored. Since they are not in decision-making posts, they are not able to take up decisive measures in the new institutions/cooperatives in favour of women. It is seen that credit is not accessible to women for cattle feed, fodder, healthcare of animals etc. As mentioned earlier, credit for purchase of new animals is also very difficult to obtain. Organisations like SEWA in Gujarat are showing how special fodder security schemes and systems can support women in livestock management. This includes purchase as well as cultivation of fodder in government fodder farms.
7.11. Government of India has begun supporting All Women Dairy Cooperatives to enhance women’s participation in this activity – support is drawn from STEP project of MWCD. National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) has started imparting special trainings to women.
7.12. As of 2011, more than 41 lakh women are reported to be members of dairy cooperative societies. 2.5 lakh women have become elected leaders in their village dairy cooperatives. 265 have been elected to the Boards of Milk Unions. There are 2 all-women milk unions run entirely by women as their own enterprise (Ichhamati Cooperative Milk Union in West Bengal and Mulkanoor Women’s Mutually Aided Milk Producers Cooperative Union in Telangana). Micro-studies point out to mixed results from women’s membership in dairy cooperatives. While there are economic benefits are there, empowerment benefits are ambiguous.
- WOMEN AND RURAL COOPERATIVES
8.1. In India, the co-operative form of organisation saw light in the year 1904 post the enactment of the Co-operative Credit Societies Act. Subsequently, a more comprehensive Act – the Co-operative Societies Act, was drafted in 1912. After India attained Independence in 1947, co-operatives assumed greater significance as an instrument of socio-economic development and became an integral part of India‘s Five Year Plans. The cooperative movement has received significant administrative, technical and financial support over the years. As a result, India has the largest network of co-operatives in the world. It is estimated that there are over 3.5 lakhs of different kinds of co-operatives with a membership of 15.6 crores. At present, there are 7500 women co-operatives in the country across 22 states. Such co-operatives occupy an important place in India‘s rural economy in terms of their coverage of rural population and their share in the total supply of agricultural inputs, dairy products, weaving textiles, provision stores including credit and contribute significantly to rural development.
8.2. With the formation of Women’s Industrial Co-operatives, Women’s Cooperative Banks and Women’s Multi-Purpose Societies also began to be formed. There are several classifications of cooperatives namely; Producer cooperative societies (Dairy, Sugar, and Weaving), Consumer cooperative societies, Marketing cooperative society, Insurance cooperative society, Housing cooperative society, Cooperative farming society and Credit cooperative society. The membership of a co-operative society is open to all those who have common interest. The primary objective of forming such cooperatives also by women was to eliminate the corresponding middlemen and capitalists and to increase the purchasing power of the members of the cooperatives. Moreover, this was seen to promote the welfare of the members by encouraging the habit of thrift, investment and commitment. Cooperatives not only assured high monetary returns but also proved beneficial for non-monetary reasons.
8.3. In India, the first dairy co-operative society was registered in 1913 at Allahabad in U.P. and was called “Katra Cooperative Dairy Society”. But the first producer-oriented union formed in 1946 was The Kaira District Co-operative Milk Producers Union at Anand (AMUL) which constituted an important landmark in the development of the dairy co-operative movement. Amul is a brand managed by a cooperative body, the Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation Ltd. (GCMMF), which today is jointly owned by 3 million milk producers in Gujarat. Recognizing the need for supportive services and social security, and to support women’s entrepreneurship including through credit, Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) Cooperative was established in Ahmedabad. SEWA has succeeded in the initiation of numerous initiatives and has offered countless services to its women members. Ranging from credit and insurance to health care, child care, legal services, capacity building, and now housing facilities; these services have come a long way in emerging self-sufficient and financially viable. These services offered by women for women are no more dependent on subsidies and are positive business models that have further potential to spread their wings. Women members are ready to pay for the services, making the service provision viable. Initiated as a trade union, today, the “SEWA Movement” consists of around 10 lakh members (as of 2008), and spans rural producer groups, savings and credit associations, vegetable growers and sellers associations, women’s markets, cooperatives of craftswomen etc. Raising the socio-economic status of women engaged in the weaving industries, ‘Thangjam Leikai Women Weavers Cooperative Society Limited’, of Sogolband, Imphal was registered in 1967. 253 members have been instrumental in raising massive paid up share capital within three decades of its existence. With the objective to improve the economic condition of the weavers of the handloom and allied industries, the society is engaged in producing and selling of all kinds of traditional and modern textiles. Women members of of four large cooperatives in Anantapur district, supported by NGO Timbaktu Collective have now federated themselves through Mahasakthi, a federation of cooperatives. Apart from economic self reliance of members through increasing their asset base, improving their credit worthiness and generating further employment and income, this federation is also the basis of a vibrant movement for women’s empowerment and autonomy. Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India with a membership record of 28 million is responsible for marketing development of tribal produce and handicrafts. The main objective of TRIFED is to serve the interests of its members in more than one state for the social and economic betterment of its members by conducting its affairs in professional, democratic and autonomous manner through self-help and mutual cooperation for undertaking marketing development of the tribal products. Efforts such as the above are geared to make these co-operatives viable business prototypes that can support self-employed women to become a vital and observable part of the economic development in their own right.
8.4. While much of the existing study on rural co-operatives focuses on women producers, it is interesting to see how the value of thriving cooperatives could translate in to improved livelihood opportunities for women, collective strength, increased self-esteem and improved status-quo in the communities. A few co-operatives have also transformed themselves as solidarity groups when in need and have seen to strengthen women’s capacity to defend and secure their rights to decent living. An empirical study in Karnataka throws light on how the co-operative movement can make a positive impact in empowering rural women socially, economically, personally, psychologically and financially. Awareness campaigns, as in the Women’s Dairy Cooperative leadership programme in India, have also helped double the participation rates of women.
8.5. Despite the overwhelming importance gained by rural co-operatives in India’s rural economy, most of the co-operatives suffer from a variety of internal and external problems. The major constraints witnessed include the lack of professionalism in the functioning of the clusters; an archaic co-operative law, excessive control and interference by government in certain sectors; lack of good elected leadership; small size of business and hence inability to attain financial viability; lack of performance-based reward systems; and internal work culture and environment not entirely conducive to the growth and development of co-operatives as a business enterprise.
8.6. The amount of capital that a cooperative society can raise from its member is very limited because the membership is generally confined to a particular section of the society. Again due to low rate of return the members do not invest more capital. Government’s assistance is often inadequate for most of the co-operative societies, in spite of the many subsidies and aid offered. Ideally, there should be minimum provisions in laws to control the affairs of cooperatives. The Government should set up independent bodies for cooperative audit and holding elections. The Multi-state Cooperative Societies Act, 2002 is a good piece of legislation in this direction and may be made a model while revamping the cooperative laws of our country. Additionally, there is a need for uniformity in cooperative legislation, particularly in respect of aspects crucial for autonomous and democratic functioning of cooperatives. Besides the inadequate capital limitation, it is seen that co-operative societies do not function efficiently due to lack of managerial talent. The members or their elected representatives are not experienced enough to manage the society.
8.7. Converting all Cooperatives into Multi-Purpose Cooperatives is a much-needed move. It is especially important to emphasize this in strengthening the capacities of women cooperative members, in situations where women’s access to education and information may be limited. Fresh efforts are warranted to create a cadre of trained workers. The government either through its own institutions or through recognised agencies should play an important role in this regard. More specifically ensuring that women’s co-operatives have equal and adequate access to extension services and relevant productive and communication technologies is vital.
8.8. In Primary Agricultural Cooperative Societies and other agri-cooperative societies, membership norms are often tied to land ownership, which keeps out women farmers from membership and leadership positions. There should also be norms laid down for minimum number of women at all levels, including from various socio-economic categories.
8.9. The National Cooperative Development Corporation in the Ministry of Agriculture implements cooperative development programmes with the help of a Central Sector Integrated Scheme on Agricultural Cooperation (CSISAC). NCDC provides assistance to cooperative marketing, processing, storage etc. NCDC encourages women cooperatives to avail assistance under its various schemes. These cooperatives deal with fruits and vegetables, sugarcane processing, handloom, power loom, spinning and services activities and so on. As on 31/3/2014, NCDC had sanctioned and released financial assistance of Rs. 189.67 crore and Rs. 89.88 crore respectively for the development of cooperative societies exclusively promoted by women. Out of the 1157 projects/units that got assistance sanctioned in 2013-14, it is estimated that 5.65 lakh women members are enrolled, out of which 4418 members are on the Board of Directors. It is estimated that these projects would in turn provide and sustain employment for 1.60 lakh women. It is also noted that in Cooperative Education efforts, trainings were provided to 16944 women in 2013-14, which is a very small outreach.
- STATE INTERVENTIONS – FLAGSHIP SCHEMES & PROGRAMMES
9.1. A few flagship centrally sponsored schemes have been initiated in the recent past in the Ministry of Agriculture to increase investments in this sector. This was mostly as a response to flagging agriculture growth in the country. The objectives are mostly around increasing overall agricultural productivity and production, reducing the ‘yield gaps’ and maximize returns to farmers. While the former is measured, there are no annual or biennial surveys in place to measure farm incomes in the country. Further, the Ministry has decided to mainstream gender concerns by mandating that a minimum of 30% of resources on all programmes and activities are utilized for women farmers; similarly, 30% of resources meant for extension workers are to be utilized for women extension functionaries. A National Gender Resource Centre in Agriculture (NGRCA) has been set up as a unit of Directorate of Extension in the Ministry. This Centre is expected to act as a focal point for the convergence of gender-related activities and issues in agriculture and allied sectors within and outside the DAC’ addressing gender dimension to agri-policies and programmes; rendering advocacy and advisory services to States/UTs to internalize gender specific interventions for bringing farm women into the mainstream of agriculture development. There is also a Directorate of Research for Women in Agriculture (DRWA) set up in Bhubaneswar. As part of agriculture extension outreach, one Gender Coordinator is appointed in every state as part of the team of “Support to State Extension Programme for Extension Reforms” scheme, in addition to representation of women farmers at all levels of advisory and decision-making bodies (this is a recent initiative and its impact is yet to be seen). In the modified ATMA (Agricultural Technology Management Agency at the district level) scheme, it is reported that out of 3.3 crore farmers who participated in various farmer-oriented activities since the inception of the programme in 2005-06, 24.1% were women. ATMA is also setting up Farm Women’s Food Security Groups (FSGs) with a support to the tune of Rs. 10,000/group. A total of 36700 FSGs have been targeted for the plan period. The Ministry, under certain schemes, also lays down either larger percentage of subsidy, or greater assistance when it comes to women farmers as an affirmative measure. Some of the large flagship schemes in agriculture include:
9.2. Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana: This is a scheme launched in 2007 during the 11th Plan to provide an incentive to states to increase public investment in agriculture and allied sectors; bring about quantifiable changes in production and productivity and maximize returns to farmers. This scheme has around 20 sectors like crop development, animal husbandry, dairy development, extension, agriculture mechanization, fisheries, horticulture, integrated pest management, marketing and post-harvest management, micro/minor irrigation, natural resource management, seed etc. Here, Minor Irrigation, Animal Husbandry, Horticulture, Seed, Agriculture Mechanisation etc., get the largest outlays based on project proposals received at the state level. For the 12th Five Year Plan, around 63,250 crore rupees have been allocated for this. It is important to note that this flagship scheme for agricultural development has no specific sector for support to women farmers.
9.3. National Food Security Mission: Launched in 2007-08, with an outlay of Rs. 12,350 crores in the 12th Five Year Plan, this programme aims to increase food grains output in the country. Rice, Wheat, Pulses and Coarse Cereals are the main focus of this intervention. NFSM is supposed to adopt a cropping systems approach, and is supposed to invest on developing farmer producer organizations, creating value chains and market linkages. However, there is no evidence of any systematic work with women farmers as part of NFSM.
9.4. Similarly, there is the National Horticulture Mission to support the holistic growth of the horticulture sector through area-based regionally-differentiated strategies. It aims to enhance acreage, coverage and productivity. This scheme has components meant for women farmers’ groups to extend support for mechanization and post-harvest management including different kinds of processing units. It is noted by observers that there is considerable disconnect between the ambitious objectives set out by the central government for each of these schemes, when viewed against the actual programmes and components being delivered on the ground. It is acknowledged that many of these schemes have considerable overlap in objectives and they also run mostly on a ‘first come first served’ principle rather than need and equity. Although on paper these schemes show one-third of the beneficiaries being women, the actual practice shows that these programmes rarely reach out to women.
9.5. On the other hand, it is the women’s self help groups created under various schemes by various departments (rural development etc.) that seem to be able to access some support for their member-farmers. This is borne out from the experiences of the large livelihoods interventions spearheaded by Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP) in the case of the undivided Andhra Pradesh, Kudumbashree in Kerala, Jeevika in Bihar etc. Here, the main difference in approach is that agriculture as a sector is not seen only as a matter of production and productivity, but as a matter of livelihoods for the poorest, including women.
9.6. There is now an exclusive scheme under the National Rural Livelihoods Mission which focuses on Women Farmers, called the Mahila Kisan Sashaktikaran Pariyojana (MKSP). This scheme supports women as farmers in a range of situations (landless agricultural workers, cultivators, forest-gatherers, sharecroppers etc.). As per the official website of this scheme, there are 10 Project Implementation Agencies (PIAs) reaching out to 21.75 lakh women farmers in the states of Andhra Pradesh/Telangana, Bihar, Kerala, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh with project outlays of Rs. 554 crore rupees. A recent review of the scheme however reports that the present coverage is in 14 states, 117 districts, 983 blocks and 17000 villages, with 57 PIAs. MKSP’s investments are largely in the undivided Andhra Pradesh and Kerala (the former alone having about 40% investment).
9.7. The core focus of MKSP under sustainable agriculture sector is to promote agriculture on a sustainable basis, where the inputs are localized, risks mitigated in various ways, productivity enhanced, food security ensured and net income of the family increased. The project aims to create sustainable agricultural livelihood opportunities for women in agriculture, ensure food and nutrition security at the household and community level, improve the skills and capabilities of women in agriculture with regard to farm-based activities and enhance the managerial capacities of women in agriculture. On the Forest Livelihoods front, this scheme aims to give poor women forest gatherers control over institutions pertaining to NTFP value chain; promote regeneration of NTFP species to improve biodiversity and enhance productivity; build the capacities of the community for modern harvesting and post-harvesting techniques for income enhancement; promote value addition of NTFP to ensure higher returns. The core focus therefore is on enhancing the livelihoods of women NTFP collectors by promoting the entire value chain, starting from regeneration to collection, processing and marketing.
9.8. It is to be noted that even in a programme like this, it is not clear if express objectives related to women’s land ownership rights, or getting women to access formal credit, insurance, marketing etc., are always being woven in. For instance, it is seen that mobilization into collectives in the MKSP does not always focus on women’s strategic needs. Women farmers need recognition and identity-building, starting with the self, but certainly from the state and the society. MKSP’s potential to establish such an identity successfully is enormous. On the practical front, drudgery-reducing tool banks can be set up which is not always happening in the programme even though it is one of the objectives, as a recent review of some projects discovered. Further, leaving convergence to be achieved by the PIA is a serious limitation of the scheme, it is observed. Heavy reliance on extension support, knowledge and capacity-building for risk- and cost-reduction in farming is not accompanied by any thought in the scheme design on how women would negotiate adoption of these technologies within the household. Concentration of the programme investments in a few states, and lack of exploration of projects related to forest produce, small ruminants, poultry and horticulture are noted as current implementation shortcomings. It is felt that MKSP should register women farmers/collectives with line departments like rural development/DRDA, agriculture etc., to leverage additional investments, access kisan credit cards, get membership in PACS and get marketing support.
9.9. Despite some gaps at present, it is commendable that there is a scheme like MKSP that weaves in an understanding of women’s collectivization around farm livelihoods, supports capacity building in various spheres related to farming, brings in elements of environment conservation especially biodiversity understanding the close linkages between rural women’s well being and the state of environmental resources and also presents alternative extension models centred around women and their knowledge and skills for the very first time. It is expected that such an approach will bring in good results in the lives of the women farmers being covered in this scheme.
The story of 62-year-old Chandramma of Bidakanne village in Zaheerabad region of Medak district is inspiring. Born in a dalit family, without much education, decades of her life were spent as an agricultural worker earning daily wages by working in other people’s lands. Time also went into taking care of the assigned land that her husband’s family got from the government. Such assigned lands in this semi-arid Deccan plateau of India are unproductive, far away from the village and hardly yielded anything for the family. For poor dalit families, it was less riskier to work in other people’s lands than depend on their own little plots. Chandramma became a widow when she was still young and started bringing up her two sons all by herself. When Deccan Development Society (DDS) – an NGO that chose the route of empowering dalit women farmers to take charge of their own lives, including respecting their own knowledge systems and resources – came into her village in the late 1980s and started organizing the women into Sangams, Chandramma was one of the first to opt to become one of the leaders of the Sangam. Tapping into her enormous knowledge of the local food and farming systems, DDS also built her capacities further in technical expertise related to permaculture and other agro-ecological approaches. Soon, ‘Permaculture Chandramma’ found herself teaching young boys and girls from her region sustainable agriculture, as one of the main teachers of Pachha Saale, the Green School. By opting for diversity-based cropping that also emphasizes seed sovereignty along with seed diversity revival, she found that her farming was more resilient, and less risky than others who were into a high-external-input intensive agriculture paradigm. Getting into collective land lease for organic, diversity-based farming with other women in her village brought in additional sources of food security as well as income. Meanwhile, while her seed-keeping work for the community earned her accolades from the administration and others, she found that it also started changing her social status enormously. “Today, upper caste men come into my house looking for good quality seed. They discuss various ecological farming practices with me, and ask me for tips. Where we were considered untouchable earlier, and seen inferior to men because I am born a woman, all of that has changed”, narrates Chandramma. While others are experiencing losses and crisis in their farming and are also selling away their plots of land, Chandramma proudly says that she has been able to purchase 4 more acres of land, piece by piece, with her hard-earned money and not run into debts like others. Here, she grows a wide variety of crops. She says that this is a fight against marginalization of women, of certain castes, of certain crops and lands, and of certain kinds of farming. Her knowledge, her seeds, her farming system and her women’s collective have been the rallying point to bring about unimaginable transformation, through interventions like grain banks, seed banks, collective cultivation of leased land by women farmers, land development efforts on own land and ‘Sangam Market’. The women’s collectives across 85 villages in this region have also created their own alternative marketing system called the “Sangam Market” or the ‘Market of the Walk-Outs’. Here, the women members try to trade in their surpluses with each other first, benefiting both as producers and consumers of a variety of food grains. Chandramma says that this programme also empowered them significantly.
- Access and Control over Resources like Land, Seed and Forests
10.1.1. Securing Women’s Land Rights:
It is important to ensure that all women’s rights to land and other property be made gender-just, to meet the constitutional obligation of equality. This should be irrespective of religion, ethnicity etc.
10.1.1.i. Maintaining a new column in basic land records: In the very basic land records that are maintained in India, across states, it is seen that there is no column that indicates the sex of the land owner. This prevents any disaggregated information on women’s land ownership from emerging and that in turn, affects the ability of civil society or state to take up focused work on ensuring equal rights to land. An immediate change has to be brought about by the Centre and the States (land being a state subject) to include this column and present disaggregated data village-wise, all the way up to the state level, on all revenue department/land records authorities’ websites.
It is also recommended that women’s names be added at the time of marriage in the land records conferring clear succession rights. Similarly, maintaining inheritance charts/heir trees would help in ensuring inheritance rights and getting mutations done faster.
10.1.1.ii. Accountability of authorities: The fact that very little inheritance has actually accrued to women has to be taken seriously by the government; this is directly correlated to the authorities in charge of land records not recording and ensuring inheritance that is due to women as is. This once again shows up the deep gender bias that exists in various public institutions of the state too – revenue authorities starting from the Patwari and block level officials should be held accountable for not recording inheritance to women for every fragmentation of property that happens in all settlement records and mutations. Similarly, sub-registrars while recording land transactions in their office, should specifically ask if any female claimants are present or not, and every transaction should have these details recorded in writing. It has been found that more women inducted into the revenue department could help; incentivising officials who proactively ensure implementation of the inheritance entitlements would help. A restriction on the right to will to prohibit disinheritance of wives and daughters is necessary and should be brought in immediately; other measures related to elimination of forced coercion aimed at women relinquishing their shares and ensuring that HSAA overrides state laws related to agricultural land are needed. It has been recommended elsewhere that District Collectors should set monitorable targets for themselves. There has been a suggestion elsewhere in the 12th Plan documents that women’s land rights be made inalienable and non-transferable for the first twenty years or so.
10.1.1.iii. In Gujarat, the trainings given to revenue officials include a gender sensitization component, including specific orientation on women’s property rights, consequent to civil society lobbying work. The HLC welcomes the proposal to set up a special helpline at tehsil and district levels to which women can approach to resolve any issues related to their land rights. This would be a supportive and effective mechanism only if the personnel working at the helpline are sensitized and equipped, and mostly women themselves.
10.1.1.iv. Creation of women’s land pools in all villages might help, to deal with the practical problem of women’s parcels of inherited lands having to be managed by someone, especially in the absence of supportive natal families for women landowners. Such land pools can be managed by women’s SHGs with extra support from the state machinery.
10.1.1.v. Awareness and motivation: There needs to be large scale awareness and motivation campaigns on women’s rights to land – this should be taken up in such a way that parents willingly give the rightful share of land to daughters, even as daughters are able to know about their right and claim it. A recent study indicates that only 22% of respondents surveyed knew about the inheritance rights under Hindu Succession Act amendment; it has been seen in NGO-led campaigns which bestow public recognition and appreciation of parents who do this has helped.
10.1.1.vi. Land purchase schemes: While stricter implementation of women’s inheritance rights will go a long way in ensuring their control over productive resources like land, it is obvious that this will not suffice in the case of households which have no or negligible landholdings to begin with – a large number of dalit and other landless households might fall under this category. It is important that land purchase schemes are created and run for all such women. Such schemes should also incorporate land development fund and should encourage collective farming by the women at least in the initial years. This should be taken up particularly for dalit women, to ensure that good, cultivable lands are owned by them, with upto at least 2 acres per woman. This should also be accompanied by land development investments by dovetailing with other schemes wherever needed.
10.1.1,vii. Incentivising land title transfer through other means: It is being seen that when important schemes are made conditional to women’s land ownership and the stamp duties are also waived off or reduced drastically, there is voluntary transfer of land parcels from men to women as has been documented in the recent past. Therefore, various schemes should be changed to accommodate this emerging response from the public urgently.
10.1.1.viii. Ensuring de-facto land rights: De-facto land rights, through long term land lease by collectives of women should be facilitated by special laws and mechanisms, as has happened in the case of Andhra Pradesh, and now in Kerala. Such land lease projects, “accredited” with a block or district level body set up for the purpose, should receive special and priority support for extension, credit, insurance, marketing etc. Agro-ecological approaches should be promoted in these projects to minimize risk in farming and also to allow the women’s collective to exploit the potential of niche markets, in addition to consuming nutritious, safe food themselves.
Sangha krishi, or group farming holds immense potential for providing de-facto land rights to women. There are now over 200,000 women organized in such groups, farming nearly a hundred thousand acres of land. This began in 2007 as a means to boost local food production. Kerala’s women embraced this vision eagerly. There are now more than 47,000 collectives involving women farmers across the State. These collectives lease fallow land, rejuvenate it, and farm it. They then either sell the produce or use it for consumption, depending on the needs of members. There are inspiring examples. In Perambra, Kudumbashree women, working with the panchayat, have restored 140 acres that lay fallow for 26 years. They now grow rice, vegetables and tapioca on it. This is bringing about a palpable shift in the role of women in Kerala’s agriculture. Thousands of Kudumbashree women are shifting from underpaid wage work to being producers. With independent production, they gain greater control over their time and labor. As also over crops, production methods and, vitally, over the produce. Some 100,000 women now practice organic farming. More wish to. Kudumbashree farmers are passionate about fighting ecological devastation through alternative farming methods.
Of Millstones, Milestones & Millionaires: P Sainath and Ananya Mukherjee, 20/10/14
PUBLIC LAND DISTRIBUTION
10.1.1.ix. Land transfers/distribution/assignment by the State: The HLC welcomes the proposals in the draft National Land Reforms Policy (NLRP) to recognize women’s claims to land in all government land transfers and suggests that this should be taken up with retro-effect with a cut-off deadline. Government’s proposal that all new transfers by the government will only be in the name of women instead of joint titles is also welcome. Priority should be given to landless households from marginalized communities. It is time that the draft NLRP is converted into a proper policy and similar policies adopted at the state level.
10.1.1.x. Common property resources: It is very important to have a broad livelihoods perspective towards common property resources, especially when it comes to women’s livelihoods. The draft National Land Reforms Policy proposes committees comprising only of women to manage CPRs. This is welcome. The HLC proposes that there should be a conscious effort to include women in land use planning at all levels and not just make them beneficiaries of land distribution and re-distribution. Environmental referenda should be an integral part of decision-making on land use, as has been done in the case of Niyamgiri in Odisha. Such environmental referenda should also be in the specific context of women’s livelihood needs.
10.1.1.xi. The draft NLRP (National Land Reforms Policy, 2013) also proposes that states undertake an assessment of all uncultivated arable land and give women’s groups long term usufruct rights to it for group cultivation. This proposal needs to be implemented.
10.1.1.xii. It is important that the State makes investments on collectivization of women, for awareness creation, capacity building, for allotting land to or purchasing land for such collectives wherever possible, for investing on land development and supporting the agricultural operations (that too based on agro-ecological approaches) till the marketing end.
10.1.1.xiii. In all these efforts, it is important to weave in special focus towards landless and single women, as well as dalit and adivasi women.
10.1.1.xiv. The 12th Plan document exhorts states to consider the adoption of a ‘group approach’ in land cultivation and investment in productive assets. “Women will also be helped to purchase land in groups for group cultivation by a loan cum grant scheme with 50 percent of the loan as a low interest loan and the remaining 50 percent as a grant”. It also says that incentives will be provided to women farmers/SHGs, for group farming on leased or owned land through financial support for group formation, tying credit subsidy, technology access and so on for group farming. HLC welcomes this and urges the government to move rapidly in this direction.
10.1.1.xv. All the above efforts will bear fruit only if there is minimization of land grabbing, land alienation and land acquisition in the first instance.
10.1.2. Other productive resources like Seed, Forests, Fishery sources: It is widely acknowledged that multi-cropping is a good approach to take care of a diversity of livelihood needs of poor communities, especially women, in terms of food security, in addition to fuel, fibre and fodder needs too. Such diversity rests on seed resources and associated knowledge being readily available to communities; traditionally, this existed with women in farm communities. However, with increasing privatization of the seed sector, with newer seed technologies driving the market and monocultures replacing diversity, the role of seed diversity in securing livelihoods as well as that of women is diminishing rapidly. For women to have economic empowerment, that too with a mixture of cash and subsistence cropping, in an agro-ecological setting, it is important that seed diversity is revived, and put into the control of women again.
10.1.2.1. Seeking active participation of women in varietal selection and development in crop breeding is very important since women and men have different preferences when it comes to seed varieties, depending on their particular roles and responsibilities. In fact, it is important to recognize women’s breeding skills and invest on the same, so that they can control Seed to suit their requirements and preferences. Community seed banks and taking up seed multiplication as part of existing government programs on seeds have been successfully established in numerous locations and need to be replicated.
10.1.2.2. When it comes to forests, it is seen that community forest resource rights are not being claimed adequately or cleared, as part of the Forest Rights Act. Further, the picture about pattas being issued in the name of women is also not clear, though the Act has enabling provisions. Forest Management Committees are to be created and empowered for the protection, conservation and resource management of the Community Forest Resource (CFR) area. Women’s due space as per the FRA is not being created in various institutions under the statute and this needs to be addressed immediately. The draft national land reforms policy points out that patta distribution in the name of woman as specified under the FRA should be implemented with greater vigour and efficiency. It is also important that FRA be implemented in conjunction with PESA, upholding in letter and spirit the progressive provisions of both statutes.
10.1.2.3. Women’s collectives should be given lease rights over ponds and other water bodies to take up inland fisheries.
10.1.2.4. It is also important that the State actively ensures that land-grabbing, land alienation and land acquisition are minimized from farm communities since it is seen that increasing landlessness is a major cause for the contraction of overall women’s employment in India.
10.2. OTHER INTERVENTIONS TO ADDRESS NEEDS OF WOMEN FARMERS
Apart from control over resources like Land, Seed and Forests, there are numerous interventions needed with regard to collectivizing women producers, research and extension, credit and insurance, marketing support including infrastructure needs and so on.
10.2.1. Support for rehabilitation of widows and daughters of farm suicide victims: Separate efforts are needed to ensure that women in farm suicide families are re-integrated into the economy. This includes securing their land rights, and giving them adequate support to continue with farming in a viable and sustainable manner. Loans should be waived and education support provided to their children.
10.2.2. Women’s collectivization: It is widely acknowledged now that collectivization of smallholders is the key to their livelihoods being improved. This applies more so in the case of women producers. Unfortunately, however, most organising of women is boiling down to a single strategy of micro-finance centred organizing. This has to change in terms of picking up issues and themes that the women themselves find pertinent in terms of collectivization. More enabling institutional mechanisms in the women’s collectives are found to be very important (meeting timings, soliciting more active participation, inclusion of single women and women who face difficult circumstances and most importantly, including agenda that incorporates women’s concerns and needs etc.). Such collectivization should focus on both practical and strategic gender needs.
10.2.3. Land development: Prioritisation of MGNREGS land development works in women-owned lands (including long term land lease instances) would be an incentive and valuable support. Single women already appear in the revised Schedule I and II notified in December 2013.
10.2.4. Crop Planning: Attempting market integration after first addressing food security seems to be the key here. Therefore, a well thought-out and planned combination of food and commercial crops is essential, including planning for such crop mixes in collective land lease efforts with adequate marketing support.
10.2.5. Low external input agro-ecological agriculture: Promotion of ecological farming, by building capacities for such an approach to agriculture is important. This is in the context of the need to develop resilient farming systems in the context of climate change, and to bring down riskiness in farming. Enterprises around such agro-ecological farming could include production and supply of bio-fertilisers and other inputs. In certain places, enterprises around bio-inputs, managed by single women or entire SHGs have been tried out successfully.
10.2.6. Water: When it comes to water use, it is important to ensure that water user associations have enough female representation and all their gendered concerns around water availability and use should be addressed equitably. Water supply to homestead/kitchen gardens might fetch additional income to women in addition to meeting household food and nutrition requirements.
10.2.7. Reducing drudgery in domestic activities will go a long way in freeing up women’s time for the economic enterprise, in addition to giving her some leisure time. It is very important to create public childcare services to reduce this burden on women.
10.2.8. Reducing drudgery should also include production and post-harvest technologies, and support to get them installed, if needed at a community level. It is seen that women adopted by benefiting NPM methods of crop cultivation thereby reducing negative health implications for themselves, even as net returns in farming improved, after input processors for neem and other such bio-products were installed in the Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture project of Andhra Pradesh.
10.2.9. Engendering Extension: There should be a mandatory inclusion of women in extension departments, of at least 33% at all levels. Further, using women farmers as community resource persons as a frontline face of the extension department is useful. There could be separate women’s resource cells set up at least at the block level, which will act as a single window system for all issues pertaining to women farmers, including their land-related matters. Such bodies can also take up systematic documentation and research for more focused future interventions.
10.2.9.i. Farmer Field School model of extension is seen to have improved the productivity of female farmers compared to male farmers elsewhere and this needs to be scaled up in India. If required, exclusive women’s farmer field schools need to be set up. Using female extension agents has also been documented to be a factor improving productivity of women farmers. This has to be done by first understanding and addressing the constraints of female extension workers themselves for it to be effective. Using other women farmers for motivation has worked in various micro-experiences around India. Extension services that are particularly tailored around women’s roles in households seemed to have worked better. Utilisation of appropriate IEC material becomes important, given the literacy and education constraints that exist. Including female community resource persons (CRPs) in the grassroots extension cadre is one of the strategies adopted by CMSA (Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture) in Andhra Pradesh. Further, downward accountability to the women’s federation was built into a new innovative extension model here.
10.2.10. Engendering Agri Research: Micro-studies show that technology dissemination to suit women’s needs, preferences, capabilities, resources as well as limitations of different kinds, and that seeks to address their drudgery has been successful. For this to happen, research has to have the right agenda and a gender-differentiated analysis of the situation.
10.2.11. Engendering Agricultural Credit: There should be customized terms and conditions for agri-loans to women farmers, with a special focus on SC/ST/Single women farmers. This requires issuance of Kisan Credit Cards for women through SHG-Bank Linkage as well as for individual women farmers, without necessarily tying this to land ownership. The new RBI guidelines for extending credit to landless farmers should be implemented effectively. There should also be financial capital provided to women’s collectives, especially for production through ecological farming and marketing of the produce. Public investments to support women farmers especially in rainfed farming should be enhanced, for promotion of agro-ecological practices.
10.2.12. There is also a need to extend crop insurance coverage to women cultivators with effective implementation put into place.
A separate section is included in this chapter that assesses the availability (or lack of) a variety of financial services including savings products and insurance for women.
10.2.13. The one important point to note here is that while financial services do make a vital contribution to the economic productivity and social well-being of a woman, it does not automatically empower women as scholars have argued. It only provides possibilities rather than a predetermined set of outcomes. Further, there is a concern expressed by women’s rights activists that a minimal, finance-based SHG model, which is now being replicated all over the country through the National Rural Livelihood Mission will miss out on numerous other appropriate forms of organizing women, for their practical and strategic empowerment.
10.2.14. Support to marketing of women producers’ products: It is clear that aggregation of produce will help in terms of marketing of agricultural produce including by acquiring scale. In the case of women’s collectives, government should ensure adequate infrastructure for storage and processing, in addition to professional services lent for setting up enterprises with all the associated institutional mechanisms put in place. There is also a need to infuse capital and the State should take upon itself to lend such support to all rural women’s collectives dealing with agricultural and forest produce. This applies to forest produce also, where minimum fair prices should be legally guaranteed. Additionally, this should apply to existing procurement of food grains and other products with MSP ensured, with women also availing of this opportunities equally.
10.2.14.i. All marketing infrastructure in the country should be made women-friendly and safe, in addition to making it accessible to women farmers including in terms of distance etc. (which would then require localized procurement centres to be operated at least seasonally). Market management committees and any other governance bodies should also have women farmers’ representatives.
10.2.14.ii. Produce from women’s collectives, especially of nutritious food grains like millets and pulses should be absorbed into various food schemes of the government on a priority basis, including ICDS and MDMS thereby providing ready markets for women farmers even as such food is fed to children for addressing nutrition security and food safety issues.
10.2.15. Engendering Forest Livelihoods: Studies show that women’s inclusion and participation in key roles in forest governance institutions is very important both for their livelihoods as well as forest conservation itself – this would be a win-win situation that the forest departments have to ensure.
10.2.15.i. MFP marketing issues have to be actualizing the MSP scheme for MFP that was initiated recently, unconditionally. Women’s collectives should be supported with processing and value addition facilities in addition to working capital infusion at reasonable terms. New insurance products around forest produce would also be needed, given recent experiences that women are sharing about failure of the forests to yield certain key products in certain season, which is probably linked to climate change.
10.2.15.ii. In the case of women’s livelihoods from forests, it is very important that rich, diverse forests should be protected with a livelihoods perspective driving conservation, rather than replace such forests with plantations as is continuing to happen in several parts of the country. The socio-cultural relationship that forest-based communities have with their forests can form the basis of a symbiotic relationship that ensures the survival of both the forests and the communities.
10.2.16. Enhancing fisheries based livelihoods of women: It is important that women’s customary rights to drying grounds in marine fisheries be respected. Further, they should have right to access fish in the harbours for sale, in addition to use of public transport facilities to reach markets. Marketing outlets, as well as storage facilities should be provided to women fishers collectives. Their membership in fisherfolk cooperatives should be enhanced equitably.
10.2.17. Enhancing livestock-based livelihoods: Women targeted in various livestock-based schemes should be given the choice of selecting breeds suitable to their resources, climate and management capabilities. Necessary budgets should be earmarked for backyard poultry and women livestock rearers’ cooperatives. Grazing lands should be secured by Panchayats and women’s SHGs along with livestock rearing communities can manage the same. Extension and marketing mechanisms set up in this sector should be women-friendly and outreach targets for benefiting women should be set and achieved.
10.2.18. Engendering all institutions: It is important to make space for women in all departments as well as farmers’ institutions being created like cooperatives, PACS, LAMPS etc. Such membership should be at the governance bodies’ level too. New cadres of women called “Eco-Workers” should be recruited for ensuring women’s identity as farmers.
10.3. MAKING MGNREGS WORK FOR WOMEN’s EMPOWERMENT (FARM & NON-FARM LIVELIHOODS)
A subsequent section discusses women’s non-farm livelihoods in Rural India. MGNREGS has the potential to combine these somewhat seamlessly, ensuring that there is a basket of livelihood sources strengthened for each woman in rural India.
10.3.1. It is important that NREGS focuses on not just increasing women’s participation, but aims also at empowerment of women, by using the institutions and resources that are part of NREGS to create assets and services that focus on women and girls. The following measures would be important for the same:
- A more comprehensive study on the constraints to greater participation of women in MGNREGS, for different categories of women and different regions/states, might be needed, though micro-studies and experience from the ground point to the broad constraints to be addressed.
- Increasing awareness about MGNREGS, especially through the medium of women’s self help groups, whereby women are encouraged to participate more in Gram Sabhas and in selecting works to be implemented to meet both their practical and strategic needs.
- Providing greater role to women’s SHGs, like in the case of Andhra Pradesh, in the implementation of NREGS so that women benefit directly from the scheme, starting from demand for work. Women’s participation will understandably be low if work selection happens in a top-down fashion, with their priorities not addressed.
- Revision of Schedule of Rates wherever it has not happened yet so that at least minimum wages are earned by women. This has been incorporated into the revised Schedule I and II notified in December 2013 and awaits implementation.
- Improving work site facilities is an urgent requirement – state governments should be encouraged to ensure this.
- The role of mates is important here and increasing the number of female-mates is essential. This then will have to be preceded by identification and capacity building of such mates.
- NREGS resources should be utilized for meeting the practical and strategic needs of women – this includes Shelters/Homes for women in distress, as well as capacity building of women on various fronts, including in terms of legal literacy, planning for local development etc. Even as this report was being drafted, revised Schedule I and II of MGNREGS were notified – here, apart from NREGS funds being utilized for common infrastructure for NRLM-compliant groups including worksheds for livelihoods activities of SHGs, construction of buildings for women’s SHG federations has been included.
- Special focus should be created on female elected leaders in PRIs so that women-centric works can be taken up in NREGS and their participation improved. This requires coordinated work with Ministry of Panchayati Raj.
- Job cards issued in the name of the man, as the “head of the household” might be a constraint in truly empowering women in this Scheme. Further, it has also been found that women have been left out of being registered on some job cards. Both these issues need to be addressed.
- Improving the system of Vigilance and Monitoring Committees with effective participation of women would help.
- Adequate representation of women within the MGNREGA staff is a must – it is unclear at this point of time how many women are represented in this structure.
- Studies indicate that when limited work is ‘supplied’ under NREGS, women are expected to make way for men. It is therefore important that employment opportunities should be enhanced as per full demand and demand itself should be created by facilitated processes through women’s groups and gram sabhas with priority given to women’s preferences and needs.
- It is found that removal of contractors might be important wherever it is still continuing, since this situation lends itself to exploitation and harassment, particularly of women.
- Works that could inadvertently keep out women (like well-digging in private lands, which are seen to keep out women after a certain depth of digging, as illustrated by Khera and Nayak) should be avoided or de-prioritised.
- Delayed wage payments are a major deterrent to women’s participation, especially in the case of women-headed households and single women. It is seen on the ground that delays in wage payments run not just into weeks but months and in some cases, years.
- Special works should definitely be planned for women in special/difficult circumstances and implemented. This should take their special needs and vulnerabilities on board in planning the works (single women, elderly widows, pregnant women etc.).
10.3.2. There appears to be an immense potential in engendering NREGS to extend universal childcare services, so that women could be freed up from this gendered role and utilize opportunities for livelihoods enhancement for themselves even as the child care support also addresses health and nutritional issues. For this, it is recommended that childcare services be definitely set up at all worksites as mandated by the statute; further, these may be set up in the habitations where there is a high concentration of women workers. The support may be extended to cater to special demand of collectives of single women, caregivers to other needy persons etc., in their choice of location in the village. This can be done in convergence with ICDS, with the responsibility of ensuring the effective functioning lying with the NREGA implementation agency and district program coordinator. This convergence (wherein NREGA already includes anganwadi construction in its schedule of permissible works; construction of childcare centres should be added) should allow for flexible location as well as extended timings. Payment of wages for childcare service provider must come from NREGS budget.
10.3.3. The HLC also welcomes the 12th Five Year Plan’s declarations on engendering MGREGS, with the following proposals articulated therein:
- A day per month will be allocated as sensitisation day, devoted to sessions on raising awareness about the various components and rights under MGNREGS and on socially relevant legislations like Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, PC-PNDT Act, and Dowry Prohibition Act. Wages will be paid as on normal work days to those present in order to encourage attendance.
- The list of permissible work under MGNREGA will be expanded to allow for greater diversity of activities.
- Women’s Groups will be included as implementing agencies of MGNREGS works.
- The existing provision for crèches at the work site will be implemented on a priority basis. The possibility of setting up crèches in collaboration with ICDS Anganwadis will be explored.
- The wages under MGNREGS will not be calculated on a piece-rate basis which often works to the detriment of women.
10.3.4. The above measures are not however reflected in implementation yet and the HLC recommends that these be taken up on a priority basis immediately. In fact, it is a matter of concern that there are reports of cutting back on NREGS support in the country.
10.3.5. The Committee would also like to highlight the intimate link between women’s political representation, and their overall labour force participation, as captured (yet again) in a recent study which uses NREGS as the setting to test this hypothesis. The following are the main findings:
- First, longer exposure to female political representation (PR) increases women’s overall labor force participation – both from having women as members at all levels of local government as well as leaders of district councils.
- Second, greater exposure to women PRs raises the share of public employment opportunities allocated to women under the MGNREGS.
- Third, the study finds evidence that increasing access to public goods that women care about (e.g., roads, health) encourages greater female LFP in the presence of women leaders.
10.3.5.i. These findings highlight important complementarities between political and economic policy tools to increase women’s labor force participation. Needless to say, for women’s empowerment through NREGS and for their greater participation, political participation of women is extremely important, and therefore, there is a need for the Ministry of Rural Development and Ministry of Panchayati Raj to work together on this.
10.4. Other interventions related to Comprehensive Social Protection
10.4.1. Universalisation of social security benefits for all women farmers (as broadly defined in the NPF) is essential and an urgent imperative. This includes pension, maternity entitlements, insurance etc. For all such schemes, each individual should be a unit and not a household.
10.4.2. Rural women suffer from time poverty as has been documented in various studies. It is also well-documented that much of women’s work here is unpaid. Added to this is the fact that such work is laden with drudgery. It is important that Time Use Surveys are taken up regularly at all levels so that recognition, reduction and redistribution of such unpaid work can be taken up as state-led intervention. This means better public services in various areas of a woman’s life. It is apparent that unless this is done, the productive potential cannot be unleashed. This is an imperative also because studies indicate that women’s work burden is actually increasing in many areas.
10.4.3. It is also important to recognize the potential agency of rural women, especially marginalized rural women (dalit and adivasi women, for instance). In this context, the “SHG movement” should stop looking at them as instrumentalities for other objectives, but ensure that aware and informed collectivisation becomes a central strategy for empowerment.
- TO SUM UP:
11.1. Investing on collectivizing women in various forms and with various organizing strategies, with ownership and control over resources assured in the hands of women and express support provided for marketing, seem to be the key to women’s empowerment in the sphere of agricultural, livestock-based- and forest livelihoods. One key asset is land and various means should be adopted for ensuring land ownership by women, including on implementation of existing property rights laws. The potential for women’s empowerment that the above holds, has to be supplemented with child care services provided by the State to cover all women, so that women might be freed up to run agricultural enterprises. Mobility, which is a function of both social norms as well as provision of safe transport facilities, also seems to have hold the key to opening up more opportunities in addition to skill-building. The enactment of a women farmers’ entitlements statute is an imperative in this context, as envisaged by a Private Member’s Bill in the recent past. This will ensure that a variety of agricultural services are provided to women producers by making it their right.
11.2. It is seen that the State itself is one of the biggest players in the market in terms of purchase of products and services for a variety of schemes and programmes it runs. Each such opportunity should be harnessed in a localized fashion, by prioritizing the produce and services of women’s collectives to ensure ready markets for their skills and enterprises whenever the State procures products and services as part of its plethora of schemes/programmes and other requirements. This is for both farm and forest produce. This could be in the context of large scale food schemes, for instance.
11.3. Further, the potential of NREGS to create assets and services for meeting women’s practical and strategic needs cannot be over-emphasised. There is a need to urgently engender this programme so that it may leave rich dividends for women in this country.
11.4. The machinery for rural livelihoods’ improvement also needs to be engendered. There is a need for more women personnel in research, extension and cooperation wings in the agricultural establishment for instance. There is a need for more women, starting from the frontline employees, in the revenue departments too. There is also a need to sensitise and orient them to various aspects related to women farmers’ lives and livelihoods including their basic rights and entitlements.
11.5. Agricultural interventions from the state including in the flagship programmes have to adopt a livelihoods approach that too with an express recognition of women as farmers, and not just a yield-centric focus.
- WOMEN IN RURAL NON FARM SECTOR IN INDIA
12.1. The scenario with regard to agriculture being the primary employer in rural India is changing slowly. Some scholars have been referring to this as structural transformation underway in the economy. It is seen that rural population and labour force continue to raise, without corresponding rural-urban migration. In this scenario, rural non farm sector is considered an important arena generating the largest number of jobs. It is also apparent that growth of farm and non-farm sector together in rural areas could stem migration into cities and unsustainable urbanization. It is also argued that the socio-economic disparities between urban and rural can be narrowed with the growth of rural non farm sector. In reality, non-farm sector grew and expanded not so much in rural areas, especially when it comes to manufacturing.
12.2. It is often argued that growth of farm and non-farm sector are closely linked as each drive the demand of the other. At the household level, a combination of farm and non-farm income provides greater resilience. Infrastructure development is seen as a major determinant of growth in both sectors. While there is one school of thinking around the complementarity of agriculture and the non-farm sector in the rural growth process, there are other scholars who question this complementarity theory, who argue that only the non-traded segment of the rural non-farm sector is positively affected by agricultural growth. According to them, the rural factory sector (‘traded non-farm sector’) looking for cheaper labour goes to regions with low agricultural productivity – empirical evidence is proffered to show that growth of rural non-farm sector in the 1980s and 90s was due to rural factory/traded non-farm sector mainly.
12.3. Rural non-farm in India, though began expanding in the 1990s, mainly started growing in the 2000s. RNFS is however largely associated with education levels and social status that are not available to the poor. The non-farm sector is also characterized by sub-sectors which are either low employment, high income generating services or high employment, low income services. It is seen that non-farm sector jobs have largely favored men and that too in the younger age groups. Further, it is also seen that agriculture uses more female labour to fill the jobs vacated by male labour moving into non-farm sector (and these are the indirect gains for women from a growing non-farm sector; in the case of fisheries and plantation, men have taken over more operations while in the case of animal husbandry and forestry also, like in the case of other agricultural operations, men’s labour input relative to female labour has declined by 1999, compared to 1983).
12.4. Diversification of households into rural non-farm will however mean that agriculture will continue its trend of feminization and part-time farming will become the dominant model, according to predictions.
12.5. Meanwhile, various studies have shown ‘though slow, but accelerating growth of the rural non-farm sector’. It can be seen that the proportion of rural workers engaged in Rural Non-Farm Sector (RNFS) has been showing unsteady trends for all rural workers, though on a steady increase for rural female workers.
12.6. It is also noted that in India it is distress in the farm sector that is pushing rural workers into the non-farm sector contrary to the ideal situation where growth in agriculture leads to diversification into non-farm employment. Feminisation of casual employment in the non-farm sector, inverse relationship with landholding size and employment in RNFS and larger presence of STs in the sector corroborates the above argument, as per some scholars.
|Percentage of Rural Workers Usually Employed in Non-Farm Activities|
|Number||Percentage Increase||Number||Percentage Increase||Number||Percentage Increase|
|Source: Manoj Jatav & Sucharita Sen (2014)|
12.7. The above table can be understood from different perspectives of growth of RNFS in India. As has been indicated in some studies, growth of non-farm employment between 1999-2000 and 2004-05 was driven by distress in the agriculture sector. After 2004-05, due to resumption of growth in agriculture, this distress-induced shift to NFS got scaled back, according to this analysis. However, more men went back to agriculture than women. It is also evident that the increase of female employment in RNFS has been steady.
12.8. The slow growth of jobs in RNFS has also contributed significantly in women withdrawing from work-force participation (discussed in a later part of this section). Though it has been observed that women’s participation in the labor force follows a U-shaped curve, in the Indian context however, as the growth was primarily driven by service sector, the manufacturing activities in rural or urban areas did not create adequate number of opportunities.
12.9. This was further enhanced by large programs such as MGNREGA, which was found to be more attractive for women than men, as it made work available locally, with a regular gender-equal wage rate, free from caste-related discriminatory practices. It was also perceived as relatively ‘easy’ work. As a result, a larger number of women got engaged in RNFS work generated from MGNREGA.
12.10. Increased efforts of financial inclusion, especially growth of the Self-Help Group (SHG) movement also stepped up many non-farm activities among women. Though exact statistics of what women have done with the borrowed fund is available, it has been observed by many development practitioners that many women have started engaging in activities which are non-farm, in their usual place of residence or elsewhere. There is evidence that a larger number of women are getting engaged into tobacco rolling activities, work on wood products (other than furniture), construction activities, and garment manufacturing activities in fairly large numbers.
12.11. It has been observed that with stagnation in agriculture, agricultural output per worker is coming down, whereas productivity per worker in RNFS has been going up. It can be seen that there is a wide diversity between various rural non-farm sector activities and while productivity could have gone up substantially in some areas like financial services and information technology among others, the number of opportunities in these sub-sectors are limited and therefore, highly competitive.
|All-India Shares of Some Sectors in Rural Employment for Male and Female Workers (%)
(1993–94, 1999–2000, 2004–05 and 2009–10)
|Share of agriculture in rural employment||74.1||71.4||66.5||62.8|
|Share of manufacturing in rural employment||7.0||7.3||7.9||7.0|
|Share of construction in rural employment||3.2||4.5||6.8||11.3|
|Share of trade, hotel & restaurant in rural employment||5.5||6.8||8.3||8.2|
|Share of transport etc. in rural employment||2.2||3.2||3.8||4.1|
|Share of other services in rural employment||7.0||6.1||5.9||5.5|
|Share of mining & quarrying in rural employment||0.7||0.6||0.6||0.8|
|Share of electricity etc. in rural employment||0.3||0.2||0.2||0.2|
|Share of agriculture in rural employment||86.2||85.4||83.3||79.4|
|Share of manufacturing in rural employment||7.0||7.6||8.4||7.5|
|Share of construction in rural employment||0.9||1.1||1.5||5.2|
|Share of trade, hotel & restaurant in rural employment||2.1||2.0||2.5||2.8|
|Share of transport, etc. in rural employment||0.1||0.1||0.2||0.2|
|Share of other services in rural employment||3.4||3.7||3.9||4.6|
|Share of mining & quarrying in rural employment||0.4||0.3||0.3||0.3|
|Share of electricity, etc. in rural employment||0.1||0.0||0.0||0.0|
|Note: All data pertain to usually working persons in the Principal Status (PS) and Subsidiary Status (SS) taken together|
|Sources: NSS: Employment and Unemployment Situation in India, Reports No. 409 (50th Round, 1993–94), 458 (55th Round, 1999–2000), 515 (61st Round, 2004–05) and 537 (66th Round, 2009–10).|
12.12. The above table above gives a fair sense of the various sectors where women are engaged in, in rural areas and trends over the years. From this table we can see that the percentage of rural workforce engaged in agriculture has been coming down steadily. Large number of these people, both men and women have got absorbed in the construction industry, which has started growing again. But within this as well, we see the participation of men has gone up from 3.2% to 11.3% (about 3.5 times) whereas participation of women has gone up from 0.9% to 5.2% (which is about 5.8 times). Much larger number of women, relative to the earlier years, got absorbed in the growing construction sector.
12.13. Though manufacturing sector also had started absorbing some people, that too more women than men till 2004-05, presently it is at the level as it was two decades back. It is also seen that women are getting engaged in a variety of service sector activities. While the men’s engagement in other services has dropped from 7.0% to 5.5%, the engagement of women in services have gone up from 3.4% to 4.6%.
12.14. A closer look at this table, further detailed in the table below, also reveals that while in 1993-94 half the women engaged in RNFS were involved in manufacturing today they are more fairly distributed between Manufacturing, Construction and Other Services. This also means that the kind of support that was extended to women engaged in manufacturing activities also needs to be extended to those engaged in Construction and Other Services.
12.15. However, it needs to be recognized that RNFS is highly diverse not only across sectors but also across geography. While there is very high level of engagement of women in non-farm activities in a state like Kerala, for instance, many states in the Indo-Gangetic plains have far lower engagement of women in non-farm activities. It has been seen that in these highly patriarchal societies, working in the non-farm activities ‘where contacts with the males outside the household was considered ‘polluting’ influence’, was to be avoided. This attitude has often laid various restrictions on women engaging in rural non-farm activities. It is also seen that there is segmentation of women workers into certain types of activities which largely determines the gender gap (sex typing of occupations has been well documented in industries such as knitwear and garments, for instance) – these jobs provided limited opportunity for upward mobility. Segregation has been documented in the services sector also (health and education sectors, for instance). Scholars have argued that the low wages of female workers are principally due to the undervaluation of work and skills in activities in which women predominate as low-skilled work, even if it involves exceptional talent and years of informal training.
12.15.1. Analysts looking into RNFS closely have observed that ‘mere positive growth of rural non-farm employment is not associated with distribution effect. It has been shown that women are engaged in low-productivity and low-return activities.
12.15.2. In the Construction sector, for instance, it is seen that work conditions are very poor (without safe drinking water, toilets, creches etc.), and women discriminated against (in wages, as well as restricted to unskilled headloading and menial jobs). Women are denied any opportunities at promotion whereas men progress to various other roles. In the beedi-making industry, the exploitative work conditions including low wage payments have been well documented (in addition to high prevalence of girl child labour).
12.15.3. Another feature of the present state of RNFS that needs attention is the casualization of the Non-Farm work space. Larger number of jobs have been created with little stability of employment, or regularity of payments, with no social security or non-pecuniary benefits attached. Benefits such as paid leave are virtually absent.
12.15.4. It has been shown that the opportunities that are accessible to people closer to their place of residence are mostly casual. For women this is a very important consideration for choice of work. Further, the margin of wages between casual and regular jobs is reducing over time, with higher rate of growth on real wages in casual RNFS work.
12.15.5. Another aspect of most non-farm enterprises in India, especially those set up and managed by women, is that these tend to be very small (tiny in fact), reliant primarily on family labour and operate with very little capital investment. While there appears to be a growth of self-employed over casual wage labor, it has to be remembered that much of the self-employed category is also unpaid (sometimes underpaid) family labour. This is usually accompanied by seclusion and limited opportunities in addition to lower earnings. Home workers were more than own account enterprises.
12.15.6. Studies have also shown that most non-farm employment tends to be regressively distributed across the rural population – that is, richer a person is, higher are the chances that one gets an employment with benefits of job security, status, leave provisions, maternity benefit etc. However, at the margins, an increasing number of new workers entering the non-farm sector are from the SC/ST Category. It is also likely that SC/ST, especially women, are more amenable to casual nature of the work that is coming up.
12.15.7. Studies also have shown that higher levels of education, employable skills and women’s autonomy (measured in terms of access to land and control over its operation, mobility and willingness to join self help groups) affect women’s ability to move into non-agricultural vocations. Interventions therefore should be along these lines.
13.1. It is important to ensure that the opportunities in RNFS do not bypass women. For this, appropriate kind of skill-building amongst rural women is important. For this, the large scale presence of women’s SHGs can be effectively deployed especially if such skill building has stipend support, and employability. Opportunities to be apprentices have to be enhanced for such training wherever feasible. Further, for setting up of enterprises on their own in RNFS, more credit at easy terms is to be made available for individual as well as collectives of women.
13.2. NREGS appears to be driving the RNFS after its initial growth in the 1990s was led by the manufacturing sector. For both men and women, construction is the activity in which the largest absorption and growth is seen. However, given that there is a talk about rollback plans with regard to NREGS it becomes pertinent to point out that such a rollback should not take place. (It is noted that no such decrease in outlays actually took place in 2015-16 budget.) In fact, NREGS should be deployed, as suggested in the Twelfth Plan document too, for skill-building activities (stipends can be paid as daily wages under NREGS), as well as for creating infrastructure for further expansion of RNFS.
13.3. In the face of evidence that RNFS is further expanding casual unorganized labour with unregulated work conditions as well as lack of job security, it is important that employment in RNFS be regulated to provide benefits of job security, with maternity benefits, leave provisions etc., incorporated.
13.4. It is important to ensure that RNFS driven by nano scale women’s enterprises does not end up having women working as underpaid or unpaid labour. For the scale to be optimal, support to women’s collectives and their federations could be critical.
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 Some of the recommendations have been articulated by the Parliamentary Committee on Empowerment of Women (2011-12) in their 14th report focusing on “Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act and Empowerment of Women in Rural Areas”, May 2012 as well as Parliamentary Standing Committee on Rural Development, August 2013
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 This has been extensively discussed by Jatav and Sen (2013) Op.Cit.
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HIGH TIME FOR A FARM INCOME COMMISSION IN INDIA
It was in December 2014, that for only the second time in independent India, that data on incomes of farm/agricultural households were assessed and put out by NSSO, in its 70th Round survey. The earlier time was in 2003, through the 59th Round. The overall findings are disturbing and not very different between the two rounds.
The 70th Round data revealed that the average monthly income of an agricultural household is just Rs. 6426/- at the national level. This then means about Rs. 107/- daily earnings per adult, assuming two adults per household. In many places, this could be below minimum wages prescribed for unskilled workers (from July 1, 2015 the National Floor Level of Minimum Wage was raised to Rs 160 per day which is lower than most states’ minimum wage rates). Average monthly income from cultivation is reported to be only 47.9%; from livestock: 11.9%; from wage/salary: 32.2% and from non-farm business: 8% of the average income estimated at Rs. 6426/month/household. That’s not the end of the story.
A closer look at the income and expenditure findings across different landholding categories shows that around 6.26 crore agricultural households are running on a debt economy, so to speak. On an average, there is a deficit of Rs. 856/- per month per household in terms of their expenses exceeding receipts, for these households. This is the situation of nearly 70% of agricultural households in India. On an average, the monthly income is Rs. 4653/ for each of these households.
Now, contrast this with the 7th Pay Commission proposals. There has been a 23.5% increase in pay, allowances and pension for 4.8 million government employees and 5.5 million pensioners (ie., 1.03 crore people). Given that this sets a benchmark for employees in the private sector too, indirectly it covers other citizens. The minimum pay has been increased to Rs. 18000/- per month, while the maximum pay has been hiked up to around Rs. 2.5 lakhs per month. While that’s a huge disparity in itself (14 times, between the lowest and highest paid employees), the contrast between the lowest paid in the government sector and the lowest classes of agricultural households, who seem to have negative net returns, is worth noting too: a 4-fold difference. With highest paid government employees, the disparity works out to be 54 times less for agri-households.
Can any society actually allow such disparities to develop, expand and be institutionalised?
Farm suicides related reports are pouring in each day from various states of India, what with such low incomes, and indebtedness on the rise; for the lowest classes, institutional credit has not materialized (in the lowest size class, only 15% of debt is from institutional sources).
It is not out of place to be reminded of the fact that India has a policy for farmers (National Policy For Farmers 2007, Ministry of Agriculture), which created new policy directives for the focus of all interventions to shift to farmer wellbeing and incomes, and not just production and productivity in agriculture. To that extent, the shift is away from a technological approach towards agriculture, to a livelihoods approach. However, in implementation, nothing concrete has materialized to institutionalize the shift in policy directions. For instance, performance management through the results framework document does not show that farm incomes will be measured or made into an indicator of performance.
There is an urgent need to put the focus squarely on farm incomes in India, as inter-sectoral disparities are rising. It is important to remember that farm incomes are not only low, but also unstable (in addition to showing significant intra-sectoral disparity). All state interventions related to agriculture and rural development should be geared towards delivering minimum living incomes to farm households and departments have to be made accountable for the same.
This then requires a periodic income assessment survey, for more focused interventions for different sizes of cultivators (the emphasis should be on cultivators and not land owners), different regions and crops, using the findings. Focus on increasing net incomes will necessarily force the government to shift towards low-external-input agriculture, better prices as well as market support for farmers, better measures for disaster relief and compensation as well as their implementation, and also achieving some economies of scale or additional benefits through collectivization of our vast majority of smallholders. Part of the solution should be farm income insurance products in addition to new measures like price deficiency payments vis-à-vis Minimum Support Prices announced. There is also a need to revise the formula used for fixing MSP, along the lines recommended by the Ramesh Chand Committee, of which the author was a part, apart from improving procurement itself.
There should be minimum living incomes fixed for farm households, using formulae similar to what Pay Commissions base their recommendations on. A Farm Income Commission would be required for this.
Looking at how Minimum Wages are fixed under the Minimum Wages Act is important in this discussion. Despite lofty definitions of Minimum Wages, the capacity of an industry to pay is also an important factor considered, despite repeated Supreme Court Orders to the contrary. Further, Agriculture in most states is not linked to Variable Dearness Allowance (VDA) linked to a Cost of Living Index, though VDA is supposed to be used apart from basic wages while fixing and revising minimum wages. It is important that inflation as measured with Wholesale Price Index (WPI) computed using the wholesale price of a basket of goods that has very little to do with daily needs of a worker. Inflation and hence dearness allowance therefore should be calculated on consumer prices that determine the cost of living, as recommended by some analysts.
There is the other problem of classifying some work as Skilled and some as Unskilled (or Semi-Skilled). This classification is questionable on two grounds at least: (i) lack of recognition of skill that goes into so-called ‘unskilled’ work, and the fact that even skill acquisition is a socio-political consequence; (ii) minimum wages (which are not only guarantee for bare subsistence but also provides for education, medical requirements and some level of comfort) cannot be contingent on skills that a person has, to ensure at least subsistence. To that extent, the minimum wages of skilled and unskilled workers cannot be different.
If we do not address these issues as a nation, the inter-sectoral disparity will be too stark, leaving behind too many people, without any dignified alternatives being provided elsewhere for them. The country cannot afford this, and we need to provide hope and a dignified future for the millions who continue to toil to feed us all. India needs to set up a Farm Income Commission without losing more time.
- Kavitha Kuruganti was a member of the GoI Committee on Fixing of Minimum Support Prices and is a National Convenor of Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA)
You can download a presentation on Ready-to-replicate best practices for organic farming promotion by governments here: Organic Farming Best Practices Across States-for sharing.
Mandya district is in the news for a wrong reason: for being a hotbed of suicides in the current spate of farm suicides that Karnataka is experiencing. Most farmers who killed themselves are from Mandya, and many of the Mandya farm suicides are of sugarcane cultivators.
But Mandya is also known for something else. As “cottage industry” (or micro-enterprises in today’s parlance) goes, Mandya district’s “Aalemanes” or jaggery units thrived in their heyday, both in terms of providing employment to many and giving neat profits to the owners of the jaggery units, but also absorbing a substantial part of the sugarcane that gets grown in the district, and providing an alternate marketing avenue to sugarcane farmers in the area.
Aalemane literally translates to ‘processing house’. As sugarcane cultivation expanded in the district along with expansion of surface and other irrigation, so did the Aalemane enterprise in the district. It is said that there used to be around 5000 units (there is no system for registration of Aalemanes to keep track of the number of units that are functional and their requirements). In Mandya taluka alone, some estimate that there used to be 4000 units at one point of time.
This was in the 1990s – however, setting up of several sugar mills (government, private, cooperative) in the district left its own impact on jaggery units with farmers supplying their cane to the mills, and in the process also abandoning cultivation of varieties that are particularly suitable for jaggery-making.
Meanwhile, as sugar started acquiring popularity as the main sweetener in Indian diet, consumers also started forgetting about the nutritional qualities of jaggery, especially as made traditionally, in a non-chemical way. As demand for jaggery fell, it impacted the jaggery units further.
Today, it is reported that only around 500 aalemane units are functional in Mandya. Some recall that the first adverse blow was in 1996 when the KRS project declared a modernization programme for the irrigation canal and stopped water supply. This affected sugarcane production and the jaggery units.
The main reasons for the decline now are cited to be volatility of jaggery prices in the market, making it unattractive for the entrepreneurs who run these, and the fact that jaggery-making is a labour-intensive process. A typical unit requires 10 or more labourers, and if round-the-clock operations are taken up, it easily requires double this number, with drudgery involved in the operations. It is said that there is a shortage of such labourers and in such a situation, it is seen that even Uttar Pradesh and Bihar people are running these units by bringing in their own labour too. Lack of regular and adequate hours of supply of electricity, forcing the units to run on diesel, has further cut into the margins available in this enterprise. Most importantly, consumer demand for jaggery has come down in the country, even as producers of jaggery are compromising consumer health in the jaggery-making processes adopted by adding many chemicals that are unhealthy.
It was Krishna Prasad of Sahaja Samrudha who prompted me to go and look at the current status and prospects related to jaggery-making units, when a group of around 30 persons assembled in Mandya recently to see what can be done about the crisis that is pushing hundreds of farmers to commit suicides. We all took different responsibilities in that meeting, and I agreed to study this further to the best of my ability and come up with a set of recommendations in consultation with experts in the area.
In that meeting, the main thrust of the discussions was focused on:
- As an immediate step, to see how banks and others can be stopped from putting further pressure on farmers for loan repayment – while a crackdown on moneylenders who are into usury is indeed commendable, in the absence of any alternate and fair credit systems that are available to farmers, it is not clear where they can borrow from for their current crop investments! It is also not clear why defaulting sugar mills cannot be asked to put out their databases on which sugarcane producing/supplying farmers do they owe and how much, and why banks cannot take cognizance of the same while chasing up on loans. It was also pointed out that for most (commercial) banks, agriculture in any case is not the bulk of their business and therefore, they should be asked not to send any more notices to farmers; it was pointed out that remunerative prices and actual payments reaching the farmers is very important in this crisis.
- In the medium term, it is important to focus on finding out more marketing avenues for sugarcane cultivators, like revival of jaggery making units but in a form that is safe for consumers; it is also important to see how sugar mills can run more profitably – this requires a whole spectrum of interventions:
- The medium term should also see sugarcane production (and also paddy and sericulture) improvements – it is important that water and chemical consumption be changed drastically in the production of cane. Organic farming with improved agronomy like the kind promoted by stalwarts like Suresh Desai need sustained promotion. In the said meeting in Mandya, several farmers’ groups came forward to try this out. This will bring down expenses, resource/water consumption and also bring in more crops into cultivation along with sugarcane, even as yield improves. Similarly, in the case of paddy cultivation too, farmers tied up with Nandish, another well known farmer, to try out agro-ecological improvements.
- It was also accepted that the real long term solution lies in diversifying away from crops like sugarcane and paddy. Revival of millet cultivation was discussed, along with processing units being set up and different marketing avenues to be explored including highway outlets/restaurants.
AN EXPLORATION AROUND REVIVAL OF AALEMANES/JAGGERY UNITS
Ananthoo and I went to Mandya district on the 8th and 9th of September, to understand better the issues around the traditional jaggery making units and why their numbers are reducing, why they are not able to support sugarcane producers much, how they are getting into undesirable / dangerous processing techniques and what needs to be done now.
We met up with Mr Somanna, the President of the Jaggery-makers Association, another farmer leader called Thimme Gowda who was earlier the Secretary of a Cooperative Society and Mr Krishnamoorthy of Nanjungud taluka in Mysuru district, who is into organic sugarcane production and also organic jaggery production (his powdered organic jaggery that he got us to taste and sample was awesome!!). We spent several hours chatting with them on a range of issues starting from government policy on import duty on Chinese silk to how Kisan Credit Card design can be improved. As is the case with most Kannadigas, we found them extremely patient and hospitable too. We also visited a cooperative sugar mill the next day (PSSK in Darasaguppe), helped by Shri Nanjunde Gowda, the President. The General Manager Shri Bore Gowda took us around and patiently explained everything. While we could not meet up with Dr Kesavaiah in the Zonal Research Station of University of Agricultural Sciences as planned, we had a long conversation with him on the phone after returning to Bangalore.
The current situation
At present, there does not seem to be a ready list or register of all jaggery units – functioning right now, as well as defunct ones. To create one such list in itself a useful exercise for the government to take up.
Employment: Each jaggery unit on an average supports around 10 workers. If the unit is run round-the-clock, it would require two shifts for day and night operations and the numbers could be upto 25 then. Just Mandya’s 5000 units could support 125000 persons. And if run for 180 days as most units do, that is 2.25 crore person-days. MGNREGS, any one?? That’s the potential in any case. It is reported that there was a time when there was large influx of labourers on a seasonal basis from other neighboring districts into the aalamanes of Mandya taluka.
At a conservative estimate of currently operational 500 units, with 10 workers each, for 6 months of functioning, these aalamanes can still provide 9 lakh days of employment.
The workers are not paid daily wages these days but are paid a piece rate per quintal of jaggery produced. The average earnings per day in the currently-running units seems to work out to Rs. 250/-. However, we also found that several workers would have borrowed large amounts (interest-free) from Aalamane owners at their time of need and working now to repay the same.
The person who is watching over the vats and deciding when to pour out the concentrated, semi-liquid jaggery onto the drying pans gets paid higher than the others for the extra skills he brings, for watching over the vats continuously and for adding various chemicals at different times.
Sugarcane Absorption/Market: Our informants told us that nearly 4 lakh quintals of jaggery is produced in the district, which means an absorption capacity of nearly 5 lakh tons of sugarcane by these jaggery units. This could work out to 1000 tons of cane per aalemane (contrast this with the crushing capacity of 3500 tons per day in a sugar mill like the PSSK! There are 5-6 sugar mills in the district of Mandya, as opposed to 500 jaggery units; sugar mills account for at least 75% of the cane procurement).
If in their operational period of 6 months (normally) to 9 months (some units), each unit can absorb upto 1000 tons, that works out to cane from around 18 acres with the average productivity calculated at 55-60 tons per acre.
A typical sugar mill might cater to 10000 to 15000 sugarcane farmers, registered beforehand. If they require more cane, they will purchase from non-registered farmers too. On the other hand, the 500 Aalamanes can collectively take care of 10000 acres’ cane produce.
Economics of each unit:
The per day output of jaggery ranges from 5 quintals to 10 quintals per unit/aalemane which works during the day (not 24 hours). Over a period of at least 100 days (this is a conservative figure, after deducting holidays, while most units work for around 180 days), the average production per unit will be at least 60-70 tons of jaggery.
For every ton of sugarcane, there used to be a time when the varieties sown were suitable and the conversion rate to jaggery would be 10%, and therefore a quintal of jaggery. Now, it has come down to 7 to 9 quintals.
While jaggery price was around Rs. 3400/- per quintal last year, it has come down to Rs. 2400/- this year. The price offered for procuring one ton of sugarcane from cane farmers is Rs. 1600-1800/- by the jaggery units (far lower than the FRP – fair and remunerative price announced by CACP at Rs 2300/- this time). Only 800/- to 900/- rupees are offered to the farmer with the unit spending upto Rs.1000/ton directly for harvesting. After spending Rs.1600 to 1900/- for the key raw material which is sugarcane, the unit spends on labour costs, machine running costs (electricity and backup diesel in addition to maintenance costs) and some inputs in processing, which are mostly chemicals. The fuel for burning the vats of sugarcane juice is from the cane pulp or sippe. The crusher itself has to run on electricity or diesel pump. It is estimated that the cost of crushing a ton of sugarcane using electricity is around Rs. 100/- (lower than this, in fact), while using diesel costs upto Rs. 150-200/ton of cane (or 0.8 quintal of jaggery).
The labour cost works out to at least Rs. 300/quintal for the main team of workers, while the “bella” person (the expert at the vat) gets Rs.55/quintal as higher wages. It is worth noting that men and women are sometimes employed in equal numbers in these jaggery units, and also paid equal wages.
All in all, it is estimated that at least Rs. 2100/- are incurred on an average by the aalemane owner to produce one quintal of jaggery. When sold at Rs. 2400/- per quintal to traders in the APMC, it leaves a margin of upto Rs. 300/quintal of jaggery for the aalemane entrepreneur.
In one season of jaggery making, this is equal to a profit of 1.8 lakhs to 2.1 lakh rupees. However, price fetched depends on the quality of the jaggery made (texture, color, flavor etc. – not all lots come out uniformly and the timing of pouring out the concentrated juice or syrup onto the drying pan is very important). Further, any repairs and slowing down in the production processes affect these margins.
It is estimated that to set up a new unit of aalemane, it will cost around 40 lakh rupees as the initial investment cost including on the building, machines, vats etc.
Process of Jaggery Making: The process of jaggery making is much slower than the production of sugar in a sugar mill, of course.
The aalemane entrepreneur is very choosy about the farms from where cane is to be procured for jaggery making. The variety sown by the farmer (and its conversion rate) as well as nitrogen application (quantity applied and when applied) are carefully observed by the aalemane owner before deciding on whether a particular sugarcane farm is suitable for jaggery making or not.
The sugarcane is first crushed in a mechanized crusher. An outlet here pours out the juice into vats where the juice is kept on slow boil constantly for 6-7 hours. Once a certain consistency is obtained after evaporation, the semi-solid syrup is poured out onto flat receptacles which dry out/cool down the syrup. From here, jaggery is moved into either bucket or cube moulds before being dried further and packed.
Many harmful chemicals are used in jaggery making these days, ending up making it more dangerous to consume than sugar. These are mostly to give it a light golden color since consumers demand the same, as passed on by traders to the aalemanes. Hydrosulphate, safolate, soda, phosphoric acid etc., all go into the vats at some point of time or the other. In fact, ironically enough, some jaggery units are even adding sugar to jaggery making processes!
Another shortcoming being observed is that not all jaggery units maintain the requisite hygiene levels.
Nutritional value of Jaggery Vs. Sugar: In jaggery making, all the ingredients in sugarcane remain intact – it is mainly the moisture content that is removed and nothing else is removed; in the case of sugar, it is mainly sucrose whereas there are more constituents remaining in jaggery.
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE NOW
It clearly appears that there are many win-win possibilities in moving the jaggery units in the right direction. For this, the following are needed:
TECHNICAL UPGRADATION OF JAGGERY MAKING: This is about both the process as well as the machinery/infrastructure. It appears that improvements in jaggery production with technical upgradation and non-chemical processes are a must and this is quite possible. The VC Farm/ZRS of UAS-Bangalore has in fact outsourced its facility to an organic sugarcane and jaggery production group this year. The scientists will guide them in chemical-free jaggery making. The technical upgradation can be centred around greater extraction of juice (which is only around 50% right now, reportedly, and can be improved upto 70%); better hygiene in the entire preparation; drudgery-reduction; dryer technology and fuel use efficiency being improved; better moulds and so on. This might mean an investment of at least 10 lakh rupees per aalemane, which will mean 50 crores’ investment. However, it would be well worth doing so, from the government. It could be a combination of state government resources and funds from the Ministry of Food Processing which is today setting aside outlays for “mega food parks” and so on. It is felt that the benefits from such an upgradation are well worth it, in terms of employment generated, profits of the entrepreneurs which will have a positive effect in the rural economy, savings in electricity/diesel etc.
CONSUMER AWARENESS AROUND JAGGERY CONSUMPTION: Consumers should give up their dangerous ignorance around light-colored jaggery and their obsession with sugar, and should embrace wholeheartedly the goodness of non-chemical, traditional jaggery. The government needs to invest on consumer awareness campaigns for this. Ready markets could be created by the government purchasing and supplying jaggery in the PDS system rather than sugar; this of course requires great political will, given that the sugar barons are usually big political leaders.
FARMERS TO SHIFT TO AGRO-ECOLOGICAL SUGARCANE CULTIVATION: We need more farmers to step forward to adopt agro-ecological approaches in sugarcane production as demonstrated by stalwarts like Suresh Desai, with very low water consumption, high yields and intercropping. Once demand for good jaggery picks up amongst consumers, farmers will also find more avenues than non-functioning and non-paying sugar mills for their cane.
Even as several sugar mills are yet to start crushing this season, a drive around Pandavapura in Mandya shows that the jaggery units continue to run.
State government of Karnataka should create a Jaggery Revival Scheme which will involve consumer awareness around jaggery as a good sweetener; registration and extension support to jaggery making units in addition to financial investments of upto 10 lakh rupees per unit for better processing including drudgery reduction in aalamanes (while sugar mills are all about big capitalists, these aalemanes are about rural small entrepreneurs); and more support to farmers who adopt organic practices in sugarcane production that has to result in dramatic reduction in water and chemical consumption with yield improvements. The Ministry of Food Processing in the Government of India, instead of coming up with only mega food park schemes should focus on these kinds of cottage industry which will provide rural employment, rural enterprise development and also marketing avenues for farmers in deep trouble. All of this is possible, provided there is a will to tackle the crisis.
- Kavitha Kuruganti is Convenor of ASHA (Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture)
A post-script will be written to this, centred around recommendations around sugar mills’ revival, as per our key informants.
It is interesting to note how farm suicides are made into a public debate every now and then – whether it is YS Rajasekhar Reddy who took out a padayatra mainly on this issue and then got elected to power or Chandrababu Naidu picking up the same issue years later as his poll plank; about the criticism heaped on Siddaramaiah now, or the controversy over farmer Gajendar Singh Rajput’s death during an AAP rally in Delhi’s Jantar Mantar. It is also interesting to see how no medium and long term issues are ever addressed even if a debate does take place with some concern towards farmers and their livelihoods. Meanwhile, even as the Karnataka government is desperately acknowledging the increasing spate of farm suicides under the relentless glare of media coverage day after day, the real game that all governments play is that of discounting of the phenomenon of farm suicides. Acknowledging farm suicides is political suicide for any government.
In several states, for instance, the committees that go to inquire into particular cases of suicides, make it an express point in categorising as few cases as possible into this strange category called “genuine” suicides. Traveling in Yavatmal in December 2014, I came across a widow and her son in a dilapidated house in a village which has been partially relocated with only some families continuing to live in a dying, ruined village – the husband had committed suicide but they were not paid any ex-gratia essentially because the farmer has been good with his repayments of loans in the bank! The records said that he used to repay regularly – the Committee concluded therefore that his suicide had nothing to do with agrarian distress and was a “non-genuine” suicide!!
The latest changes in the annual reporting of Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India (ADSI) by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) appears to be another such attempt at doctoring the data by presenting it in newer categories of data (capturing and) presentation, and obfuscating the real picture. The NCRB process of capturing the data makes a distinction between farmers / cultivators and agricultural labourers. Farmers include those who own and work on field (viz. cultivators) as well as those who employ/hire workers for field work/farming activities. It excludes agricultural labourers. The farmer suicides being reported are therefore only of cultivators in 2014.
What this sort of classification misses out on is the seamless connections between these two categories of people in agriculture: if the economy of a farmer is affected in any way, would not the economy of the agricultural labourer be affected, the employment prospects, the wage payments etc.?? Are we not familiar with the fact that most marginal holders are also agricultural labourers? Will natural disasters and losses in farming not leave their impact on agricultural labourers? Do we not know that agricultural labourers also lease in land and take up cultivation sometimes only seasonally? Where do women fall in all of this, given that land ownership is not in their name and very often, they are de-facto workers in their spouse’s land? While this is the issue with this broad categorisation of farmers vis-a-vis agricultural labourers, when it comes to classifying the suicides along different reasons for the suicide, the NCRB again misses out on the fact that the reasons are not water-tight and isolated; the proximal cause when reported is also sometimes contradictory between the family’s reporting and the neighbors’ or panchayat’s reporting. Indebtedness and Farming Related Issues are related, of course; when “farming related issues” remain, can debt be dealt with effectively by a farm household? Won’t family problems increase when there is debt? Importantly, won’t health get impacted when there are farming related issues? What about “Other Causes” and what gets classified there? How can all these be exclusive categories of ‘reasons’??
With the number of farmer suicides pegged at just half of the number of farmer suicides in 2013, this ADSI 2014 report states that farmer suicides accounted for just 4.3% of total suicide victims in the country. This is of course something that a ruling party will take credit for, whereas this is just jugglery with data.
The ADSI findings themselves have to be understood in a context where not all suicides are actually reported and recorded. Therefore, these numbers are not an accurate picture of actual number of suicides that take place in the country, but are good enough as indication of the extent of incidence and prevalence of suicides in different age groups, regions, sexes, professions etc.
The NCRB announced that in this year’s (2014) report, instead of 12 proformae that were being used to present findings, 24 newly developed proformae have been used. Based on this, the report concludes that “a total of 5650 farmers have committed suicides during 2014“. Out of 5,650 farmers’ suicides, 5,178 were male farmers and 472 were female farmers. The highest incidents of 2,568 farmers’ suicides in Maharashtra, followed by 898 suicides in Telangana and 826 in Madhya Pradesh were reported during 2014, accounting for 45.5%, 15.9% and 14.6% respectively of total such suicides. ‘Bankruptcy or Indebtedness’ and ‘Family problems’ are major causes of farmer suicides, accounting for 20.6% and 20.1% respectively of total farmer suicides during 2014. The other prominent causes of farmer suicides were ‘Farming Related Issues’ (17.2%), ‘Failure of Crop’ (16.8%) and ‘Illness’ (13.2%). Percentage share of farmers as per land holding status revealed that 41.8% marginal farmers, 25.2% medium farmers, 22.5% small farmers and 2.3% large farmers have committed suicides in country during 2014. Small farmers and marginal farmers together accounted for 72.4% (4,095 out of 5,650) total farmer suicides.
Farmers belonging to 30 years – below 60 years of age group have accounted for 65.7% of total farmer suicides during 2014.
Amongst the suicide victims, 24.6% in Maharashtra, 14.3% each in Jammu & Kashmir & Sikkim, 14.0% in Telangana, 13.3% each in Chhattisgarh & Madhya Pradesh and 10.4% in Andhra Pradesh were self-employed in agriculture activities. However, a total of 4,004 such persons have committed suicides in Maharashtra followed by 1,347 in Telangana, and 1,198 in Madhya Pradesh during 2014.
While the above are numbers for suicides amongst “self employed in agriculture”, a total of 2,568 farmers’ suicides were reported in Maharashtra followed by 898 such suicides in Telangana and 826 suicides in Madhya Pradesh, accounting for 45.5%, 15.9% and 14.6% respectively of total farmer suicides during 2014. Chhattisgarh (443 suicides) and Karnataka (321 suicides) accounted for 7.8% and 5.7% respectively of the total farmer suicides reported in the country. These 5 States together accounted for 89.5% of the total farmer suicides (5,056 out of 5,650) reported in the country during 2014.
While only 4.3% of suicides are classified as farmers’ suicides by NCRB, 12360 persons ‘self-employed’ in Agriculture committed suicide. This is then 9.4% of total suicides being in Agriculture in terms of profession. It is not clear what another category called “Daily Wage Earners” consists of with NCRB explaining this as one excluding agricultural labourer (with 12% of all suicides), but amongst all other professions, ones in Agriculture account for 9.4% which is the highest.
It is worth noting that in the overall incidence of suicides in 2014, “bankruptcy or indebtedness” constituted only 1.8 per cent share amongst various causes of suicides (which it was 20.6% when it comes to farmer suicides). That itself is a major statement on the agrarian distress.
Like discussed above, recording the proximal causes is problematic, and the various “reasons” chosen to be listed by NCRB are actually inter-connected and not water-tight.
What would actually help is if each case of suicide under the profession “Agriculture” triggers an inquiry process by a team which also includes civil society representatives and sociologist/social worker. Rather than classify each case as “genuine” and “non-genuine” for selecting “eligible” cases for ex-gratia, the government should acknowledge all cases of agricultural suicides to begin with.
In terms of immediate interventions, property titles that are due to the spouse should be transferred in her/his name and all loans written off against a given farmer’s name in case of suicide. For ensuring that the successors’ enterprise of farming is viable, agricultural credit and marketing support should be arranged for all such cases, in addition to disaster insurance. Education of children, especially of girl children should be supported.
In terms of preventive measures, banks and other lenders should be pulled up for sending notices to farmers repeatedly and the assessment of the economic situation of a whole set of farmers can be made the responsibility of a facilitated gram sabha. The assessment so arrived at can be communicated to a bank so that they can desist from pursuing and pressurising farmers – after all, banks are not drawing their profits from agricultural credit and we are familiar with how “priority sector” lending is actually manipulated to give credit to others other than farmers. Similarly, no procurement agency can be allowed to get away without paying the farmer promptly and this includes sugar mills/factories as well as jaggery making units.
In terms of medium and long term measures, for preventing suicides and addressing agrarian crisis, ASHA has evolved a Kisan Swaraj Neeti – the need for guaranteeing minimum living incomes for all farm households is one of the key demands here. Low risk, low investment, low-external-input agriculture holds great promise in mitigating indebtedness and distress of farm households. There is an urgent need to revamp crop insurance and disaster relief systems in Indian farming and we need innovative solutions on this front which cover all farmers and not just the insured.
KERALA’S FOOD SECURITY ARMY
This trip was somehow getting postponed for some reason or the other for nearly three years now! It was in early 2011 in an internal meeting of ASHA in Wardha that Sridhar Radhakrishnan of Thanal shared about the Green Army concept that was emerging in Kerala – we were talking about how we need to create win-win situations for farmers and agricultural workers for farming to sustain itself. While this does not mean that one gives up on the need for land reforms in favour of the landless, it is also a recognition that given the severe agrarian crisis in Indian agriculture right now, we need to evolve interim win-win solutions too – ones that help collectivise agricultural workers, reduce their drudgery, improve their earnings, give them an enterprise too which is not risky (the farmer’s enterprise is risky in any case!), and most importantly, give them a status and dignity that they want.
It was all very exciting to hear Sridhar share some details about the Green Army in the Wardha meeting, and since then, there have been several attempts at visiting Thrissur and Wadakancherry, the locations where this Food Security Army concept is being actualized.
My colleague Ananthoo and I made it at short notice without much planning and we are grateful to all the various people connected with the Food Security Army and Green Army who still took us around, spent time with us and shared as much information as they could.
So, what is the Food Security Army?
When we told our auto rickshaw person that we want to go to the Agricultural Research Station (ARS), Mannuthy, he wanted to know which of the two stations we wanted to visit. As soon as we mentioned Prof U Jaikumaran’s name – the agricultural scientist who is in charge of Mannuthy ARS – his face lit up and he pulled the auto off the highway and called up Prof Jaikumaran directly and found out some details about where to come etc. This itself was an unusual thing to encounter….
As soon as one walks into Prof Jaikumaran’s office, the image of a highly disciplined and organized person gets reinforced. The entire ARS has very good signage all over. Everything in his office is properly arranged with no sign of disarray in anything, whether it is the stacks of files on the tables, what is placed on the walls or where various other things are located. The famous military discipline at work! ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’ are prominently written on two walls behind him.
The story goes back to 1993 when Prof Jaikumaran’s station acquired a paddy transplanting machine from China. It has to be noted that Prof Jaikumaran himself is an agronomist and not an agricultural engineer. In a situation like Kerala, where there is acute shortage of labour for farming, where more and more land is being kept fallow in addition to being diverted away from food production, where one of the reasons for such fallowisation is also the dearth of timely labour availability, having a machine which can sow paddy seedlings in half an acre in one hour’s time, with half a liter of diesel and at a cost of Rs. 75000/- per machine, it seemed like one important solution to the region’s problems. Prof Jaikumaran went ahead and organized a training on how to use the machine. He also gave the machine to farmers to use after the training, rather than keep it as a museum piece (which many machines in various agri-varsities appear to be, incidentally). He did not leave it at that either. He then organized one more follow up session for reviewing the performance of the machine in the field and got confronted by many questions by the farmers who used it – yields from machine-transplanting vis-à-vis manual transplanting, seed type/genotype, spacing, nursery-raising, spare parts and servicing, repairs and maintenance – were all issues placed on the table. He went about addressing these systematically, by studying all these parameters in carefully conducted research for three more years. And the University came out with a recommended Package of Practices after that. However, the question of popularization with farmers was still unaddressed.
This is where Prof Jaikumaran showed himself to be different from other agriculture scientists. This is where the unusual story begins. As the story unfolds, the painstaking work of one man called Prof Jaikumaran, of trying to take forward many of his innovative ideas towards actualization, gets apparent. Social justice issues start getting woven in, and every opportunity seized, to make several concepts real, and to improve several livelihoods.
Usually, agriculture scientists think that their job is over when research is done, a paper published or a PoP (package of practices) put out. However, Prof Jaikumaran, — who was bubbling with enthusiasm to contribute to Kerala’s agricultural economy, to its youth and their employment potential, to the food security of the state, to empower women and take up skill-building and to elevate human labour to lend it dignity and a noble status, — decided to take the initiative to its logical end.
In late 2003, he took up a 22-day training to popularize the use of transplanters, and with this, added in some social issues – all the 19 trainees were from 2 Kudumbashree units from Kodakara and Tholur Panchayats. It was apparent to him by then that the training has to be followed up by not just subsidized provision of machines, but also maintenance and repair services, in addition to ensuring that trainees worked as collectives or ‘battalions’.
The first training was on the ‘hardware’ of the machine (transplanter) wherein the trainees get to know every part by disassembling the machine completely and reassembling it, and on the ‘software’ of agricultural practices to be adopted.
It was seen that the training increased the confidence of the women trainees tremendously. Follow up was ensured to see if the trainees are able to work as ‘units’ or collectives.
This is how the journey began – over the years, the main elements that got emphasized in the creation of the “Food Security Army” or “Bhakshya Suraksha Sena” (training modules were usually 18 to 22 day long) are:
- Dignity and ‘nobility’ to agricultural labour – in fact, the term labour is not used since it usually denotes an undignified status, unfortunately.
- Reduction or removal of drudgery in agricultural operations, as well as ensuring health and life security in such operations.
- Social Security for the members of the Army – this includes contributory provident fund, a welfare fund for interest-free or easy loans and insurance (life, accident and medical).
- Service Provision by the ‘Army’ – it is not wages that they earn, but service charges for the professionalized, skilled and disciplined services rendered to the farmers.
The FSA became well known with a challenge that it undertook in 2009, called Operation Ponnamutha, of transplanting in ten days’ time 1733 acres of wetlands below sea level (a Ramsar site in Thrissur district) by deploying 9 ‘regiments’ of 24 ‘battalions’ of trained/skilled workers into action. 9 regiments got into a contract of Rs. 5 lakhs each for taking this up. Each battalion had 7 persons at that time. For 45 lakh rupees’ contract, this Food Security Army of 168 people managed to do their contracted job in 5 days’ time. To help with this huge challenge, mobile repair and servicing units, food catering units, monitoring units for coordinating and monitoring the implementation of the contract, temporary toilets especially for women, changing rooms/temporary sheds, medical kits and services were all pressed into service. At Rs. 3000/ per acre, the regiments delivered their commitment on nursery-raising, transplanting and gap filling and earned profits for themselves.
The entire effort therefore consists of the following pathway:
Step 1: Careful selection of trainees for the Food Security Army basic training modules as well as Master Trainers’ training module (these are usually trainees sponsored by Kudumbashree collectives, or Panchayats, or Padasekhara Samithis (paddy farmers’ collectives, also defined so in the ‘Kerala Conservation of Paddy Land and Wetland Act 2008’). Each such training costs around Rs. 15000/- in all, and there are different modules.
Step 2: Training imparted with a lot of emphasis on practical experiential learning, which also tries to imbue the trainees with a revolutionary spirit, about their contribution to the nation and invests on confidence-building. Work ethics, dress code, discipline and punctuality are all emphasized upon. A passing out parade is also organized to give visibility to the effort and to recognize the skill-building that has taken place.
Step 3: Formation of AMOSCs or Agro-Machinery Operation Service Centers which are collectives of agricultural workers, organized in various models of hierarchy (referred to as Battalions or Regiments by Prof Jaikumaran, and referred to as Groups and Teams elsewhere, for instance) – these are usually registered as Charitable Societies. These could be new Cooperatives, or SHGs and in some cases, individual entrepreneurs working with their teams of employees.
Step 4: Renting the machinery at very nominal prices (by Panchayats or Primary Agricultural Credit Cooperative Societies, usually, which make the investment to purchase the appropriate machinery) to the AMOSCs, who in turn start service provision to farmers and Padasekhara Samithis. Service provision charges are fixed for various agricultural operations, with most of the work concentrated on paddy transplanting. Some AMOSCs additionally provide ploughing, weeding and harvesting services also. However, post-harvest processing and value addition services are yet to be added to this effort.
Step 5: Continuing some support to the AMOSCs in setting up their institutions properly with High Powered Committees advising, and governance structures put into place etc. Further, repair and maintenance services are provided by various mobile units set up, in addition to spare parts kept readily available with the University’s ARS also. Some AMOSCs have reached a stage where they have in-house teams for this, including women professionals who have been trained for the purpose. This institutional side to the effort is indeed important if other aspects related to making this a viable labour bank, or professional service provision enterprise, which also includes workers’ welfare and social security rights, are to be upheld. There is also a mechanism of sharing of profits after decisions related to ploughing back into the Centre for more machinery purchase, or more asset building are taken care of.
While this is the basic model of the creation and work of Food Security Army, Prof Jaikumaran kept adding many innovations as and when the need arose. He has kept his ears tuned to feedback from experience on the ground, and kept improvising and improving the model. The following are the additional elements:
- Having a mobile training unit, in addition to having trainees come to the ARS campus; here, the mobile training unit goes with the machines to the villages – however, it has been seen that coming to the campus is more conducive to imparting the training. Trainees themselves feel so and have opted for on-campus training.
- Having a mobile service and maintenance unit which goes to various AMOSCs as and when required and scheduled.
- Having a spare parts bank ready in the ARS so that no time is wasted for replacements when needed. This also takes care of cash flow issues as far as the AMOSCs are concerned, at times.
- Building a cadre of AMOSEs (Agro Machinery Operations Service Executives) with 6 month or one year apprenticeships.
- Scaling out the model out of Thrissur (which had 40 Centres running with the ARS’s efforts, along with interested Panchayats, Kudumbashree groups and Service Cooperative Banks) to such Service Centres all over the State. From 2012 onwards, the Government of Kerala has been announcing some budgetary provision for Food Security Army incrementally all over the state. In 2012 alone, 20 crore rupees have been allocated for 35 Agro Service Centres, with each Centre getting an investment of Rs. 32 lacs. Within the 32 lacs, 25 lac rupees are spent on machinery, 2 lakhs for office running costs, 3 lakhs are revolving fund and 2 lakh rupees for paying the salary of a Facilitator who is usually a retired agriculture department official. As the story of Green Army in Wadakancherry described later in this note tells you, this is an initial investment that does allow the enterprise to take off successfully without the need for further infusion of funds. 14 of these Service Centres have been marked as Model Service Centres. Each year, the budget has been adding more and more centres all over Kerala. The High Powered Committee for each Service Centre has the Block Panchayat President as the Chair with the ADA as the Convenor. These Committees have AMOSC office bearers, panchayat (current and former) office bearers, agriculture department officials, service cooperative bank officials etc., as members.
- An “Organic Force” or “Jaivam Amrutham” battalion will be created soon – these members will be trained in organic farming practices and have right now taken up 73 acres of certified organic farming. The target is 30000 hectares in the coming years for the Organic Force. These will also be shaped as bio-input producers and sellers.
- A “Barren Land Cultivation Force” has also been created for bringing back fallow lands into cultivation, which uses additional machines and takes up additional operations.
- A National Centre of Excellence for this model is being proposed now.
- Harvesting operations which also take care of baling of straw and supply to livestock rearers are also undertaken. Here, straw baling machines are deployed, where the farmer is charged Rs. 23/- per bale by the AMOSC. In turn, the farmer can earn Rs. 72/- for an average of 12 kgs of straw @ Rs.6/kg. At 500 bales or so per day, the AMOSC earns at least Rs. 11 per bale as its net earnings.
- Today, AMOSCs could have transplanters, tillers, threshers, harvesters, weeders etc. Some are getting into producing and selling bio-inputs, vegetable seedlings, other nurseries, soil testing labs, tissue culture, counseling etc.
- A Coconut Crown Force has also been created, in addition to a “Tractor Regiment”.
- A Green Cadet Corps module and unit have also been piloted in one school – here, a module for 50 weeks a year has been created, for the Saturday of each week to be devoted by the GCC students to cultivate their own crops, assisted by the school in terms of leased land or land in the campus. Students keep meticulous records of what they have grown, growth of the crop, practices adopted, results etc. and share the same while passing out.
- A Garden Force for urban landscaping, and for assisting urban gardeners is being shaped at present. Similarly, a Water Security Force for efficient water harvesting is also being planned.
- A Food Security Army Service Training College is also on the anvil!
This model of Food Security Army (FSA) is indeed a win-win proposition in a state like Kerala (a) where the market wage rates for ‘unskilled’ workers (what is called as unskilled) is around Rs. 400/woman-day and Rs. 600 to Rs. 750/man-day, (b) where there is acute labour shortage especially when there are time-bound operations like paddy transplanting involved. A farmer typically spends around ten thousand rupees at least, per acre, for paddy transplanting (25 person-days/acre).
In the FSA model, the farmer places an order for a given area of land to be transplanted on a given day, with a given seed variety. The seeds are selected by the farmer, germinated and then provided to the AMOSC’s designated people. Thereafter, the AMOSC raises mat nurseries carefully, to suit the machine’s requirements. At Rs. 3500/ per acre, raising of the nurseries, transplanting of an acre after 15 days of raising the nursery and any gap-filling is taken up by the AMOSC. For the farmer, this is already a savings of around Rs. 6500/- per acre at least (in addition to not having to deal with the hassle of growing a nursery of seedlings).
From its side, the AMOSC deploys a team of 5-7 skilled workers who can do transplanting on 2.5 acres per day fetching around nine thousand rupees. The actual expenditure is on wages to the members, diesel for the machine, as well as food and conveyance costs paid to the members. Typically, this could add up to five thousand rupees at the most. The remaining earnings are earmarked for running the enterprise (office space, some employees etc.), for social security and welfare fund of the members and to invest on asset acquisition. Depending on the number of machines and membership in the labour bank of the AMOSC, a typical transplanting season could fetch a profit of 3 to 4 lakh rupees, after all the above costs are met!
Typically, 30% of the service charges earned are kept for depreciation of machinery (10%), working fund (10%) and social security for members (10%). Profits are shared equally or re-invested on asset acquisition including new machines.
Latha Raveendran, a successful FSA entrepreneur:
We had an opportunity to meet Latha Raveendran (an organic farmer and an Agro Service Centre entrepreneur from Mullur village of Tholur Panchayat), who was an office bearer in a Kudumbashree group, before getting trained as a FSA member. She was one of the first trainees. Her model is that of an individual entrepreneur who benefited from the training and machinery she received, who today owns 7 different machines. She provided transplanting services on 4300 acres last year, by charging Rs. 3000/acre through her Sivasakthi Agro Service Centre. The work is staggered all over the year, over seven months or so in different areas, and she does not find time to provide services other than transplanting mainly. The demand is more than what she can cater to, she says.
She employs 27 women and 17 men and is herself a trainer for others. Her first machine (a transplanter) came as a donation from the padasekhara samithi of her village. Later, 2 more machines were donated by the Parappur Service Cooperative Bank. The ownership rests with the Padasekhara Samithi or the bank, and she gets to rent in the machines at a nominal Rs. 50/day/machine. She now has 3 transplanting machines, as well as a harvester, brush cutter and sprayer. She admits that the first two years were of losses, given that they did not know how to maintain the machines properly and there were not many orders when the machines became idle. After Operation Ponnamutha in 2009, she made profits and invested in more machines.
A team of 5-7 persons works together and transplants on two to four acres each day. She pays Rs. 750/- to the male employees and gets them to work longer hours per day. She also pays for food and transportation/conveyance. For women, she pays Rs. 400/day. There is insurance cover for all her employees, in addition to welfare fund that is utilized for weddings and other needs in the family.
She herself does ‘precision farming’ in nethouse on leased in land (7 acres) using only organic methods and inputs. Marketing is not an issue since her Panchayat as well as the Parappur Service Cooperative Bank organize markets regularly where she gets to sell. She proudly shared with us that her skills with the machines are so good now that she has trained 6 Master Trainers in Wadakancherry, and can also give instructions for repair and servicing over phone when people seek her assistance. Her Service Centre gets orders from other districts also, and she was on her way to a neighboring district that morning, when we requested some time from her to learn from her experience.
GREEN ARMY IN WADAKANCHERRY
Here, the Agro Machinery Service Centre took the form of a Charitable Society, which calls itself the Green Army Labour Bank. We were fortunate to have interactions with Anoop Kishore, the President of the Peringandur Service Cooperative Bank whose brainchild the Green Army has been; Raveendran, a retired agriculture officer who is now employed by the Green Army and Mr Aravindakshan, the President of the Green Army. The Green Army has been in existence for 7 years now, and has 300 members. In the first year, to overcome the hesitation and skepticism from farmers, they did free transplanting for educating farmers.
Here, “Teams” of 5 members each (one Leader, one Deputy Leader and 3 Helpers) are formed, and 5 Teams are together clubbed to be a “Group”. There are 164 women in the army base of 300 members. There are 10 Group Leaders, out of which 3 are women. There is also an in-house Mechanical Team and the team leader is a woman. There are differential payments for different members in the hierarchy of the Green Army, depending on the skills and grading that they receive each year. Some are paid on a daily wage basis while some others get a monthly salary. However, all workers have a pension cover, a welfare fund that they can dip into and insurance (life/medical/accident).
Green Army office takes orders from Padasekhara Samithis before the season begins. They not only provide transplanting services, but also de-weeding, trainings in other blocks including in programmes like Mahila Kisan Sashaktikaran Pariyojana, harvesting etc.
The Green Army has 67 transplanters, with 52 of these owned by the Block Panchayat and 15 by the Bank. The Green Army acts as the “custodian” of these machines, and pays 5% of the profits to the owner institutions. 84% of the earnings go to pay Green Army members directly. Another 16% goes into running costs including rent for the office space, office costs and salaries of 7 employees etc. They have an office in Athani town, and also have a training centre and a machine yard.
The governance is in the hands of one Executive Committee and a High Powered Committee. The Green Army has not made any losses so far, and has made annual profits of 3 to 5 lakh rupees on an average.
WHAT SEEM TO BE CRITICAL ELEMENTS HERE….
- The initial provision of investment on machines by a Panchayat or a Bank seems very important – if a new AMOSC has to start borrowing money to invest in purchase of machines, they might take more time to establish themselves, be able to share profits and benefits with all members etc.
- The coordination and convergence between various agencies: The agriculture university which is providing skill-building trainings through the Mannuthy ARS and forwarding the Food Security Army concept; the agriculture department which supplies seeds to farmers; the Panchayats and the Agriculture Credit Cooperative Societies/Cooperative Banks; Kudumbashree set up; the Padasekhara Samithis which place the orders and from where the demand is mainly created for the Army services, and the AMOSC units whichever shape they take (individual entrepreneur, SHG, cooperative, charitable society etc.) are working in close coordination with each other. This is very critical for the success of the initiatives.
- Diversification into various agricultural operations and services – this also seems to be important, especially to cross-subsidise new initiatives within a labour bank until the new operation breaks even.
SO, IS THIS ABOUT FARM MECHANISATION AND DISPLACEMENT OF LABOUR?
The applicability and relevance of this model in the context of Kerala is very much apparent and obvious. In a situation of labour shortage and high wage rates, collectivization of workers; skilling them; improving their earnings; lending dignity and respectable identity (the badges and logos and uniforms are very striking); providing social security; reducing their drudgery and improving their efficiency through appropriate scale of machines (big machines have been repeatedly shunned as was witnessed by us, whatever the machine might be) are all very much needed. They are certainly creating a win-win situation for farmers and workers in terms of cordial and respectful relations as well as economics.
However, the applicability of this concept in a situation where agri-labour supply is high, and agri-labour is available at low wage rates, is somewhat questionable – mechanization that displaces labour from farm operations is certainly not advisable and desirable in such situations.
Prof Jaikumaran feels that even there, there are possibilities with some variations applied – for instance, by skilling agricultural workers and bringing in appropriate machinery (the stress is on drudgery reduction and not labour replacement), their wage rates can be improved.
For instance, where a farmer spends around 4000 rupees per acre for transplanting in places where wage rates are far lower than in Kerala (let us say, 150 to 170 rupees a day), a unit of 5 FSA Members can still earn Rs. 3000 to Rs.4000/day for transplanting on 2 acres at a charge of only Rs. 1500-2000/acre. This is still a saving for the farmer, and higher earnings for the worker. If there is a system of staggering of work orders between the workers (the membership base has to be wider), with everyone getting an opportunity to work at some point, and earning on a given day more than they would get over several days, it would also bring in leisure time into their lives.
The FSA idea is being explored now in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. It has to be seen how norms around “appropriate mechanization” can be enforced so that labour displacement does not become the norm unthinkingly.
For now, it is clear that states like Kerala, Punjab, Haryana etc., can benefit from the FSA model.
In other states, without the machinery aspects of the FSA model coming into the picture, the other aspects related to collectivization of workers, skill-building to improve work efficiency and reduce drudgery through appropriate tools and implements, professionalization of services and increased wage rates, social security etc., can all be emulated. It would still be a win-win for farmers and workers.
The official website is: www.foodsecurityarmy.org
Total number of trainings/batches so far (June 2015): 190; 2544 men and 1809 women inducted into the Army so far.
http://rkvy.nic.in/download/RKVY_Sucess_Story/Kerala/Food_Security_Army.pdf is the initial investment that went into this idea.
http://www.keralaagriculture.gov.in/APS_2014-2015/wi_2014_pdf/1401.pdf is now Kerala government’s ‘mainstreaming’ of this idea.