Kerala Farmers- Payment mode takes the sheen off subsidies


Paddy farmers at work in fields near Palakkad on a rainy day just ahead of Farmers’ Day on Chingam 1, which falls on August 17. Poor rain has delayed sowing and harvesting in many areas. An expected poor harvest has already triggered a price rise. Photo: K.K.Mustafah

K. A. MARTIN , The Hindu

Paddy farmers at work in fields near Palakkad on a rainy day just ahead of Farmers’ Day on Chingam 1, which falls on August 17. Poor rain has delayed sowing and harvesting in many areas. An expected poor harvest has already triggered a price rise. Photo: K.K.Mustafah
The HinduPaddy farmers at work in fields near Palakkad on a rainy day just ahead of Farmers’ Day on Chingam 1, which falls on August 17. Poor rain has delayed sowing and harvesting in many areas. An expected poor harvest has already triggered a price rise. Photo: K.K.Mustafah
KOCHI, August 17, 2012

New problem for farmers is in addition to poor monsoon and high fertilizer prize

A rain deficit and spiralling price of fertilizers have combined to turn 2012 into one of the worst years for farmers in Kerala in recent memory.

Adding to their woes is the introduction of the new system for payment of various subsidies through bank accounts, prompting many small-time farmers to even forgo the government doles.

The introduction of the new subsidy payment regime, aimed at ending malpractices, has resulted in farmers not getting any benefit so far though the first season paddy crop is only about a month away from harvest.

V. Gangadharan, a paddy farmer in Palakkad, says that those who bought fertilizers for the first crop have not received any money so far though he feels that the new system will be of help in the long run.

K. Krishnamurty, paddy farmer, fears that subsidies will come late this year. The new system is proving cumbersome for farmers and the mandatory registration of farmers, despite several deadlines, is not complete yet, he says.

K. R. Jyotilal, Secretary, Agriculture, says that the new system is being streamlined though there are a few technical hitches. One of the problems, he says, is the treasury-bank link, which is being looked into. Otherwise the system is working perfectly, he says pointing out that farmers’ pension under Swabhiman scheme is being disbursed through the new system.

Mr. Jyotilal says there are some vested interests spreading canards about the regime.

PADDY CULTIVATION

Paddy cultivation has been the hardest hit by poor rains as exemplified by Palakkad, where yield is likely to be down by about 40 per cent. Besides, the harvest will be delayed because of the dry conditions. In Alappuzha, both Pokkali areas and Kuttanad have been hit by the monsoon shortfall.

About 150 hectares of Purakkad Karinilam lies fallow for the ongoing Virippu season because of excess soil acidity, which traditionally used to be treated with rain water. Around 250 hectares of Pokkali fields are remaining fallow for want of rain. Forty hectares of Pokkali, which came under sowing, does not promise normal yield, according to sources in the Agriculture Department.

A total of 12,000 hectares have come under the Virippu crop this season though the crop is at various stages between 30 and 60 days. Sources point out that the lack of rain threatened to hit the upcoming Puncha season, during which larger areas come under paddy in the district.

VEGETABLES

Cool season vegetable production in the high ranges of Idukki district is down about 50 per cent because of unseasonal rain. Rains in May caused potato seed stocks waste and poor rains in early June created a drought-like situation in Vattavada and Kanthalloor areas.

V.V. Pushpangadhan, chief executive officer of Vegetable and Fruit Promotion Council Keralam, says that the present estimate is that potato production in the two areas will be down about 50 per cent this season.

Production of other cool season vegetables like beans, carrot and cabbage as well as garlic has been hit by lack of rains in the high ranges this year.

FERTILIZERS

Despite poor offtake this season, fertilizer prices continue to move up. Price of the popular fertilizer mixture Factamfos is hovering around Rs.19,000 a tonne this season compared to Rs.14,000 last year. Similarly, the price of muriate of potash has gone up to Rs.16,700 a tonne from the previous level of Rs.12,000, industry sources said.

Ammonium sulphate, though not widely used in Kerala, has also seen price moving up a little this season to hover around Rs.11,000 a tonne from the previous level of Rs.10,000.

Urea, the price of which is still controlled by the government, has not seen any appreciation leading people to use an excess of the input this Virippu season, sources said.

The Seed Emergency: The Threat to Food and Democracy


Vandana Shiva

Patenting seeds has led to a farming and food crisis – and huge profits for US biotechnology corporations.

The seed is the first link in the food chain – and seed sovereignty is the foundation of food sovereignty. If farmers do not have their own seeds or access to open pollinated varieties that they can save, improve and exchange, they have no seed sovereignty – and consequently no food sovereignty.

The deepening agrarian and food crisis has its roots in changes in the seed supply system, and the erosion of seed diversity and seed sovereignty.

Seed sovereignty includes the farmer’s rights to save, breed and exchange seeds, to have access to diverse open source seeds which can be saved – and which are not patented, genetically modified, owned or controlled by emerging seed giants. It is based on reclaiming seeds and biodiversity as commons and public good.

The past twenty years have seen a very rapid erosion of seed diversity and seed sovereignty, and the concentration of the control over seeds by a very small number of giant corporations. In 1995, when the UN organised the Plant Genetic Resources Conference in Leipzig, it was reported that 75 per cent of all agricultural biodiversity had disappeared because of the introduction of “modern” varieties, which are always cultivated as monocultures. Since then, the erosion has accelerated.

The introduction of the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights Agreement of the World Trade Organisation has accelerated the spread of genetically engineered seeds – which can be patented – and for which royalties can be collected. Navdanya was started in response to the introduction of these patents on seeds in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade – a forerunner to the WTO – about which a Monsanto representative later stated: “In drafting these agreements, we were the patient, diagnostician [and] physician all in one.” Corporations defined a problem – and for them the problem was farmers saving seeds. They offered a solution, and the solution was to make it illegal for farmers to save seed – by introducing patents and intellectual property rights [PDF] on those very seeds. As a result, acreage under GM corn, soya, canola, cotton has increased dramatically.

Threats to seed sovereignty

Besides displacing and destroying diversity, patented GMO seeds are also undermining seed sovereignty. Across the world, new seed laws are being introduced which enforce compulsory registration of seeds, thus making it impossible for small farmers to grow their own diversity, and forcing them into dependency on giant seed corporations. Corporations are also patenting climate resilient seeds evolved by farmers – thus robbing farmers of using their own seeds and knowledge for climate adaptation.

Another threat to seed sovereignty is genetic contamination. India has lost its cotton seeds because of contamination from Bt Cotton – a strain engineered to contain the pesticide Bacillus thuringiensis bacterium. Canada has lost its canola seed because of contamination from Roundup Ready canola. And Mexico has lost its corn due to contamination from Bt Cotton.

After contamination, biotech seed corporations sue farmers with patent infringement cases, as happened in the case of Percy Schmeiser. That is why more than 80 groups came together and filed a case to prevent Monsanto from suing farmers whose seed had been contaminated.

As a farmer’s seed supply is eroded, and farmers become dependent on patented GMO seed, the result is debt. India, the home of cotton, has lost its cotton seed diversity and cotton seed sovereignty. Some 95 per cent of the country’s cotton seed is now controlled by Monsanto – and the debt trap created by being forced to buy seed every year – with royalty payments – has pushed hundreds of thousands of farmers to suicide; of the 250,000 farmer suicides, the majority are in the cotton belt.

Seeding control

Even as the disappearance of biodiversity and seed sovereignty creates a major crisis for agriculture and food security, corporations are pushing governments to use public money to destroy the public seed supply and replace it with unreliable non-renewable, patented seed – which must be bought each and every year.

In Europe, the 1994 regulation for protection of plant varieties forces farmers to make a “compulsory voluntary contribution” to seed companies. The terms themselves are contradictory. What is compulsory cannot be voluntary.

In France, a law was passed in November 2011, which makes royalty payments compulsory. As Agriculture Minister Bruna Le Marie stated: “Seeds can be longer be royalty free, as is currently the case.” Of the 5,000 or so cultivated plant varieties, 600 are protected by certificate in France, and these account for 99 per cent of the varieties grown by farmers.

The “compulsory voluntary contribution”, in other words a royalty, is justified on grounds that “a fee is paid to certificate holders [seed companies] to sustain funding of research and efforts to improve genetic resources”.

Monsanto pirates biodiversity and genetic resources from farming communities, as it did in the case of a wheat biopiracy case fought by Navdanya with Greenpeace, and climate resilient crops and brinjal (also known as aubergine or eggplant) varieties for Bt Brinjal. As Monsanto states, “it draws from a collection of germ-plasm that is unparalleled in history” and “mines the diversity in this genetic library to develop elite seeds faster than ever before”.

In effect, what is taking place is the enclosure of the genetic commons of our biodiversity and the intellectual commons of public breeding by farming communities and public institutions. And the GMO seeds Monsanto is offering are failing. This is not “improvement” of genetic resources, but degradation. This is not innovation but piracy.

For example, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) – being pushed by the Gates Foundation – is a major assault on Africa’s seed sovereignty.

Agribusiness

The 2009 US Global Food Security Act [PDF] also called the Lugar-Casey Act [PDF], “A bill to authorise appropriations for fiscal years 2010 through 2014 to provide assistance to foreign countries to promote food security, to stimulate rural economies, and to improve emergency response to food crisis, to amend the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 and for other purposes”.

The amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act would “include research on bio-technological advances appropriate to local ecological conditions, including genetically modified technology”. The $ 7.7bn that goes with the bill would go to benefit Monsanto to push GM seeds.

An article in Forbes, titled “Why Uncle Sam Supports Franken Foods”, shows how agribusiness is the only sector in which US has a positive trade balance. Hence the push for GMOs – because they bring royalties to the US. However, royalties for Monsanto are based on debt, suicidal farmers and the disappearance of biodiversity worldwide.

Under the US Global Food Security Act, Nepal signed an agreement with USAID and Monsanto. This led to massive protests across the country. India was forced to allow patents on seeds through the first dispute brought by the US against India in the WTO. Since 2004, India has also been trying to introduce a Seed Act which would require farmers to register their own seeds and take licenses. This in effect would force farmers from using their indigenous seed varieties. By creating a Seed Satyagraha – a non-cooperation movement in Gandhi’s footsteps, handing over hundreds of thousands of signatures to the prime minister, and working with parliament – we have so far prevented the Seed Law from being introduced.

India has signed a US-India Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture, with Monsanto on the Board. Individual states are also being pressured to sign agreements with Monsanto. One example is the Monsanto-Rajasthan Memorandum of Understanding, under which Monsanto would get intellectual property rights to all genetic resources, and to carry out research on indigenous seeds. It took a campaign by Navdanya and a “Monsanto Quit India” Bija Yatra [“seed pilgrimage”] to force the government of Rajasthan to cancel the MOU.

This asymmetric pressure of Monsanto on the US government, and the joint pressure of both on the governments across the world, is a major threat to the future of seeds, the future of food and the future of democracy.
TRANSCEND Member Prof. Vandana Shiva is a physicist, ecofeminist, philosopher, activist, and author of more than 20 books and 500 papers. She is the founder of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, and has campaigned for biodiversity, conservation and farmers’ rights, winning the Right Livelihood Award [Alternative Nobel Prize] in 1993. She is executive director of the Navdanya Trust

Source: TRANSCEND Media Service, Sunday, February 12, 2012

Tea Labourers dying of hunger in Assam


Feb 1, 2012-Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) has learnt about 11 recent deaths due to starvation, malnutrition and lack of medical care in Bhuvan Valley Tea Estate, a privately owned tea garden, in the district of Cachar in North-East Indian state ofAssam. The conditions of at least 5 others are so bad that it would be hard for them to survive a month without urgent medical and nutritional intervention. Arbitrary and exploitative actions of both the estate management and government drove about three thousand labourers and their families on the verge of starvation. The management abruptly closed the garden on 8 October, 2011 without paying wages due for 9 weeks, dues from provident fund and other benefits and alternative livelihood. The government public distribution system (PDS) and health care facilities are conspicuous by their absence. It is feared that without urgent and substantial intervention reports of deaths will keep coming.

BHRPC learnt about the deaths from the reports published on 16 January, 2012 in the local newspaper about a gathering of the tea labourers in front of the district administrative headquarters at Silchar. The labourers gathered to know the outcome of the tripartite meeting among district administration, Barak Cha Shromik Union (a tea plantation labourers union known to be affiliated with ruling political party) and estate management about the situation of tea garden and labourers. Speaking to the news reporters the labourers informed that 9 persons had already been died due to starvation and malnutrition till 15 January.

To verify the claims of the labourers and gather more information about the situation BHRPC formed a fact-finding team comprising of Dr. Prasenjit Biswas, Mr. Neharul Ahmed Mazumder, Mr. Sadique Mohammed Laskar, Mr. Waliullah Ahmed Laskar, Mr. Raju Barbhuiya and Mr. Nirmal Kumar Das. The team visited the tea garden area on 27 January and talked with the victims, their family members, neighbours and leaders of the labourers. This report is the outcome of that exercise.

It is learnt that Rameshwar Kurmi (45), Subhasini Paul (80), Shachindra Ree (32), Shyamacharan Bauri (55), Nagendra Bauri (55), Sonamani Pandey (40), Bharati Kal (45), Susham Tanti (35) Ratna Goala (50) and Atul Bauri lost their lives due to starvation, malnutrition and lack of medical care. All were labourers or ex-labourers of the tea garden or their dependents.

Mr. Ramashish Dushad (80) of Didarkhush Grant is suffering from swelling on his legs and is now completely impaired, his body does not even permit him to get up from the bed. He is an ex-labourer. According to him, he did not receive his dues from provident fund, gratuity and arrears. He has none to take care of him, and he has no such ability to engage someone as caretaker, moreover the management and the government are indifferent about him. He is waiting for his last moment.

Mr. Prakash Ghatowar (80) and his daughter-in-law Moni Ghatowar (32) of Didarkhush Grant are also suffering from swelling on their legs. They also narrated the same story of government apathy and injustices of the management. They are deprived of livelihood, remunerations and proper medical treatment. Prakash is half fed with his family of one daughter-in-law, three daughters and grandchildren. He lost his physical strength and in no position to exert himself in any kind of manual works. His grand children Pinki Ghatowar (17), Kamalabati Ghatowar (15) and Rinki Ghatowar (12) are compelled to collect firewood from the far off jungles and sell them in the far off markets ignoring their studies. Prakash and Moni are suffering from acute mal-nutrition and may die if no early intervention is made.

Belbati Bauri (75), wife of late Debendra Bauri, is also waiting for her last moment. She is week, pale and in need of medical care. Although her son Sricharan Bauri was a permanent labourer in the estate, he was not getting any ration, medicine or remuneration for last six months. Ironically they were regarded as being above poverty line (APL) family, and therefore, are not eligible for government schemes meant for the poor. According to them, other facilities provided by the PDS did not reach to them properly. Other members of the family including a college girl Moni Bauri engaged themselves in hazardous works like collecting firewood and selling them for food and medicine for themselves and the sick members. The family has six members.

Putul Bauri (50) is also suffering from swelling of his legs. His health does not allow him to work, so he resorted to beggary. Wiping his tears again and again he tried to express his sufferings and his anger against the estate management and the labour unions. According to him, the situation of the labourers of the tea garden did not become so bad in a day. It took decades. The labour unions did not raise their voice against the unjust and exploitative policies of the management; for example, wages lower than the all Assam average, non-payment of wages, non-payment of other benefits, gratuity and making the labourers to work overtime without remuneration. Condition of his health is very bad.

Bablu Bauri (25) and his mother Surabala Bauri (55) had been living under-fed for months. Bablu’ father Atul Bauri (60), died recently due to malnutrition and lack of medicine. Bablu was a casual worker in the estate though he worked regularly. They are now confined within the house as it is not permitted by ritualistic rules of their community to go outside the house after death of a family member. They can not go outside in search of livelihood.

Plantation labourers Bashistha Dushad (42), Anjana Dushad (42), Gulab Dushad (50), and some other grassroots leaders like Shyamlal Tanti (45), Budhan Goala (45), Mahendra Majhi (36), Jaharlal Goala, Kamal Ghosh, Nirmal Goala, Luchan Kumar Ghosh and Bachun Satnami narrated the story of their sufferings and expressed their grievances against the indifference of the administration in spite of several representations from them. They stated that for years the estate management was exploiting them in various ways. Some of the labourers were employed as permanent labourers and are paid wages as low as rupees 50/- per day at the time of the closure and the rest were engaged as casual workers and paid even lower wages at rupees 41/- even though they worked for years. It is also alleged that the estate management did not provide any residential quarters for housing the labourers and their families. The management has engaged hired hooligans to suppress the voice of the exploited whenever they tried to protest, the labourers said.

They also claimed that while the neighbouring estates were providing facilities in spite of all drawbacks, this estate was exploiting them. The wages of the labourers remained pending for long under various pretext, they were told that the estate was suffering loss and would recover very soon but that soon did never come. The management tried to push them to such a situation that the workers would be compelled to search for alternative livelihood and would forget their dues. The workers demanded their dues and stopped working. The estate closed down on 8 October, 2012. Since then the management escaped and engaged their agent named Fulan Ahmed, a local resident as assistant manager to suppress the protest. Finding no other way the workers approached the administration several times. The Deputy Commissioner of Cachar district assured them that he would find a way out. However, the labourers are not in a position to trust any assurance from the government or the management.

The labourers and their families living in the garden area further stated that they were also deprived from the benefits of various welfare schemes launched by the central government and state government. For example, there are only about 7 Anganwadi centres in the whole estate where more than three thousand people are living. The centres are run under the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) to provide nutrition and health care for the children, adolescents and gestating and lactating mothers. The Supreme Court of India in People’sUnionfor Civil Liberties and others vs. Union of India and others (Writ Petition (C ) No. 196 Of 2001) directed the governments to establish such a centre in every settlement that has at least 40 children under six but no Anganwadi.

Even these few centres are not properly functioning, according to the local inhabitants. They said that workers and helpers of Anganwadi centres come only once or twice in a month. But they also cautioned not to go by the records maintained in the office of the Child Development Project Officer (CDPO) since they maintain false records to show proper utilisation of the money which they siphon off to other channels.

There are also a few houses granted under the Indira Awas Yojna (IAY) in the garden area. However, the people claimed that most of such houses are grated to the labourers who are connected with management and the labour union affiliated with ruling party of the state. The poorer are completely deprived from the IAY.

There is, of course, a house proclaiming through its signboard to be a health centre run under National Rural Health Mission of the government ofIndia. But the local people informed that it is not functioning properly. According to them, it is run by an unqualified practitioner. Moreover, the medicines are not made available.

There was also a canal reportedly dug under a scheme under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 (MGNREGA), an Act of parliament that provides for 100 days of work for one person from every household and in case of non-availability of work it guarantees unemployment allowance for the same number of days. Due to corruption the provisions of the Act are not implemented properly, particularly in remote areas. The people of the area stated that it is the only work done under MGNREGA in the garden area and it provided only few workdays for only some labourers.

They also stated that the canal is the only source of water. It gives them water for all types of use. People bath in it as well as wash their utensils, cloths and use the same water for drinking and cooking foods.

It is also learnt that the district authority sanctioned Rs 15 lakh per year for primary health care, but there is no sign of its utilization. There is an ambulance, but the driver demands rupees 400 as fare from each patient, which is not affordable to them.

The meeting in the office of the Deputy Commissioner, Cachar resolved that the estate would be opened on January 23, 2012; but nothing happened like that. Again on January 25, 2012 another meeting held in the conference hall of the Deputy Commissioner. ADC Mr. Debashish Chakrabarti, ADC Mr. S. K. Das, Assistant Labour Commissioner Mr. K. Singson, the MLA and the Scretary of Barak Cha Shramik Union Mr. Dinesh Prasad Goala, Assistant Manager of the Tea Estate Mr. Fulan Ahmed and others took part in the meeting. This meeting decided that a committee will be formed under the chairmanship of the SDO (civil) of Lakhipur Sub Division to manage the estate. The workers are still anxious about their future.

BHRPC finds that the anti labour policy of the management and the political interference has led to this situation; every estate is more or less affected by this. The management exploits the illiterate workers with the acquiescence of the authorities, the government facilities does not reach to the beneficiaries, there is no facility provided for the senior citizens and the healthcare facilities are only for namesake. Malnutrition, illiteracy and uncertainty are the common ingredients of the lives of the tea labourers.

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