Throttling India's marginal farmers (26/8/2003)

1. Devinder Sharma's intro
2. Open Democracy
3. Kisan Mehta's article: Genetically Modified Seeds - for whom and why?
From Devinder Sharma in New Delhi, India:

The USA is waging a continuous war, more pernicious that the one it's perpetrating  in the Middle East, for flooding the GM foods and fibre throughout the world. People in Africa have refused to accept the US GM crops even though they are on the  brink of death due to satarvation. It is beyond any comprehension as to why our Government is so much after adopting GM seeds in our country.  The following article may give an idea about the forces that are throttling our marginal farmers.
Dear all,
Kisan Mehta's article was first published at www.opendemocracy.net,
click: http://www.opendemocracy.net/debates/article-4-64-1411.jsp
It is free to be a member of openDemocracy. We would be delighted if you contributed your responses to Kisan Mehta in the discussion forum of the Ecology and Place  section. That way you will reach a global audience and help us link people from around the world in constructive debate and dialogue.
Thank you for particpating.
best wishes
Sophie Jeffreys,
Ecology and Place Section
Genetically Modified Seeds - for whom and why?
by Kisan Mehta

Introduction of the Genetically Modified potato seeds in India after bringing Bt Cotton seeds into India from the backdoor exposes the design of the Indian bureaucrats to support the big business and disturb the country's food  security, especially for the marginalised farmers and the poor consumers.

Genetically Modified (Manipulated?) seeds are still new for Indian farmers as are hybrid seeds to a very large section of farmers.   There are obvious reasons for farmers for not accepting new untried seeds. They cannot afford to risk their yields and crops.  About 79% of Indian farmers are what is known as 'marginal farmers'owning less than 0.8 ha of land.  It is for individual farmer this piece of his land which should provide basic food needs  of his family as well as those of landless labourers helping him in the farm.

Marginal farmers hardly have any means to buy food from open market hence  whatever they can bring home from their farms is the maximum they can have  for their consumption.  Quite often this is not enough for all working on the land.

Quantumwise marginal holdings account for slightly more than 20% of the cultivable land of the country. These farmers do not have access to public irrigation facilities so they can hope to have only a single crop during the rainy season. Rainfed cultivation cannot assure anything more than the minimum subsistance.   Crop failures due to the monsoon vagaries are practically endemic, multiplying the marginal farmer woes.

Marginal farmers cannot afford to buy seeds and chemicals from the market just because they do not have the cash and the wherewithal to procure them at any time and more specifically at the time of sowing. Purchasing seeds on  credit makes them a debtor for all the time. Marginal farmers use the seeds  saved from their earlier year's crop which simultaneously reduces the quantum  of food available to the people working on the land.    Their inability to acquire inputs from the market has traditionally bound the farmers to stick the age-old practice of using their own seeds and avoid bought out inputs.

Though this is the general pattern of things,  we can observe farmers falling in  the trap of intense marketing strategies. Pernicious marketing practices for seeds, chemical fertilisers and pesticides pursued by the private producers and the government, work on the farmers especially in the year following a crop failure season.

The government has a substantial share in manufacturing and marketing of chemical fertilisers and pesticides in the country. Subsidy granted at the production point keep the manufacturers in good mood though many public units show continuous working losses.
Hybrid seeds, chemical fertilisers and pesticides and, now the GM seeds, are introduced through dubious marketing strategies including not informing the farmers on the limitations of the product they market. Critical information that the farmers cannot use seeds from their crop in the following season is kept back from them.
The Government of India has to clear the use of GM seeds before allowing the GM seed producer to introduce amongst the farmers.  Despite this statutory  requirement, big business, during the 2001 cultivation season, distributed the GM Bt Cotton seeds on an extensive scale amongst god-fearing farmers in different parts of the country without obtaining prior clearance. While debate on the suitability of GM cotton seeds continued amongst public servants, professionals and activists opposing manipulation of inputs, Bt Cotton seeds were already sown extensively.
The government, instead of taking measures against this violation, approved  the use of Bt Cotton.   Extensive crop failure on Bt Cotton opened up for the first time the eyes of the farmers.  Yet the use of Bt Cotton seeds is not banned.  Many senior public officers push openly and stealthily GM seeds as can be observed in the case of GM Potato.  They use all the pretext like feeding the people with nutritive food as they have put forth for promoting GM potato.
Farmers and consumers are opposed to cultivating GM seeds for a number of reasons. Farmers lose their right to select seeds that they found from experience to be most suitable.   They have before them a large variety of traditional and improved varieties of seeds to choose from. For example, more than 100 rice varieties are available in the country. Farmers know that they have wide choice for their region.  Quite often they cultivate more than one variety on his farm. Resort to GM seeds takes away their freedom to select the variety.
Accustomed to using seeds from the earlier crop enables them to proceed with cultivation plan without having to resort to the market for obtaining the quantity of seeds.  They have to find cash money to buy expensive GM seeds at a time when they hardly have any cash on hand. Buying seeds creates debt for the farmers. Local seed trader is all too willing to supply seeds on credit as he knows as to how to extract larger amount from the hapless farmer.  So farmer fall into debt trap from which they can hardly extricate themselves.  He becomes a pawn to the market forces. Indian farmer has saved himself from this trap by avoiding going to market for inputs and by deciding to cover his needs before disposing off his surplus produce.
Awareness on the deleterious effect of commercial farming based on maximum use of hazardous chemicals is growing amongst farmers.  They have started realising that use of chemicals and purchased expensive seeds increase the cost beyond their capacity to retain their produce for own consumption.  Sustainable cultivation shows to the farmer the way for retaining his produce for his own. GM seeds are anachronistic to sustainable agriculture,  which on the other hand helps him to maintain good health, protect the environment and  reduce his cultivation costs.
As rightly stated by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in his article - 'GM crops? Not in my backfield' - published in the Observer, " The only conceivably acceptable pro-GM argument, that it might help us feed the starving in the poorer parts of the world, turns out to be the most cynical and reckless of all.  Far from offering hope and independence to the Third World farmers and growers, GM represents the new economic enslavement of the Third World - neo-colonialism by proxy."    To this observation we must add that this applies equally to the consumers. Sheer poverty that disables the farmers to buy the most minimum for sustenance is as much applcable to consumers as it is to farmers.
Feeding the poor is a bogey that is used by everybody starting from big business, government to multilateral agencies. To put the record straight, India produces adequate quantum of food items to feed all the billion plus population.  Yet about one third of its population is condemned to living in abject poverty unable to have the minimum to meet one's hunger.
It is the high cost of food that keeps the morsel of food from the hungry mouth.   Even the prices of food items through Public Distribution Scheme(PDS), are too high for the poor.  The World Trade Organisation, World Bank, International Monetory Fund  and the likes through globalisation and free market access have sucked the primary food items from farmers at a throwaway distress prices and have flooded packaged and processed trash food in return which only the higher middle class citizen can afford.  Practically all food giants of the world are now engaged in processing and packaging food and marketing on an average at minimum ten times the basic cost.   Why to talk of the private business working for maximising their profits. The Central Government has a full fledged Ministry for Processed Foods which advertises, at public cost, that process (correct word junk) food is healthier than freshly cooked food.  
Added to this, the artificial cutting down of prices of food items through heavy subsidies by affluent countries - the USA and Europe  make poor farmers in poor countries all the more poorer.  The US President has been taking special pains and does not leave any occasion to sell the  the US GM crops throughout the world and is now in the process of pressuring and compelling the European Countries to accept the GM crops.  As he has initially failed to flood the GM crop, he has taken formal complaint against the unwilling European Community countries before the World Trade Organisation.
Emerging world trade pattern dictated by the WTO compels India to sell cereals and pulses at a CIF price lower than the PDS price prescribed for delivery to the.  Government warehouses are full with cereals rotting in absence of demand yet it will rather export and expose their citizens death and starvation.  It is the jinxed distribution dictated by market  forces that makes its poor to face tribulations.
By its very nature the GM produce would take away the last morsel from the poor.  What to talk of feeding the poor?   The GM junk is for the benefit of highly commercialised US agriculture in the hands of US giant Corporations.
Kisan Mehta  
620 Jame Jamshed Road, Dadar East,
Mumbai 400 014 India
Tel: 00 91 22 2414 9688

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