Barriers to Sustainable Farming Put Burden on World's Poor
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.
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.
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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.
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For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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