No one wants to be a farmer anymore. It's only a matter of time before farmer as a species goes extinct. - By Devinder Sharma

A paddy farm in the great northern plains. 
Original article can be found here.
Some years back, the celebrated Indian President Abdul Kalam was addressing students at an annual event organised by K Govindacharya's Bhartiya Swabhiman Andolan at Gulbarga in Karnataka. He exhorted students to work hard, educated themselves to become doctors, engineers, civil servants, scientists, economists and entrepreneurs. After he had ended his talk, a young student got up and asked why he didn't say that they should also become farmers.

Abdul Kalam was floored. Whatever be his long winding answer, the young student had actually punctured his argument, and at the same time brought out the great bias towards farming.

This incident came to my mind when I was reading this moving essay by a farmer from the United States. Bren Smith, a shellfish and seaweed farmer writes in the New York Times (Aug 9, 2014) Don't Let Your Children Grow up to be Farmers ( "The dirty secret of the food movement is that the much-celebrated small -scale farmer isn't making a living. After the tools are put away, we head out to second and third jobs to keep our farms afloat." Accordingly, 91 per cent of all farm households in the US rely on multiple sources of income. This is happening in a country where the Farm Bill 2014 makes a provision for $ 962 billion of federal subsidy support for agriculture for the next 10 years.

Ironically, the stark reality remains hidden in the Year of Family Farms.

Farmers are a dying breed. Writing in the Newsweek magazine (April 10, 2014), Max Kutner says: "For decades, farmers across the country have been dying by suicide at higher rates than the general population. The exact numbers are hard to determine, mainly because suicide by farmers are under-reported (they may get mislabeled as hunting or tractor accidents, advocates for prevention say) and because the exact definition of a farmer is elusive." (Death on the Farm

Well, what is happening in America is not an isolated development, farmers are dying across the globe.

When some weeks back I said on a prominent TV channel that on an average 2,80,000 people living in rural areas every year have been committing suicide for the past decade in China, the nation was shocked. A lot of concerned viewers called me up and wrote to me wanting to know more about the death on the Chinese farm. According to news report, nearly 80 per cent of the rural people who take their own lives in China are victims of farm land grab. In India, almost 300,000 farmers have ended their live since 1995. Again, like in the US, farm suicides are also under-reported in India with some States now trying to hide them by shifting these deaths to some other categories. Even in Europe, which provides massive subsidy support under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the serial death dance continues unabated. In France, 500 suicides have been reported in a year. In Ireland, in UK, in Russia, and in Australia farmers are a dying breed.

In India, although we keep on saying that agriculture is the mainstay on the economy, in reality it isn't. Employing some 52 per cent of the population, the share of agriculture in country's GDP has been progressively on the decline. It is less than 14 per cent now. I have been saying for long that small farmers have to get into multiple of jobs to keep their chulas burning. Some studies point out to roughly 58 per cent farmers relying on the rural employment guarantee programme (MNREGA), which provides for 100 days guaranteed employment. Still worse, the people who feed the country actually sleep hungry. More than 60 per cent go to bed hungry every night. Nothing can be a worse illustration of the great tragedy on the farm.

It's not because of any unexplained natural calamity or a virus that the farms across the globe are first being hit by recession, and then depression. It is part of global economic design to move farmers out of agriculture, and by doing so to shift food production into the hands of heavily subsidised and environmentally-destructive agribusiness companies. It is generally believed that for any country to grow economically, the share of agriculture in the GDP must be brought down. In US, agriculture is only 4 per cent of its GDP. In India, it is less than 14 per cent now. By the end of 2020, I am sure it would be somewhere in the range of 10 per cent. Small scale agriculture is therefore being deliberately stifled.

In my understanding, the unwritten economic prescription is to make farming non-viable so that farmers are left with no other choice but to quit. In a quest to keep food prices low, the economic paradigm support large agribusiness conglomerates. The demise of the farmer therefore is predetermined. It's only a matter of time before the farmer as a species goes extinct.

Gandhi's Dharma and the West ~ Rajiv Malhotra

Mahatma Gandhi articulated his sva-dharma ("my dharma") using a few key Sanskrit words that do not have an exact English equivalent. One of these is satya, his practice of truth. Unlike truth in the Western sense, satya is not an intellectual proposition but a way of life which has to be actualized and embodied directly by each person. There is no place for the reification or codification of satya, because truth is not held in some book or set of laws; it lives in oneself, and cannot be separated from oneself. This philosophical distinction is at the heart of Gandhi's dharma

He insisted that satya-graha, or "truth-struggle," is a civil disobedience method that has to be individually lived, as opposed to being theorized or institutionalized. Later, this method inspired the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s civil rights movement in the U.S. as well as revolutions in South Africa, Poland and elsewhere. He not only advocated a sustainable society, he lived sustainably. The Gandhi library in Delhi contains the sum total of all of his personal belongings: his glasses, a pair of sandals, a pen and a few dhotis.

Another fundamental component of his dharma is captured in the term ahimsa, which is translated too simply as "nonviolence" but is not the same as the common idea of "pacifism." It is much larger. Himsa means harming, and ahimsa means non-harming. Harming the environment is himsa, as per the very deep dharmic idea that all nature is sacred. Harming animals is also himsa, and so vegetarianism is an important quality of ahimsa. Gandhi argued that vegetarianism has a lower impact on the environment than a meat diet, and hence a vegetarian society is more eco-sustainable than a carnivorous one. The modern eco-feminism movement was galvanized by Gandhi's ideals brought to America in the 1960s.

To achieve ahimsa requires enormous activity, including confrontation, such as he used while challenging the mighty British Empire that caused himsa on a large scale. Paradoxically, it takes a fighter to actualize ahimsa. Gandhi was such a fighter. He is falsely depicted as "passive" and non-threatening. In fact, he was audacious, outspoken (what we today call "politically incorrect"), and refused to be appropriated by anyone.

Ahimsa also applies to cultures taken as a whole. Cultural genocide is the systematic and complete elimination or suppression of the native religion, language, dress, way of life, customs and/or symbols of one people by another. Even though the people in question might be given material benefits through humanitarian aid, education and medical facilities, it is still himsa if there is systematic destruction of their identity, sense of history, ideas of ancestry and relationship with nature. This kind of himsa goes on today under the name of "development." In the United Nations laws of genocide, the phrase "cultural genocide" was dropped from the earlier drafts.

Gandhi fully understood cultural violence and often talked about it. He believed that cultural difference is not to be erased but celebrated, another old dharmic idea. The universe is built on diversity. In fact, that is what the word "uni-verse" means: the many-in-one. Every species has sub species and sub-sub species and this nesting of diversity goes on and on. Cultural homogeneity is therefore unnatural and unfeasible. There should not be one single religion or way of life. Everyone should have his or her own sva-dharma depending on personal circumstances and tendencies.

Gandhi fought against cultural colonization as much as against its material and political manifestations. Although he was not against Christianity (and in fact often quoted Jesus), he opposed Christian missionaries in India. He said they should only do selfless work and not convert people. If they desired to run a school or hospital, or give the poor food, these things should not become a tool for conversion.

Embodying the principle of diversity, he wore a traditional dhoti, went barefoot and bare-chested and felt comfortable sitting on the floor. Even when he went to England in 1931 and King George V held a reception in his honor at Buckingham Palace, he wore the same frayed sandals that carried him on his famous march of civil disobedience to defy the British law banning Indians from making salt. He spoke in simple village language and lived with the poorest people, accentuating his different aesthetics from the elites.

Yet another Sanskrit term that Gandhi emphasized was svadesi, meaning "from the soil," a native product, similar to the "buy local" movement which is now fashionable in the West. The preference for local production and seasonal eating was based on the ideal of ahimsa. Svadesi is better for the environment and for the health of individuals because they are acclimatized to local things and have a relationship with the natural setting in which they live. Svadesi entails eating locally grown food, wearing locally made clothes and, where possible, buying locally made goods. He produced his own cloth, milked his own goat, etc.

He advocated a dharmic society based on traditional decentralized governance built from the bottom-up at the village level. This conflicted directly with the top-down British system. Western approaches to human rights also operate in a top-down power structure in which the political activists, aid workers and NGOs with access to global media and funding are positioned as agents, and take "the burden" and responsibility of others' agency upon themselves. This approach is incompatible with the ideal of empowering the people for their own truth-struggle.

Ahimsa is not something merely to be talked about or legislated; it must be lived by every individual. This requires bottom-up social activism whereby the people themselves embody the change they want to see in the world. Hence, one must have a functional, sustainable society in which the people at the bottom are free to embody their satya. It was for this reason, and not just as an end in itself, that he demanded swaraj or self-rule from the British.

Self-rule is thus much more than mere political independence and involves both "freedom to" and "freedom from." In the West, freedom is conceived as freedom to own a car, to travel, to shop, to speak. In other words, it is extroverted. But such a pursuit does not produce freedom from anger, or from desire, jealousy, habits and compulsions. In the latter notion, one is free from the conditioned self or ego. Gandhi always worked toward personally embodying this state of freedom from internal and external dependencies.

He frequently explained that there was indeed a deep ideological clash of civilizations between Britain and India. The unsustainability of British industrialization was prominent among his concerns, making him arguably the first modern proponent of sustainability. He was troubled that the ever increasing consumption in an industrial economy depletes the natural resources and destroys the self-sustaining villages which comprise India's social fabric.

When he turned his attention to the British way of life, criticizing its exploitative practices, hierarchies and industrial consumerism, he was "reversing the gaze" -- quite provocatively -- on another civilization. In the dharma traditions, this kind of informed analysis of another worldview is called purva-paksha. His short book Hind Swaraj (Indian Self-Rule), published a century ago, is a magnificent example of purva-paksha directed toward the British Empire. It examines colonialism from an Indian perspective, including criticism of those Indian elites who had joined hands with the British.

He took the Bhagavad Gita's notion of kurukshetra (battlefield) and lived his dharma in terms of the battles to be fought. Unfortunately, after his death, many of his ideas were translated so completely as to lose their original nuance of meaning. In this way, Gandhi has been domesticated, replaced with "Gandhism." Many so-called "Gandhians" do not embody the truth-struggle and are part of centralized power structures. This is himsa to Gandhi.

Original source of article is here.
- Rajiv Malhotra
Rajiv Malhotra, (born September, 1950) is an Indian-American philanthropist, public speaker and writer on current affairs, world religions and cross-cultural encounters between east and west. A physicist and computer scientist by training, his career until his early retirement at age 44 spanned the corporate world as a senior executive, strategic consultant and a successful entrepreneur in the information technology and media industries. In 1995, he founded the Infinity Foundation, seeking to foster a better understanding of the dharma religious traditions of India (most notably Hinduism and Buddhism) both in the US and on the subcontinent. The Foundation has given more than 400 grants for research, education and community work. Since he established his foundation, Rajiv has organized and led numerous conferences and scholarly events to address the challenges and opportunities arising from the growing encounters of civilizations east and west; his articles, blogs and books have a wide audience, and he is frequently interviewed and invited to deliver keynote addresses.

Rajiv’s work compares and contrasts the Abrahamic and dharma worldviews, and examines what the latter can bring to the future of the human family. He argues that the dharma offers a complex, open and multi-dimensional social and religious paradigm that fosters a genuine win-win dialogue among diverse peoples rather than a zero sum game. The key themes of his work include: globalization as a parochial imposition of Western universalism; limitations of the Abrahamic framework in addressing social and environmental conflicts; importance of the feminine dimension to the evolution of cultures; concerns about the future of the west; and the integration science and religion. 

Rajiv is at the center of a growing network of diverse collaborators, including scholars, academics, public intellectuals and activists, who draw inspiration from his example and benefit from his support. He is the first ever recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the World Association of Vedic Studies (2010) and of the Thomas Jefferson Award from the Indian American Civic Forum (2000). He sits on the board of a number of institutions of higher education, such as serving as the Chairman of the Board of Governors of the India Studies program at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. He was appointed to the Asian-American Commission for the State of New Jersey, where he served as the Chairman for the Asian Studies Education Committee. He is a senior advisor to the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha, founded in 2002, which is the apex body for representing the major Hindu traditions, providing leadership, guidance and a collective voice for Hindus worldwide.

How Evangelists Invented 'Dravidian Christianity' ~ By Rajiv Malhotra

Most liberal Americans are simply unaware of the international political machinations of evangelicals. Funded and supported by the American Christian right, they promote a literal and extreme version of Christianity abroad and attempt to further a fundamentalist Christian political agenda using unscrupulous methods. In India, picking up where the colonialists left off, they have gone so far as to revive discredited racial theories and fabricate scholarship in a dangerous game of divide and rule.

In south India, a new identity called Dravidian Christianity is being constructed. It is an opportunistic combination of two myths: the "Dravidian race" myth and another that purports that early Christianity shaped the major Hindu classics!
The discredited Aryan race theory was discussed in my previous blog. Its counterpoint is the "Dravidian" race theory. Both constructs are equally damaging and have been proven false. The "Dravidians," the theory goes, were the original inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent and were driven to southern India by the invading, lighter skinned and racially different "Aryans."
While there is no mainstream "Aryan" political party in India, the Dravidianization of mainstream identity in the southern state of Tamil Nadu keeps the pernicious pair alive. The Aryan/Dravidian constructs are mutually dependent, and have been very successfully used to generate conflict, including violence (as in Sri Lanka in recent years).
The Dravidian race theory originated in 19th century European scholarship when colonial and evangelical interests used linguistics and ethnic studies to formulate imaginary histories and races. While European scholars were busy appropriating the Sanskrit classics as the heritage of Europeans, British linguists Francis Ellis and Alexander Campbell worked in India to theorize that the south Indian languages belong to a different family than the north Indian ones. Meanwhile, another colonial scholar, Brian Houghton Hodgson, was promoting the term "Tamulian" as a racial construct, describing the so-called aborigines of India as primitive and uncivilized compared to the "foreign Aryans."
But it was a scholar-evangelist from the Anglican Church, Bishop Robert Caldwell (1814-91), who pioneered what now flourishes as the "Dravidian" identity. In his Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian Race, he argued that the south Indian mind was structurally different from the Sanskrit mind. Linguistic speculations were turned into a race theory. He characterized the Dravidians as "ignorant and dense," accusing the Brahmins -- the cunning Aryan agents -- for keeping them in shackles through the imposition of Sanskrit and its religion.
His successor, another prolific missionary scholar, Bishop G.U. Pope, started to glorify the Tamil classics era, insisting that its underpinnings were Christianity, not Hinduism. Though subsequently rejected by serious scholars of Tamil culture, the idea was successfully planted that Hinduism had corrupted the "originally pure" Tamil culture by adding Sanskrit and pagan ideas.
Meanwhile, an increasing number of Tamil leaders began to embrace the Dravidian identity. This evolved into Tamil chauvinism that was initially secular and not religious. It was fed by the theory that in the Indian Ocean there once existed a lost continent called Lemuria (similar to the Atlantis myth), the original homeland of the Dravidians. Accounts glorifying Lemuria were taught as historical fact under British rule, because this exacerbated the regional faultlines. After India's independence, Dravidian identity entered politics, and now dominates the state's power structure.
The Dravidian identity is now being increasingly Christianized. A new religion called "Dravidian Christianity" has been invented through a sudden upsurge of writings designed to "discover" the existence of quasi-Christianity in Tamil history prior to the coming of the "Aryan" Brahmins. The project is to co-opt Tamil culture, language and literature and systematically cleanse them of Hinduism. Christian interpretations and substitutes are being injected into the most cherished symbols, artifacts and literary works of Tamil Hindu culture.
The preposterous claim is that Tamil classical literature originated in early Christianity. The Tamil classical tradition consists of two great components: an ethical treatise called Thirukural (abbreviated Kural, authored by the great sage Thiruvalluvar), and a sophisticated Vedanta philosophical system called Saiva Siddhanta, which traces its origins to the Vedas and was nurtured by many Tamil savants over the centuries. Dravidian Christianity appropriates both these foundational works, attributing them to Christian influence. To make this credible, the pre-Christian date for Kural has been replaced by more recent dates.
The narrative used is that St. Thomas, the apostle, visited south India and taught Christianity to the great sage, Thiruvalluvar, who was inspired by Christianity, but did not capture St. Thomas' message accurately. This is often portrayed in recently published paintings showing the sage sitting at the feet of St. Thomas, taking notes. Sanskrit is downgraded as a language created by St. Thomas to spread the Christian message to the uncivilized north Indian races.
The Indian church has periodically announced archeological "discoveries" to back the visit of St. Thomas to south India, but none of them have been verified by professional archeologists. Even the famous Jesuit archeologist, Father Heras, dismissed the so-called discovery of Thomas' tomb in Chennai.
Western churches send billions of dollars to Tamil Nadu, the epicenter of the project to harvest Indian souls. While the sheer scale of intellectual fraud and prejudice is breathtaking, the church's political clout has enabled it to permeate university research, education, museums, politics and film. The state government is even supporting the production of an epic feature film on St. Thomas that will popularize this myth.
The Dravidian Christianity movement has organized an entire series of international conferences over the past decade, where its scholars make outlandish revisions to Indian religious history. They claim that the Bhagavad Gita, Tamil classics and even Sanskrit originated after Christ and under the influence of Christianity. The crackpot Lemurian theory pops up as well. A 2005 conference in New York had the theme, "International Conference on the History of Early Christianity in India." Senator Hillary Clinton greeted it with the message:
"I am confident that the breadth of resources presented during the conference will shed light on the impact of Christianity on medieval and classical India and its effects on the cultural and political climate of India..."
Dravidian Christianity has penetrated high places. For instance, Marvin Olasky, an advisor to President George W. Bush, declared that "the two major denominations of Hinduism -- Vishnu-followers and Shiva-followers -- arose not from early Hinduism but from early Christian churches probably planted by the apostle Thomas in India from AD 52 to 68." He goes on to explain to his American readers how Christianity brought many key notions into Hinduism.
In Breaking India, I demonstrate how an influential nexus of Christian funded institutions and scholars, often supported by western governments, are indulging in large-scale manipulations similar to those in colonial times. Meanwhile, in one of Chennai's most prominent public places stands a magnificent statue of Bishop Robert Caldwell, the icon who gave the Tamil people their "true history."
About Rajiv Malhotra 
Rajiv Malhotra, (born September, 1950) is an Indian-American philanthropist, public speaker and writer on current affairs, world religions and cross-cultural encounters between east and west. A physicist and computer scientist by training, his career until his early retirement at age 44 spanned the corporate world as a senior executive, strategic consultant and a successful entrepreneur in the information technology and media industries. In 1995, he founded the Infinity Foundation, seeking to foster a better understanding of the dharma religious traditions of India (most notably Hinduism and Buddhism) both in the US and on the subcontinent. The Foundation has given more than 400 grants for research, education and community work. Since he established his foundation, Rajiv has organized and led numerous conferences and scholarly events to address the challenges and opportunities arising from the growing encounters of civilizations east and west; his articles, blogs and books have a wide audience, and he is frequently interviewed and invited to deliver keynote addresses.

Originial article was published here

Why do we need GM crops???

Gilles-Eric Serilani  is a professor at the University of Caen in Normandy in France. Two years back, in 2012, he published a research paper that created a scientific uproar across the globe. In this landmark study, he fed rats for two years, which is the normal lifespan of rats, with genetically modified corn treated with a popular weed killer Roundup. The result was shocking. These rats developed mammary tumours, much bigger in size than what we normally see, and also liver and kidney diseases.

This was the first time a study had been conducted on rats for their full lifespan, which corresponds to about 80 years in human life. Normally, scientific feeding trials are conducted for 90 days, like in India, which corresponds to about 20 years of human life.

The path-breaking study was vociferously contested by pro-GM scientists. All kinds of charges were framed against Dr Seralini so much so that he was even accused of tampering with the results. This study was subsequently withdrawn by the scientific journal which first published it. But the catch here is that it was retracted only after a Monsanto person joined the top editorial team. Nevertheless, the study has since then been republished by another scientific journal Environment Science Europe.

At a time when studies now show that the harmful impact of chemical pesticides are passed on from generation to generation, I have never understood how could the regulatory bodies feel satisfied with feeding trials lasting for only 90 days in rats, which means about 20 years in a human life. A more recent study now tells us that your kidney problem can be related to the pesticide exposure your grandmother had. 

In a study: researchers say ancestral exposures to the pesticide methoxychlor may lead to adult onset kidney disease, ovarian disease and obesity in future generations. Michael Skinner, Washington State Uinversity professor and founder of the Center for Reproductive Biology at the University, and his colleagues document their findings in a paper published online in PLOS ONE ( The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

If this is true with pesticides, shouldn’t longer feeding trials be held in case of GM crops to be doubly sure? Why are the scientists therefore in a hurry to push GM crops to unsuspecting populations?

The argument that I hear in the print media and TV channels is that if we don’t allow GM crop field trails how will we know of the performance of these crops? But what is not being told is that all across the globe it is through field trails that GM contamination has spread in the wild. GM plants carry an alien gene that can escape into nature by wind or by cross-pollination. In America, because of the GM contamination ‘super weeds’ have erupted in 100 million acres requiring more potent chemicals to kill these weeds. ‘Super weeds’ become resistant to all kinds of chemicals and often require hand weeding.

Shouldn’t India therefore first conduct long-term feeding trials of GM seeds before these are tested in crop fields? No one is against scientific testing, but considering that GM genes escape into nature and also in the absence of tight regulatory control, the GM crops do get mixed up and get into the food chain, why can’t Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar first direct the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), the nodal inter-ministerial body that approved the GM crops for cultivation, to conduct long-term trials to know the impact on human beings. After all, in a country where combating disease and health disorders remains a challenge why add on to the prevailing crisis?

But the moment you bring up the question of the need for long-term impact on human health, you will find a chorus that is often repeated ad nauseam is that the Americans have been eating GM foods for almost 20 years now and there have been no fatalities. What is however not being told is that since the GM industry does not allow human clinical trials to be conducted how will we ever get to know the health impacts of GM foods. So far there has been only one human clinical trial in which GM created problems for lab rats. After that the GM industry has ensured that no human clinical trials are conducted.

Ever since the first GM crop – a GM tomato – was introduced in the United States in 1994, there has been a remarkable spurt in diseases. There is a 400 per cent increase in allergies; 300 per cent increase in asthma; 1500 per cent increase in autism to name a few diseases. I have been often saying that the US is the sickest nation among the developed countries. There is certainly no evidence of a direct link, but also there is also no evidence that this may not be linked somehow.

And finally, let us look at one of the tall claims of the GM industry. These crops were supposed to reduce the use of chemical pesticides and thereby make environment much cleaner. Washington State University researcher Charles Benbrook has shown that between 1996 and 2011, farmers in US are applying an additional 400 million pounds of pesticides. In 2012, on an average 20 per cent more pesticides were applied by GM farmers as compared to farmers not growing GM crops.

In Latin America, Brazil and Argentina are two major cultivators of GM crops. In Argentina, the application of chemical pesticides has risen from 34 million litres in the mid-1990s when the GM soybean crops were first introduced to more than 317 million litres in 2012, roughly a ten times increase. On an average, Argentine farmers use twice the quantity of pesticides per acre than their American counterparts. In Brazil, which has recently taken over Argentina as far as the spread of GM crops is concerned, pesticides use has gone up by 190 per cent in the past decade. 

In China, which has been promoted as a silver-bullet case, the bubble burst when a 2006 joint study conducted by Cornell University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences showed that  seven years after the introduction of Bt cotton, Chinese farmers were spraying 20 times more pesticides to control pests. Why then do we need GM crops, especially when they don’t even produce more than the existing crop varieties. According to US Department of Agriculture, crop yields of GM soya and corn are lower than the non-GM crop varieties. # (Some portions of this article have appeared elsewhere also)

The Hindi version of this article appeared in Nai Dunia, Aug 5, 2014. 
किसे है जीएम फसलों की जरूरत?

WTO: Livelihood security of 600 million farmers is more important than creating jobs in the rich and developed countries

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is absolutely right. What India had signed at the Bali WTO Ministerial in Dec 2013 would have surely compromised the future of India’s 600 million farmers.

The then Commerce Minister Anand Sharma definitely knew what was at stake. Despite calling the Prime Minister’s statement as ‘incorrect and false’ the fact remains that he deliberately mortgaged poor farmers’ interest.* He had agreed to an interim protection of four years for the Minimum Support Price (MSP) that farmers get. The reason was simple. India wanted to ensure that the Bali Ministerial succeeds even if it means destroying the livelihood of farmers. I don't know how could UPA think of destroying a majority of 600 million farm livelihoods just to keep the Bali WTO Ministerial afloat? How does India gain by help creating jobs in the rich countries at the cost of its poor millions?  

Anand Sharma knew that numerous US farm groups had written to the US Trade Representative Michael Froman as well as the US Agricultural Secretary Thomas Vilsack objecting to linking food aid with price support programs. Not finding anything wrong in legitimate domestic food aid programs, 30 farm commodity export groups had however expressed concern at the “price support programs, which have more to do with boosting farm incomes and increasing production than feeding the poor.”

These US farm commodity export groups, which ironically receive monumental federal support every year, had questioned the need to provide any relaxation in current discipline even on a temporary basis. Accordingly, such an exemption will result in more subsidy outgo and result in further damage to US trade interests. Against this, it's very clear that the Bali Ministerial had failed to find a permanent solution to India’s price support for farmers. If a the tough stand was taken by India at the Bali Ministerial, the present crisis would not have erupted.

By refusing to ratify the protocol for amendments of the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) by July 31 unless linked to a permanent guarantee for stockholding of foodgrains and an assured income for farmers, India has demonstrated a shift in power equation since the days of the Uruguay Round of the World Trade Organisation. Not only protecting its food security concerns, and the livelihood security of 600 million farmers, India’s decisive position will hopefully herald a new era in trade diplomacy.

The way Prime Minister Narendra Modi remained defiant despite the last minute efforts of the visiting US Secretary of State John Kerry gives me hope. This is the first time an Indian Prime Minister has stood like a solid rock behind his team of negotiators. Quite a departure from what we have witnessed in the past 20 years of trade negotiations. We have seen India’s successive trade minister make the right noises, dominate the global media space, but in the final hours sign on the dotted line. India had always behaved like a mouse that roared.

If only at the Bali WTO Ministerial in December, the then Commerce Minister Anand Sharma had refused to accept the ‘Peace Clause’ – that gives India a four-year reprieve from being dragged into the dispute panel for violation of the WTO farm subsidy obligations – the entire trade dimensions would have changed for better. India needed a permanent solution that allows for its sovereign and gigantic role to feed the hungry millions. Not realizing that food security for any developed country, and that includes the United States, has always taken precedence over the trade benefits, India had failed to stand up.

The US has never been worried about torpedoing the trade negotiations. It has stalled decision making in some 30 instances, always keeping its national interests supreme. It has refused, for instance, to do away with cotton subsidies all these years. 

Capitulating voices within the country had added on to the fears that a tough stand will isolate India. These economists had more or less blamed India for making a mountain out of a mole-hill. As if sacrificing the livelihood security of 600 million farmers, almost double the population of US is a mole-hill, wrong statistics were flaunted. Some even went to the extent of saying that Indian farmers were the highest paid in the world by wrongly comparing fob prices with procurement prices and thereby ignoring the massive subsidies US/EU farmers get. Unlike in America, Indian agriculture has become economically non-viable with close to 300,000 farmers committing suicide in the past 15 years. 

What the WTO had wanted was the minimum support price that farmers are paid be either dismantled or capped at 10 per cent of the total value of the produce. As per the WTO pricing calculations, worked out in 1986-88, the present rice procurement price of Rs 1,360 per quintal would need to be reduced to about Rs 600 a quintal. All that India wanted was revision of the outdated pricing formula to a more realistic base period of 2010-12. This wasn’t however acceptable to the US, EU, Australia and Japan.

Reducing the MSP by roughly 50 per cent to meet WTO obligations or by agreeing to dismantle the procurement prices would have brought the farmers onto the streets. The political ramification for any present government would have been disastrous. 

While India has rightly slammed the door, it has kept a window open for negotiations. When WTO meets again in September after the recess, the real test for India’s trade diplomacy will come into focus. This will be the time to asset on the need for a ‘food security box’ for developing and least developing countries. On the lines of the green box, amber box and blue box, which provide protection to agricultural subsidies in the developed countries, the ‘food security box’ should provide protection to each country to feed its hungry population and at the same time ensure that small farmers are adequately protected against the tyranny of the markets. There can be no compromise on the state’s sovereign role in feeding its poor. India cannot afford to forgo the policy space to maintain food self-sufficiency. # 

*Did the UPA mislead the country on Bali pact? in Mint Aug 11, 2014.  

Glimpses of rural Sitapur

रामपुर मथुरा डेवलपमेंट ब्लॉक सीतापुर के दक्षिण-पूर्व में स्थित है। जिला हेडक्वार्टर से लगभग १०० किलोमीटर दूर इस जगह आप सिर्फ और सिर्फ अपने वाहन के जरिये ही पहुँच सकते हैं।  यहाँ से घाघरा नहीं सिर्फ २ किलोमीटर की दूरी पर बहती है। हर दूसरे तीसरे साल बाद का पानी यहाँ आ जाता है। घाघरा नदी रास्ता बदलती रहती है। नदी की एक धारा कुछ सालों पहले तक यही से हो गुजरती थी - बलुई मिटटी से भरे हुए पुराने छोटी ओक्सबो झीले अभी भी दिख जाती है जिनमे अब बरसात का पानी इकट्ठा हो जाता है। प्रकृति की इतनी मार पड़ने के बावजूद यहाँ के बाशिंदे यहाँ से जाना नहीं चाहते - और जाये भी तो क्यों और कहाँ? नदी अपना रास्ता बदलती है पर बदले में देकर जाती है उर्वरा  भूमि - लेकिन अपना रास्ता बदलने के चक्कर में न जाने कितनों किसानों की भूमि खा भी जाती है - यहीं शुरू होती हैं इस क्षेत्र की राजनीति। 

67 Years after Independence, Indian farmers have disappeared from the economic radar screen - Devinder Sharma's interview

Indian farmers continue to toll against all odds. 
(pic from web) 

On the occasion of the 67th Independence, Aug 15, 2014, the Hindi magazine Yathawat interviewed me on the state of Indian agriculture. In this short and crisp interview, I was asked to track the historical backdrop and to look at the present and future agricultural policies and approaches.  

Q: When India got its Independence in 1947, how did its agriculture look like? 

India got its Independence in 1947 in the backdrop of Bengal Famine. The famine happened in 1943 taking a massive human toll. Some estimates point to 3 million people perishing in the famine. But Nobel laureate Amartya Sen’s work tells us that there was no shortfall in food production in 1943. It was only because the private trade had diverted the food that millions of people were left starving. In 1947, when India got Independence, agriculture was in a pathetic state, a fallout of the neglect and wanton destruction of agriculture during the days of the British Raj. With more than 80 per cent population engaged in subsistence farming, Independent India was a hungry nation.

Q: What prompted Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shashtri to give the slogan of "Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan" in 1965? Was it a reflection of the grave crisis afflicting farmers and farming, and of course the threat India faced from across the borders. 

When Lal Bahadur Shashtri took over a Prime Minister in 1964 India was a food importing country. It depended on food imports from North America under the PL-480 scheme. Not many people know that 1965, the year when India went to war with Pakistan, was also a drought year. In 1965 India had imported 10 million tonnes of wheat under PL-480. Knowing how precarious the food situation was, and knowing the extent of prevailing hunger, Lal Bahadur Shashtri had urged the nation to fast for a day. I know many people who have continued to fast on Monday’s since then. It was primarily because Lal Bahadur Shashtri understood the role that soldiers and farmers play in maintaining national security thereby preserving national sovereignty that he gave the slogan ‘Jai Jawan Jai Kisan’

Q: Green Revolution came in the late 1970s. What led to that ..

For almost 20 years after Independence in 1947 India had remained a food importing country. In fact, after the 10 million tonnes food import in 1965, the next year 1966 also turned to be a drought year in which India imported 11 million tonnes of foodgrains. That was the biggest food import at that time in history. before that, it was not that the first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru did not make any serious efforts to improve food production. He launched various community development programmes but could not achieve the desired results. On Aug 15, 1955 he had shared his frustration with the nation when he said from the rampart of Red Fort: “It is very humiliating for any country to import food. So everything else can wait but not agriculture.’

After the premature death of Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shashtri in Jan 1966, Mrs Indira Gandhi took over. But before Shashtri died he had annoyed the then American President Lyndon Johnson when he had told an American journalist, in reply to a question, that the war in Vietnam “was an act of aggression’. This sentence had annoyed Johnson who had stopped food exports to India under what is known as ‘stop-go policy’. India was then in such a precarious situation that even the Food & Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations had to make an appeal to US to allow food exports to India. Food would come directly from the ship to the hungry mouths. India was then called as a country living in a ‘ship-to-mouth’ existence.

Mrs Indira Gandhi sowed the foundation of ‘Green Revolution’ in 1966 when she allowed the seeds of dwarf and high-yielding varieties of wheat from CIMMYT in Mexico. India imported 18,000 tonnes of wheat seed from Mexico, adapted them to Indian conditions, and as per an earlier demarcated programme, distributed these seed to farmers in Punjab and western Uttar Pradesh where irrigation was available. The first wheat harvest after cultivating high-yielding seeds in 1967 was five tonnes more than the previous. This was a record increase at that time and was termed ‘wheat revolution’ by Mrs Gandhi.

Q: Green Revolution increased production in wheat and rice. Besides high-yielding varieties, there must be something else too?

The quantum jump in the wheat production was followed by rice two years later. India received high-yielding varieties of rice from the International Rice Research Institute in Manila, in 1968. These rice varieties were adapted to the Indian conditions and distributed to farmers in Punjab, western Uttar Pradesh and also in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Rice also recorded an increase in productivity and production. The term ‘Green Revolution’ was later coined by an American scientist, William Gaud.

Green Revolution turned the country self-sufficient in wheat and rice, and by early 1970s India stopped importing food under PL-480.

Since the days of Green Revolution, Indian agriculture has grown manifold. There has been an all around development in crop production not only in wheat and rice but also in coarse cereals, maize, cotton, sugarcane etc. Improved technology was packaged well with right policy decisions. The setting up of Food Corporation of India and Agricultural Prices Commission in 1965-66 were the two major planks of what Dr M S Swaminathan calls as the ‘famine-avoidance’ strategy.

Q: How come after Green Revolution turned the corners, farmers are committing suicide on a large scale?

By the mid-1980s, the environmental impact of intensive farming systems that used chemical fertilizers, chemical pesticides and groundwater had begun to emerge. These are called the 2nd Generation Environmental Impacts. But instead of encouraging farmers to adopt sustainable practices to thwart the negative impact of intensive agriculture, farm scientists tried to address this by encouraging more Green Revolution. In other words they asked farmers to apply more chemicals. This deteriorated the natural resource base. At the same time, the policy support for agriculture declined. Reduction in public sector investment in agriculture, failure to encourage sustainable farming practices, and unremunerative prices for agricultural produce were among the factors that turned agriculture into a losing proposition. The damage was more pronounced in cash crops like cotton. Farm suicides began as a trickle around 1987 or so and since then have taken a toll of nearly 3 lakh farmers in the past 17 years.

Q: What is behind the terrible agrarian crisis that India faces? 

Farm suicides are the outcome of the continued neglect and apathy of the farm sector. Besides the policy makers, a significant role is also played by agriculture scientists and economists. They cannot simply absolve themselves from the terrible agrarian crisis that have prevailed for almost two decades now.

Q: Is it because India does not have a clear cut understanding and focus on how to prop up agriculture? Is it because of a wrong direction coming from international institutions? 

About 20 years after the Green Revolution began, and somewhere in the early 1990s, the global economic thinking shifted to shrinking agriculture and boosting industry. World Bank/IMF and the international financial institutions began to propose that economic growth can only take place when fewer people are left in agriculture. In 1996, the World Development Report of the World Bank suggested moving 400 million people, equally to twice the combined population of UK, France and Germany, from the rural to the urban areas in India in the next 20 years, by the year 2015.

Meanwhile, the emergence of World Trade Organisation in 1995, also shifted the focus to trade. The mainline economic thinking shifted to reducing support for agriculture and importing highly subsidized cheaper food from the developed countries. Subsequently, the World Bank and Multinational Corporations have been pushing for land acquisitions, contract farming, creation of super markets or in other words paving the way for corporate agriculture. In other words, the neglect of small scale agriculture is part of a design. It is part of a pre-planned economic strategy that is being imposed. 

In a country where 52 per cent of the 1.27 billion people are directly or indirectly engaged in agriculture, the thrust of the economic growth paradigm is to push farmers out of agriculture. Since the younger lot among farmer’s don’t know anything except farming, the World Bank had suggested a network of training schools across the country to train them to become industrial workers. That is being done. In other words, farmers have now become a burden on the country. The common thinking is the sooner the country is able to offload farmers,  the better it will be.

Q: Every year the government announces support for agriculture in its annual budgets. You think that is enough? 

In 2013-14, farmers produced a record harvest of 264.4 million tonnes of foodgrains. Production of oilseeds reached a record high of 34.5 million tonnes, a jump of 4.8 per cent. Maize production increased by 8.52 per cent to reach a level of 24.2 million tones. Pulses production reached an all-time high of 19.6 million tones, an increase of 7.10 per cent over the previous year. Cotton production too touched a record high.
With such record production, the nation should remain indebted to the virile and hardworking farmers. But last year, in 2013-14, when farm production recorded a quantum jump, agriculture received Rs 19,307-crore from the annual budget kitty, which is less than 1 per cent of the total budget outlay. This year, only Rs 22,652-crore has been provided for agriculture and cooperation departments. Again the outlay for agriculture remains less than 1 per cent of the total budget. In all fairness, the apathy towards agriculture continues.

Q: Is the neglect continuing? 

The neglect of agriculture has become more pronounced since economic liberalization was introduced in 1991. I recall the then Finance Minister Manmohan Singh famous budget speech when he showered all the bounties on industry and in the next paragraph said that agriculture remains the mainstay of the economy. But since agriculture is a State subject, he left it to the State Governments to provide the much need impetus to farming. But what he forgot to say was that industry too is a State subject and should have been left to the State governments. The bias therefore was clearly visible.

Although agriculture grew at an impressive rate of 4.1 per cent in the Eleventh Plan period (2007-8 and 2011-12) it received a dismal financial support of Rs 1 lakh crore. For a sector which directly and indirectly employs 60-crore people, Rs 1 lakh crore outlay for five years is simply peanuts. In the 12 Plan period (2012-13 to 2017-18) agriculture is projected to receive Rs 1.5 lakh crore. Compare this with the Rs 5.73 lakh crore tax exemptions showered on the industry in 2014-15 alone. Since 2004-05, Industry has received tax concessions (computed under ‘revenue foregone’ in the budget documents) to the tune of Rs 36.5-lakh crores or Rs 1,100 crore per day for the past 9 years. It’s therefore a matter of priorities. In fact, as I have been saying for long, farmers have disappeared from the economic radar screen.

Despite the neglect, the fact remains whatever India has been able to achieve in economic and military terms is primarily because of food self-sufficiency built so assiduously over the past five decades. But the tragedy is that the country is deliberately destroying the agricultural foundations, and pushing it back to the days of 'ship-to-mouth’ existence. Over the past few years, India is busy adopted the same economic policies that were existing at the time of Bengal Famine. #
Link for original post
Devinder Sharma is a distinguished food and trade policy analyst. An award-winning Indian journalist, writer, thinker, and researcher well-known and respected for his views on food and trade policy. Trained as an agricultural scientist (he holds a Master’s in Plant Breeding & Genetics), Sharma has been with the Indian Express, amongst the largest selling English language dailies in India. And then quit active journalism to research on policy issues concerning sustainable agriculture, biodiversity and intellectual property rights, environment and development, food security and poverty, biotechnology and hunger, and the implications of the free trade paradigm for developing countries.