Quantcast

Barriers to Sustainable Farming Put Burden on World's Poor

Popular

The conflict between “free trade” and food rights came to the fore again at the World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations in September, when India did not back down from its stance that a permanent solution be found for food security issues before signing the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA).

The TFA is designed to push free trade further, with heavy losses to India’s food security. The U.S. had challenged India at the WTO’s Bali Ministerial in 2013, on the ground that the Food Security Act adopted by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime would increase India’s food subsidies beyond levels allowed by the WTO.

Women work on a small farm in Orissa, India. Photo credit: 2006 IDEI / Photoshare

The rules allow subsidies at 10 percent of the value of agricultural produce. Oddly, the base year for India has been fixed at 1986-88. India, justifiably, is demanding that this date be changed to reflect the reality of food prices today. Double standards in the WTO rules are also exposed when one realizes that India’s subsidies of $12 billion to its 500 million farmers are considered “trade distorting,” while U.S. subsidies of $120 billion to its 2 million farmers are not. India’s subsidies are $25 per farmer, while U.S. subsidies amounts to $60,000 per farmer—that’s 2,40,000 percent more than Indian subsidies. Yet the U.S. is threatening India and demanding the removal of support to its small and marginal farmers.

These are not rules of trade, but rules of manipulation written during the Uruguay Round of Trade Negotiations, which led to the establishment of the WTO, by agribusiness corporations seeking to profit from India’s large food and agriculture market. The WTO debate on food and agriculture subsidies is actually intended to force India to stop supporting its farmers through procurement at the minimum support price (MSP) so that 1.25 billion Indians, including the 810 million covered by the Food Security Act, become a market for multinational corporations.

The U.S. has claimed that India has doubled the MSP in the last 10 years. What is hidden from the public view is the fact that costs of production have gone up more than 10 times. In spite of MSP, farmers are not able to recover their production cost. In 2011-12, the cost of production of rice in Punjab was 1,700 rupees per quintal, while MSP was 1,285 rupees. In the same year, the cost of production of wheat was 1,500 rupees, while MSP was 1,110 rupees. In Haryana, the cost of production of rice was 1,613 rupees, while MSP was 1,350 rupees.

In the Northeast, the cost of production has risen by 53 percent between 2008-2009 and 2011-12, while MSP has risen by only 20 percent. A negative economy translates into debt and un-payable debt translates to suicides. Debt is due to dependence on MNCs who sell costly seeds and chemicals.

The WTO rules are, in fact, written by corporations for transforming public goods into globally traded commodities and capturing our economies for their profits. Monsanto, now the world’s biggest seed giant, wrote the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) Agreement of WTO, which opened the floodgates for patenting seeds and life forms. It has blocked the mandatory review of Article 27.3 (b) since 1999 wherein governments, including India, have called for “no patents on life.” Cargill, the world’s grain giant, wrote the rules of the Agreement on Agriculture (AOA) and would be the biggest beneficiary if India stops procuring from its small farmers.

Read page 1

Food is a fundamental right, a basic need and the livelihood of a majority of Indians. The rules governing it should be rules of sustainability and justice, not rules for the profit of a handful of seed and food multinationals.

It is time to review both the TRIPs agreement and the agriculture agreement of the WTO because they are destroying the planet and the livelihoods of our farmers and denying the poor and the vulnerable the Right to Food. One just has to look at the evidence. Since trade liberalization was forced on us by the WTO in 1995, 3,00,000 farmers have committed suicide because of debt due to the purchase of costly seeds and chemicals. Every fourth Indian is hungry. And every second Indian child is stunted.

Average calorie intake in rural areas has declined from 2,221 kilocalories in 1983 to 2,020 kilocalories in 2009-10; protein intake has dropped from 62 grams to 55 grams per day in the same period. In urban areas, the calorie intake stood at 1,946 in 2009-10, a decline from 2,089 kilocalories in 1983. Protein intake declined to 53.5 grams from 57 grams in the same period. These are direct consequences of the rules of trade liberalization, which have transformed food from a right to a commodity for trade and profits.

Addressing the twin epidemics of farmers’ suicides and hunger requires rewriting the rules of trade on the basis of sustainability and justice. India’s refusal to dismantle its food security system to further benefit MNCs is an opportunity to start redefining global trade on the basis of people’s rights rather than corporate profits.

Seed sovereignty is the foundation of food sovereignty. Farmers’ suicides are linked to seed monopolies and high costs of seed. Seed must be put back in the farmers’ hands through creation of village seed banks and capacity-building in participatory and evolutionary breeding to deal with climate change.

Internationally, seed sovereignty requires ensuring that the mandatory TRIPs’ review of Article 27.3 (b) is completed. For food sovereignty, we need to ensure that farmers do not fall into debt and are able to earn a dignified and fair income. While we need to defend our right to support farmers through MSP, it is evident that MSP is no longer covering the costs of production. The government has, in fact, frozen MSP in 2013-2014. The alternative is to reduce costs of production by reducing dependence on chemicals and corporate seeds through ecological farming. This is why organic farming based on the principle of agroecology has become an imperative for food sovereignty.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Seeds of Truth: A Response to Michael Specter’s Article in The New Yorker

GMO Crops Accelerate Herbicide and Insecticide Use While Mainstream Media Gets It Wrong

Moby Says ‘Save Our Bees’ From Neonicotinoids

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Pope Francis celebrates an opening Mass for the Amazon synod, in St. Peter's Basilica, at the Vatican, Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019. Massimo Valicchia / NurPhoto / Getty Images

by Justin Catanoso

Pope Francis, in an effort to reignite his influence as a global environmental leader, released an impassioned document Feb. 12 entitled Dear Amazon — a response to the historic Vatican meeting last autumn regarding the fate of the Amazon biome and its indigenous people.

Read More
A flooded motorhome dealership is seen following Storm Dennis on Feb. 18 at Symonds Yat, Herefordshire, England. Storm Dennis is the second named storm to bring extreme weather in a week and follows in the aftermath of Storm Ciara. Although water is residing in many places flood warnings are still in place. Christopher Furlong / Getty Images

Britain has been battered by back-to-back major storms in consecutive weekends, which flooded streets, submerged rail lines, and canceled flights. The most recent storm, Dennis, forced a group of young climate activists to cancel their first ever national conference, as CBS News reported.

Read More
Sponsored
A group of Fulani women and their daughters walk towards their houses in Hapandu village, Zinder Region, Niger on July 31, 2019. In the African Sahel the climate has long been inhospitable. But now rising temperatures have caused prolonged drought and unpredictable weather patterns, exacerbating food shortages, prompting migration and contributing to instability in countries already beset by crisis. LUIS TATO / AFP / Getty Images

At the 56th Munich Security Conference in Germany, world powers turned to international defense issues with a focus on "Westlessness" — the idea that Western countries are uncertain of their values and their strategic orientation. Officials also discussed the implications of the coronavirus outbreak, the Middle East and the Libya crisis.

Read More
Polar bears on Barter Island on the north slope of Alaska wait for the winter sea ice to arrive so they can leave to hunt seals, on Sept. 28, 2015. cheryl strahl / Flickr

The climate crisis wreaks havoc on animals and plants that have trouble adapting to global heating and extreme weather. Some of the most obvious examples are at the far reaches of the planet, as bees disappear from Canada, penguin populations plummet in the Antarctic, and now polar bears in the Arctic are struggling from sea ice loss, according to a new study, as CNN reported.

Read More

By Petros Kusmu, George Patrick Richard Benson

  • We can all take steps to reduce the environmental impact of our work-related travels.
  • Individual actions — like the six described here — can cumulatively help prompt more collective changes, but it helps to prioritize by impact.
  • As the saying goes: be the change you want to see in the world.
Read More