Tag: Farmers’ agitation

Indian farmers’ organizations reject Supreme Court intervention, will continue protest

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Farmers in India launched a major protest against the three laws towards the end of November and have been camped in the outskirts of New Delhi.

India’s Supreme Court stayed the implementation of the three farm laws that have led to huge protests across the country. It also formed a committee to hold discussions. However, farmers’ organizations say the onus is on the government to repeal the laws.

Farmers’ movements in India have rejected the Supreme Court’s intervention on the protests that have been raging across the country against the farm laws. On Tuesday, January 12, the Supreme Court of India, ordered a stay in the implementation of the three farm laws, until “further orders”. The court also constituted a four-member committee to come up with a mechanism to resolve the impasse between the Narendra Modi-led central government and the protesting farmers.

Farmers’ organizations launched a major round of protests on November 26 against the laws which were rammed through parliament by the Modi government in September. The farmers fear these laws will drive down the prices they get for their products and increase the role of corporates in agriculture. Tens of thousands of farmers have been camped on the outskirts of the capital New Delhi demanding the repeal of the laws.

The Supreme Court made the decision while hearing a batch of petitions against the farm laws, on the violation of the rights of the protesters and some also pertaining to the farmers’ blockade at major entry points to Delhi. The order, passed by a bench chaired by the Chief Justice of India, comes after eight rounds of talks over the past three months between farmers’ organizations and the government yielded no resolution.

While the stay order on the three laws was received with mixed reactions, farmers’ groups are extremely wary of court-mediated negotiations. Organizers and leaders of the protest continue to assert that they will not back down until the three laws are repealed.

Balbir Singh Rajewal, the president of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), one of the protesting groups, said, “The government wants to shift its pressure by forming a committee via Supreme Court. But we won’t let it happen. And therefore, we will not talk to any such committee. The laws have been brought by the government, not by the court. Therefore, we will continue talking with the government panel only till the legislation are repealed. The government cannot escape from its accountability.”

In a statement released on Monday by the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), a coalition of over 40 farmers’ groups, movement leaders have refused to participate in the newly-formed committee’s deliberations.

“While all organizations welcome the suggestions of the Hon’ble Supreme Court to stay the implementation of the farm laws, they are collectively and individually not willing to participate in any proceedings before a committee that may be appointed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court,” read the statement.

The All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), an umbrella body of over 250 farmers’ and peasants’ unions participating in the SKM, released a statement shortly after the court passed its order, reiterating the movement’s stand. The statement pointed out that the apprehensions held by the movement were vindicated with the formation of the committee and the four people appointed for it.

“It is clear that the Court is being misguided by various forces even in its constitution of a committee,” the AIKSCC statement said. “These are people who are known for their support to the 3 Acts and have actively advocated for the same.”

The members include two economists, Ashok Gulati and P. K. Joshi, both of whom are known for their advocacy of free-market economics, and the liberalization of India’s agricultural sector. The other two, Anil Ghanwat and Bhupinder Singh Mann, are leaders of farmers’ groups that have for long advocated for a technocratic and private capital-led development of the agricultural sector.

Surjit Singh Phool, a farmer leader participating in the protests, stated that all four members “have declared positions in support of the agricultural laws.” He also added that the “court itself has given a good reason to the protesting farmers to boycott this committee”

Meanwhile, the number of farmers camped at the border of Delhi has only grown over the past few weeks, with thousands more pouring in from across the country. Recently, groups of farmers have arrived from far away states like Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, and Kerala.

The women’s movement has also participated in large numbers from across the country, with a large delegation of women farmers from the states of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and Punjab being mobilized under the umbrella of All India Democratic Women’s Association and Centre of Indian Trade Unions.

At the same time, protesting farmers are also gearing up for intensifying the struggle across the country. Responding to the court’s order, Rakesh Tikait, leader of one of SKM constituent Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), stated that his group will continue with the planned protests in India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh.

The AIKSCC statement also added that protests “will continue as per the earlier announcement on January 13, 18, and 23. Farmers wish to interact with the government, not engage with the Supreme Court, where farmers did not present themselves. So no comment on it, no offense to it.”

Farmers’ groups are also planning a major show of strength on January 26, India’s Republic Day, with a Kisan Parade (Farmers’ Parade). Protesting farmers are expected to ride their tractors into the national capital, in a parallel Republic Day parade coinciding with the official parade to be held by the Indian government.

Source- PD,January 12, 2021

Farm laws ‘precursor’ to free trade deal envisaged by US corporates to allow GMO

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By Rajiv Shah

Did the Government of India come up with the three farm laws, first rushed by promulgating ordinances in June 2020, to not just open the country’s agricultural sector to the corporate sector but also as a precursor to comply with the requirements of the United States for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), as envisaged by the outgoing US president Donald Trump?
A Barcelona (Spain)-based international non-profit organization, claiming to work to support small farmers and biodiversity-based food systems suggested in a comprehensive paper published on May 26, 2020, suggests that this is what may have happened. Analysts, quoting US officials, say, a change in the US administration may, at best, may delay the FTA process, not abandon it.

According to the non-profit, GRAIN, an Indo-US trade agreement would be on lines of US deals over the last three years with South Korea, China, Canada, and Mexico. Insisting that the whole idea of FTA is to access Indian markets in every possible way, GRAIN thinks, it would also mean the reversal of India’s current policy of protecting farmers. It says, “Agriculture in the US, which is heavily controlled by large agribusiness corporations, is highly dependent on exports. However, despite numerous attempts, the US has never managed to get India to open its markets to US farm goods.”

Suggesting that things began in September 2019 when Modi went to the US, with President Donald Trump announcing that he was working to expand US exports to India, GRAIN says, “Immediately after, India withdrew from the Asia-Pacific wide trade negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and the Commerce Minister announced that India had begun exploring trade agreements with the US and the European Union (EU).”

Insists GRAIN, “A US-India FTA could be worse than RCEP. India’s farmers, having an average landholding of one hectare, will be forced to compete with US farmers whose average landholding is 176 hectares. There are 2.1 million farms across the US employing less than 2% of the population, with an average annual on-farm income per farm household of $18,637.11 Whereas more than half of India’s 1.3 billion that depend on agriculture do so for their livelihoods, with the average annual income of per farm household (from all sources) at less than US$1000.”

Pointing towards what an FTA with India could contain, GRAIN states, it would not just be about tariffs. It would “impose major changes” in regulatory frameworks, including “greater harmonization of health, safety, and marketing standards in order to expand trade in agriculture and food products.” In fact, it would mean allowing free marketing of genetically modified seeds to India – as seen in US-Mexico-Canada Agreement or USMCA.

“Harmonisation under US FTAs means bringing other countries closer into line with the US’ lack of health and safety precautions restrictions should be minimalized so that trade can grow”, says GRAIN, adding, “The USMCA contains a new chapter on regulatory good practices and another on sanitary measures that go further in advancing ‘equivalence’ between the three countries’ health and safety standards. The goal is to ensure that if one country says a product is safe under its regulations, the other two will accept the product as safe under theirs – and to speed up these determinations as much as possible.”

“The US seed industry is very excited about how the USMCA recognizes the importance of plant breeding innovation, including newer methods like gene editing, and contains provisions enhancing information exchange and cooperation related to the trade of agricultural biotechnology”, GRAIN says.

It adds, “Similarly, the US-China trade deal imposes speedier food safety checks for imports into China and speedier approvals in China for GMOs. As a result of the deal, China allowed the import of GM papaya and soybean from the US in December 2019, and the following month approved five GM crops for animal feed.”

FTA would mean a reversal of current Indian policy, under which no biotechnology-derived food crop is approved for consumption
In the trade talks between the US and UK, GRAIN states, the US agribusiness lobby pushed for “slashing of regulatory standards in the UK on pesticides, GM crops, and the production of chicken and meat products. Cargill, for instance, has demanded that the US seek “complete agricultural market access” for its company and “eliminate intended or unintended non-tariff barriers in the agriculture sector”, GRAIN points out, adding, “These could have far-reaching implications for food safety in the UK as it would force the country to open its border to hormone-fed beef, chlorine-washed chicken and GM foods that until now are banned in the UK.”

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Modi, Trump at Hyderabad House, Feb 25, 2020

According to GRAIN, “India will have a fierce battle on this front if the FTA talks move ahead. In 2018, the US-India Business Council already came out with a recommendation that food products marketed in India with 5% or more GM ingredients be labeled accordingly. This was seen as a backhanded attempt to introduce GM food in India, where it is currently not allowed. US companies have equally been trying for the last several years to get India to import GM animal feed. Recently, India’s GM regulatory body has sought more inputs to possibly allow this. So, US corporate pressure to loosen restrictions in India is already happening.”

According to GRAIN, “Both the USMCA and US-China FTA contain provisions on the ‘low level presence’ of GMOs in imported food or agricultural products. The USMCA text requires importing countries like Mexico to ensure that the ‘inadvertent’ presence of GM material in food or farm products be dealt with very quickly and taking into account the safety approval for the product on the exporters’ side. In other words, the low-level presence of GM ingredients should be permitted, regardless of different national laws. The US-China phase one FTA provides for the same.”

GRAIN says, any Indo-US FTA on farm products would mean a reversal of the current Indian policy, under which “no biotechnology-derived food crop has been approved for consumption in India.” It states, “The ‘low level presence’ provisions would legalize contamination of India’s food system with GM materials not approved by India’s food safety authority for human consumption”, adding, “USMCA and US-China agreement both have sections on agricultural biotechnology which contain obligations for speeding up the approval process for GMOs.”

GRAIN thinks, “Another important concern about Trump’s trade deals is their requirement to ratify the 1991 convention of the Union for the Protection of New Plant Varieties (UPOV) providing patent-like rights to seed companies.” Pointing out that “it has been a core element of US FTAs since the 1990s”, GRAIN says, “The USMCA obliges Mexico, which is a member of UPOV under the 1978 convention, to upgrade to the much harsher UPOV 1991 version. The US seed industry is very excited about this, calling it ‘a win’ for them.”

As India has a policy not to join the UPOV convention in order to protect the interests of its millions of small farmers and non-corporate breeders, GRAIN suggests, a new “US-India FTA will have serious implications for farmers’ rights in India if the government is put under pressure to join UPOV. Given the recent scandal over Indian farmers allegedly infringing a PepsiCo potato variety in 2019, it is quite possible that the US seed industry will push for stronger seed monopoly rights under the US-India FTA and eliminate possibilities for farmers to save seeds.”

Source- counterview.net, 29 December 2020.

VIEWPOINT: Why agriculture shouldn’t be left to free market

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The prices as well as the quantities of the agricultural produce in a free market would be far from socially optimal and are likely to be socially disastrous.

By Prabhat Patnaik

In the context of the ongoing countrywide kisan movement for repealing Narendra Modi’s three agriculture laws, while an overwhelming majority of commentators have stood with the position taken by the kisans, a few, though not necessarily agreeing with Modi, have raised the question: why shouldn’t agriculture operate within a free market? It is worth recapitulating here the answer to this question which is well-known but can bear repetition.

The free market solution is of course patently sub-optimal for the economy as a whole as Keynes had shown; but let us forget the Keynesian argument for the moment. Even so, the market solution is sub-optimal in the case of agriculture for two distinct reasons. The prices that would rule for agricultural goods in a free market, far from being socially optimal, are likely to be socially disastrous; and the quantities that would be produced of various agricultural goods, or, what comes to the same thing, the land use that would result if agriculture is left to the free market, is likely to be socially disastrous too.

To keep these two issues separate for analytical clarity, let us assume to start with that agriculture produces only one good, foodgrains. Now, the demand for foodgrains is price-inelastic, while output is subject to large fluctuations due inter alia to weather-induced shocks. (These characteristics are true of agricultural goods in general).

Hence, there are wide price fluctuations around the level at which demand and supply would get equalised under normal circumstances. If prices fall to extremely low levels then the peasants get into debt which they are then saddled with for ever; and if prices rise too high then several consumers get edged out of the market, which in the case of a commodity like foodgrains can be quite disastrous.

Two examples of such extremes are the price fall during the Great Depression which saddled peasants with enormous debts, and the Great Bengal famine of 1943 that left three million people dead. Neither of these events was caused by a supply side shock, a bumper harvest or a crop failure; but I cite them just to illustrate the disasters that sharp food price movements can cause.

Incidentally, it is not as if food consumers benefited during the 1930s price drop or food producers benefited during the Bengal famine; they were simply and unambiguously social catastrophes.

The mainstream theory of the functioning of the free market does not even visualise such possibilities. The standard theory assumes for the existence of a meaningful free market equilibrium that, all commodities are “gross substitutes”, that is, if the price of any commodity rises while the prices of all other commodities remain unchanged, then the demand for all other commodities will rise or remain unchanged.

This assumption rules out the very existence of a commodity like foodgrains, in whose case a rise in price will lower the demand for other commodities, as consumers economise on their other purchases to buy foodgrains. Other commodities in short cannot act as a substitute for foodgrains, as should be the case for a meaningful free market equilibrium.

It becomes essential, therefore, to ensure that foodgrain prices don’t rise or fall too much, that government intervention does not allow the free market equilibrium to prevail. So, the argument advanced by some commentators that free markets should prevail over a regime of intervention is totally invalid.

Let us now move to the quantity aspect, namely the land-use that the free market will produce. For any scarce resource, the way it is used under the free market system depends upon the relative amounts of purchasing power in the hands of its various potential users. An inevitable consequence of leaving agriculture to the operation of the free market will be a shift of land area away from foodgrain production towards the production of crops that are demanded in the West, or toward some other use of land to satisfy the demand of more affluent sections of society.

In other words, the superior purchasing power of the affluent consumers located abroad and at home will snatch land away from foodgrain production. Even if this does not raise foodgrain prices because of imports from the advanced countries, it will certainly do two things: one is to destroy such self-sufficiency that the country has developed over the years and make us food import-dependent; the second is to increase mass hunger.

Let us take the second issue first. If a plot of land used for foodgrain production earlier employed 10 persons, while the same plot now used for some other crop, say fruits, employs five persons, then the shift of land-use from foodgrains to fruits makes five persons unemployed. These five have no purchasing power in their hands to demand foodgrains, so that even if imports are available in unlimited quantities at the going international price, and even if the country has the foreign exchange to import foodgrains, there will still be an increase in hunger because people will not have the required purchasing power to buy food.

Also read: Opening India’s Food Economy to Demands of Imperialism
Of course, this argument presumed that the shift of acreage was from foodgrains to some other crop with lesser employment per unit area. But the type of crops whose production will be encouraged by metropolitan demand, or the demand of the affluent sections within the country, will on average be less employment-intensive. And, of course, to the extent that land-use shifts completely away from crop production towards real estate or golf courses, the employment per unit area will be even less, which will create unemployment and mass hunger. Mainstream economics does not recognise this simple fact because it assumes that there is always full employment, and also that at this free market full employment equilibrium, everybody can survive.

Coming now to the first issue, namely the destruction of self-sufficiency in foodgrains, the fact that the country now would not produce the foodgrains it requires but has to depend on imports, creates two obvious problems. The first is that adequate foodgrains may not always be available in the world market when the country needs it; this is particularly important in the case of a large country whose import requirement can also be correspondingly large. A variation of this problem is that the world price itself shoots up when a large country, the size of say India, approaches the world market for larger imports.

The second problem is that the real-life world market is vastly different from the textbook picture of a market. In the textbook market, there are large numbers of buyers and sellers who have a totally impersonal relationship.

In the world food market, however, whether a country gets the supplies it needs depends upon the goodwill of the American and the European governments. They may impose sanctions, they may arm-twist the importing country into toeing their line in foreign policy, or they may demand a quid pro quo by way of some concessions for their companies. So, even if the country has the required foreign exchange to buy foodgrains, and the world market has enough of it, the country may still have to pay an additional non-money price to be able to access it.

For all these reasons, if a large country has to make sure that it is food-secure, then it will have to grow this food itself. The decision on what to grow, that is, the pattern of land-use, cannot be left to the free market. Social rationality demands that there must be government intervention to determine what is produced. And one obvious way to achieve this would be to have a set of government-determined prices ruling in the market as opposed to market-determined prices.

In India, after much effort, an entire arrangement had been put in place, involving minimum support prices, procurement prices, issue prices for foodgrains and subsidies, to achieve an outcome different from the market outcome and closer to something that is socially rational. This had been opposed tooth and nail by the advanced countries who wanted countries like India eating literally out of their hands. And it was also opposed by the domestic corporates whose rationality centres around their self-interest and who did not want the government preventing its fulfilment. What the Modi government is trying to do with its legislation is to destroy that arrangement at the behest of the corporates and imperialism.

Source- newsclick.in, 12 December 2020.

Indian govt. defends itself as ‘pro-farmer’ with 106 pages E-booklet, as farmers’ stir continues

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By SAT News Desk

The Indian farmers’ agitation against three new farm laws passed by the Indian government has been on for many days and thousands are rallying on the outskirts of Delhi. The mainly Punjab, Haryana, and UP farmers have been joined by others from many other states across India. There have been solidarity actions with farmers across many countries. Many rounds of talks have not succeeded.

To counter the rising tide of farmers the Indian government is taking many steps and one of them has been 106 pages of an E-booklet emailed globally.

Attached below is the booklet:

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82 groups from 25 countries support Indian farmers’ stir

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By Counterview Desk

International organizations and individuals from more than 25 countries, extending their solidarity to the ongoing farmers’ agitation, have called it “a beacon of hope to the millions of Indians who have been ridden over roughshod by the current government”, said India’s premier civil society network, National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), distributing a statement by tens of groups from across the world.

The statement, signed by 82 people’s organizations, civil society groups, social movements, and concerned individuals, said, they consider the enactment of the three farm laws as “subversion of democratic norms”. Calling the three laws “pro-corporate” against “farmers, workers and toiling masses”, the signatories urged the Government of India (GoI) to talk to farmers and repeal the three laws immediately.

The statement comes close on the heel of the wide global coverage of the agitation in international media and demonstrations organized in several European and North American cities by Indian diaspora and others, as also questions raised in the British Parliament on the way the farmers’ protests have been treated by the GoI.

Text:

We stand in solidarity with the ongoing historic farmers’ protest in India and extend support to their demands. On June 5, 2020, amidst the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Government of India hastily passed three ordinances namely Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020; Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020; and Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.

By September 2020, these ordinances were made into law without sufficient parliamentary discussion or any talks with the farmer’s representative and its possible ramifications on their lives.

It is worrying to see the subversion of democratic norms and enactment of pro-corporate laws against farmers, workers and toiling masses. India already witnessed a huge humanitarian crisis in wake of the strict lockdown and millions of migrant workers, small and marginal farmers were left to fend for themselves, as the institutional mechanisms were not set in place to safeguard them.
There is an unfolding economic crisis but rather than taking steps to help people, another set of anti-people laws have been passed further affecting millions of people again.

The farms’ bills are going to affect not only the farmers of India but also the agricultural workers, small traders, and common people and promote large-scale corporate control of the farming sector impacting food security and sovereignty.

Farmers and workers have been protesting these laws since their inception and then passage in Parliament. With the demand to repeal these three farm laws, Thousands of farmers from across India started their march towards Delhi on November 25, 2020. They were stopped at the State borders, brutally lathi-charged, and faced tear gas shells and water cannons on the way.

They are camping for two weeks now at the borders of Delhi and were joined by trade unions, small traders associations, feminist organizations, and others in their call for all India strike on December 8th. Support from different parts of the world has been pouring in too and farmers’ protests have also stood with the political prisoners in India, broadening the ambit of the struggle for social justice.

We urge the Government of India to talk to farmers and repeal these anti-farmer laws. We stand in solidarity with the farmers and agrarian workers in their strike for justice, freedom, and sovereignty.

Click here for signatories

Source- counterview.net, 17 December 2020.