Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The threat of Climate-Smart Agriculture: Agribusiness’s new strategy to destroy Nepal’s small peasants

The word ‘smart’ has become a buzzword in many discussions especially in the context of new Nepal. Though there may be different understandings and interpretations, everybody is talking about smart village, smart city, smart technology and now smart agriculture. A few years ago, it was the word ‘green’ that became fashionable. In agriculture, the term ‘green’ was used everywhere to transform agriculture, which included the promise of more environmentally-friendly agriculture. Today, so-called agriculture experts and agrarian and commercial capitalists use the word ‘smart’ to impose a model of agriculture that benefits them – and threatens the livelihoods and landholdings of small peasant cultivators in Nepal. ‘Smart’ agriculture is a bourgeoise trap to make profits from the indebtedness and dispossession of Nepal’s peasants.

Those who advocate Climate Smart Agriculture tell lies to create confusion. Some claim ‘smart agriculture’ means the digitalization of agriculture. Others claim that ‘smart agriculture’ means the use of corporate seeds, fertilizers, and other chemicals. Some CSA advocates want it to mean the modernization, mechanization, and industrialization of agriculture, while others more blatantly admit that ‘smart agriculture’ means large landholdings, agribusiness, and mono-cropping.

This confusion is the reason why the progressive government in Nepal and the Nepalese peasant movement are not clear on what climate-smart agriculture means. This is why, one can find agricultural scientists, bureaucrats, and even some peasant leaders talking about the need for climate-smart agriculture in Nepal. They believe that the only way to increase productivity, develop agriculture and adapt to the climate crisis is to adopt the mantra of climate-smart agriculture. This is false hope. Despite Nepal’s left-wing government, the Ministry of Agriculture has continued to advocate climate-smart agriculture as part of its policies and programs to tackle climate change. Not only on a federal level, but a number of provinces have begun to implement climate-smart agriculture projects.

CSA in Nepal

Nepal’s peasant movement has safeguarded the country’s agriculture from profit-making and the plunder of natural and human resources by stopping the entry of agribusiness and GMOs. It is due to the strength of this movement that Nepal became one of the first country’s to adopt the principle of food sovereignty in its constitution.

However, the World Bank, UN agencies and agribusiness have been pushing climate-smart agriculture to the Nepal government to weaken our food sovereignty. Instead of strengthening peasant agriculture, these international power brokers are pushing the commercialization of Nepal’s agriculture. The kind of approach being advocated includes carbon trading and carbon debt under the global REDD+ project. The World Bank claims this is a triple-win for Nepal, which enhances climate mitigation, agricultural productivity, and carbon sequestration. Nepal has adopted its own REDD Strategy 2018. Other ongoing CSA programs include the Hariyo Ban Project, ASHA Adaptation Action, Pilot Project for Climate Resilience (PPCR) and the Beautiful Nepal projects run by local NGOs, the Agriculture and Forestry University and the Ministry of Agriculture.

Even agricultural scientists at the National Agriculture Research Centre (NARC) are advocating climate-smart agricultural practices. These practices are not local solutions to local problems. Instead, these have been adopted from the CSA approach developed by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Climate-Smart Villages (CSV). These are pushed by an international consortium, which includes the World Bank, FAO, the UK Government’s Department for International Development (DFID), the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), and Local Initiatives for Biodiversity Research and Development (LI-BIRD). These international organizations have been involved to identify country-specific CSA baselines in Nepal.

In only a decade, the influence of these international actors has changed the vision for the agriculture of the Nepal government. Many recent policies, the new Agriculture Development Strategy (ADS) speak about the need for climate-smart agriculture. The country has moved from a strategy that wanted an organic Nepal, it has moved to an idea of promoting industrial agriculture and reducing the population dependent on farming. This is where it begins to become clear that climate-smart agriculture is a strategy to promote agribusiness at the expense of Nepal’s peasantry. It is a cause for alarm that all CSA programs in Nepal have been negotiated secretly. There has been no attempt to consult peasants in the process.

What actually is Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA)?

The FAO Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) approach is supposed to guide actions needed to transform and reorient agricultural systems to effectively support the development and ensure food security in a changing climate. The World Bank claims CSA is an integrated approach to managing landscapes—cropland, livestock, forests, and fisheries--that address the interlinked challenges of food security and climate change. This all looks good, but a closer examination of the FAO’s Strategic Objectives shows that CSA is one of the eleven Corporate Areas for Resource Mobilization. Similarly, the WB definition makes it clear that it is international agri-business and MNCs that will bring these so-called CSA technologies. It is clear that CSA is designed to bring new technologies and corporate actors in agriculture. It is a new mantra for the corporatization of agriculture.

What is Climate Crisis and how is it impacting Rural Peasants?

The reality is that the current climate crisis is a result of the greed of capitalist and imperialist governments, their corporations, haphazard industrial and business activities plundering the world’s resources to amass more wealth. The same actors talking about CSA are the ones who have destroyed nature, which has produced the current crisis in agriculture and climate. It is a universal truth that capitalism is plundering the natural resources and polluting the environment. The emission of greenhouse gases from industrialization and industrial agriculture have contributed to global warming. The crisis has already resulted in the melting of the polar ice caps, the rise in sea levels, depletion of the ozone layer, loss of different species, as well as a serious impact on livelihoods. The climate crisis is threatening the livelihood of millions of poor farmers around the world. There is no alternative but to take greed out of the system. Without stopping corporate greed, without finding alternatives to monocultures, without taking multinational corporations and the WTO out of agriculture, it is not possible to combat the climate crisis. CSA is an attempt to profiteer from the climate crisis at the expense of poor rural producers and agricultural laborers. CSA is not an attempt to solve the climate crisis, it is an attempt to make profits by allowing agribusiness to enter Nepal’s agricultural landscape.

Myths and Reality

The reality is that it is not a big farm or national and multinational companies who produce most of the world's food. It is peasants, small and marginal farmers, who are in harmony with nature, use diverse seeds and breeds and produce more than 70% of the world's food. For those peasants, their source of income and employment and livelihood is agriculture. That is one reason why capitalism is always trying to displace them and take over their lands. Wherever there are peasant producers, global agribusiness sees space to make profits through mono-cropping, selling agri-inputs as well as creating a labor reserve through displacing them from their land. Realizing that peasants are the worst hit by the environmental and climate crisis, they are offering CSA as a false solution to wipe out the rural peasantry and peasant agriculture. These groups are even influencing policymakers, agricultural scientists and technocrats talk about GMOs and new seed varieties which they claim can adapt to climate change. They not only advocate the use of chemicals, mono-cropping, industrialization, and commercialization of agriculture but also talk about bio-fertilizer, bio-pest and high-tech farming.

It is clear, we can not expect anything from those who are responsible for the crisis. These institutions which are advocating the issue most are the tools of neo-colonialism and imperialism have only one objective: profit at any cost. The adoption of CSA will open the field for global agri-business corporations, such as Monsanto (now Bayer), to produce organic compost, bio-fertilizer, and bio-pesticides and start growing organic food. They will be talking about new climate-resilient varieties of GMOs, which already have devastating impacts on the health of people and genetic diversity.

MNCs and agribusiness cannot understand the worth of rural agriculture in harmony with nature and how it protects biodiversity. All they know is how to grab resources, displace communities and sell agri-inputs. CSA is not driven by peasants, it is driven by the same agribusiness that promotes synthetic fertilizers, industrial meat production, and large-scale industrial agriculture. These are the same corporations that are widely recognized as contributing to climate change and undermining the resilience of natural farming systems. How can these organizations label themselves ‘climate-smart’? Soon they will tell us that peasant agriculture is not climate-smart. The story will be simple. Small farmers mostly are monsoon dependent and don't have climate-resilient technologies, knowledge or seeds. The logic will be that small peasant agriculture should be replaced by mono-cropping, big farms, and MNCs.

Solution - Small scale peasant led Agroecology cools the planet! 

Nepal’s planners and agricultural scientists should not advocate any technology and approach that is against the peasantry. It should not undermine peasant knowledge and farming techniques. Science and technology should be accessible to smallholders. The best thing that can be done to help the peasants to deal with the climate crisis is to promote agro-ecology and empower rural peasants. Climate change solutions will require changing the global food system. La Via Campesina, the largest global movement of peasants and along with the International Forum for Agroecology, has put forward, agroecology as the solution and resilience to climate change, which both cools the planet and feeds the world. CSA is criticized by the peasants and people's movements and sections of civil society organizations worldwide with the slogan “Don‟t be fooled! We say no to climate-smart agriculture, and yes to agro-ecology.” CSA joins the list of GMOs, agrofuels, and REDD+ in the list of false solutions. The solutions for climate change should be holistic and should address the root cause of the problem and not its symptoms. Agroecology is such a locally practiced, eco-friendly and pro-peasant approach that ensures food sovereignty and helps to deal with the changing climate in the short run. In the long run, let's not talk about climate change, let's talk about system change.

This article is written by Pramesh Pokharel and edited by Hashim Bin Rashid. 

Monday, November 4, 2019

“India Has To Withdraw Formally And Fully From RCEP Negotiations & Similar Free Trade Agreements”: Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers’ Movements (ICCFM)

New Delhi, November 4th 2019: Reacting to the developments in Thailand, with countries in RCEP negotiations deciding to go ahead for now without India, farmer leaders in India stated that this is a good development, and that India will not lose in any manner. They reiterated their demand that India stay out of the RCEP deal. “We will not accept any further negotiations by the government, and this is not just about RCEP but other Free Trade Agreements too, including the one being negotiated with USA”, said Yudhvir Singh of Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers’ Movements (ICCFM). Farmer leaders claimed it as a victory of farmers’ movements in India and other movements who kept up the pressure on the Indian government to prioritise citizens’ interests over investors’ and corporations’, through large scale protests and direct actions.

ICCFM had given a call of action on 24th October when widespread anti-RCEP protests were organised by all members of ICCFM in their respective states. From now on, ICCFM will maintain this momentum of opposition to RCEP and other FTAs in coming days till India finally withdraws formally from the negotiations.

“We will not accept this Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership in any form, and India has to withdraw from RCEP negotiations completely. The government will face increased agitations and resistance from farmer movements otherwise”, warned Yudhvir Singh of Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers’ Movements (ICCFM). 

“We are happy that RCEP is for now going ahead without India, but the threat of RCEP has not gone for ever. As per the news reports from Bangkok, it will be finalised at the 36th Round of ASEAN Summit scheduled for February 2020 in Vietnam. Almost every sector in agriculture (including plantation sector), dairy and manufacturing has opposed the RCEP. It is unclear why India should continue to pursue negotiations on this trade deal, for whose benefit. Analysis of the past FTAs is clearly showing that we only have increased trade deficits with FTA partners, after the FTA is signed and implemented. Further, there have been significant price crashes for our farmers. While the government seems to believe that India will also benefit from increased exports, past FTAs have clearly shown that such agreements have not out-performed overall export growth in any manner, and the utilisation rate for what is negotiated for exports is very low. Meanwhile, what the government really has to worry about is the import deluge that we will be subjected to. We should not forget that elsewhere in the world, national leaders are boldly prioritising their citizens’ and country’s interests and walking away from deals being negotiated or even deals made in the past. There is a free trade deal being negotiated between EU and USA which has kept agriculture out of the deal. We demand once again that India stay out the RCEP deal as well as other FTAs for our overall economy’s interests”, said Yudhvir Singh.

The worries of farmers’ movements pertain to direct impacts on milk producers as well as other producers like that of plantation products (oil palm, coconut, pepper, cardamom, rubber, coffee etc). There will be impacts on oilseed producers with cheaper palmolein products from south east asia and threats to wheat and cotton producers too. There are also concerns around farmers’ seed rights and seed freedoms if RCEP pushes India towards a UPOV regime, due the fact that other countries in the pact are already aligned with the UPOV regime of IPRs on seeds. While it is being said that the IPR provisions have been re-negotiated, the threat is not likely to vanish. Concerns around Investor-State-Dispute-Settlement provisions in RCEP, data localisation in the context of e-Commerce etc., persist too.

Kannaiyan Subramanian of South Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers’ Movements (SICCFM) said that the current context of Indian economy as well as the agrarian crisis in the country have to be kept in mind too, when negotiating such deals. “The country is witnessing rapid deceleration in growth of the economy, businesses are shutting down or slowing down, unemployment is on the rise, and farmers’ suicides are continuing unabated. We cannot afford to have any development that has direct or indirect impacts on the rural economy in particular. Farmers are already facing severe price crashes with the government not making good on its meager price promises. In such a situation, if we reduce and also eliminate import duties on almost all product lines and subject our markets to cheaper produce from elsewhere, how are our farmers expected to survive?”.

“On the WTO front, we already are having a turbulent time. While on the face of it, there is a stalemate in WTO talks, in reality, there have been several adverse developments on this front. India’s food security programmes have come under question, on the grounds that we are breaching the accepted subsidy levels for our rice and wheat producers. Sugarcane subsidies have also come under question and we have been dragged to the dispute settlement body”, explained Rakesh Tikait, national spokesperson, Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU). “RCEP has to be understood in this context of Indian farmers already receiving a battering in global trade agreements”.

Badagalapura Nagendra, President of Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha said, “It is high time that the government put out the various deals that it is negotiating in the public domain. The undemocratic and secretive processes are not acceptable to us. State governments should assert their authority in this context. We also do not buy the argument of the Union Commerce Minister that inefficiencies of our producers cannot be protected any more – what the Commerce Minister is not realising is that other producers are receiving far greater subsidies than Indian producers, and in fact, our farmers have been negatively subsidised. This was also captured in an OECD study last year very clearly. What is also important to realise that reliance on cheaper imports does not help the cause of growth in the country, and will only get us into a vicious spiral of increased unemployment and losses, with our production, and producers’ purchasing power getting affected”. 

RCEP is a Free Trade Agreement being negotiated between 16 countries including 10 countries that belong to the ASEAN bloc, along with Japan, China, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and India. If the agreement gets signed and takes effect, it would cover 47% of the world’s population, about 30% of the world’s GDP, 33% of the world’s exports, would involve 8 of the 10 busiest ports of the world, and 30% of the world’s maritime trade.meagre The deal is not just about commerce, but also about investments, and is expected to account for 32.5% of global investment flows, if sealed. RCEP’s negotiations have been underway from 2013 and 28 rounds of talks have been held so far. With 11 of the 15 partners that India is negotiating RCEP with, the country already has a trade deficit. India has opted to stay out of the deal for now, as per a joint statement issued in Bangkok by the leaders of 16 negotiating partner countries.

For more information, contact:
Kannaiyan Subramaniam: 9444989543 ( English and Tamil)
Dharmendra Kumar: 9219691168 (Hindi)

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Peasants and Small scale food producers in India intensify their protest against RCEP free trade agreement

Peasant movements carry out coordinated demonstrations outside several district headquarters across India.

On 24th October and thereafter, thousands of farmers organized under the Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers’ Movement (ICCFM) and ally groups carried out coordinated actions and demonstrations outside several district administrative headquarters in Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Kerala. Farmers union staged coordinated protests across more than 50 places in the country demanding the Central government to keep agriculture produce and dairy sector out of the purview of Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) pact.

Through these joint actions, they were registering their protest against the Union Government’s decision to sign onto RCEP – the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement – a trade deal involving India and 15 other nations in the Asia Pacific. 

RCEP is touted as the world’s biggest trade deal and farmers in India point out that its an agreement shrouded in secrecy, despite threatening to impact the country’s dairy sector and the autonomy that the farmers have over seeds. They allege that while the Indian government, held consultations with several Corporate bodies to allay their concerns, it has held no negotiations with any of the farmer’s representatives so far. 

Over the last week, several state governments and opposition parties in India have also held press conferences and public meetings rejecting RCEP and urging the Union Government to safeguard the interests of India’s farmers and rural workers before opening up the country to further competition from ASEAN countries as well as big economies like China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. 

“As the date for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s proposed visit to Bangkok draws near – he is expected to be in the Thailand capital on November 4 –  the objective of his planned trip to the Asian country has left the agrarian community, the dairy farmers in particular, a worried lot,” Times of India reported from Mysuru. 

“In a bid to urge PM Modi to back out of RCEP, hundreds of farmers, activists and many prominent personalities took out a rally from Ramaswamy Cricle to the deputy commissioner’s office in the city on Thursday. On reaching the destination of their rally – the DC’s office – the protesters sat in front of the heritage structure and raised slogans condemning the central government and PM Modi. The protesters then proceeded to submit a memorandum to the DC, wherein they have asked the Centre not to go ahead with the RCEP agreement.”, the report added. 

Several actions took place across Karnataka, organised by the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS) in Mandya, Shimoga, Hassan, Kolar, Chikkaballapura, Chamarajanagar, Ramanagar, Belagavi, Chitradurga, Madikeri, Haveri, Tumkur, Raichur, Bellary, Gulbarga, Bijapura, Gadag, Yadagiri and Yelanduru and many other taluk headquarters. Here below, is a glimpse of the actions from around the state. 

Expressing apprehension that the RCEP pact would result in import of agriculture produces at cheap prices, leaders of KRRS said that this would pave way for decline in the demand for locally grown agriculture produces and a slump in their prices. When the country has attained self-sufficiency in production of foodgrains, opening the Indian market for import of agriculture produces is an absurd and illogical move, the protesters said according to this report in The Hindu.  In the past, the price of arecanut and other plantation crops had declined owing to cheap imports under various free trade pacts. The arecanut growers are staring at a similar slump in the price owing to the RCEP pact, said KT Gangadhar, senior president of KRRS. 

Addressing the public gathering in Hassan, KM Rajegowda, senior leader of KRRS noted that, when  country has attained self-sufficiency in the production of foodgrains, opening the Indian market for import of agriculture produces under RCEP will be suicidal for Indian farmers.

“It’s okay if the Prime Minister doesn’t listen to us. But he should at least listen to what the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, an affiliate of the RSS, is saying about the Free Trade Agreement. It [the manch] has termed the government’s step suicidal and that no government has taken such a step post-Independence,” said the noted writer Devanur Mahadeva, while addressing farmers, who held a protest rally against the RCEP agreement in Mysuru. Mr. Mahadeva said eradication of poverty does not mean the elimination of the poor. “If the agreement is signed, it will be like pushing the poor to death", reported The Hindu

In Andhra Pradesh, the Prakasam district units of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, Andhra Pradesh Raitu Sangham and Development Organization for Socio-Economic Change in Prakasam district organized a conference to discuss the effects of India joining the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), in Ongole on Thursday, reported The Hans India.

Farmers owing allegiance to various constituent organisations of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) staged a dharna in Khammam demanding that the State government immediately convey its opposition to any move by the Centre to join the RCEP in writing to avert a major threat to the farming community and safeguard the interests of farmers in Telangana and elsewhere in the country, reported The Hindu.

 Protests took place at Jayashankar, Narayanpet, Rangareddy, Warangal Rural, Wanaparthi,  Mulugu, Nizamabad, Adilabad, Yadadri Bhuvanagiri, Nirmal, Sangareddy, Vijayawada and Hyderabad - organized by AIKSCC groups of Telangana/AP.

The Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) Lakhowal on Thursday staged a protest outside the District Administrative Complex in Bathinda, Punjab. Later, a memorandum of their demands was submitted to the Deputy Commissioner, reported Tribune

They held the protest in response to a call given by the BKU national high command to give memorandums across the country in protest against the Narendra Modi-led Central Government, the report added.

Across Uttar Pradesh, in Muzzafarnagar, Rampur, Amroha, Shamli, Kanauj, Fatehpur, Unnao, Faizabad, Kanpur, Ghaziabad, Noida, Bijnor, and Lucknow, the Bhartiya Kisan Union organized several demonstrations against RCEP. 

Across Madhya Pradesh, Bharatiya Kisan Union organized demonstrations at Ratlam, Khatarpur, Hoshangabhad, Satna, Sagar, Indore, Rajghad, Agar Malwa, Damoh, Seoni, Annupur and other places.

In Tamil Nadu, farmers who are organsied under the Tamil Vivasaigal Sangam (TVS), held a large demonstration opposing RCEP. 

Events were held in Haryana too right after the election results were out, in Jind, Karnal etc.

List of places where action against RCEP was carried out on 24/25:
Karnataka : Mysore, Mandya, Shimoga, Hassan, Kolar, Chikkaballapura, Chamarajanagar, Ramanagar, Belagavi, Chitradurga, Madikeri, Haveri, Tumkur, Raichur, Bellary, Gulbarga, Bijapura, Gadag, Yadagiri and Yelanduru and many other taluk headquarters

Tamil Nadu : Coimbatore(public demonstration and press meet), Chennai (a delegation submitted memorandum to agriculture minister), Nagapattinam, Madurai

Uttar Pradesh:  Rampur, Amroha, Muzzafarnagar, Shamli, Kanauj, Fatehpur, Unnao, Faizabad, Kanpur, Ghaziabad, Noida, Bijnor, Lucknow and many other places

Madhya Pradesh : Ratlam, Khatarpur, Hoshangabhad, Satna, Sagar, Indore, Rajghad, Agar Malwa, Damoh, Seoni, Annupur and other places

Punjab & Haryana : Bathinda, Amritsar, Karnal, Jind and information on more places awaited

Telangana/Andhra Pradesh : Jayashankar, Narayanpet, Rangareddy, Warangal Rural, Wanaparthi Ongole, Mulugu, Nizamabad, Adilabad, Yadadri Bhuvanagiri, Nirmal, Sangareddy, Vijayawada, Guntur and Hyderabad - organized by AIKSCC, MAKAAM and other farmers' groups of Telangana/AP.

Odisha : Bargarh

Maharashtra : Mumbai

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

South Indian farmers to intensify the struggle against free trade

22nd September, Ernakulam: Member organizations and allies group associated under the banner of South Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers’ Movements (SICCFM) met at Ernakulam, Kerala to brainstorm and strategize collective action to address deepening agrarian crisis and evaluate the current policies adopted by the Indian government with respect to the free trade issues. The meeting was hosted by the Kerala Coconut Farmers' Association.

The two days round table meeting was attended by men, women, and youth representatives of farmers, indigenous and landless Dalit groups from the states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Kerala. Researchers, academics and trade unionists who are also allies of the farmers' movements also took part in the two-day event.

It was evident from the meeting that all the south Indian states are undergoing similar struggles, the rise in farmers suicides, increasing costs of agricultural inputs, land grabbing by the Government and companies in the name of development, loss of traditional crop varieties, corporate take over of food and milk and effects of climate change in the form of prolonged drought and erratic rainfall patterns which caused devastating floods in Kerala and Karnataka in recent years.

During the two day meeting, a lot of emphasis was placed on understanding the impact of global free trade agreements on Indian agriculture and the participants scrutinized several ongoing negotiations and developments taking place inside and outside the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in this regard. In particular, the movement representatives analyzed the ongoing negotiations around RCEP, the Regional Comprehensive Partnership Agreement, comprising India and 15 other nations.

Discussing on the trade-related issues, representatives raised concerns against the unjust trade regimes dominated by a few big countries like the US, Australia and the EU.

"Indian government cannot trade away the lives of our farmers through getting into free trade agreements. For Indian farmers, agriculture is not just their profession. It is their culture, their life. Free trade has caused many market failures and has taken away the lives of many thousand farmers since the time India adopted the neoliberal trade reforms.", said Ravindranath of the Kerala Coconut Farmers' Association, while introducing the issue in the plenary.

The movements also took a decision to unanimously reject the RCEP free trade agreement.

"India is the world’s biggest milk producer and it's dairy sector provides critical revenue to farmers especially during poor crop years. Indian farmers earn more money from the sale of milk than from wheat and rice combined. About 80 million Indian rural households are engaged in milk production which provides a livelihood to poor and small farmers", reminded Yudhvir Singh of Bhartiya Kisan Union.

"Our farmers have already faced the negative effects under WTO and if India signs the RCEP pact, our farmers livelihoods will be under grave threat, said Sellamuthu of TVS, while raising concerns about the lack of transparency and consultation with farmers' movements in the country when a trade agreement of such a massive scale is being negotiated.

Chukki Nanjundaswamy expressed concerns saying, ‘apart from the dairy sector, RCEP poses threat to dilute our national legislations related to seeds and land acquisition, the RCEP will give an upper hand to seed corporations to steal our seeds and grab our natural resources. The most important point here is that the government has not consulted farmers while making decisions regarding agriculture in RCEP. We need support for agroecology at the policy level and we don’t need these mega FTAs in agriculture, we will intensify our fight against RCEP in the coming days.

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 the lives of peasants across South India. The RCEP will further aggravate this crisis. We reject the RCEP outright,” said Badagalapura Nagendra, President KRRS (Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha)

Kavita Kuruganti of ASHA said, RCEP is a large, looming, dangerously-real threat hanging on Indian farmers' lives. It is close to being signed and we need to stop it and save our Indian agriculture.

"RCEP will be detrimental to the plantation and fisheries sectors of Kerala, the state government of Kerala has already written to the central government opposing RCEP and asking the government to consult the state government before it inks final pact.", reminded Ravindranath

Referring to the proposed amendments to the Seed Bill, Rakesh Tikait, national spokesperson of BKU, expressed his concerns that it will give more powers to the multinationals to introduce GM and patent our farmers' seeds.  At a time when farmers in India are on the verge of destruction due to the failure of this government, by bringing a Bill that is against the farmers, the government is forcing us to commit suicide.

Referring to the unjust clauses under WTO, Kannaiyan Subramaniam said that ‘Rich countries wrote the Agreement on Agriculture in the WTO to favor themselves. Agribusiness corporations in rich countries receive huge subsidies that distort international prices. They want to dump their agriculture products in our countries and want us, farmers, to go out of business and depend on them for food. We have been fighting against WTO and now we will also intensify our fight against RCEP and we demand that Agriculture must be taken out of the WTO and RCEP.

Dairy provides subsistence income to many rural households especially the marginal farmers, opening domestic markets to dairy will wipe out small scale livestock keepers, especially women, said Murugamma of Food Sovereignty Alliance.

In the matter of Fair and Remunerative price for the resource-poor Indian sugarcane farmers, the Government of India has been sued by Guatemala, Brazil, and Australia in the Dispute settlement mechanism in the World Trade Organisation(WTO) and the investigation is pending in WTO. If Government of India allows cheaper sugar Imports, it will wipe out Indian sugar cane farmers from farming. RCEP will further cause damages to the sugarcane farmers and domestic sugar industries.

KV Rajkumar of South Indian Sugar cane farmers association said that, India has over 50 million sugar cane farmers and 2 million mill workers. Sugar mills owe more than 24000 crores to farmers who have supplied sugar cane. Sugar factories in Tamil Nadu have the dues to the tune of 1854 crores.

Selvaraj and Sobha, representatives of Adivasi groups from Neelagiris opposed the attack on the Rights of Tribals and Forest Dwellers and demanded that all the indigenous people and forest dwellers who are the original owners and depend on the forests and hilly areas for their life culture and livelihood should be protected and no eviction should take place under any guise, including the rejection of claims under the Forest Rights Act.

The representatives present in the meeting also made a decision to intensify the struggle against the RCEP through coordinated national action and protest against the RCEP and FTAs, a delegation of farmers will also try to meet the Prime Minister and Commerce Minister. Also, the farmers' groups planned to seek the interventions of the respective state governments to send a letter opposing the RCEP.

Monday, September 16, 2019

“No one has consulted us on RCEP”, say farmers movements and trade unions in India

“A number of farmer organisations, trade unions, livestock and fisheries groups and civil society bodies have written an open letter to Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal stating that most of them had not been consulted on the on-going negotiations for the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) pact and expressed concerns that their concerns may not have been taken on board.

The representatives of various organisations and individuals from across the country, who signed the letter, demanded that the on-going negotiations be put on hold till consultations are conducted with those left out including small farmers, fishing communities, dairy keepers, fruit and vegetable growers, tribal populations, trade unions and other marginalised sections of society.

They also asked for the key representations made in the consultations that the government has had with industry be made public.

The RCEP is a mega trade agreement being negotiated between 16 countries including the 10-member ASEAN, India, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. Once implemented it would lead to zero-duty imports on most products between the participating countries.

Referring to media reports on the Department of Commerce’s assertion that it held over 100 consultations across the country over the last six years to gather reactions to the proposed RCEP, the letter said that it was misleading on two accounts.

“On one hand, internal briefings and inter-ministerial consultations form a significant part of these so called stakeholder consultations, and on the other hand, the only stakeholder that has been consulted is the industry,” it said.

The complainants further said that despite there being evidence to show that the lives of people at large can end up getting traded away through free trade pacts such as the RCEP, their participation during the negotiation process has not been elicited.

While the Indian industry is most apprehensive about increased competition from China once import duties are eliminated or reduced, Indian farmers and dairy producers are additionally concerned about cheap imports from New Zealand and Australia that they fear could destroy their livelihoods.”

The Hindu Business newsline has reported on 15 September. Read the full report here.

Download the full text of the letter here

Cover Image by: Joe Athialy

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

La Via Campesina issues call to mobilise against WTO and Free Trade Agreements

La Via Campesina issues call to mobilise against WTO and Free Trade Agreements

02 September, Harare:

Two decades after coming into being, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) – one of the flag bearers of globalisation and neo-liberalism – is facing an existential crisis that is precipitated by the same group of people who created it. This is also happening at a time when peasants and indigenous people are several degrees worse off than they were two decades ago; with their land, rivers, oceans and forests having undergone massive erosion and forced evictions are inflicted upon them by profit-hungry corporations. Local peasant markets and food systems in several countries have been decimated by an order of international trade that only looks at the commodification of everything, including the food that people eat.

For an organisation that inscribed among its founding objectives, its aim “to help developing countries benefit fully from the global trading system”, WTO’s greatest indictment has indeed come from the following realities confronting the developing world today; rising rural unemployment, rising hunger, staggering levels of inequality that exists between countries and within countries, and rising per capita world debt.

La Via Campesina has long been warning the world of the risks of deregulation and unbridled expansion of global capital. As people working in the field to feed 70% of the world’s population, we were the first to face the brunt of free trade agreements that were pushed forth by WTO and other multilateral institutions. WTO led the pack in seducing and coercing our governments to sign up to the grand plans of a few rich countries. The devastation caused by this top-down model of global governance was first felt in our territories when it crashed the prices of our produce, destroyed local peasant markets, wiped away the rich biodiversity that existed in our fields, took away our autonomy over seeds and evicted millions of our sisters and brothers from their territories.

It is this destruction of the country side that forced one of our own, Lee Kyung Hae from South Korea, to take his life outside the venue of the WTO ministerial meeting in Cancun, Mexico in 2003. On the 10th of September that year when he committed this tragic act, he had a banner that hung around his neck which read “WTO Kills Farmers”. Once a self-sufficient rice farmer in rural Korea, Lee had lost everything to cheap dumping of imported rice and meat, the result of free trade agreements pushed through WTO. He took such an extreme step because the rich and few who ran these institutions or lobbied around them, were too far away from the lived realities of the countryside. His act of sacrifice brought the depressing account of the rural world right outside their gates, even as in his last moments he bravely echoed the demands of peasants and rural communities worldwide; “to keep agriculture out of WTO’s free trade negotiations”.

Since then, La Via Campesina marks 10th of September every year as the International Day of Struggle against WTO and Free Trade Agreements – to keep the memory of Lee Kyung Hae alive and also to not remain mute to the calamitous consequences of international free trade.

16 years hence that tragic incident, what has changed? Nothing, except that the hands that feed WTO is now refusing to continue. It is ironical when the rich captains of capitalism claim that they got a bad deal from WTO. It begs the question, “then who got the good deal?” .

But let us not be fooled by this charade of false threats made by rich western countries to withdraw from WTO. What we have been seeing over the past one decade is the establishment of several bilateral and regional mega-free trade agreements and creation of newer unified trade blocks.

So while WTO may eventually be weakened or be dead, capitalism wants to continue to thrive through other means. It goes by different names in different continents.

Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) comprising ASEAN nations, India, Australia and New Zealand is one among this new age trade agreements that wants to create a unified market in the region, being negotiated ‘outside of WTO’. Peasant organisations here have been pointing out how it could severely impact their livelihoods, particularly those of small scale dairy farmers, how it could impose restrictive seeds laws and more. Yet these negotiations continue behind closed doors in the most opaque ways possible led by a few who have never held a plough in their hands!

The EU – MERCOSUR deal between Europe and the economic and political bloc comprising Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela, under negotiations for 17 years and finally signed onto by the European Commission in July this year, is another case in point. European Coordination of Via Campesina (ECVC) had warned that the deal with MERCOSUR threatens to undermine standards on health, the environment and animal welfare in the European Union, in addition to lacking any policy coherence with the tall promises made at COP 23. Peasant organisations in the MERCOSUR block calls it a neocolonial model that will result in a capital concentration for the few and poverty for the majority.

In Africa, the creation of African Continental Free Trade Agreement, a mega regional free trade agreement, is ‘premised on the notion that trade liberalisation, through both tariff and non-tariff barrier reduction, will drastically increase intra-continental trade, and that this increased trade will be beneficial for all.’ [CADTM, 2019]. Nothing can be farther from the truth.

Farmers organisations in Canada have also called out U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA, earlier known as NAFTA) for failing to address the concerns of grain farmers and dairy farmers in the country.

The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) between Australia,Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru,Singapore, and Vietnam. has sown the fears of corporate capture of seed systems, dilution in the regulation for GMOs and serious worries for small-scale food producers.

Many, if not all, of these trade agreements carry within it the controversial provision of Investor-State Dispute Settlement” (ISDS), which in all instances invariably allow private corporations to override sovereign national laws and sue the national governments for threatening their profitability. A system that allows multinational private corporations to take a sovereign nation to trial in front of an opaquely set up international tribunal, for the ‘crime’ of choosing people’s welfare over profit is indeed a dangerous one and must be fiercely opposed.

It is in this vein that La Via Campesina is calling upon its members and allies to not be misled by the smokescreen of a ‘weakening WTO’ and be aware of the new age mega and bilateral free trade agreements are equally if not more harmful.

As we remember Lee Kyung Hae this September, let us also agitate, educate and organise the rural members of our movement and our allies about the lurking dangers of these closed room trade negotiations. It is important that we reject all kinds of free trade agreements and work towards the complete dismantling of WTO as it prepares to meet for the next Ministerial in Kazakhstan.

It is important to inform the people of peasant-led-alternatives that exist, which can feed the people and also save the planet. The UN Declaration on Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP), which our movement won through 17 years of hard fought negotiations, are an instrument to protect the rights of our people and our efforts must be to have it implemented in our countries.

It is vital for our movements to promote and strengthen the local peasant markets selling locally produced food using agroecological methods to local customers, and that which represents and respects the diversity of local food systems. We demand for national policies that strengthen these peasant market systems and reject free trade agreements that pose an existential threat to it.

It is important that our movements on the ground also support the Global Campaign for a UN Binding Treaty for Transnational Corporations on Human Rights that aims to end the impunity of transnational corporations and work to strike out the controversial provisions of ISDS from all free trade agreements.

Starting 10 September, we are exhorting the 182 peasant organisations of La Via Campesina in 81 countries, all our allied social movements, academic institutions, political schools of training and NGOs to organise direct actions, public events, study sessions and demonstrations to expose the dangers of these free trade agreements in your own region and countries and also to present an alternative that is rooted in local cultures, context and biodiversity.

Let the rallying call for our global actions once again be
“WTO, FTAs Out of Agriculture and Food!”
“Peasant Trade Systems Over Free Trade”
“Food Sovereignty, not Free Trade!”

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Pakistan: Peasant organisations pledge to push back against Industrial Farming

The Pakistan Kissan Rabta Committee (PKRC) on Sunday vowed to lead the fight against industrial farming practice advocated by multinationals across Pakistan. The members of the committee pledged to aggressively promote and adopt “natural sustainable crop production”.

After a two-day national convention, “Building a Peasant Movement in Pakistan” held in Lahore, the PKRC elected a new Coordination Committee and inducted new member organisations. The two days meeting was chaired by a panel of Nazli Javed, Mian Mohammed Ashraf and Tariq Mahmood.

The meeting was attended by 21 peasant and food producer organisations from across Pakistan, while a number of organisations were unable to attend. The new organising committee of the PKRC will include the Anjuman Mazaareen Punjab (Okara and Lahore), Akhuwat-e-Kissan Pakistan, Anjuman Kashtkaraan (Khyber Pakthunkhwa), Kissan Karkela (KP), Khoj, Crofter Foundation, Pedaver, Sawera Foundation, Hari Poriat Tanzeem (Sindh), Tameer-e-Nau Women’s Workers Organisation, Kissan Akath (Rajanpur), Haqooq-e-Khalq Movement, Agrarian Collective, Dastak, Khushaali, Aisaar, Sanjh, Milli Zameen Zada, Pakistan Fisher Folk Forum and Alfalah Welfare Organisation FATA.

The forum criticised the dominant mode of agriculture that was sold to farmers during the Green Revolution. Speaking at the forum, MiN Asif Sharif of Pedaver and Nusrat Habib of Khoj Foundation agreed that corporate interests had been the main reason for advocating a system of farming that spreads poison and destroys nature. Instead, the PKRC will struggle for creating a natural system of farming, based on rebuilding the natural composition of the soil, which rejects the use of corporate seeds, pesticides and fertilizers.

The PKRC vowed to renew the struggle for land reform, market reform, moving towards natural farming and oppose corporate farming. The meeting also expressed solidarity with the struggle of the Anjuman Mazareen Punjab and called for the release of its leadership, including AMP leader Mehr Abdul Sattar. It called for the recognition of the land rights of the tenants of the Okara Military Farms.

The PKRC also calls on peasants to participate in Climate Strike being organising on September 20 across Pakistan, noting that Pakistan’s farmers have been amongst the most affected by extreme weather patterns, including floods, unpredictable rainfall and changing weather patterns.

Those who spoke on the occasion include Dr Ammar Ali Jan, Hshaim Bin Rashid, Farooq Tariq, Muhsin Abdali and others.

Press coverage of the meeting - https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/520798-farmer-body-for-natural-sustainable-crop-system

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Keep Agriculture and Dairy out of RCEP, Demand Farmer Unions

The unions fear dilution of seed rights of Indian farmers and massive dumping of dairy products from milk-producing countries.

NewsClick Report

Several farmer unions under the banner of the Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers’ Movement, on Wednesday, submitted a memorandum to the Union Minister of State of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry, and Dairying Sanjeev Kumar Balyan, demanding to keep agriculture and dairy out of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) free trade agreement.

The submission of the memorandum came ahead of the 27th round of RCEP negotiations that is going to be held at Zhengzhou in China on August 2-3.

RCEP is a trade and investment agreement that is being negotiated among 16 countries – 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and six regional partners, one of which is India.

The unions fear massive dumping of dairy products from milk-producing countries like New Zealand and Australia, which according to the unions, are aiming to exploit the huge Indian dairy market through their surplus, though at the cost of the local livestock farmers.

“Going by the numbers that the NITI Aayog has projected, India is in no need to import milk or milk products till 2030s as the supply will be more than the demand,” Yudhvir Singh, general secretary of Bharatiya Kisan Union told NewsClick indicating that the demand to keep dairy out of RCEP talks is even economically legitimate.

It was reported earlier that India’s milk production will touch 330 mt by 2033 with a demand projection to be around 292mt.

In addition to it, the memorandum also pointed towards the provisions of RCEP, which are meant to dilute the seed rights of Indian farmers, which include criminalisation of seed saving and seed exchange – a method which provides more diversity to the farmers, significant especially under the pressures of climate change – giving more power to corporations over the seeds.

Pressure from the seed companies must be viewed in light of the attempt to monopolise the seed industry and then using the patent laws to kowtow the local farmers in purchasing the seeds that will then require certain type of fertilisers and pesticides. Such measures only restrict the independence of a farmer in deciding what to grow and how to grow. A textbook example being the recent PepsiCo’s lawsuit against the potato farmers in Gujarat, though the company withdrew later in response to the media outcry and protests.

Now with RCEP, the objective is to strengthen the patent laws which will allow the seed companies to tame the local farmers in a bid to appropriate more profits.

NewsClick has earlier reported on the secretive negotiations and oppositions from various civil organizations from ASEAN member countries against the provisions of the RCEP, one of them to allow the foreign companies to sue governments for pursuing policies which will reduce their profits.

Since 2012, when the formal negotiations began, representatives of various unions of farmers, trade unions, and civil society groups have been voicing their serious criticism against the RCEP, which according to them, is even worse than WTO.

Reblogged from NewsClick

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Major Indian farm union cautions government over China-backed trade deal

Reuters Report 
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - A leading Indian farmers’ organisation on Wednesday warned the government against joining a major 16-member Asia-Pacific trade pact that the union fears could spur imports of cheaper produce, undermining its agricultural sector.

A team of top Indian government officials will be in Beijing between Aug. 2 and 3 to negotiate the terms of the China-initiated Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) that has been held up by disputes between Beijing and New Delhi over access to markets and protected lists of goods.

Indian farmers believe that the pact will force India to cut tariffs on farm goods, leading to imports of cheaper products such as dairy into the country where agriculture is still the mainstay for its 1.3 billion people.

“Representatives of all prominent farmers’ unions in India have unanimously rejected the RCEP,” Yudhvir Singh of Bhartiya Kisan Union, or Indian Farmers’ Union, which represents millions of farmers across the country, told a news conference.

India’s dairy farmers are especially vulnerable, he said, fearing potentially low tariffs on milk and milk products would lead to a glut on the local market and a collapse in prices.

India is the world’s biggest milk producer and its dairy industry provides critical revenue to farmers especially during poor crop years. Indian farmers earn more money from the sale of milk than from wheat and rice combined.

About 80 million Indian rural households are engaged in milk production which provides livelihood to poor and small farmers, according to official estimates.

Farmers complained that joining the RCEP would encourage foreign dairy producers like New Zealand’s Fonterra, the world’s biggest dairy exporter, to dump their surplus dairy products in India.

“We have written a letter to the trade minister but so far there is no assurance from the government,” said Dharmendra Malik, a farm leader from Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state.

Several other industry groups in India such as steel, engineering and auto makers have opposed New Delhi’s participation in the RCEP, citing the threat of cheaper imports from China.

Negotiations began in 2012 for RCEP, which envisions the creation of a free trade zone that will encompass 45% of the world’s population and more than a third of its gross domestic product, but does not involve the United States.

Reuters reported on 31st July, Read the full report here

Keep agriculture and dairy out of RCEP negotiations, major farmers union tells government


Keep agriculture and dairy out of RCEP negotiations, farmers’ body tells government 

The RCEP will destroy farm livelihoods, especially in the domestic dairy sector. 

31 July, New Delhi: Representatives of all prominent farmers’ unions in India have unanimously rejected the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), warning that the mega-trade agreement threatens farm livelihoods, autonomy over seeds and also endangering the country’s self-sufficient dairy sector.
At a press conference in Delhi today, farmers’ leaders warned the government not to bow down to pressure from the 16 other negotiating countries like China, New Zealand, Australia and ASEAN who are eager to close the deal, that only stands to benefit large agribusinesses in these countries.
RCEP will increase the benefits of trading partners because of India’s massive market, while India will lose revenues of up to 60,000 crores if the deal is fully implemented”, said Yudhvir Singh of Bhartiya Kisan Union.

RCEP would force India to remove tariffs on 92% of traded commodities. India has already lost 26,000 crores of revenue in 2018-2019 by allowing cheap imports from the ASEAN bloc with which India has an existing free trade deal.

Dairy brings daily cash to our marginal and small farmers, a large majority of them women. India is already self-sufficient in dairy. But through RCEP, foreign players like Fonterra, Danone, want to dump their surplus into our country. Why should we import what we don’t need? What about our poor farmers' livelihoods?” asked Rakesh Tikait, from Bharatiya Kisan Union.
India’s mostly unorganized dairy sector currently provides livelihoods to over 150 million people. Projections by Niti Ayog upto 2033 show that India’s national dairy supply will reach 330 mt, beating the national demand of 292 mt, thus negating any needs for additional imports.[2]
New Zealand is spreading half-truth when they claim that only an insignificant 5% of its dairy exports are destined for India. But this 5% still amounts to a large loss for our domestic producers! We will lose that much to one country alone, and imagine the danger if we add up others” said Sellamuttu of Tamila Vyavasaigal Sangam of Tamil Nadu.
RCEP is more threatening than other trade regimes like the World Trade Organization. While India has been resisting tariff cuts to only 80% of traded goods as compared to 92 % demanded in RCEP, India will not be able to raise duties at a later date – a provision that even the WTO did not impose, putting serious restrictions on India’s ability to protect its farmers and workers' livelihoods.
Aside from dairy, RCEP will also give more concessions to foreign players in critical areas like seeds and patents. An important concern about RCEP is the demand from member countries, especially Japan and South Korea, for ‘TRIPS-plus’ intellectual property (IP) protection for seeds, medicines, and agrochemicals. This will be disastrous for Indian farmers because the country is under pressure to accede to the 1991 International Union for the Protection of New Plant Varieties Convention (UPOV) and comply with its standards. UPOV is a system of seed patenting that undermines farmers’ rights, gives primacy to corporate plant breeders and restricts freedom of researchers and breeders to access protected plant varieties for further research and development.
The manufacturing sector is also under serious threat. Farmers warned of national protests if agriculture was not taken out of RCEP.
The RCEP would be the largest FTA in terms of population, it would reach 49% of the global population and will encompass 40% of all global trade making up a third of the global GDP.

Yudhvir Singh BKU - 9899435968
S Kanniayan, – 9444989543
Dharmendra, BKU – 9219691168