Saturday, October 29, 2011

CACP: Government's doll, not farmers hope

S. Kannaiyan
Farmers leaders from across the country met in Delhi recently and discussed various issues related to agriculture. Leaders from Punjab said that the issue of minimum support price (MSP) to agriculture produces was to be discussed as the first subject. One key issues related to Minimum support price is to calculate scientifically the cost of production and a reasonable margin for the producing farmer. I would like to share my thoughts related to the pricing of agricultural produces in India.
Rice, wheat and sugarcane are the three only crops that can get the MSP. Wheat and rice are largely procured by the state and central governments for Public distribution system (PDS). Sugar factories are bound to buy sugarcane from the farmers at the rate announced by the central government and state governments. State governments announce state advisory prices (SAP) whereas the central government announces minimum support price. As for as other crops, MSP announced by the government is there only on the records. Institutions like National Federation of farmer’s cooperatives (NAFED) buy small quantity sometimes from the market at MSP price, but it is really not helping farmers to realize the MSP.
The Commission for Agricultural Cost and Prices (CACP) is a body that decides and recommends to the central government the MSP of some major crops. The functioning of CACP is always to satisfy the treasury of the government and not the farmers. Indeed, the CACP’s functioning is non transparent and autocratic, and farmers unions have no representation, nor are they consulted in fixing the MSP. 
Farmers of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, along with other farmers, are thus demanding scientific prices for their produces. The CACP and the governments say that they announce MSP based on scientific calculations. The calculation of scientific price is not something impossible in this country. One should really go to the field and talk to the farmers and then it would be very easy to calculate. But it is unfortunate that government expects poor farmers to subsidize food and goods for the whole country. But the announcement of MSP always miss matches the real cost of production. For instance, DAP fertilizer price was Rs.525 a year back, and Rs.880 now. The minimum wages under National rural employment guarantee Act in Tamil Nadu was 80 rupees 2 years back and it is Rs.125 now. Invariably, all the input costs have been increased many folds while the market for the farmers is always unfavorable. For example, the price of turmeric per quintal was Rs. 19 000 to Rs.20 000 last year, and Rs. 4 000 now.
The government intervenes if there is a small change in the share market, but doesn’t care about the vast fluctuations which disfavor the farming community. Price of cotton has always been determined in favor of the textile industry. Government intervenes by allowing exports and imports in order to ensure cheap supply of cotton and yarn to the cotton industry. Similarly, pro-active market intervention by the central government on food grains and vegetables aims to provide low price for the consumers, not to ensure reasonable prices for the farmers. Moreover, none of the state agricultural universities and the central research institutions arrived at a reasonable cost of production of milk. Whenever farmer’s demands a little increase for milk price, state governments intervene to protect the interests of the consumers, so milk price is always under the government’s control. In other words, it is subsidized by the farmers. In the case of central government, it sometimes prefers to import milk powder and butter oil by waiving import tariffs. These milk products were already heavily subsidized in the production process and also enjoy export subsidies from their country of origin.
The crop failures are not compensated by appropriate National agriculture insurance for individual farmers. Lack of infrastructure facilities like rural godowns, post-harvest management facilities, some special needs of storage and credit for the produces is the factors compelling the farmers to sell off their produces at throw away prices at the time of harvest. Big corporations and supermarket chain companies buy produces at the time very low market prices and release them in the consumer market at very high price. Such companies have all the facilities of storage, processing, quality control, etc. Interestingly, 60% of the consumers are farmers themselves who are paying high prices on the market, which are not reaching their fellow farmer pockets, but to the companies and middlemen.
Farmers’ fight for prices is not for the announcement of MSP only. India is importing edible oil and pulses and also sometimes wheat, sugar, milk powder etc.  Indian farmers are exposed to the international market and cheap imports of agricultural goods destroy domestic production and livelihood of rural people by distorting the price for the local produces. The Free Trade Agreements and India’s commitment in the World Trade Organization are the main reason for the price disadvantage for the farmers and trade advantage for the companies.
CACP is a doll of the government and not a hope for the farmers.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Celebrating Talaq


I think it was in the year 2004 I visited my dear friend in Chennai who is a lawyer in the High court of Madras. The moment I reached her home in the evening my friend was waiting for my arrival to take me along with her for a party in Chennai. Two of her junior lawyers also were there with my friend and we all went to the party.  I had no clue about the party and also not curious to know about it. We all reached a home of a Muslim family in Chennai where the party was organized.
 It was one of the memorable dinners I ever had in my life time, different varieties of very delicious non vegetarian food was served.  The family members were so nice with the guests and served the food with love. I was bit over eaten due to the taste and extra care of the people. I was wondering what the celebration was about but, still didn’t check with anyone.
 My friend introduced me to her friend’s family and especially to Sabena, daughter of the family. Sabena is an educated and beautiful young lady of around 25 years old. Sabena had two small children .She was the happiest person in the party and presented expensive gifts to my friend and her junior lawyers. I became impatient and asked Sabena what was the function about?  Sabena told me that she got divorce from her cruel husband after a stressful legal fight with help of my lawyer friend and celebrating Talaq
Sabena is not the real name of the person.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Cabbage is nothing but, pesticide.

Thalavady is a hilly region suited for cultivation of many different varieties of vegetables in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. One of the important crops grown in this region is cabbage. Let us see how cabbage is grown here.
Small and marginal farmers who have less than two hectares of land are cultivating cabbage. The seeds come from Monsanto and Syngenta. About, 180 grams of seeds are needed for an acre. Seeds are sold in 10 grams pockets and these cost around Rs.220/ (around 6 Euros/ 5 US dollars).
Each year cabbage is cultivated on about 3000 acres. The Department of agriculture in Tamil Nadu has no clue about this crop cultivation in Thalavady and no technical support is provided to the farmers. Then who is giving technical advice to farmers? The seed and pesticides dealers are the advisors to the farmers. I spoke to few pesticide dealers to find out what is happening. 

10th day.
Ten days after sowing, 200 ml of insecticide Hostathian 40 EC[i] from Bayer along with 250 grams of Acephate[ii] are sprayed for an acre. Hostathian has a broad spectrum and is a highly toxic insecticide.
 Acephate is an organophosphate foliar insecticide of moderate persistence with residual systemic activity of about 10-15 days.

20th day
Insecticide Success 480 sc[iii]  from DOW Agro sciences 150 ml per acre.
According to DOW studies Success 480 sc ( Spinosad) is a kind of natural pesticide and does not contain high toxicity but, it is still harmful to environment. In this case, Spinosad is produced by fermentation of naturally occurring bacteria (Saccharpolyspora spinosa). There are no independent studies available to establish that this pesticide is safe.

35th day
Fame 480 sc– 45 ml per acre. ( From Bayer )
This pesticide contains Flubendiamide 39.35% m/m sc. No studies are available

50th day
Insecticide Proclaim from Syngenta[iv]  50 grams
Along with insecticide Pegaus 50 WP from Syngenta[v]  1750 grams.
Proclaim contains Emamectin Benzoate and produced by Syngenta. It is worth to note here that Syngenta’s own study says that certain crops should not be harvested for 8 weeks after application and live stocks should not be allowed to graze for 21 days. If this pesticide is sprayed on the 50th day or after, cabbage could be harvested on the 85th day or within a week after. So, consumers can consume these active residues of Proclaim from Syngenta. This insecticide is also very dangerous to fish and other aquatic organisms.
Pegaus 50 WP is a very dangerous pesticide for the environment. Pegaus contains the hazardous components of diafenthiuron, poly(oxy-1,2-ethanediyl), alpha-isotridecyl-omega-hydroxy-, formaldehyde . This is also very toxic to aquatic organisms, that may cause long-term adverse effects in the aquatic environment. It is also toxic and harmful in all other respects like contact to skin, swallowing and inhalation of the substance.

70th day
Endosulphan 35 EC 500 ml[vi]
Profenophos 50 EC 500 ml
Both Endosulphon and Profenophos are very toxic pesticides which has dangerous effects on the environment and on human health. There is a strong campaign[vii] in India to ban Endosulphon.
85th day
Cabbage is harvested on 85th day or a within a week after 85th day.
All the above pesticides are very poisonous and harmful to environment and living beings. I have mentioned only about the pesticides. Farmers are spraying and trenching fungicides during the rainy season too or when they find the symptoms of the diseases.
Indian Institute of Horticulture Research(IIHR), a government of India’s central research institute has done some research on cabbage cultivation and found out inexpensive and organic methods to control pests. But, who is going to transfer these technologies to the farm fields? Moreover, farmers spray more pesticides when there is a good price for cabbage. The dealers also will advise the farmers to use more dosages citing the good price in the market. Integrated pest management (IPM) does not exist in Thalavady. And this is also the case in the neibouring Karnataka state.
Roughly around eighty percent of the inputs costs are directly transferred to multinational corporations like Monsanto, Syngenta , Bayer etc. from the resource poor farmers’ pockets. They are always the gainers and not the farmers.  Government should think of establishing the agro ecology practice and convert all the agriculture research towards farmers’ friendly and consumers friendly and ecologically sound practices.
It is really difficult to defeat these giant companies unless local resistance is built, at small farm level, by rejecting these harmful pesticides from the exploitive companies.
All Indian farmers are not educated and most of them are illiterates. The information in the label is available in English language only. So, it is difficult for the farmers to understand the contents and undertake precautions.  Normally farmers use knapsack sprayers and power sprayers to spray pesticides without using any mask or special dress to protect themselves from the pesticides. Pesticides are handled by the farmers by hand without gloves and wash their hands by using soap or soil.
I have narrated how pesticides are sprayed on cabbage. Farmers themselves eat cabbage and sell it to the market to feed the world. Farmers handle pesticides without any precaution and spray without even a mask. They literally inhale pesticide and inviting ill health. Pesticide companies, largely MNCs are counting their profit and  contributing damage to the environment and ill health to farmers and farm labourers.   I know stop eating cabbage is not going to help the situation. Agro ecology practice at each farm level will be the only solution.
Until then, I have stopped eating cabbage, because, it is nothing but, pesticide.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Will food come from Africa?


A farmer’s leader told me few days ago that the hand full of landed farmers should stop cultivation, so that food price will go up and farmers will get price. He is a vice president in a farmers association in Tamil Nadu. Sometimes back his president also told me the same thing. I told them in reply that if there is a gap between production and supply, then the government would import food grain from other countries. They asked me, how long the import would solve the food security. This is how a landlord mind is thinking. Probably they might not know that MNCs (Multi National Companies) already bought millions of acres of lands in Africa to produce food.
Farmers who have big land holdings in Tamil Nadu are planting different trees. They dream to become millionaires after 15 or 20 years by harvesting these trees. Some of the farmers are cultivating trees with tie up arrangement with paper mills. Such farmers are converting fertile agriculture lands in to tree cultivation.         
Turmeric gets good price in the market, it went up to Rs.18000/ per quintal last year. Thousands of farmers in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka cultivated turmeric. The price has come down to Rs.13, 000/ per quintal, but still it is a good price. Some of the farmers from the irrigation belt of Erode district have booked their brand new cars in the Maruthi Suzuki show room. By the time onion price was sky racketing two months back government banned export and allowed imports. But, now the purchase price of onion from farmers came down to Rs.4/ kg and the government stepped in after a lot of protest by farmers.
        Until 20 years ago , government and the country were talking about self-sufficiency in food production. India became a food-importing country after the GATT agreement (Uruguay round) was signed and WTO came into existence. We import pulses, edible oil, sugar, milk powder etc. in a big way every year. There is no talk or debate to produce these important food items locally. The cheap imports of food items have killed local production and forced farmers to shift their crops.
Farmers’ movements have not linked up the bad impacts to the policy. Thousands of farmers in Tamil Nadu came to streets recently with their cows and demanded reasonable price for the milk production. These farmers’ leaders never spoke a word against the cheap milk powder (30 thousand tones) and butter oil (15 thousand tones) that was imported at a rate, which was less than that of Indian dairy cooperatives.
Landlord farmers think that they will get good prices for their food production if they stop food production and converting their lands into tree plantations. Small and marginal farmers who still produce food grains do not get remunerative price due to the government policy. But, the government instead of improving the nation’s food production opened imports.
More than 80 Indian MNCs (Multi National Companies) have bought millions of hectares of lands in African countries to produce food, not for Africa but for India. Karuthuri Global, a Bangalore based company has leased out more than 300 thousand hectares of fertile lands in Ethiopia and started cultivation.
Farmer’s leaders need to update their knowledge and connect the issues of the ground reality to the larger policy frameworks of the neoliberal world.
Don’t we need to worry for food security? Will food come from Africa?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Rahul Gandhi spoke for one Kalavathy but, who will speak for Maheswari?


One morning in December, my neighbour informed me that a farmer had been trampled to death by elephants, in Madhahally, a short distance from my own Thalavady. On the edge of Sathyamangalam Reserve Forest, a home for tiger, elephant, wild boar, gaurs and deer, it is not uncommon for wild animals to stray into adjoining villages. Typically, farmers keep a look out for wild animals and warn others.  However, twenty five year old Kumar was not so lucky, he was trampled to death by some elephants even as he stepped out of his thatched house. On his way to his maize field to guard it from wild animals, he did not notice in the darkness, some elephants standing just outside, he did not have a moment to alert the others or save himself.
Thousands of people gathered in Madhahally, and I was there as well. People were very upset and angry about the death of a young lad, and stood about debating how to prevent such incidents, decrying forest department officials who were lax in helping the farmers to drive the back wild elephants who strayed out of the Reserve Forest.   A group of farmers were angry that no forest official had come to the spot, and refused to allow the police to take Kumar’s body. “It is the responsibility of the forest officials to protect us from wild animals” said a farmer. “Who will take care of his young wife and children,” wailed an elderly woman.  I was finally able to convince the group to allow the police to take the body to Primary Health Centre for post-mortem.  Finally a young forest official, Ashok came to Madhahally and in my presence gave a cheque of Rs. 25000 as accident relief to Kumar’s 23 year old wife, Maheswari. He confirmed that the Forest Department gave up to Rs. 150,000 as compensation to the family of a victim killed by a wild animal.
 I visited Maheswari on January 21st, just after Pongal, the annual harvest festival. Talking to her, I learnt that she had yet not received the balance compensation. Of the Rs. 25000 she got, she gave 10000 rupees to her maternal uncle to conduct the formalities and paper work. Her uncle had to go  at primary health centre, police station, meet revenue department officials  to get the death certificate and post-mortem certificate. She still required the “legal heir” certificate without which she could not make an application for the remaining compensation due from the Forest department. 
Maheswari with her younger girl baby  Shivamallugamma.
Talking to Maheswari, I understood that Kumar had recently bought plough-bullocks by getting loan from a self-help group of which he was a member. She showed me her bank pass-book and explained, “from the 25000 rupees, I repaid this SHG loan of 7000 and another 7000 rupees to my neighbour. My husband had borrowed as a short term loan for the maize crop. The rest gave to my uncle for the formalities.   The maize crop has been destroyed by the straying animals as I was in no shape to save it”.   Kumar’s pass book showed a loan balance of Rs.32, 200, and apart from this, Maheswari said they had borrowed 11,000 rupees by mortgaging her jewellery at the local Primary Agricultural Cooperative Credit Society, together with interest it amounted to nearly 50000 rupees. She said, that Kumar leased two acres of rain fed land from neighbour and cultivated maize.   But, the crop too had been mostly been destroyed by straying wild boars and elephants after Kumar’s death.
 I felt helpless, as I talked to the 23 year old Maheswari. With tears she could not control, holding her infant child in her arms, she said, “the elephants took the life of my dear husband, leaving me land less and homeless. I speak Kannada and know only a smattering of Tamil. I do not know the government offices. Who will speak for me? Who will help me to build my small children’s future?” No forest official or elected representative came to support Maheswari.  She stands beside her thatched hut, with no idea how she will support herself. 
 As I say good bye, Maheswari pleads with me, “Anna, please come again. Will you ask the forest department to give me the remaining money so I can repay the loans?”  Who will speak for the dead farmer’s wife, Maheswari.   I drive back to my village, I could not help wondering how the young farmer’s widow, who had her whole life ahead would manage. Maheswari was just 23, had two little children, and like any village girl had no education or training. The compensation of Rs.150, 000 would not go very far, I thought to myself. Maheswari has no clue when she will get the legal heir certificate and how much money still she needs to complete the formalities….
  Who is responsible for protecting farmers and their crops? Does the meagre compensation divest the government from its larger responsibility to the farming community? Can we expect farmers to save wild animals, when we have no policy to protect them and their families?  

Maheswari With her two girl children
Shanthamallamma and Shivamallugamma.
With no one to help farmers to protect themselves and their crops from wild animals, farmers are virtually at the mercy of a parasitic bureaucracy and indifferent politicians…. Can throwing small money at people help to rebuild their lives?  A thought crosses my mind, “Rahul Gandhi spoke for one Kalavathy, but who will speak for Maheswari?”

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Despair.

This  mail was in response to Mr.Ramanjaneyalu's mail" Wanted a Pay commission for farmers" in GM Free India. I would like to suggest the readers to read his mail in the following link.                                                                                                                  Kannaiyan

After GATT agreement was signed and WTO came in to existence, import of food grains , sugar, oilseeds etc have witnessed its increase. Farmers can not even be compared with the last cadre servant in government. We need a development model which should ensure a decent standard of life to all. Control over key resources of agriculture should remain with farming communities.
Failure of farmers movements to understand and address the key issues, feudal values of the landed farmers, opportunistic farmers leaders, arrogance of the educated intellectuals in the rural communities, etc are the reasons for this condition. I don’t know whether an income commission will bring income to farmers or not.
I came to farmer’s movement few years back as a full time activist. I found it no ordinary job .I stayed in Thamizhaga Vivasayigal Sangam’s thatched office premises in Erode for about a year. Farmers rarely visited the office, but real estate brokers who  buy and sell farmers land were visiting the office and using it as their contact place. I left the farmers association office and stay in my home.
WTO’s Dhoha round is stalled. Free Trade Agreements are being pushed aggressively. Farmers are not connecting anything to policies. Farmer’s leaders are talking the very old demands of MSP and market price to their lands etc. They are not even debating seed bill.
Policy makers and rulers want farmers should get out from farming. Farmers also doing the same thing.
This is not response to Ramoo’s mail. He has given me an opportunity to share my despair.  

I have been associated with Thamizhaga Vivasayigal Sangam( Farmer's Association of Tamil Nadu) since 2007 and represented the association in various National and International forums.  Due to prolonged difference of opinion and unhealthy work environment within the association I have resigned from the framers association from today.I am still organising Thalavady Farmers Association and associated wit the South Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements(SICCFM). I will continue to work for the causes of food sovereignty and for the rights of farming community which feeds the world.