Indian Farmers Trapped And Desperate
(London, Jan 2013): India has the largest number of smallholder farmers in the world – 600 million by some estimates. From this army of workers one impoverished desperate man, or indeed woman, with a noose of debt around their neck takes his/her own life on average every thirty minutes, A statistic barely comprehensible, representing the tidal wave of suicides that has swept through the farming community in the last 15 years.
The agrarian crisis of which farmer suicides are a tragic consequence is a mega calamity, rooted in one fundamental cause, which P. Sainath (i), rural editor for The Hindu describes as ‘the drive towards corporate farming’, predicated by the “predatory commercialisation of the countryside”, that is forcing “the biggest displacement in Indian history”. Shocking and destructive, it should be seen as part of a greater whole of interconnected issues facing India. Sainath makes this clear, “don’t detach this crisis from the overall political, economic social direction of the country, he says.
The number of farmer suicides – the largest in human history is estimated to have reached 300,000+ and rising as we speak. Add to this the 400 a day who attempt suicide and fail, the 2,200 that daily quit farming and the one and a half million family members affected by suicides, plus the millions facing the very issues that are driving the tragedy, and the scale of the inferno begins to be clear. Shocking, as they are, these figures are an indication only; women are one of eight groups who are generally excluded from official data because most do not have title to land. A woman is not classed as a farmer, she is a farmer’s wife, and her suicide is not included in the figures. Nor are the “family members of farmers who have committed suicide—who themselves take over farming land, and subsequently commit suicide because of debt” [ii], and less surprisingly the Dalit and Adivasi (indigenous) people are also invisible to a government who ignores them in death as in life.
The major cause of this epidemic is indebtedness to banks and moneylenders, hiding behind the debt however is twenty years of market liberalisation at the hands of the government that has withdrawn all agricultural support, failed to invest in irrigation, improve the availability of rural credit, or provide farmers with alternative seed purchasing options – other than GM shopping. HRGJ convey government statistics stating: “that 241,679 farmers in India committed suicide between 1995 and 2009”, the majority are cash crop farmers, growing cotton being particularly hazardous work. Suicides have been highest in the states of Maharashtra , Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal , all high cotton producing areas.
(ii) http://www.chrgj.org/publications/docs/every30min.pdf The Center For Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University’s (HRGJ). Report on farmer suicides.
(Jakarta, November 2012): The Community Agroecology Foundation in Surin, Thailand recently held a gathering for agroecology trainers and peasant schools.
The meeting in Thailand was the culmination of a series of continental-level agroecology meetings that LVC has already organised in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas over the last four years. This has served to consolidate the movement and make a database of the various types of knowledge and expertise of local agroecological farming methods already being practiced and to link up these experiences so that farmers’ organisations can share, not just nationally but especially regionally and globally.
Such farmer-to-farmers exchanges are very effective argues LVC, and farmers protagonism must be placed at the centre of such efforts. Cuba for example has transformed its chemical-based production systems into agroecologically integrated and diversified farming systems which have spread to more than one-third of all farmer families in Cuba. This is a remarkable rate of growth in less than ten years, possible only because of the farmer to farmer process and strong support to the small-farmer movement.
There are countless such examples of successful farmer to farmer exchanges all over the world. LVC stresses the importance of organising and engaging peasants organizations in order to scale that up. More …
A group of Brazilian Indians who endured violence and death to return to their land have made a dramatic appeal to the government after learning that they face eviction once more.
Surrounded by a rancher’s gunmen, facing an eviction order, and with little access to food or health care, a group of Brazilian Guarani Indians make a dramatic appeal: ‘Kill us all, then bury us here… we have decided, all together, not to leave here, dead or alive.’
Survival is calling for the Guarani to be allowed to stay on their land, and for all Guarani territories to be demarcated urgently. More on this story →
This book was written collectively by more than hundred organisations, experts, activists, farmers and grassroots movements around the world …
It is also the launch of the global campaign on seed freedom which will focus on stopping seed laws that are preventing farmers from saving and exchanging their native varieties. The campaign also aims at reversing the perversion of seed patenting.
It details the concentration and restrictions in the global seed sector as a result of the Intellectual Property Rights regimes and corporate convergence; it captures the movements acting in defense of seed freedom in America, Africa, Europe and Asia. Moreover, the report features the voices from grassroots – like the cultural implications of corn in Andes region, efforts of women farmers in India to keep their traditional seeds alive and the description of seed system in Africa.
The book is released by feminist scholar and human rights activist Dr Ilina Sen. Others who participated are: Dr Vandana Shiva, founder and Director, Navdanya; Blanche Magariños, Environmental Advocate and activist; Kusum Panigrahi, Navdanya, Orissa, Farida Akthar, UBINIG, Bangladesh and Sarita Kumari, Ghanerao Foundation.
From 2nd October, Gandhi’s birthday to 16th October, World Food Day, an intensive fortnight of action is being organised across the world. During this period the Global Citizens’ Report on Seed Freedom will be released in Paris, Rome, the UN headquarters in Geneva, Stuttgart, Istanbul, and at the CoP of the Biodiversity Convention at Hyderbad.
Now you can download the report here. Remember to ‘Save as…’
Korean peasant women get the prize
(Jakarta, October 2012): The Korean Women’s Peasant Association (KWPA), has been selected to receive the fourth annual Food Sovereignty Prize on October 10, 2012, in New York City. This event, hosted by WhyHunger and co-sponsored by the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance and allies, champions the grassroots groups that practice and defend the right of people to determine their own food and agriculture policies.
The Korean Women’s Peasant Association is a national organisation of women farmers based in Seoul, South Korea, that has developed the practice of food sovereignty within the framework of women’s rights. South Korea is highly industrialised, with less than seven percent of the population employed in agriculture. Farmlands are quickly making way for growing cities, the government has signed far-reaching free trade agreements and corporations are taking over the agricultural industry.
In this context, KWPA, alongside the Korean Peasants League and one hundred-plus additional organisations, has created the National Campaign Task Force to defend food sovereignty throughout the country. Locally, KWPA runs hands-on training programmes: Our Sisters Garden links women farmers and local consumers to ensure a sustainable and healthy food supply while preserving the rights of women peasants; the Native Seed Campaign focuses on native seed preservation in farming communities.
“At the international level, KWPA has been an active member of La Via Campesina for years, leading strong global campaigns against the WTO and bilateral free trade agreements with the United States and European Union,” ~ Henry Saragih, general coordinator of La Via Campesina.
Human Rights Council: Towards a better protection of the rights of farmers and peasants
(Geneva, September 2012): Uniterre* has announced that the United Nations have decided to better protect the rights of farmers and peasants around the world. On Thursday, September 27, 2012, the United Nations’ Human Rights Council adopted a resolution “Promoting the human rights of peasants and others people living in rural areas.”
The resolution is based on the report of the Advisory Committee of the UN Human Rights Council entitled “Final study of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee on the advancement of the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas” (A/HRC/19/75). This study was adopted by this body on the right to food in the 19th session of UN Human Rights Council (March 2012). In this session, the resolution on the right to food was adopted by consensus.
Through this resolution (A/HRC/21/L23), the Council recognises the absolute need for a new international legal instrument that takes the form of a United Nations declaration. It aims to bring together in a single text the specific rights of peasant farmers, women and men, and to integrate new rights such as rights to land, seeds, means of production or information in rural areas.
After an broad internal process of several years, La Via Campesina started calling in 2008 for the adoption of a Declaration recognising specific rights of peasants and farmers. This is not only in the interest of farmers alone, but it also responds to a global necessity in the world struggle against hunger, poverty and discrimination.
The UN-HRC engaged in this process in response to the 2007-2008 food crisis. Noting that 80% of the people suffering from hunger live in rural areas and 50% of them belong to the peasantry – the Council considered that particular attention should be paid to them. By protecting their fundamental rights, it expects to reduce hunger in the world.
The Human Rights Council has decided to establish an intergovernmental working group to prepare a draft declaration on the human rights of peasants and other people living in rural areas. It will be based on the draft submitted by the Advisory Committee in March 2012. The first session of the working group will take place in 2013 and will be spread over several years before the adoption of the final text by the Council and the UN General Assembly. Civil society and representatives of peasant organisations are expected to participate actively in this process – another positive aspect.
The collaboration of several countries from Latin America, Asia and Africa, made the adoption of the preliminary text possible. However, the peasant movement deplores the negative vote of a number of states of the European Union (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Spain, Italy) and the United States who opposed the establishment of this specific protection of farmers and peasants. These governments, probably under pressure from some powerful lobbies, did not support their farmers, ignoring the rights and interests of their own citizens in favour of those economic players who constantly violate the rights of women and men family farmers around the world.
* Uniterre is a Swiss member organisation of the international peasant’s movement La Via Campesina.
Two old-timers talk about the roles of Affection for the Land. Excerpted from the Prairie Festival recently organised by The Land Insitute in Kentucy, U.S.A.
|Wendell Berry is a farmer, educator, conservationist, recipient of numerous awards, and author of more than forty books of poetry, essays, and novels – from The Unsettling of America to New Collected Poems. He articulates how profit-driven industrial society not only destroys our natural world but also harms our social and personal well-being. He lives and farms in Kentucky.|
|Wes Jackson is president and co-founder of The Land Institute. He is a MacArthur Fellow, Pew Scholar, and a recipient of the Right Livelihood Award. He is also the author of several books, including New Roots for Agriculture, Becoming Native to this Place, Consulting the Genius of the Place, and most recently Nature as Measure.|
(FAO, September, 2012): We are shocked by an article co-signed by Jose Graziano da Silva, Director General of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), and Suma Chakrabarti, President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) recently published in the Wall Street Journal.
They are calling on governments and social organisations to embrace the private sector as the main engine for global food production.
While referring specifically to Eastern Europe and North Africa, the heads of these two influential international organisations (IOs) make a clear call for a world wide increase in private-sector investment and land-grabbing. They say that the private sector is efficient and dynamic and call on companies to “double investment in the land itself“.
Meanwhile, they dismiss peasants and those few remaining policies that protect them as burdens “holding back” agricultural development and should be eliminated. To do so, they urge governments to facilitate the growth of big agribusiness. Their article was published in the context of a joint FAO and EBRD conference in Istanbul on September 13th, which they describe as the largest and most important gathering of companies and decision-makers in agribusiness.
Graziano da Silva and Chakrabarti make a number of biased claims in the article that obscure the reality when it comes to agriculture and food. They point to Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan as successful examples of agribusiness that have transformed these countries from “the agricultural wastelands of the 1990s” into “leading grain exporters.” But at no time do they mention that the official statistics from all three countries show that small farmers and peasants are more productive than big agribusiness.
Actually, small-scale farmers feed most of the world
Peasants and small farmers, especially women, account for over half of Russia’s agricultural production but occupy only a quarter of the agricultural lands. In the Ukraine, they produce 55% of the agricultural output on only 16% of the land, while in Kazakhstan, where they occupy half of the land, they account for 73% of agricultural production.
The fact is that these countries are fed mainly by peasants and small farmers, and this is true over much of the world. Wherever official data are available, as in the EU, Colombia and Brazil, or in the studies undertaken in Asia, Africa and Latin America, peasant-farming is shown to be more efficient than large-scale agribusiness.
Contrary to what is claimed by the Director General of the FAO, those who really have the capacity to feed the world are the world’s small-scale farmers and peasants. The expansion of agribusiness has only exacerbated poverty, destroyed the potential for dignified rural livelihoods, increased pollution, desertification and environmental destruction, and brought back the scourge of slave labour and a series of recent food and climate crises.
For social movements, the peasants and small farmers of the world, it is unacceptable and even incomprehensible for a Director General of the FAO to be promoting the destruction of peasant-farming and an increase in land-grabbing. It is particularly troubling for this to occur after three years of careful, hard work by La Via Campesina and other organisations in constructing the FAO’s voluntary guidelines to protect communities against land grabs and after Graziano da Silva had repeatedly assured farmers’ organisations during his campaign for Director General of the FAO that he would promote and validate the importance of peasant agriculture and the critical role small farmers must play in food production.
The language used by Graziano da Silva and Chakrabarti is offensive. Phrases like “fertilize this land with money” or “make life easier for the world’s hungry” call into question the FAO’s ability to do its job with the necessary rigour and independence – and to fulfill the UN’s mandate to eradicate hunger and improve the living conditions of rural people.
We wonder what the FAO means by “International Year of Family Farming” when its Director General says that the obstacles to improving agricultural production are “relatively high levels of protection, lack of proper irrigation, [and] small and uneconomically sized farms.” This vision and the FAO’s subservience to the demands and interests of neo-capitalist investors undermines all the work at conciliation that has taken place in recent years between farmers’ organisations and the FAO.
It raises questions about why the FAO has not developed a proposal for concrete and effective action to promote peasant agriculture and family farming as a fundamental response to a global food crisis that is once again enriching transnational banks and corporations.2 Where, we wonder, will peasant families go if these plans to transform their lands into industrial megafarms are successful?
Beyond the issue of the FAO abandoning its mission, it is also of deep concern that the EBRD is playing such an active role in profitering from and promoting investments in land-grabbing and the takeover of agriculture by big agribusiness. The EBRD’s stance is all the more dangerous now that its area of operation is expanding in northern Africa.
What is needed for agriculture and the planet is just the opposite of what Chakrabarti and Graziano da Silva propose. Humanity and those suffering from hunger need is for these agro-cultures of rural areas, which represent half the world’s population and make peasant farming possible, to be protected and promoted. Peasant farming is more efficient and productive – it produces at least half of the global food supply and most of the employment in rural areas,. And because it can cool the planet.
The livelihoods of peasants and indigenous peoples and their food production systems cannot be destroyed to create a new source of mega profits for a tiny group of elites. We need comprehensive and effective agrarian reforms that put lands and territories back into the hands of rural peoples. The commodification and grabbing of lands must be stopped and reversed. We do not need agribusiness; we need more communities and more peasant and indigenous families farming with dignity and respect.
Farmers feed the world
Agribusiness grabs it
Banks profiteering from hunger as global food prices rise:
“We’ll make a killing out of the food crisis, Glencore trading boss Chris Mahoney boasts“, The Independent, Londres, 23 August 2012, (James Cusick)
“Barclays makes £500m betting on food crisis“, The Independent, Londres, 1 September 2012, (Tom Bawden)
“Rising food prices hit Nairobi slums“, Al Jazeera, Doha, 6 September 2012, (Peter Greste)
“… is a complete invasion” ~ Renaldo Chingore of the National Farmers’ Union (UNAC) of Mozambique.
(Maputo Province, Mozambique (August 2012): At the People’s Dialogue and Summit, held at Mumemo, Mozambique the ongoing rush for African land by national and transnational investors was a dominant theme.
Common concerns were expressed about the role of governments in utilising a smokescreen of legality to enclose thousands of hectares of land and water resources, evicting entire communities, and deleting traditional property rights from any effective recognition. They take advantage of the scant understanding of the law by the people, who are uninformed about their rights and means for expressing their dissent – in violation of national and international obligations.
Delegates at the Summit demanded an immediate moratorium on all large-scale agricultural investments such as the Pro-Savana* project in Mozambique – accompanied by precise political responses, such as
- the intensification and facilitation of the process of recognition of common land titles in favour of the communities;
- the dissemination of information on land related laws and of people’s rights in local languages; the respect of the right to free, prior and informed consent of affected communities;
- the direct involvement of peasants in the definition of agricultural policies based on sustainability, food sovereignty and agroecology; the realization of a seeds’ bank to preserve biodiversity;
- a regional ban on GMOs and the assumption of the duty to inform consumers about their presence in the food by clear labelling,
- and the improved access to local infrastructure capable of stocking water and cereals for the needs of peasants and populations.
* The Pro-Savanna project, funded by Brazil and Japan plans to mono-cultivate vast areas of ‘improved’ soy-beans and rice varieties using local labour; as well as implement an upgrade of the national infrastructure, including rail links, a port, and a 350-kilometre trunk road to make it easier for the ‘farmers’ to export their goods.