Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Rural Producers Collectives in India - Study Booklet by Ashlesha Khadse

Whether in joint farming, services, or other areas, forming collectives have a number of benefits. Collectives could allow farmers to jointly invest in inputs such as machinery and seeds, to pool and lease land, to build wells and unite in all other efforts to cultivate and market their produce collectively. Cooperatives help farmers buy or sell better due to scale benefits, as well as lower transaction costs for both sellers and buyers. United, producers can more easily arrange technical help in production, processing, or marketing for all of them. (Singh and Singh 2012) 
This study booklet aims to provide an overview of producers' collectives in India, which broadly falls under the cooperative movement. It will also highlight some case studies of successful collective organizations, with a variety of organizational styles and under different laws, mainly to get a taste of the diversity of rural collectives in India.
The paper will start with an introductory section on cooperatives—what cooperative values signify, the difference between top down versus bottom up collective farming models, their brief history, and challenges faced by state controlled cooperatives. After this, we will look at the large cross-section of laws and acts that govern the formation of producers' collectives in India. We will then move into the so-called new generation cooperatives like Producer Companies and Self Help Groups that have proliferated around the country. Finally, we will look at five case studies. This is followed by a conclusive summary of some key lessons. 
Author: Ashlesha Khadse is Coordinator at Amritabhoomi, the Agro-ecology school of  La Via Campesina -South Asia

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Amrita Bhoomi’s Direct Marketing Experiment a success

The busy stall - lots of buyers
By Amrita Bhoomi

17 Jan: Amrita Bhoomi had a first taste of success at direct marketing during the Bahuroopi, international theatre festival in Mysore. Film stars, theatre geniuses, and fans from across the world gathered here to enjoy the magical world of theatre. Amrita Bhoomi had the honor to set up a small stall to promote its work and chemical free produce.

Tireless volunteers had worked hard for days, processing, packaging, and labeling all the chemical-free goodies produced at our farms. On the menú was millets, dry bananas, jaggery, millet laddoos, and amaranthus– produced by Amrita Bhoomi’s neighbours - the Soliga indigenous people.

To their surprise and much excitement, sales boomed and they almost sold out. “We need to rebuild solidarity between the rural and the urban people, we both depend on each other, and we must honor that responsibility. Urban folk have a great role to play in promoting chemical-free and socially just food.” Said ChukkiNanjundaswamy of Amrita Bhoomi.

News paper story about Amrita Bhoomi's amaranthus sales
These words remind us of the great Indian artist, thinker, and Nobel Prize winning poet Rabindranath Tagore, who in his influential essay- the City and Village, contemplated the relationship between the city and the village – how must these two relate to each other? What happened to the spirit of unity that existed between the two?

90 years later today, it is obvious that one is nearly a parasite upon the other. The village chokes, and farmers commit suicide, while the city extracts away. But, looking beyond the gloom, Tagore also inspireshope. One of his key lessons was that with wealth comes great moral responsibility, as well as the need for some self sacrifice for the greater good and justice.

Urban consumers today can play a stronger role in supporting India’s countryside. Direct marketing is one key avenue to support rural families.

Amritabhoomi volunteers at work
“We welcome urban people to come and volunteer with us, have interactions with farmers organizations, and support us in our vision of dignity for rural people,” said Naveen, a youth farmer. 

Dairy and Poultry in India—Growing Corporate Concentration, Losing Game for Small Producers

This case study prepared by Ashelsha Khadse was part of a report What's at Steak, published by Global Forest Coalition at the 13th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, held in Cancun, Mexico from 4-17 December 2017. 

Despite India’s booming success in cooperative models of production, especially the dairy cooperative movement that turned it from a milk deficient country to the world’s highest milk producer, there is a growing push towards free trade, privatization and hyper competitiveness.

Such a race to the bottom is changing production models towards more resource-intensive, high-yielding styles of production, and the majority of our farmers—comprising mostly landless, marginal to small ones—are finding it increasingly hard to maintain and keep milch animals as they have traditionally done.

Demonetisation in India: Farmers' Groups write an open letter to the Prime Minister

Several farmers' groups in India have written a joint letter to the Prime Minister of India, highlighting the severe distress that exists in the countryside after the Indian Government withdrew nearly 86% of the currency in circulation overnight, in a supposed crackdown on corruption and 'black economy'.
Three months since the decision to partially demonetise all bills worth 1000 INR and replace all bills worth 500 INR, the move  has been widely criticised by economists of all leanings as chaotic and unwarranted. India is a predominantly cash-based economy. The government's drive to turn India into a cashless society,one where digital banking and plastic transactions would become the norm, has taken much of the rural society by surprise where digital infrastructure necessary to facilitate such a transition is barely existent.
While mobile phone usage in India is impressively common, number of smartphone users are only a fraction of that number. More so, much of the rural population are out of the formal banking system due to lack of adequate infrastructure in the forms of bank branches and ATMS. The crackdown, announced abruptly on 8 November 2016, was intended to catch currency hoarders by surprise and thereby obliterate the black economy. The government had estimated that nearly 20% of the total cash in circulation were hoarded as 'black money' and this surprise step would effectively force the hoarders to either destroy those cash or come clean. At the time of publishing this article, reports indicate that nearly 97% of the cash currency have returned to the banks, effectively raising doubts about the claims that '20% of currency were being hoarded as cash'. Critics say that most of those who involve in money laundering and tax evasion have parked their assets in tax havens or in real estate properties and that this crackdown would do nothing to retrieve that back. 
Effectively, the rural agricultural economy which is heavily dependent on cash is in tatters. The English version of the open letter, reproduced below, gives a sneak peak into the distress that has dawned upon Indian farmers and farm workers, who were already reeling under back-to-back droughts and price crash on their produce due to cheap imports and agricultural dumping brought about by free trade agreements.
Bharatiya Kisan Union, a member of La Via Campesina is also a signatory to the letter. 

Date: 5 Jan 2017
Dear Prime Minister,
Namaste! The signatories to this open letter to you represent lakhs of farmers of this country across various states and regions. We have been deeply distressed at the hardships that rural India in general, and farmers including agricultural workers have been going through from the time that you brought in demonetization of 86% of India’s currency on November 8th 2016, in the name of curbing black money in our economy. Right from the beginning, it was clear that our rural and agrarian contexts/economies were not kept in mind and measures not taken specifically for these vulnerable and critical groups in this entire demonetization episode.
We also listened to your address to the nation attentively and carefully on 31st December 2016 evening, hoping to hear some good news that will signal an end to the hardships. We had hoped that you will share some evidence on the gains from this “surgical strike” on the economy. We have however been disappointed. On the agriculture front, you talked about the government taking care of the interest on agri loans from DCCBs and Primary Societies for 60 days, by paying directly into the bank accounts of farmers. NABARD will be re-capitalising cooperative banks and societies to a tune of Rs. 41000 crores, you said. You also said that 3 crore Kisan Credit Cards will be made into RuPay Debit cards within three months so that they can be used by farmers anywhere. We find all of these inadequate when the entire season has been affected badly for the farmers. We also find that this is a rehash of what already exists.
 A reality check against these three major measures that you announced to ameliorate the sufferings of farmers shows the following:
§        When the entire agricultural season suffers due to an adverse effect on timely operations because of the demonetization move, postponing the loan repayment period by 60 days or the government bearing the interest for those 60 days to a tune of Rs. 333 for Rs.50000/- crop loan (usual short term loan amount for the average farmer covered by institutional credit) is a pittance against the hardship inflicted, that too in a good year. It is bad enough that farmers suffer natural disasters of all kinds, without having to face such surgical strikes in years when they could have recovered some losses.
The provision for RuPay and other debit cards against KCC existed since 2012 and 5.66 million such cards have already been issued in 2013-14 itself. A natural extension of this move by the UPA government should have actually covered 3 crore farmers by now and it would be surprising if that did not happen in the natural course of scaling up of this measure.
About the infusion of 41000 crore rupees of low interest credit to cooperative banks and societies by NABARD: this is not new, and in 2015-16, NABARD sanctioned credit limits aggregating 71497 crores under short term refinance portfolio and Rs. 48,064 crores in long term refinancing. This is the unutilized last quarter funding that was in any case available.
Given all the above, given that no clear benefits have been created from the demonetization move and our collective sacrifice, and given that there are no clear timelines indicated on when full cash availability will be restored, we are forced to conclude that farmers’  hardships do not seem to matter to the government at all.

In fact, your timing of the demonetization move had shown a dismaying disregard to farmers’ livelihood cycles / agricultural seasonal calendars. Selling of kharif produce was affected as were the rabi season agricultural operations. Showing higher rabi sowing in 2016-17 against a bad season last year (2015-16) is not the measure to indicate that demonetization has had no impact on this Rabi. Estimating the contraction in rabi operations vis-à-vis a good year, without the demonetization impacts, would be the right thing to do.
In villages all over India, we have come across numerous tales of hardship and woes, ranging from agricultural workers not being paid in time by farmers owing to shortage of cash, to farmers cutting back on investments on the crop management in this season, to farmers not being able to sell their produce with traders citing their own difficulties and importantly, loanee farmers from cooperative banks not even being able to repay their loans! Even timely repairs of machinery are becoming difficult. The thrift and credit activity in self help groups and their federations has also been affected. The difficulties of producers of perishable produce are particularly acute. There are also the hardships of returning migrant workers, who are unable to find work outside villages in other sectors.
The biggest negative impact of this entire demonetization process so far is the destruction that is taking place of the rural cooperative banking sector,, whereas there is  a dire need to actually strengthen rural banking and agricultural credit in numerous ways, including removal of political interference. 
The DCBs were not allowed to exchange or deposit invalidated 500 and 1000 rupee notes. This affected 12 crore customers of 33 State Cooperative Banks and 367 District Cooperatives Banks, even though all these SCBs and 349 DCBs are on the core banking platform. About 5 crore farmers, despite having fulfilled due KYC norms and having received kisan credit card loans, are unable to repay loans and reports suggest that loan off take has come down drastically. If the current trends continue, cooperative banks are headed towards decimation.
For those farmers/agricultural workers operating Jan Dhan Yojana accounts, the norms have been inequitable in terms of withdrawal limits. 
Coming to the policy dream of moving India to a cashless/less-cash digital economy, we can only say that farmers and other rural Indians would like basic infrastructure and services like uninterrupted power supply to be ensured, in the first instance, before such dreams can become a reality. Such services will directly contribute to our livelihoods and add to the economic growth of the country.
It appears that “war on black money” and demonetization are being used to forcibly integrate the rural masses into certain techno-financial regimes. While these assure profits for the corporate sectors that run these techno-financial systems, they imply tremendous hardships on the average rural person, whose access to such systems is limited and for whom such systems will serve little purpose. The implementation of such a system does not take into account the gap between metropolitan financial systems and that of the rural and agrarian economies, and reflects a lack of intimate knowledge about rural economies. In the final reckoning, the current demonetisation will have introduced new forms of corruption (as already evident in the commission system for old notes, the transfer of large amounts of new currency to hoarders and income-tax evaders), punitive financial systems that will ensure huge profits to the corporate financiers, and will intensify the pauperisation of the rural masses, especially small and marginal farmers who form the bulk of the farming population.
Like other sections of society, we had remained silent since you had sought sacrifices for 50 days from all citizens, till December 30th, in anticipation of some major benefits to be gained by the economy. However, it is unclear what the objective was for this entire exercise and how it has been achieved. History will remember this scheme as the most hurtful one since independence, in the name of resolving the problems of corruption, black money, and terrorism.
During the Pre-Budget consultation on agriculture held by the Finance Minister on 19th November 2016, one of the important demands of various farmer unions to the government was to find ways of exempting farming transactions from demonetization rules. However, no positive intervention was taken up in this regard, other than to allow farmers to purchase some inputs like seeds from public sector bodies using demonetized notes. That was an extremely inadequate response from the government. There has also been an additional 60 days provided for repayment of farm loans, in addition to extension of timelines for crop insurance premium. All of these would have been helpful only if cash flows were actualizing and were getting enhanced, which is not the case right now.
Meanwhile, the latest NCRB figures on farm suicides in 2015 highlight yet again, the deep distress in Indian agriculture, affecting both farmers and agricultural workers, with a vast majority of the farmers’ suicides being related to indebtedness/bankruptcy. This nation cannot afford to put any more burden on its *anna daatas* who are keeping the country fed.
At this juncture, we seek from you the following actions to ameliorate the hardships being faced by farmers:
From the black money netted (non-return of demonetized notes back to the banking system, or from the taxes and revenues collected by the current crackdown and new tax amnesty measures),  each farm household (we are using an expansive definition of a farmer here to include agricultural workers too) should be paid through Direct Benefit Transfer Rs. 10,000/- at least. This would amount to around Rs.1.2 lakh crores of rupees, which is less than the projections made initially about the outcome of this war against black money.
Cooperative Banks be immediately brought on par with other banks, first and foremost. All restrictions on deposits and withdrawals from the cooperative banks should be withdrawn.
All withdrawal and deposit curbs on farmers should be withdrawn fully even in the context of Jan Dhan Yojana accounts.
Announce a loan waiver immediately to all farmers, owing to the massive disruptions caused in the agricultural activities in this season.
With increased NABARD funding, enhance soft loans to Joint Liability Groups and Self Help Groups. Provide for village level funds to finance and support women farmers.
Further, in the kisan credit scheme, the scale of finance should be increased, interest rates should be lowered and agriculture credit expanded for more coverage.
Given that the cash crunch is expected to continue, set up an MGNREGS-like mechanism to fund agricultural operations so that all agricultural operations continue smoothly even as workers get paid by government into their accounts, from where withdrawals should be allowed unconditionally. Double the allocation of MNREGA.
Adequate arrangements be made from now itself for Rabi season sales and marketing to take place unhindered. Adequate cash flows be ensured with traders and other agencies so that farmers do not suffer in any way. Government should step in to procure as much as it can, including dals like arhar which are at present seeing a crash in the markets, and pay these amounts into farmers accounts immediately.

Yudhvir Singh, General Secretary, All India Coordination Committee of Farmers Movement (AICCFM)
Virendra Kumar Shrivastava, President, Laghu Simant Krishak Morach, Uttar Pradesh
Virendra Dagar, State President, Bhartiya Kissan Union (BKU), Delhi Rural
Vijay Jawandhia, Shetkari Sanghathana, Maharashtra
Vidyadhar Olkha, State President, Bhartiya Kissan Union (BKU), Rajasthan
Sukhdev Singh Gill, State President, Bhartiya Kissan Union (BKU), Himachal Pradesh
Satnam Singh Cheema, State President, Bhartiya Kissan Union (BKU), Uttarakhand
Rusikulya Rayat Sangha
Ratan Singh Mann, State President, Bhartiya Kissan Union (BKU), Haryana
Rajveer Singh Gadaun, State President, Bhartiya Kissan Union (BKU), Uttar Pradesh
Poguri Chennaiah, Rashtriya Vyavasaya Vruthidarula Union (A Federation of Unions of agri.workers,marginal farmers & Fisher people in India)
Paschima Odisha Krushak Sangathan Samanvaya Samiti
Nallagounder, Uzhavar Ulaippalar Katchi (Tamil Nadu Farmers Association)
Mahila Kisan Adhikaar Manch (MAKAAM)
Krushak Bikash Mancha
Kiran Vissa, Raithu Swarajya Vedika
Kavitha Kuruganti, ASHA-Kisan Swaraj
K. Sella Mutthu, President, Tamil Nadu Farmers Association
Jayant Verma, Vice President, All India Agragami Kissan Sabha
Jagdish Singh, State President, Bhartiya Kissan Union (BKU), Madhya Pradesh
Gurnam Singh, President, Bhartiya Kissan Union, Haryana
Dr Sunilam, Kisan Sangharsh Samiti
Dhan Singh Sherawat, Bhartiya Kissan Union (BKU), Maharashtra
Deshi Bihan Surakshya Mancha, Odisha
Com Hannan Mollah, General Secretary, All India Kisan Sabha
Ch. Rakesh Tikait, National Spokesman, Bhartiya Kissan Union (BKU)
Ajmer Singh Lakhowal, State President, Bhartiya Kissan Union (BKU), Punjab
Adi Krushak Sangathan

  (First published on -

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

One of India’s Largest Training Camps on Ecological Agriculture Ongoing in Karnataka

Amrita Bhoomi's Native Seeds stall
Amrita Bhoomi co-organizes training on Zero Budget Natural Farming in Chitradurga from 7-11 January 2017

By Amrita Bhoomi

Masses of people gathered together is not an unusual sight in India; this is common at religious events or political mobilizations. But to see thousands of farmers come together to attend a class on ecological farming is extraordinary. One such class is taking place at the Muruga Matha, a religious institution in southern Karnataka, where a five-day intensive study camp on a chemical-free farming method called Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) is taking place. 

The Zero Budget movement has already organized some 100 such camps over the last decade in Karnataka state alone, with an average participation of a 1000-5000 farmers each. 

Such huge, volunteer-organized farmer training camps are unprecedented in the country, and perhaps anywhere else in the world. They are possible because of the collective dynamic found in social movements, where lots of rural volunteers, farmers’ organizations, local activists, religious leaders, and other members of society come together and pool in resources like food, venue, time, volunteers, to promote this chemical-free and debt-free method for the farming community. 

Farmer-Trainees at the Camp

Shri Subhash Palekar, called the guru of ZBNF by its followers, innovated the toolkit of ZBNF practices by careful observation of nature, indigenous farming methods, and decades of experiments on his own farm in Maharashtra.  He is personally carrying out the training session. Palekar received one of India’s highest civilian awards--the Padma Shri--last year, in recognition of his efforts, making him the first farmer to receive such an award. 

Tree-Planting inauguration ceremony
‘Zero budget’ natural farming aims to drastically cut production costs by ending dependence on all outside inputs and loans for farming. The word ‘budget’ refers to credit and expenses, thus the phrase 'Zero Budget' means without using any credit, and without spending any money on purchased inputs. 'Natural farming' means farming with Nature and without chemicals.  

Inaugural Speakers
Indian farmers are reeling under a crisis of farmer’s suicides that are a result of indebtedness among farmers of all sizes. ZBNF presents itself as a direct solution to the farmer suicide crisis, as well as the climate crisis, and water crisis. The amount of water needed to practice ZBNF is less than half of that needed for chemical farming. “No ZBNF farmer has ever committed suicide or gone into debt,” said Chukki Nanjundaswamy of Amrita Bhoomi. 

Amrita Bhoomi has been a long time promoter of ZBNF and agroecology and also brought many of its peasant seeds to the event. It will soon start large-scale distribution of peasant seeds among farmers. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

What do love letters have to do with farming?

By Ashlesha Khadse

Rural youth conclude 2016 with an intensive course on gender and agroecology at Amrita Bhoomi with Samvada Community College

Students concluding the course
Writing love letters may seem like an unusual activity for a course on farming and agroecology. But, in this course, young farmer-students proposed to their hypothetical crushes in their letters, commenting on their realizations about gender. “I realized that we place so many conditions on women,” wrote one student. A key reflection of the entire course was that shifting to agroecology and sustainable agriculture isn’t just about a change in production models, its as much about changing the relationships we have--including between genders.

Indians in general have unrealistic expectations of women, and this is especially evident in the marriage market – women should be light skinned, they should be conventionally attractive, they should be educated but be ready to turn into submissive housewives, they should uphold caste norms, they should know how to cook and clean, and on and on. Rarely do women have a say in any important decision concerning their own lives. 

A still from the film ‘Nirnay’ (The Decision), one of the films students watched in class.
The film explores the experience of young women in India. 
In a class mostly constituted of young men from conservative rural backgrounds, students rarely have the space to social issues like these. Students approached gender by analyzing their own relationships and expectations – both within the family and romantic relationships. They also talked about sexuality, sex, sex before and within marriage, students own gender identities, caste and class in relationships, arranged marriages, economics of marriage – how resources are shared within the family and many others. 

“Some of the students seemed genuinely shaken up, these are all very new things for them and not something that’s commonly discussed in rural India,” said one of the trainers. 

“I was aware of all these things we spoke about, especially the unequal treatment of women and other genders in society, but the main thing I realized from this course was that all this while I wasn’t doing anything about it, I now have the clarity that I myself can and must make changes, starting from my own home,” said Mallikarjun of Chamrajnagar.

Mallikarjun and Abhilash of Amrita Bhoomi Agroecology Center
attended the course.