Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The discussion on the UN draft declaration on rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas in Sri Lanka

Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR), Sri Lanka, organized a discussion on the UN draft declaration on rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas at the MONLAR office in Colombo on Wednesday, 19th April 2017. Representatives from farmer organizations, Civil Society organizations, trade unions, Community based organizations, NGOS and peasants were participated in the consultations.   

The objective of the discussion was to disseminate the information about the draft UN declaration and its significance for the farmers and also for MONLAR as a farmer movement and to collect inputs to submit for the next round of negotiations in Geneva.

Accordingly, following inputs from the discussion were generated.  
  1.  Article 6 - Rural Women's Rights - Women's rights to production and production instruments should be ensured.  
  2. Article 9 - Freedom of Movement - Section 3 - Should include "which are fare for all the parties", after the international agreements, as most of the international agreements specially the economic and trade agreements are discriminative against one party.
  3.  Article 12- Rights to participation and information - it should be emphasized the obligation of the states to provide information.
  4. Article 14 - Access to Justice - It was argued that the in addition to bring justice, states should ensure the steps taken to prevention of future occurrences of the same violations. 
  5. Article 15 - Right to Work - Section 1 - It was argued that this section is risky, because it will allow cooperates to recruit the people for their industries and say it is with the consent of those people. Section 2 - Should include word "ecological" before food systems.     
  6. Article 16 - Right to safety and health at work - Section 3 - (C) - It was argued that this could allow the criminalization of some organic farming practices. ex; claims that paddy farming emitting methane extensively.
  7. Article 17 - Section 4 - People should make aware about the nutritional levels and ingredients of foods.
  8. Article 23 - Right to avoid GM and terminator seeds should be included, because there are evidences of forceful attempts by the government and cooperates on the farmers to use GM and terminator seeds.
  9. Article 26 - States should ensure the right to health by developing and implementing a people's health policy and health should be provided free of charge by all the states.
  10. Article 27 - States should ensure the right of the peasants to resettled proximity to farming lands.
  11. And in general, there was a request to see the possibility of getting the declaration officially in Sinhala and Tamil languages.   

It was decided to bring the declaration down to the village levels to raise awareness of the farmers on the declaration. In doing so, the Sinhala translation of the declaration will be further developed and a Tamil translation will be produced soon. In addition to that, a small booklet summarizing and analyzing the declaration will be printed in local languages for better understanding by the farmers.

A consultation with the policy makers will also be planed before the next Geneva negotiations in May 2017.

At the same time, a follow-up meeting will be convene after the Geneva negotiations together with its outcomes.  

Intensive Two Day Bootcamp on Zero Budget Farming Ongoing at Amrita Bhoomi

Mr Prasanna Murthy from Tumkur who is an expert in Zero Budget Natural farming and one of the state level conveners of the movement is conducting a two-day training on ZBNF at Amrita Bhoomi on the 19, 20 April. The training was timed for the upcoming Kharif sowing season.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Training Tomorrow’s Peasant Movement Leaders

“We often hear this phrase 'born leaders'- and this makes us feel like only some people are destined for it. After this course, I feel that leadership is something that can be developed, and initiatives taken by anyone who has the will. I will try to start a farmers group in my area"
–Course participant

Leadership and political action is the theme of the ongoing course at Amritabhoomi. Samvada is helping to carry out this program titled "Leadership development for Agriculture Revival". The first module was from 10-14 April 2017. While earlier courses focused on farming methods and marketing, this one emphasized the socio-political aspects of farming and how to develop political processes. Along with working on our lands, how can we politically engage with farmer’s issues to create local impact? This was the question facing the twenty odd youngsters who gathered for this program at Amritabhoomi.  

Santosh Koulagi addressed the question "Why is there a need for leadership in agriculture?". Participants found his talk very motivating. Santosh spoke about plurality in leadership roles- and how one can choose to initiate change in any of these aspects of agriculture- environmental, economic, or political. Participants reflected on how they could position their own interests and abilities within this framework, and in which area they would focus on developing their leadership skills.  

K P Suresh spoke about various financial and governmental institutions and how their policies and actions shape the decisions of farmers. He addressed questions of farm credit, loans, co-operative banks, the role of NGOs and that of private players in the agriculture sector. Mahesh spoke about various government schemes and how to work with state bureaucracy. Vineet took this discussion to the global scale and introduced to the group basic issues around WTO agreements, GATT, and the role of IMF. Discussions centered around how the structure of subsidies and tariffs shaped international markets and directly influenced the incomes of farmers in India. 

This naturally led to discussions around the politics of globalization, and the nexus between the political establishment and global corporate power, with inputs from Doddipalya Narasimha Murty. Chandrashekar Bale shared his experiences in organizing farmers movements and mobilizing farmers on political issues. This was followed by discussions of the M S Swaminathan committee report, and Bale explained how the implementation of its recommendations could address the agrarian crisis. 

The course also touched upon knowledge politics- how colonization and imperialism have undermined indigenous knowledge systems of peasant communities. These discussions led to a critical evaluation and comparison of different models of agriculture- "indigenous" methods (decentralised, community-based knowledge) vis a vis "scientific" methods (centralized, institution-based knowledge). Sampath shared some of his experiences of working with adivasi communities and the role that indigenous knowledge plays in shaping local ecologies and livelihoods. 

The final day concluded with participants sharing their ideas for what practical actions they can and plan to initiate. The group was a very diverse, ranging from people who were working with farmers movements for some years, to people who were exposed to agrarian politics for the first time.

This course is first of a three part module that will ensue over the coming months. 

by- Akhilesh, with inputs from Mahesh Deshpande, edits- Ashlesha

Indian Farmers groups Consultation on UN Draft Declaration on Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas

La Via Campesina South Asia and its affiliated member organisation in North India, the Bhartiya Kissan Union (BKU) organised a daylong consultation on the ‘draft declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas’ at the Indian Social Institute in Delhi on Wednesday, 12th April 2017. The consultation was organised in partnership with Focus on the Global South.

The overall objective of the consultation was to spread the information about the draft declaration and seek inputs from various peasant groups in northern India as well as others like fisherfolk, pastoralist, forest workers, dairy workers, NGO activists and youths. The consultation was intended to mobilize support from these groups at the national level to influence the Federal Government in Delhi to maintain their positive support for the Declaration but also push for its early finalization of at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) where the negotiation is currently underway. Moreover, the Delhi’s consultation also deliberated for exploring possibilities for legislation at the national level for the recognition of peasants’ rights on the lines of the UNHCR Declaration.

LVC South Asia and Focus had widely circulated the draft declaration among various politically and non-politically affiliated peasants groups in India as well as among large networks of NGOs who provide policy support and always stand in defence of peasants’ rights in India. Some of them shared their inputs over email but also alleges their support for the draft declaration.

Following are the inputs from the consultation as well as those mailed to us with respect to the 8th March 2016 version of the Draft Declaration (A/HRC/WG.15/3/2).

General Observation about the Draft Declaration:

1.             The draft declaration does not include the issue of Animal Husbandry and rights of dairy farmers.
2.             The draft Declaration is missing the issue of Poultry farmers.
3.             The draft Declaration does not elaborate on how to protect the rights of the peasants youth who would inherit the land from the present generation.
4.             The Draft Declaration should also mention about the obligation of State in case of loss of crops and production due to damage caused by wild animals, like elephant, wild boars, blue bulls etc.  

Specific inputs:

5.             Article 1 (Definition of peasants and other people working in rural areas), Section (4): Several concerns were raised for the term “Salaried workers”? Some suggested to that this should be substituted by the term “Waged Workers”.

Others raised the concern and questioned the inclusion of the very term “Salaried Workers”. Their concern is that why the definition of peasants and other people working in rural areas apply to “salaried workers in agro-industrial enterprises”? Would corporations who run these agro-industrial enterprises get a chance to use these very workers to establish their rights deviously??

6.             Article 2 (States' obligations), Section 5 and 6: Does section 5 as is stated is enough? Or should there be more explicit lines on how development cooperation, trade and investment agreements should be compliant/subordinate to this Declaration and states' human rights obligations?

7.             Article 5 (Rights to sovereignty over natural resources....), Section 6, sub-section (b): Add “Full” before “Free” and make it "Free, Full, Prior and Informed Consent. 

8.             Article 6 (Rural Women's Rights): It would be good if equal property rights for women is included in this article (which infact appears at Article 19, Section 2 of the draft). A reiteration of this right in Article 19 will be useful as well.

9.             Article 9 (Freedom of Movement), Section 4: Concerns were raised on the issue of transboundry tenure and it was realized that broad definition of Peasants (which include “salaried workers in agro-industrial enterprises” will be used by agro-industrial enterprises and bog corporations for land grabbing across international boundaries? 

10.         Article 10 (Freedoms of Thought, Opinion and Expression), Section 2: There is need to qualify the term “local customs”, by adding the "which should also comply to human rights obligations"? (as it has been phrased in Article 29, section1)

11.         Article 13 (Right to information in relation to production, marketing and distribution), Section 3: there seems to be a wrong use of the term "appropriated" here.

12.         Article 15 (Right to Work), Section 2: Replace "provides remuneration" with "guarantees remuneration".

13.         Article 16 (Right to safety and health at work): Add a subsection (e) in Section 3; that explicitly say, "Promote and ensure that agricultural technologies and practices that do not jeopardize safety and health at work".

14.         Article 17 (Right to Food), Section 2: Add “Safe” before adequate and make it "right to physical and economic access to all times to sufficient, adequate, safe and culturally acceptable food..."

15.         Article 20 (Right to a safe, clean and healthy environment): In this section, LVC must demand to phase out “agro-chemicals”. This article must add a section which say, "States will take measures to phase out agro-chemicals"?

16.         Article 24 (Rights to water and to sanitation): Under Section 4, add the following "provide protective irrigation wherever feasible"?

17.         Article 24, section 2 subsection (g): the word “surface water and aquifer” should be added after “The protection of natural water resources”.

18.         Article 25. Section 3, subsection (b) is unclear. Groups are not clear what income security for children would mean? Please define.

Future Action:
At the Delhi’s consultation, it was decided to propagate about the draft Declaration at the village level in India. It is the responsibility of the peasants groups to take this draft to the villages of India and apprise the common peasants about the UNHRC declaration on peasants’ rights.

It was also decided that BKU will soon form a committee and will meet with the officials who will be participating at the UNHRC negotiations on the draft declaration in the coming next round starting from 19th May in Geneva.



Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Zero Budget Natural Farming comes to Bangladesh

April 2017: Millenials aren’t the only one’s connecting on the Internet. It is how Rehmat Shahiudil Islam, a farmer from Bangladesh first came across Zero Budget Natural Farming, a natural farming movement from India. He read some blogs and watched videos, and after an initial fascination with the subject decided to come to South India to attend a training camp in Karnataka early this year.

Rehmat Shahiudil Islam
on a filed visit in India
ZBNF strives to end farmer’s dependence on debt by farming naturally, with nature, without any external inputs or chemicals. It aims to create self-reliance at the farm level so farmers never have to depend on any external entities – be they corporations or the government. The movement has thousands of practitioners at the national level.

It has spread in an organic farmer-to-farmer way, and through massive training camps where its principle teacher  Subhash Palekar– or guruji, as he is respectfully called by farmers, gives detailed classes.

“When I heard Palekar ji’s talks, I was convinced. I wanted to remove the poisonous chemicals from our food.  I wanted to stop our dependence on companies like Monsanto, I wanted to do something about global warming.”
Rehmat spent time studying Palekars lessons, and visiting farmers- “I met so many farmers in Shimoga, Chitradurga, and Davangere districts. When I saw their fields and their happiness with my own eyes, I had no doubt that ZBNF works.”

Rehmat with Subhash Palekar and ZBNF
movement members on a farm visit
He is now in touch with other ZBNF farmers through Whatsapp and Facebook and can easily discuss any problems with them online.

Rehmat has a job in the real estate sector but plans to quit and practice ZBNF full-time as soon as he can. He purchased some land a few years ago and now is practicing ZBNF on it. “Everyone thinks I am crazy, but I tell them, just give me six months and I will prove myself. My family also questioned me in the beginning, but now they support me.” He is convinced that with each crop he will get better and learn by doing.

A farmworker stands beside mulched beds
at Rehmat's ZBNF farm in Dhaka
Bangladesh has some 16 crore farmers, almost half the population of the country, who have either very small holdings, or are landless. Unlike Rehmat, most of them do not have access to Whatsapp or cellphones and live in dire poverty. It remains to be seen how and if ZBNF can reach all of these farmers. Rehmat plans to take ZBNF to at least 16 farmers himself. “If I can even help 16 farmers to become poison-free (chemical free) myself, then it will be something.”

He also wants to translate Palekar’s books to Bangla language, which is the national language of Bangladesh. Palekar has published some 20 books in various Indian languages, which are a key resource for farmers to learn about the method.

Rehmat is already planning his next trip to India for another ZBNF camp. “There is so much to learn from the farmers here, I am very fascinated.”

- by Ashlesha Khadse (Amrita Bhoomi Center)

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Rebuilding the relationship between youth and the soil: KRRS Youth Assembly

After 37 years of work, KRRS strongly feels that the youth should be given the space to get ready to lead the movement forward. 37 years ago, kRRS leaders were mostly youth. Youth leadership is the very essence of the movemens’ birth. Every 10 years KRRS has tried to bring in the new generation into the movement. In the context of agrarian crisis and rural change, youth are neither attracted to agriculture nor the farmers movement, which KRRS defines as the biggest danger to our collective future.

It is very important for the movement to create a space for young people to own, which is free from all sorts of oppressions and has positive ideas for constructing a new world. 

On April 1, 2017, at KRRS’ most recent Youth meeting entitled “What should we do?” many such positive ideas were shared.

Jagdish from Honalli Taluk told, “We don’t want to just continue complaining that the government hasn’t fulfilled its duties. Common people ourselves must take action. In my area, young people self-organized to desilt more than 40 lakes. Now, in spite of severe drought conditions, the water table is relatively healthy.”

Other positive ideas included rejuvenating the soil, promoting mixed farming system with dairy farming, conserve water & forests, start using local seeds, planting millets in drought conditions, and building our own marketing systems. ONe youth observed the change in farmers’ well being, as farmers have left producing food crops instead of cash crops.

Another young person said, “I request senior people to learn to respect the youth. We aren’t always immersed in Facebook and our phones as everyone claims. We have our own critical thinking and social causes, and we use social media to share them.”

Youth identified the link between agriculture and their own generation has been broken. Rural youth from farming families are encouraged to have the ambition to escape agriculture, which is considered a dying sector. They felt that youth are disconnected to agriculture because they are losing land, land is getting fragmented, drought plus land infertility makes production difficult. Market instability and lack of access to credit provide additional challenges.

Yet, this cannot be done alone. The KRRS youth impressed upon the senior leaders a need for guidance and mentorship towards pursuing these goals. “We need to rebuild the relationship between youth and the soil.”

Together with this, youth activists analyzed the impacts of privatization of education and the closing down of government schools, along with the impacts of alcohol abuse in rural communities. Youth are being used by political parties, which often interfere in youth’s unified organization.

“This generation cannot continue with gender discrimination. We have to accept women and men equally,” a young man put forward. “We have to be casteless, gender equal, and start peasant student federations.

Senior leaders urged youth to think more about land issues— they spoke about land fragmentation, but not landlessness

"Young farmers taking pledge at the end of the program"

An ad-hoc committee was formed including Yatish (Tumkur), Kolar (Prasad and Uma), Chikballapura (Arun), Haveri (Nagannagowda and Shiala), Jagdish (Davangere), Chamrajagara (Nalluru Shivu), Bellary (Meheboob), Vidyashree and Krishnamurthy (Chikamagalur), Yadgiri (Mahadevi), Kalburgi (Amresh Gowda, Jagadevi Hegade), Mahesh (Bagalkot), Mysore (Vasanta), Nisar (Ramnagara), Bangalore Urban (Krishnamurthy)

The activities were moderated by Chukki, Vasantha and Sobha from Amritabhoomi, Dr.Vasu and Mallige from Karnataka Janashakti and Ramesh from Samvada. In the day, senior leaders like Badagalapura Nagendra shared their personal stories about how they joined the farmers movement during their student days, and about their journey in the movement.

This step is a new beginning, in a young direction. It is the enthusiasm, concern and energy of youth that will shape the farmers movement in the days to come. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

People's Groups Reject RCEP

 04 April 2017: At a meeting organised by Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS), La via Campesina, IT for Change, Forum Against FTAs, and other local groups, around 100 representatives of people’s movements from southern Indian states gathered at the Indian Social Institute, Bangalore from 2-3 April to discuss the implications of the proposed mega free trade agreement - Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

They represented a wide range working on health, agriculture, labour rights, financial and public services. The groups questioned why the Government of India is agreeing to be part of the RCEP, which allows foreign investors to sue governments, restricts policy space for governments, threatens access to life-saving medicines and puts seed sovereignty at risk.
“Farmers in India have already borne the brunt of existing FTAs such as the ASEAN-India FTA and India Sri-Lanka FTA. Cheap imports of palm oil, pepper and tea have devastated lives of peasants across South India. The RCEP will further aggravate this crisis. We reject the RCEP outright,” said KT Gangadhar, President KRRS. 
“Intellectual property provisions being pushed by developed countries in the 16-member RCEP will prohibit peasant rights of saving seeds and force them to buy expensive corporate seeds hence compromising seed sovereignty.” Kiran Vissa, ASHA (Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture, Hyderabad).
Burnad Fatima of Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) added, “Women-led subsistence-based agriculture guarantees food security and nutrition of their communities. But RCEP negates this and invites foreign investors to plunder the sovereign status of women farmers, stopping them from sharing and any traditional and indigenous knowledge, and allowing corporations to take over common resources like water, forest and land. Women from the margins – rural poor, Indigenous and Dalit women are the worst affected. We resist and say 'No RCEP'."
As the Indian Government prepares to host the 19th round of RCEP negotiations in Hyderabad in July, civil society are concerned that India’s federal decision-making process  - whereby state governments' considerable autonomy over policies in agriculture, health, education and labour - will be compromised by India’s commitments in the RCEP and the process by which it is being negotiated without consultation with State capitals, leaving aside people. The agriculture minister of Kerala, Sunil Kumar has already written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in this regard.
Participants expressed concern that the investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions in the proposed agreement will undermine the Indian government's ability to protect citizens’ human rights over corporate profits. ISDS allows foreign investors to sue the government for millions of dollars. They file these legal claims before handpicked arbitrators by-passing domestic court. India is already facing many such arbitration suits.
"The presence of international healthcare companies is increasing in India, evident in the presence of companies like Malaysia’s Columbia-Asia and the Singaporean IHH Health Berhard. Foreign investment in the sector is also increasing and grew at 27 per annually in the period between 2010 and 2014. Close to 80 per cent of this was equity investment. Entering into an agreement (like RCEP) that will curtail the government’s ability to regulate the private healthcare sector and strengthen the so-called rights of investors will impact both workers and patients.” V. Narasimhan, India country representative, Public Services International.
Anand Grover, senior lawyer and former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health pointed out, “India supplies cheap generic medicines across the developing world. Japan and South Korea are demanding strict patent laws that will raise the cost of affordable medicines which will impact patients in India and developing world.” 

"Affordable medicines from Indian generics helped in making HIV treatment available to nearly 17 million patients worldwide. Today, people living with HIV are facing increased mortality rates because of co-infection with Tuberculosis or Hepatitis-C. There is a lack of access to new medicines to treat these diseases because of patent monopolies resulting in high prices or regulatory barriers. We are worried that the heightened Intellectual Property provisions being negotiated in RCEP, if accepted would further extend monopoly protection beyond what is required and keep medicines out of reach for us for a longer period of time," added Firoz Khan, National Coalition of Positive People on India (NCPI+).
The two day meeting discussed the impact of RCEP and free trade agreements on agriculture, manufacturing, essential services including access to medicines, banking and insurance and digital economy. The rights of people versus investor protections were discussed as were strategies to mobilise against RCEP. The groups called for an unequivocal rejection of RCEP.  

For details please contact:
Rashmi Munikempanna, Janandolangala Mahamaithri and KRRS, 
Urvashi Sarkar, Forum Against FTAs,  
Neha Gupta, Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD), +91-9810 078 055/+66-955 282 396 

For ‘leaked’ RCEP negotiating texts see: