Kerala’s Food Security Army: a win-win for farmers and agricultural workers

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….

IMG_20150625_105938782_HDRAs 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!

ECONOMICS

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:

IMG_20150626_093134293We 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

IMG_20150626_104235927Here, 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).

IMG_20150626_105646280Green 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.IMG_20150626_123748413

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….

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

ps:

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.

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How are we to believe that NDA is interested in farm livelihoods?

Look at Budget 2015-16. The processes of shaping a serious budget began months ago, we were told, while 2014-15 budget was a make-do arrangement when the government got formed, in June 2014.

It is preposterous that budget allocations for Ministry of Agriculture have actually been reduced, that too to levels less than 2011-12 (5 years ago!), when it comes to agriculture and cooperation. While organic farming in the name of Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana received 300 crores, this is nothing compared to what needs to be allotted, or what has been taken away! How are we to believe that this government has farmer interests in its agenda at all? Soon after forming the government, the farm income insurance scheme was publicized as a major measure that will be introduced – look at the allocations in this 2015-16 budget for this, and you will realise how serious or not this government is about farm incomes. The hyped talk about livestock and animal husbandry takes a beating if you look at 2015-16 budget allocations, vis-à-vis what the UPA government had in 2011-12.

Ministry/Departments 2011-12 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15* 2015-16
Ministry of Agriculture (Plan & Non Plan) 24176.72 27931.59 29772.83 31062.64 24909.78
Dept of Agriculture & Cooperation (DAC) 17522.87 20530.22 21933.50 22652.25 17004.35
Dept of Agricultural Research & Education (DARE) 4957.87 5392.00 5729.17 6144.39 6320.00
Dept of Animal Husbandry, Dairying & Fisheries 1696.25 2009.37 2110.16 2266.30 1585.43

REAL SITUATION OF AGRI-HOUSEHOLDS IN INDIA

The 70th Round of NSSO, for only the second time in the history of independent India, sought to capture the situation with regard to agricultural households in India. Admittedly, comparison with the first such survey (59th Round in 2003) is tricky given that the definition of what constitutes a “farm household” as given in the earlier round, and the definition of an “agricultural household” in this round are different.

While some authors are interpreting the findings to mean that we are on the right track of development with agriculture supposedly playing a diminishing role in the economy (‘Rural is Not Equal To Agriculture’, they say, with only 57.8% of rural households defined as agricultural households by the latest NSSO survey, with only 63.5% of these agri-households reporting cultivation as their principal source of income, and with only 59% of their income amount coming from cultivation and livestock), I would like to draw the readers’ attention to how this might not be the case. In 2003, incidentally, 60% of rural households were engaged in ‘farming activity’ and classified as farmer households by the definition deployed by NSSO then – not vastly different from the 58% figure in this round, with a definitional change at that. Let us also remember that the 70th Round findings have come around the time when we hear of the Intelligence Bureau filing a report to the Prime Minister on farmer suicides being on the rise, and how agrarian distress needs a comprehensive solution and not just short-term measures.

Two other data sets are pointing to why more attention needs to be paid to Agriculture, irrespective of how irrelevant it has become in terms of its contribution to the national GDP – the 68th Round of NSSO data on employment (Jul 2011-Jun 2012) and Census 2011. As per the 68th Round, 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. 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. Given all of this, it may not be completely appropriate to see positive signs from the latest findings.

What is worrisome is the trend discernible between 2003 and 2013 (59th and 70th Rounds). Only 29% were aware about MSP (Minimum Support Price) in 2003; in 2013, it ranged between 2.5% to 39.8% across crops. Only 4% had ever insured their crops and 57% were unaware of crop insurance in 2003. In 2013, across crops, more than 90% of agricultural households had no crop insurance. Groundnut, soybean, cotton and green gram were small exceptions with figures hovering around 86% to 90% not having crop insurance.

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 were 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.

57% of farmer households were cultivators, going by the principal source of income in 2003. In 2013, it is 63.5% reporting cultivation as the main source of income. It is above national average in states like Telangana (86.8%), Chattisgarh (80.5%), Assam (76.7%), Madhya Pradesh (75.3%), Jharkhand (72.5%), Maharashtra (71.7%), Bihar (69.7%), Karnataka (69.4%), and Uttar Pradesh (65.2%).

The most worrisome aspect is around receipts and expenditure of agricultural households. National average monthly income of an agricultural household is estimated at Rs. 6426/-. This then means about Rs. 107/- daily earnings per adult, taking two adults per household. In most places, this would be below minimum wages prescribed for unskilled workers. Average monthly income from cultivation is reported to be: 47.9%; from livestock: 11.9%; from wage/salary: 32.2% and from non-farm business: 8% of this income estimated at Rs. 6426/month/household.

While some might attribute this to a corrupt PDS programme in India, the above figures of income are actually corroborated by the fact that 4.9% of agricultural households have Antyodaya ration cards, and 36.4% BPL cards. 12.3% have no ration cards. This then could be the impoverishment that we have subjected our Anna Daatas to, the ones partaking in the food production processes in the country!

At the All-India level, across land size-classes, the average monthly income was Rs. 2115/- whereas the monthly expenditure of farm households was Rs. 2770/- in 2003. While it can be claimed that there is a marginal improvement in this situation in 2013 (average monthly income being slightly higher than average monthly expenditure at all-India level and cultivation and livestock farming contributing a higher share in monthly incomes compared to 2003), it is seen that things have worsened for the households in the lowest land size-classes when it comes to institutional coverage for credit needs.

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, as the table below reveals.

This is where there is an urgent need to focus on agricultural incomes in India. Governments have to make themselves accountable in all their interventions to deliver minimum living incomes for all agricultural households. The need to focus on the economic well-being of farmers was something that the Farmers’ Commission had emphasized upon, moving away from the excessive yield-centric interventions of the agriculture ministry.

It is not all that difficult to take up regular income assessment surveys for more focused interventions for different sizes of landholders, different regions and crops, using the findings. The proposed income insurance scheme by the NDA government is one good way forward, as long as the insurance is against minimum living incomes that have to accrue to each agri-household (not rolling averages of past 3 years of yield and price, as is being proposed). Arriving at such minimum living incomes need not pose a huge challenge either. Our experience at fixing minimum wages, as well as pay commission scales in other sectors shows that coming up with a workable formula is indeed possible.

 

Size Class of land possessed (Ha) % age of agri households,

Totaling 9.02 crores

Total Monthly Income (Rs) (with 2003 figures given in parenthesis from NSS report 497) Income from cultiva-tion and farming of animals & %age of total income (2003 figures in parenthesis, from NSS Report 497) Total Consumption Expenditure (Rs.)

(with 2003 figure given in parenthesis from NSS report 497)

Avg out-standing loan amount in Rs.

(2003 amounts, NSS Report 498)

%age of out-standing loan from institutional sources (2003 coverage in parenthesis, NSS report 498)
<0.01 2.64% or

23.9 lac HHs

4561/-

 

(1380/-)

1211/-: 26.55%

 

(75/-: 5.4%)

5108/-

 

(2297/-)

31,100

 

(6121)

14.90%

 

(22.6%)

0.01 to 0.40 31.86% Or 2.87 crore HHs 4152/-

 

(1633/-)

1308/-: 31.50%

 

(390/-: 23.8%)

5401/-

 

(2390/-)

23,900

 

(6545)

19.00%

 

(43.3%)

0.41 to 1.00 34.92% or

3.15 crore HHs

5247/-

 

(1809/-)

2774/-: 52.87%

 

(896/-: 49.5%)

6020/-

 

(2672/-)

35,400

 

(8623)

53.20%

 

(52.8%)

1.01 to 2.00 17.16% or

1.55 crore HHs

7348/-

 

(2493/-)

5027/-: 68.41%

 

(1680-: 67.4%)

6457/-

 

(3148/-)

54,800

 

(13762)

64.80%

 

(57.6%)

2.01 to 4.00 9.31% or

83.9 lac HHs

10730/-

 

(3589/-)

8520/-: 79.40%

 

(2742/-: 76.4%)

7786/-

 

(3685/-)

94,900

 

(23456)

67.50%

 

(65.1%)

4.01 to 10.00 3.72% or

33.5 lac HHs

19637/-

 

(5681/-)

16744/-: 85.27%

 

(4688/-: 82.5%)

10104/-

 

(4642/-)

182,700

 

(42532)

71.50%

 

(68.8%)

10.00+ 0.39%

(3.5 lac HHs)

41388

 

(9667/-)

38307/-: 92.56%

 

(8434/-: 87.5%)

14447

 

(6418/-)

290,300

 

(76232)

78.90%

 

(67.6%)

 

Meanwhile, supporting agri-households through appropriate price interventions continues to be a major measure for improving their situation. If the government takes proposals like price deficiency payments (where the difference between MSP and the actual price realized by the farmers is made good by direct payments, without this resulting in higher prices for consumers) seriously, in addition to a more expanded procurement including improving efficiency of such procurement and distribution, there is some hope for the millions who continue to toil to feed the nation.

There is also no getting away from the fact that crop insurance has to improve drastically in its design and implementation in the country, especially in this age of climate change. If we do not address these issues as a nation, the inter-sectoral disparity will be too stark, leaving behind too many people in the short and medium run, without any dignified alternatives being provided elsewhere for them.

 

  • Kavitha Kuruganti is a member of the GoI Committee on Fixing of Minimum Support Prices and National Convenor of Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA)

 

Whose Land Is It Anyway? (On women’s land ownership)

Whose land is it, anyway?

Kavitha Kuruganti

In a village in Maharashtra, a staggering 20 per cent of landowners are women. Are they the gamechangers or mere pawns in the system?

During a recent visit to Yavatmal district in Maharashtra for a commissioned study, I came across a couple of male farmers who claimed that in their villages about 20 per cent of the landowners were women. Having travelled in rural India for years now, and knowing that when it comes to women’s landownership, the norm is only around three to five per cent, I refused to believe their rather tall claims. Twenty per cent landownership by women is something that I have not seen in my decades of work, which had, incidentally, begun with Dalit women farmers in Medak district of Telangana. Their confident assertion, however, intrigued me and I promptly ended up going to one of the villages. This is about Tivsala village in Ghatanji block.

But first, here’s a brief background of the status of women’s work in India to put things in perspective. An overwhelming majority of Indian women recognised as ‘workers’ in official data are dependent on agriculture as their mainstay. In the Census, they are listed as Cultivators and Agricultural Labour. Many are also classified as unpaid helpers in the family enterprise under a category called ‘Self Employed’ by the NSSO (National Sample Survey Office), effectively making them unpaid tenants in their own family’s land.

Meanwhile, in the agriculture sector at present, there is a masculinisation as well as feminisation trend being witnessed in different parts of India. Yet, in both these phenomena — one, of men wielding more control than ever before, mainly due to integration with markets, and another, where women are left to run the agricultural enterprise by themselves — it’s the women who end up being marginalised without any formal entitlements as ‘farmers’. Of course, it is a well-recognised reality now that women’s invisibility and empowerment as farmers is strongly linked to their lack of ownership over land.

Much has been documented in micro-studies about the various benefits that accrue to a household, in terms of better education, health and so on, with women’s ownership over property like land. This is apart from the strategic empowerment that the woman herself could gain, for instance, allowing her a greater say in household-level decision-making. Women’s rights activists, feminist economists and others have for long been pointing out how important it is for women farmers to actualise their equal inheritance rights to land (apart from women’s control over property and assets in general). Five Year Plans of the Planning Commission have acknowledged the need to ensure women’s landownership and have promised measures like periodic updates of land records, creating awareness, special ‘inheritance camps’, computerisation of land records, and so on.

However, in a deeply-entrenched patriarchal system, not much changes on the ground. Even after debates and recommendations, the basic document on land ownership in most States does not even have a column to indicate whether a given landowner is a man or a woman. If the basic document does not contain this, there is no way to know at a larger level what the current status of women’s landownership in any given location is, unless the patwari or talati (lowest-ranking revenue officer appointed by the district collector) chooses to cull out information based on his (this is a male-dominated domain of work) first-hand information about each family in a village.

In Tivsala, I met many farmers in the village, including women who own land. We tried to list out the names of all the women landowners, and with great difficulty, estimated that about 17 per cent of its total landowners are women. A few days later, an enterprising farmer, who pulled out more accurate information from the talati, called back to share that the village has 341 pattedars in all, and 71 of them are women. That is around 21 per cent! From Pagandi, a neighbouring village, too, I received a call that out of 396 pattedars there, 59 were women — about 15 per cent.

Tivsala is a village that has a mixed social composition. Apart from Dalit, Muslim and Other Backward Classes (OBC) women, it also has families classified as scheduled tribes and nomadic tribes. Of the names that we were able to list out while sitting in the village, we started looking at each case to see why the land accrued to the woman in question. Apart from women who received land in their name because the family wanted to bypass land ceiling laws, and ones who got land due to widowhood (in equal proportion), a surprising shift had occurred in the recent past.

About five years ago, a new trend started, of men transferring a part of the land in the names of their wives, across different castes. This is done so that they can access government schemes and subsidies. The sprinkler irrigation scheme seems to be popular. These schemes can be availed only if a farmer has marginal or small holdings in the official classification. Splitting the family land allows the family to access these schemes, and this is the main incentive for the increasing land transfers in the name of women.

In addition to this, if a new piece of land is purchased by a couple, chances are high that the plot is registered in the name of the woman. Once again, pragmatic reasons like bypassing ceiling regulation and accessing schemes drive this decision. There was only one case that I came across in this village, of a father proudly announcing that he has registered his land in the name of both his daughter and son equally.

This village — and what has really changed for the women there — has to be studied more closely. I could glean that men continue to control everything on the farm front and are also in charge of marketing and income from sales, even though women put in more labour than men. Women who I met also said that this land will be passed on to their sons, not the daughters.

The impressive increase in landownership by women in a village like Tivsala was mostly for opportunistic reasons and was not in any way driven by women gaining more awareness about their rights, or men getting more sensitive about women’s due share. However, there is hope. While the transfer is happening for practical reasons, I can’t imagine how this won’t help women strategically, if they choose to assert themselves for equal rights as women and farmers.

Women’s Feature Service

(This article was published on August 22, 2014)

Why GEAC’s “recommendations” are a matter of concern

Prakash Javadekar tweeted recently, claiming that the recent GEAC go-ahead to 15 open air field trials of GMOs is only a recommendation and not a Government of India decision. This is a line uncannily similar to Moily’s when confronted by farmer unions. Who is the Minister kidding? GEAC recommends first, mostly following the RCGM’s recommendations; then applicants are supposed to get NOCs from state governments after which the permission letters are issued. In fact, GEAC’s recommendations are the first step in permitting trials. Well, for the ones who are following the GM debate closely, it is also clear that the GEAC meeting itself is a GOI decision, whatever the Minister might claim!

Why are the recent approvals a matter of concern? For several reasons. (Read this along with my presentation on the (hi)story of GMO field trials in India here)

Here is yet another government which is choosing to ignore the fact that the Supreme Court is right now hearing a PIL and is on the verge of giving its verdict, based on recommendations provided by a Technical Expert Committee (TEC) that the Court set up. This TEC majority report has asked for open-air trials to be stopped. In fact, this report points to no place at all for entertaining applications related to Bt food crops, herbicide tolerant GM crops and crops for which we are the Cente of Origin/Diversity.

Earlier, a Ministry of Agriculture’s Committee concluded that contamination occurred most probably in a University (outcrossing or admixture, deliberate or accidental are the terms that the Committee uses). If this could happen with one GMO, no one has come forward to explain to the nation why it will not happen with other GMOs.

Before this was the unanimous Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture’s report on GM food crops, with many NDA members in it, which also called for stopping of field trials ‘under any garb’. Now, going ahead with FTs is a defiant statement against judicial processes, scientific assessment processes and Parliamentary processes.

More important is the fact that BJP had made a promise to the citizens of India in its election manifesto – incidentally, the promise around long term comprehensive scientific evaluation of GMO safety and other risks is exactly the crux of the SC case! This move of FT approvals is a clear and intentional breaking of a promise. In fact, insiders have stories to tell about how this was a contentious issue during manifesto preparation of the party, which had two sides debating about the party’s stand on GMOs late into the night – some actually attribute the delay in the party’s release of its manifesto on this GMO controversy. If finally, the Manifesto had a particular stance projected, it means that the faction in the party which was pro-GM was convinced and to do a turnaround now is unethical and even irrational since no new evidence has emerged in favor of GMOs. In fact, more reports related to contamination or health risks are emerging frequently, if one chooses to be scientific about this debate. We need a system in this country whereby Parties are held accountable to their Manifesto promises.

Further, we have had the Agriculture Minister express his views on the very first day of assuming charge. He said that GMOs should be discussed only if they are absolutely critical. Here is an Environment Minister on the other hand, whose mandate is to protect bio-safety, who seems to be throwing caution and good advice to the winds. It is indeed ironical that we are seeing the Jayanti Natarajan-Sharad Pawar face-off being reversed in this government, with the PMO most probably supportive of the pro-GM stance.

It is also interesting to see the government go against the wishes of the Sangh Parivar groups in this case. After the GEAC’s meeting on July 18th, there were quick reactions from some of the Sangh outfits. The government is apparently putting out a message to Nagpur too that it will have its own way.

Let me also bring in the state governments into this – after all, this is a government that claims that it is serious about upholding the federal polity of the country. It showed a bit of its approach in the recent Budget Statements, for instance, where many scheme outlays were devolved. However, when it comes to GM, it is allowing the industry to have its way. Why should the GEAC even entertain applications for GMO trials in states that have shown their disinclination in various ways already?

Now, coming to some technical aspects related to GM field trials: very often, we hear that stopping field trials is stopping progress of scientific research; that we should not come in the way of research.

However, this argument misses a couple of critical points: one, GM is a living technology and has the ability to be irreversible and uncontrollable (procreation and spread through pollen etc.). Field trials involve a deliberate open-air release of GMOs which are untested and are new organisms in Nature. In India, no biosafety clearance happens before such field trials, and biosafety testing is done parallelly with open air releases. This poses risks due to the inherent nature of the technology – of spreading in uncontrollable ways.

There are numerous examples of contamination resulting from field trials (even the MoA’s own Sopory Committee report points to this). In fact, such contamination has also led to export consignment rejections elsewhere, and this therefore has trade security implications also. United Nations’ FAO has recently put out a new report on these incidents and this can be accessed here (http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/216311/icode/).

To compound this challenge that the technology itself presents is the pathetic and unaccountable regulation of GM field trials in the country. We have numerous instances documented of egregious and brazen violations of biosafety norms laid down substantiated by scientific papers and RTI replies (http://indiagminfo.org/?page_id=175. Nothing has changed as far as oversight, monitoring, scientific evaluation etc., of GMOs is concerned in this country. It appears also that nothing has changed, despite a government change, as far as (unscientific) industry and technocratic influence on the government is concerned.

Let us for a while also focus on the “conditions” for trials.

The conditions imposed for the trials are not fool-proof, on top of the fact that the controversial technology itself is an irreversible living technology prone to contamination in the open air.

For instance, the crop-specific isolation distance to be maintained for the trials, based on the prescriptions of the Indian Minimum Seed Certification Standards is no guarantee against contamination. The IMSCS guidelines are meant for maintaining a particular level of genetic purity of a seed line in seed production practices and is not meant to prevent contamination from GMOs – a bee or wind may not follow the guidelines and GM contamination is very much possible even in the so-called self pollinated crops like rice despite these isolation distances. The genetic purity requirement for most crops is pegged at around 95% – by adopting these standards, the regulatory system is already allowing for 5% contamination (in fact, the chances are higher), whereas the Supreme Court Orders in 2007 say that “the GEAC shall take sufficient precautions to see that these trials are not causing any contamination to the cultivation of neighboring fields”. Mark the word “any contamination” in these orders again.

Biological and physical barriers have not prevented unintentional or intentional contamination from GM field trials in the past – this was testified by no less than the Agriculture-Ministry appointed Sopory Committee in its investigation of the Bt bikaneri cotton contamination scandal, that too in NARS (National Agricultural Research System consisting of hundreds of universities, institutes, directorates etc. related to agricultural research) campuses.

One of the conditions for permitting field trials is the submission of a validated event specific test protocol of 0.01% for contamination testing. This condition in practice is a joke since we have RTI replies from more than half a dozen institutes which have taken up field trials to show that no contamination testing actually takes place. However, SC Orders which laid down this condition say: “Prior to bringing out the GM material from the green house for conduct of open field trials, the approved institution should submit a validated event specific test protocol at an LOD of at least 0.01% to detect and confirm that there has been no contamination”. Once again, the Orders are being defied in the sense that there is no confirmation that there has been no contamination.

So, what is the fun in submitting such protocols? The GEAC of course does not even have oversight capacities over the trials it has approved, leave alone taking up contamination testing!

There are also some crop-specific post-harvest restrictions including the destruction by burning of all border rows, left over plants and plant parts from the entire experimental plot. This, we are yet to see being followed anywhere. In fact, there is sound documentation on video footage of plots where GM maize cobs were left out in the open after a so called ‘seed production trial’ was conducted by Monsanto in Bijapur in Karnataka. Apart from this, there is video footage of field trial farmers stating that they have indeed harvested GM food from the trial plots and consumed it as well as sold it in the open market. It is also stated that the site should be monitored for volunteer plants – however, there is documentation, confirmed by a German lab later on, that GM rice volunteer plants have been left in the trial plot by Mahyco in a field trial in Jharkhand.

I come back to the recent GEAC “recommendations”/approvals again.

Several applications that are in the advanced stage of trials in addition to ones that are in event selection stage etc.; many are in fact those of MNCs notorious for their monopolistic tendencies, in addition to illegal activities for which they have been fined (Monsanto, Dow etc.). There is ample evidence from other countries as well as some evidence from India that seed choices for farmers get greatly reduced for farmers, and seed prices shoot up exorbitantly. Academic studies are also showing farmers are making “irrational” seed decisions, which are like fads, without much ‘environmental learning’ driving such decision-making. This makes farm livelihoods riskier. Applications are also of GMOs which have been ‘rejected’ elsewhere.

For many, GMOs are basically a dangerous and costly distraction from real solutions that have to reach farmers immediately, which already exist. Hundreds of scientists from across the country have been writing to the government advising caution on GMOs and pointing out that there are viable, safe, farmer-controlled alternatives for all the problems that GMOs are touted as a solution for. These solutions also focus on productivity enhancement. Scientists have also effectively shown that food security myths around GM technology are unfounded and unrealized (http://indiagminfo.org/?p=540). There is also growing scientific evidence on the adverse impacts of GMOs (http://indiagminfo.org/?p=657).

It is in this context that stoppage of all open air field trials of GMOs in this country is the only scientific and logical thing to do. Anything otherwise is a matter of concern because it shows disregard of the government towards a precautionary approach, towards scientific evidence, towards democratic voices and towards its own promises to citizens of this country. The BJP’s and Prakash Javadekar’s integrity on this matter is certainly under test and the nation is waiting to see the result.

You can write to me at kavitha.kuruganti@gmail.com for any more information.

So, what’s there for farmers?

Please look at ASHA’s reaction on the budget here: http://www.kisanswaraj.in/2014/07/10/budget-2014-15-has-no-substantive-proposals-to-address-farm-livelihoods-in-india-asha/

Sharing more details on what is contained in the Agriculture Budget in this Budget 2014-15.

http://indiabudget.nic.in/vol2.asp (All Statements of Budget Estimates is the document which will give you ministry-wise, department-wise, scheme-wise breakup).

Of the total budget expenditure (plan and non-plan, at 17.95 lakh crores approximately), agriculture at Rs.31062 crores constitutes 1.73%.

In 2013-14, this was 1.79% and in 2012-13, better, at 1.87%. So, this is falling.

What is in this 31062 crores?
Dept of Agriculture & Cooperation’s 22652 crores, Dept of Agriculture Research & Education’s 6144 crores and Dept of Animal Husbandy/Dairying/Fisheries’ 2266 crores.
Within DAC’s budget:

NMSA: 1512 crores;
Crop Insurance: 2540 crores (no farm income insurance despite what we heard from the Agriculture Minister on the day he assumed charge :-(();
Price Stabilisation Fund for cereals and vegetables at 450 crores (remember something called Market Intervention Fund? old wine in new bottle?);
an Integrated SCheme on Agri Marketing at 720 crores;
RKVY at 9954 crores;
National project on organic farming: 16 crores.

The National Adaptation Fund that one heard being announced, at 100 crores is not under DAC, but under DARE! So, this is what the agri research guys will take, and it is unclear what farmers have in this, in terms of their adaptation.

Elsewhere, under MInistry of Chemicals and Fertilisers’ Dept of Fertilisers, the budget is 73100 crores – out of this, 12300 crores go as subsidy for imported fertilisers.

And in the Ministry of Rural Development’s budget, NRLM has been pegged at 2486 crores. And 33364 crores for NREGS and it is said that part of this might support agricultural activities.

So, this is what you have for 54.6% people of this country living off agriculture.

And, procurement of two grains under food schemes is getting challenged at the WTO; and there is much clamour by various “experts” to dismantle even this procurement.

 

Need to focus on Farm Incomes

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB)’s data for 2013 is out, and farm suicides are pegged at 11,772, not very different from the earlier years. Many activists point out how these figures are in fact under-reported. In a country where the cultivators’ numbers are plummeting drastically as Census 2011 data shows, this unabated trend of farm suicides is something that any government should take note of. The central aspect to this is profitability in agriculture, especially as measured by net farm incomes. The only time that farm incomes have been measured in India, as part of the NSSO’s Situation Assessment Survey of Farm Households in 2003, the findings showed that an overwhelming majority of farm households have their monthly incomes lower than their monthly expenditure and in absolute amounts, a national average monthly income (from all sources) per farm household of just Rs. 2115/-. Average monthly income from cultivation, for all sizes of landholdings, was a meager Rs. 969/- which is around Rs. 485/month per capita (or, Rs.16.15/day). Compare this with legal minimum wages for unskilled workers in agriculture at Rs.90.81 in December 2003. All evidence related to farm incomes in India is showing that it is low, stagnant or even declining and also insecure/unstable, despite budgetary outlays of nearly 98000 crore rupees on agriculture and rural development on an annual average basis. However, ensuring minimum living incomes has not been made an express objective for all the expenditure being made by the government.

It is important for the government to realize that its dream of GDP-led development cannot be actualized if the purchasing power in rural India is not improved. In fact, even within agriculture, if the government is keen on farmers investing some more on their agriculture, to improve efficiency and productivity, unless some living margins are created first by ensuring minimum net incomes to all farm households, this will be a distant dream. Further, the widening inter-sectoral disparity is not healthy for any society. The Peasant Rights Charter that is right now under discussion in the United Nations makes a mention of minimum living incomes as one of the rights due to all peasants.

While several factors determine the incomes accruing to farm households (yields, weather conditions and disasters, prices and favorable markets, costs incurred in cultivation etc.), it is apparent that all government investments have to manifest themselves as enhanced net incomes for farm households. The end goal has to be the (improved) economic well-being of cultivators. This is something that India as a nation has accepted, when it adopted the National Farmers’ Policy in 2007. This policy made a marked shift in discourse by emphasising that production and productivity cannot be the sole parameters by which the nation judges its agricultural performance or even sets its goals and targets, but the economic well-being of farmers as a central element. However, no new concrete steps have been taken to actualize this shift in goals. The focus on farm incomes is present in countries like China and Srilanka. If they can do it, there is no reason why India, with its strong statistical apparatus, cannot do the same.

What is needed is a Farm Income Commission mandated with recommending minimum living incomes (pegged at atleast minimum wages to begin with), assessing periodically farm incomes being realized (this can be added to the comprehensive scheme assessing cost of cultivation by improving the sample related aspects of the scheme, in addition to 3-yearly Situation Assessment Surveys by NSSO), and recommending concrete steps to make good the deficit if any. For the latter, the government may not need to spend anything more than what it is already spending in the form of numerous programmes and schemes, other than improving on the existing interventions in a focused manner and only in some instances, in an expanded manner – credit, insurance, production-related agricultural missions, improved price and procurement mechanisms etc. In fact, focusing on reducing cost of cultivation by promoting agro-ecological practices is also a good way of enhancing net incomes, and this will also bring down the public financing burden on the government on components like chemical fertilizers. Additional incentives like Payments for Eco-System Services rendered by organic farms, should surely improve net incomes of farmers.

The Union Agriculture Minister in his first pronouncements after assuming the post, tried to explain to journalists how the focus should be on farm incomes and not just on prices. He talked about a new scheme to be launched on Farm Income Insurance. A word of caution on this scheme – if it is a scaling up of the 2003-04 pilot scheme tried out by the earlier NDA government, this will not ensure minimum living incomes for farm households. Threshold incomes pegged at rolling averages of past few years are no guarantee that living incomes will be delivered, especially in areas where the yields are low for various reasons and prices are also low, since the 2003-04 pilot was designed around the insurance product taking into account yields and prices in an area. Any such farm income insurance scheme has to be against guaranteed living incomes to all farm households. More important is an overarching institutional mechanism in the form of a Farm Income Commission to ensure that our Anna Daatas, keeping the nation alive, are provided with dignity and profitability in their profession.

 

 

– Kavitha Kuruganti is with Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA)

Taking Sides: Rights-Based Development

 Over the past couple of decades, I have had the good fortune in life to work in a variety of NGOs (grassroots as well as state level resource, and campaigning organizations in addition to donor organisations), and also work as an ‘activist’ without holding any job anywhere. From grassroots ‘constructive’ and innovative work to being a national level ‘networked activist’ on issues pertaining to agriculture, I have played a gamut of roles in my self-driven efforts at securing environmental and social justice wherever I have noticed injustice. I have also had the good luck of finding a partner in life who supports me to do what I do today (including financially) – I realize that may be this is not something that everyone is blessed with, in a world which puts the challenge of dignified survival on most.

“Taking Sides” was the name of a workshop that I helped a donor organization put together, years and years ago, to change the way NGOs and individuals in NGOs think about “Development”. After all, when the most marginalized (let us say, a poor, dalit, differently abled woman) are ready to take on injustice or set out to change the world against all odds (let us say, by contesting to be a Panchayat Sarpanch?), why can’t NGOs do the same?

In the recent past, when the Intelligence Bureau (IB) put out its not-so-intelligent report on NGOs coming in the way of ‘development’ of the country, the social media went abuzz with many ordinary citizens lambasting NGOs with much vitriol pouring out. The “crime” of the individuals and NGOs listed in the IB report was that they were bringing down India’s GDP growth rate by around 2-3% per annum. It is not clear when and where GDP growth became the sole development agenda of this country, and why many of us were left out of that decision-making, to the extent that anything that does not fall in line with this agenda is criminalised.

The paranoia that was part of the IB report (orchestratedly so) was reflected in public voices too. In the script that was carefully written, there was a clamour from the ‘swayamsewaks’ as well as the profits-at-any-cost industry for decisive action against NGOs. The whole sector was portrayed in a sinister light. Admittedly, there are many NGOs out there who bring a bad name to the sector.

However, I write this piece to defend NGOs and make people understand that even the “agitating” kinds are adopting the approach that they do for valid and right reasons.

For one thing, with or without the general public noticing, the discourse as well as practice of “development” has changed long back, as far as the civil society is concerned. For the government too, it should have ideally changed, since it mouths the right discourse on the right occasion. But it is so very apparent that the State is stuck in archaic development practice that is unabashedly centred around ‘trickle-down’ theories, couched as ‘inclusive development’.

NGOs have realized long back, and rightly so, that their impact being limited to small areas will not help the big dreams that they carry for a just and equal world. Now, don’t tell me that dreaming about a just world is a crime! They have also been egged on by their donors to show impact that is larger than what the NGOs immediately achieve. Right-thinking NGOs also realize that they are not out to replace the state and all the various basic services that it has to provide to its citizens.

Therefore, there is something very legitimate in NGOs trying to influence the state to take over what they are doing on a small scale. This then requires the much-dreaded word – ‘advocacy’. Effective advocacy of course requires all the things that have been listed out in the IB report as sinister, anti-national activities: social media activism, academic research studies, liaisoning with other activists, support from experts from elsewhere including scientific and IT experts, conferences organized and attended, screenings of documentaries, complaints to statutory bodies like NHRC, working closely with the affected communities, influencing investors etc. Which part of this is a contravention of the FCRA law, can the IB explain?

Many NGOs have also rightly imbibed a participatory approach to their practice of development. This shuns top-down models of one-size-fits-all frameworks, and tries to empower communities to define their own development pathways and accompany communities in the pursuit of these locally defined pathways. Decentralisation and devolution are development mantras accepted by the government too, when convenient. As one can imagine, the local development planning with the community’s own priorities often clashes with the top-down models. Needless to explain elaborately, the top-down models are also often determined by who is funding our very electoral political processes – the parties, the candidates, their election spend etc. in addition to some multilateral agencies which are presiding as ‘gurus’ of development. In all such situations, it is very apparent that NGOs will stand by the local people for their bottom-up development vision to play itself out.

Importantly, NGOs are constantly questioned about the sustainability of their initiatives by their donors – of institutions created, of programmes initiated and the very content of development being practiced so to speak. Sustainable Development in a somewhat more well-defined environmental framework is something that gained ground worldover from the late 1980s, and the Rio Summit in 1993 found States ‘adopting’ this framework. This then requires governments to ensure that ‘grow now, pay later’ models are kept aside, so that win-win solutions are always explored first and foremost. This calls for new and innovative investments on alternatives. This necessitates scale to be looked at as not a monolithic centralized concept, but scale as a large multitude of replicated successes. Sustainable Development as a concept and as practice is here to stay for a large number of NGOs and it is archaic that the governments do not seek to practice this. When the state seeks to keep out the sustainability aspect from its development trajectory, NGOs rightly take it upon themselves to question this and demand wisdom from the state.

Finally, the development discourse and practice have also long back shifted away from charity and welfare. Rights-based framework to development has gained immense ground in the understanding and practice of NGOs. This approach focuses on structural inequities that lead to injustice and poverty (this is about control over and access to resources, deep-rooted discrimination based on caste and gender, leading to unequal opportunities etc.). In this framework, it is understood that State is the duty-bearer of upholding and protecting various rights of citizens, and citizens are rights-holders. This flows from our Constitution as well as the country’s international commitments. Given this understanding, is it difficult to understand that NGOs will indeed organize citizens to seek their due justice from the State? Why should this perfectly legitimate way of shaping a better society be vilified?

Meanwhile, even at a very conservative 3 employees per NGO calculation, the NGO sector provides manifold greater (and more equitable) employment than the IT sector of the country. Similarly, the foreign fund inflows from the FCRA-cleared NGOs is around 10% of the total inflows last year. Remember, this is something that does not involve remittances back! So, what exactly is this NGO-bashing about for those who measure everything in economic terms?

There is only one question to be answered: are we saying that (foreign-funded) NGOs should not believe in and practise participatory, rights-based sustainable development and that the FCRA law will be designed and used against them? Which part of this practice is not acceptable: the participatory aspect, the sustainability aspect or the constitutional rights-based aspect? This really is the substantive question to be answered.

 

 

– Kavitha Kuruganti is an aware citizen based out of Bangalore, labeled as a social activist.

Foreign Hand in the IB report?: Joint statement from Vandana Shiva, Aruna Rodrigues & Kavitha Kuruganti

Press Release: June 17th 2014

India’s Sovereignty, Security and Freedom at risk- Is the IB being used by foreign corporations to take over India’s vital seed sector?


The IB report has a special section on GMOs (genetically modified/engineered organisms). It clearly supports the introduction of GM crops into Indian agriculture.
 
The IB report makes specific mention of the Supreme Court cases which have been filed. It curiously also accuses civil society organisations and individuals of influencing 3 Committees that were officially mandated to assess GMOs. The IB report objects to these formal government reports, the Moratorium Orders of Shri Jairam Ramesh, the Parliamentary Standing Committee Report and the Supreme Court-appointed Technical Expert Committee Report (TEC) because they find that on current evidence, GM crops have little to contribute to Indian agriculture, safe food and food security. These findings did not accord with the view of the PMO, when headed by the erstwhile Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh. This report was initiated under the UPA Government.
 
IB objects to protection of Indian seed and food sovereignty? In 1998, when Monsanto introduced Bt cotton illegally, without the statutory approvals from the GEAC, we had to file a case in the SC to defend the laws of the land, our Constitution, our Seed Sovereignty and Food Sovereignty. When open field trials were being conducted without appropriate and independent Biosafety assessments, and expertise in these matters, the current cases in the Supreme Court were initiated in 2003 and 2005 to uphold the law: protect the environment and safety of our seeds and food from irreversible genetic contamination, protect smallholder farming in India, and the health safety of 1 billion citizens. The country faces a major threat from the multinational Seed/chemical industry, seeking control over our seeds, our agriculture and our food. This is the corporate focus. This is their AGENDA. Thousands of organizations and many multiples of thousands of individuals are committed to resisting this unacceptable corporate goal for India.
 
IB favors the foreign hand in the ‘making of India’s Bt brinjal’: The IB report quotes a Dr Ronald Herring of Cornell University who promotes GMOs and the monopoly of Monsanto. It is ironic that the IB report relies on the evidence of Dr Herring with his antecedents in Cornell University, a hub of blind GMO promotion. It is the direct foreign hand along with USAID and Monsanto funding, behind the ‘making of India’s Bt brinjal’. Here is a real foreign hand that informs the IB report. Has the IB report been written then with foreign influence, for the benefit and profits of foreign corporations? The strategy of the global GMO seed industry with their patents & IPRs (Intellectual Property Rights) is to bend regulation and influence governments and regulators to approve GMOs, by-passing scientific, transparent and independent safety testing.
 
Outrageous insult to our Parliamentarians and Contempt of Court by the IB: The PSC recommended a high-level enquiry into how Bt brinjal was approved by the Regulators for commercial release. The self-assessed safety-dossier by Mahyco-Monsanto was a cover-up as evidenced in independent assessments of the raw data by several leading international scientists.  It staggers belief that the IB find it possible to hand out an outrageous insult to the Parliamentary Standing Committee, by suggesting  that they have in effect been led ‘by the nose’ by activists and civil society groups and have no competence to address their official mandate on the subject. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the IB report has been influenced by those who have most to gain by undermining our seed and food sovereignty ie. the foreign corporations.
 
The IB report has also attacked the government decision made under our Biosafety laws to impose a moratorium on Bt Brinjal. It is thus attacking our Biosafety. This will only suit foreign interests.
 
The IB is guilty of contempt of court since it attacks the Technical Expert Committee set up by the Supreme Court to look into the issues of GMOs and Biosafety. The case is still being heard.
 
The IB fails to refer to the important other official report, the ‘Sopory Committee Report’. This report of 2012 commissioned by the Ministry of Agriculture itself is a stinging commentary on what is wrong with GMO regulation in India. Our regulatory institutions and the MoA have been indicted in this report for lies, fraud and lacking GMO expertise. And the truth with regard to massive contamination was revealed in this report.
 
NGOs saving Indian seed and food sovereignty: The biggest foreign hand by STEALTH and official COVER-UP will be in GMOs/GM crops if introduced into Indian agriculture. All that stands between a corporate takeover of our seeds and agriculture is the committed and exemplary work by the not-for-profit sector that helped create an informed debate on GMOs and has postponed, even stopped government action from introducing them for over 15 years.  In conspiring with deeply conflicted institutions of regulation, governance and agriculture, of which there is incontrovertible proof, to introduce GM crops into India, the IB will in fact aid the hand-over of the ownership of our seeds and foods to Multi-National Corporations. This will represent the largest take-over of any nation’s agriculture and future development by foreign-hands and this time it will be no bogey foreign hand. This will be for real.  China is on record as saying that she will not allow her armed forces to eat any GM food. This not-to-be-imagined future will plunge India into the biggest breach of internal security; of a biosecurity threat and food security crisis from which we will never recover. The fallout of this mere 20 year-old laboratory technology is, that it is irreversible. This is what must give us sober ‘food for thought’ uncontaminated by GMOs, something the IB seems to be supremely oblivious of. GM crops have already demonstrated no yield gain, no ability to engineer for traits of drought, saline resistance etc and have some  serious bio-safety issues which no regulator wishes  to examine.
 
Indian Cotton in Foreign Hands, Indian farmers’ hard earned money expatriated to foreign lands: India’s Bt cotton is an outstanding example of the above scenario. It was introduced into India’s hybrids, not varieties so our farmers would be forced to buy seeds each year. This ‘VALUE CAPTURE’ for Monsanto which was contrived and approved by our own government mortgaging the public interest has ensured that in a short 10 years, 95% of cotton seeds in the form of Bt cotton are owned by Monsanto. The damage to India’s organic cotton market and status is significant. India is the largest organic cotton producer/exporter in the world. It is Monsanto now that decides where cotton should be planted and when by our farmers, a role that the MoA has absconded or been eliminated from. The Royalties accruing to Monsanto that have been expatriated are approximately Rs 4800 Crores in 12 years,   (excluding other profit mark-ups). What would this figure be if GMOs and propriety seeds flooded our farms without Biosafety assessment and regulation? This is the arithmetic the IB should have done, instead of throwing an arbitrary figure of 2-3% loss of growth. The IB is thus conspiring with global corporate interests to hemorrhage India’s agricultural economy. More than 284000 Indian farmers have been pushed to suicide because of a debt trap, lack of government investment in smallholder farming and dependence on non-renewable, propriety seeds and chemicals sold by the corporations. We call for an investigation on the foreign influence in writing the GMO section in the IB report.
 
If India’s intelligence agencies become instruments of global corporations working against the public interest and national interest of India, our national security is under threat.
 
This IB report is deeply anti-national and subversive of constitutional rights of citizens in our country.  It does India no credit.
 
Signed:
 
 Vandana Shiva,               Aruna Rodrigues,                Kavitha Kuruganti
    Navdanya
  8100 25169                       98263 96033                            9393001550

Drawing inspiration from Dharani (Organic) Coop, supported by Timbaktu Collective

I had the good fortune to be present day before yesterday in the 6th AGM/anniversary of Dharani Cooperative, supported by Timbaktu Collective in Anantapur district. I wanted to share a few things that really inspired me and struck me as unique, worth emulating in other places. I kept thinking that this is one place which has really addressed the (organic) farming reality quite comprehensively and holistically and the lesson to take back home is probably just that – that this will not work in bits and pieces.

One has seen organic farming efforts where only production-end facilitation is done by someone or the other, some group or NGO or the other. In such cases, farmers feel, quite naturally, and sooner or later, disheartened by lack of marketing support. This is not to say that we have not come across organic farmers whose produce is ‘pre-booked’ by even fellow farmers from the same villages – however, there are also quite a few organic farmers who are really struggling to find good identity-preserved organic markets. The ones who begin only with marketing end support may probably have farmers who do not always imbibe the ‘values’, if you like (for want of a better word), of organic farming so that the effort sustains itself more deeply. And then there are these huge organic farming/produce entities which do nothing in terms of truly empowering farmers and their collectives. In fact, no farmers’ institutions have been created in some of these efforts.

It is in this context of some groping and some grabbing in the name of organic, that here is a case where numerous important strands were sought to be integrated and I want to list out some of them:

– production end support in the form of trainings, some inputs (drums for making some inoculants and botanicals, some seed cake for soil health management, NREGA integration for tank silt application etc.), extension in the form of farmer field schools etc. There are extension workers at three levels and if this is what it takes, this is what it takes….

– basing the effort on crop shifts, diversity and diversification (very often, we find organic farming efforts continuing with some crops which are probably not suitable or are risky even in the organic farming set up) – while bigger shifts are yet to be seen (62% of what Dharani procured last year was groundnut), a large shift is already underway from groundnut monocropping to millets-based farming, that too “coarse” millets. This is achieved through careful crop-planning before the season, procuring and readying adequate and appropriate seed etc.

– infusion of livestock into the project. Very often, we talk about the integration of livestock with eco-farming. However, except for some organic farmers here and there, very few projects have systematically done this at a project level, I think. Here, native breeds like Hallikar have been introduced – there was a farmer who shared that he got tens of thousands of rupees just from the sale of FYM.

– collectivising the farmers – there are block level cooperatives and a larger level cooperative in the form of Dharani.

– investing on a variety of processing facilities – the number of products that are being created for sale by the Cooperative is increasing very very rapidly, including ready to cook millets-based foods for busy urbanites etc. The next lot of machines will be installed not in the existing facility/campus but in places that are closer to the producers in different blocks.

– putting in efforts to recognise the roles and contribution of women farmers.

– effort at seed self-reliance – a large part of this is happening simply by the cropping shift itself (monsantos of the world are not interested in selling these folks kodo millet seed or foxtail millet seed as yet, thank goodness!).

– infusion of fund in the cooperative by falling back on people’s own thrift, credit and enterprise activities: for its running costs, Dharani Coop is borrowing from other thrift cooperatives that have been in existence for a long time with a sizeable corpus (some of the coops have single, dalit women in leadership roles) – self-help! the whole effort itself started with friends of Timbaktu investing in the effort of course.

– transparent and participatory processes – all accounts were read out, and resolutions passed in this big gathering. In the past, I have been part of processes where findings from evaluation studies were shared in such big meetings and a collective future course charted. Further, prices are pre-fixed and announced beforehand. Like kodo millet price for an organic farmer here will certainly be RS. 30/kg as announced at the beginning of the season. This means that farmers can make some rational choices depending on their growing conditions as well as price guaranteed.
– exploring, establishing and expanding domestic market opportunities for the organic produce – Dharani did not look for export markets for its organic produce, but sought to find domestic markets, with good success at that. The “trust” factor comes from PGS.
 
 

Two years ago, Dharani broke even with a seven thousand rupees profit. Now, with sales touching around 1.3 crores, the latest profit figure announced was around 8 lakh rupees!  🙂
What’s more – while about half of this went back to the farmers as bonus, some amounts were also paid to all employees of the Coop as a bonus, and importantly, also to the daily wage workers as their bonus.

Dharani Coop has around 1800 members now, and the effort is to ensure that all of them would be fully organic, on around 9000 acres this season.

The organic farming effort here is of course supported by some ‘project’ too. Some of the machines were purchased through the project support. Some others were invested upon by the Coop from its own funds. And the point is why not? If this is what it takes, all the above ‘components’ or aspects to be addressed, with equity, diversity and sustainability as the central elements, why not?
And finally, let us not forget the culture part, in one sense of the word culture. When some of the employees of the Cooperative were being introduced on stage, whenever a popular folk artist who also happened to be an employee came on stage, there was a popular demand from the 1200+ farmers gathered in CK Palli yesterday (they all came on their own cost in colorfully decked bullock carts and so on) – these artists broke into a song and narrative from the Mahabharat, with loud applause greeting them.
Friends, this is a story from an arid pocket of India, known for its suicides, migration and trafficking, ridden by the problem of groundnut (chemical) monocropping. Here is where hope is blooming, based on collective, organic, holistic, diversity-based farming.

Like I said, very rarely does one come across so many necessary strands woven together seamlessly. Pundits can question the investments made for something like this to emerge etc. – the only response is, whatever it takes, is what we should ask for. Thanks to Mary, Bablu, Murugesh, Sannaippaiah, Vineet, other staff and all the farmers there for the work that is happening there.

kavitha

ps: Akulappa pointed out in his speech that there is a need for greater participation and leadership by women, and for the communities to also shift their diets to some of the millets that they are growing; Mary Vattamattam exhorted the Cooperative to become the voice of the dryland smallholders and take up advocacy work too, as needed.