Thursday, March 21, 2019

India : Farmers’ agenda hopes to shift election focus back on agricultural crisis

  • Ahead of India’s 2019 parliamentary elections, farmers’ unions from across India have released an 18-point agenda for political parties to include in their manifestos with clear implementation timelines.
  • The poor state of agriculture sector was touted as one of the main reasons behind Bharatiya Janata Party’s loss in recently held assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.
  • Rural distress and unemployment were the main influencing factors in the election campaigns before the narrative changed to nationalism, following the Pulwama attacks on Indian security personnel and India’s retaliatory air strikes. Farmers are hopeful that agricultural distress would still be an important issue in the elections.

The ruling party’s loss in the assembly elections in December 2018 in five Indian states, reminded parties of how dissatisfied farmers could derail all electoral calculations. Now, just before India’s 2019 parliamentary elections, farmers’ groups from across the country have come together to present an 18-point agenda outlining their problems and demand political parties to include it in their manifestos with a clear timeline for implementation.

India continues to be a predominantly agriculture-based economy with over sixty percent of the population dependent on agriculture and thus the community’s disenchantment with any party can be a serious cause of concern for it. Over 300 seats of the 543 seats in lower house of the parliament come from rural areas. The link between agriculture and elections was visible in the recent state elections where the agricultural crisis was touted as one of the main reasons for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s loss in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.

Last week, the All India Coordination Committee of Farmers’ Movement comprising all the significant farmers unions in India such as the Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU), Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS), Tamilaga Vivasaiyagl Sangham (TVS), Adivasi Gothra Mahasabha (AGM) and a host of organisations from across India, released their 18-point agenda demanding all the political parties to include in their manifestos with clear timelines for implementation.

The unions have also met and had discussions with representatives of all the major political parties like Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Congress, Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the left parties. The unions voiced their displeasure with the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government and called it a failure for not doing enough to address rural distress.

“We have given our agenda to representatives of all major political parties like BJP, Congress, BSP and SP and they have assured to include it in their manifestos. The farmers’ issues are still a top priority in the 2019 elections,” Rakesh Tikait, a farmer leader and national spokesperson of the BKU, told Mongabay-India. Tikait comes from the western region of Uttar Pradesh, an important state for BJP where, in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the party got over 70 of the total 80 seats in the state. However, in the past few years, rural distress has worsened, and farmers from all over, including U.P. have been agitating across the country seeking steps for their welfare.

The 2019 elections for Lok Sabha of India’s parliament are scheduled to take place in seven phases starting from April 11 and concluding on May 19 while the counting of votes would take place on May 23.

What are the demands of farmers?
Some of the main demands of the farmer groups include a special parliament session for a month to discuss the agrarian crisis, implementation of the ‘Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013’ in all states and making land acquisition a central subject rather than state subject.

They have sought a ‘fair and remunerative price’ for their farm produce and a guarantee from the government for 100 percent procurement of all crops.

Other major demands include an unconditional waiver of all types of loans of all farmers within six months of coming into power, exhaustive changes in prime minister’s crop insurance scheme like including losses caused by wild animals and fires, income support of Rs. 10,000 per acre per year per farmer to all farmers and pension of at least Rs. 5,000 per month, action plan to tackle crop destruction by wild animals, free electricity for irrigation via tube wells, that all equipment used in agriculture be made GST (Goods and Service Tax)-free, a social security scheme for farmers losing life to snake bites and other occupational hazards.

The farmer groups of India have come out with a detailed 18-point agenda in the run up to the general elections. Photo by Mayank Aggarwal/Mongabay.

The farmers’ groups have stressed that “in the past ten years, more than 300,000 farmers have committed suicide” and demanded that the “family members of farmers who committed suicide should be rehabilitated and at least one family member should be given a government job.”

They also lent their support to the campaign of tribal people and forest dwellers who are facing eviction from forests after February 2019 Supreme Court order (the Court stayed its order later). In past two years, farmers including tribal people have taken out several protests to ask government to listen to their demands.

Held few months before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the results of assembly elections in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan in December 2018 came as a warning for the ruling BJP whose juggernaut came to a halt as it lost power in all the three states.

The government quickly read the writing on the wall and took action. As a result, the 2019 union budget was tailor made to appease farmers and the rural community. For instance, India’s then Finance Minister Piyush Goyal in the 2019-20 budget announced a minimum assured income for farmers.

“To provide an assured income support to the small and marginal farmers, our government is launching a historic programme Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-KISAN). Under this programme, vulnerable landholding farmer families, having cultivable land upto two hectares, will be provided direct income support at the rate of Rs. 6,000 per year. This income support will be transferred directly into the bank accounts of beneficiary farmers, in three equal installments of Rs. 2,000 each,” said Goyal in his budget speech.

Goyal added that the programme to be funded by the government of India would benefit around 120 million (12 crore) small and marginal farmer families and would involve an annual expenditure of Rs. 750 billion (Rs 75,000 crores).

But the announcement has failed to cut ice with farmers.

“Modiji has done nothing for farmers in the last five years and it has been business as usual. Only lofty announcements like ‘per drop more crop’, health-card, neem coated urea were made. The government also promised to double farmers’ income by 2022 but nothing was done on it. In five years, the income of neither farmers nor agricultural labourers has increased,” Vijay Jawandhiya of Maharashtra Shetkari Sangathan told Mongabay-India.

“It was the loss in the assembly elections in December that forced the Modi government to announce the support of Rs. 6,000 for farmers. This too won’t benefit all the farmers,” said Jawandhiya.

The election narrative changed post-Pulwama attack
Until last month, rural distress and unemployment had the centre stage in the run up to the 2019 elections. But following the Pulwama attack on Indian security personnel and the Indian government retaliation with air strikes, the election narrative has changed and nationalistic fervour is now in the limelight.

Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a political analyst, explained that the overall rural distress and farmers’ issues were playing a “very eminent part in the election discourse till February 14, 2019 before the Pulwama terror strike and Indian government’s subsequent air strike in reaction, took place.”

“That event somewhat changed the picture. We have to see whether the present wave of nationalist fervour sustains till the voting. We are eight weeks away from the conclusion of polling and it is a fairly long period. The first phase is also about 20 days away (April 11, 2019). We don’t know for how long the nationalistic fervour would continue. But, if things remain the same – which I doubt – as they are now, then rural distress and the declining non-agricultural rural incomes are not going to come back in a significant way in the election narrative,” Mukhopadhyay told Mongabay-India.

He stressed that while public sentiment surveys that came post-Pulwama attack have shown the rise of nationalistic fervour and resurgence of BJP, they still do not indicate that the BJP-led NDA government, currently at the centre, will get full majority.

In the 543-member Lok Sabha of India’s parliament, one party or a coalition of parties requires 272 seats to stake claim to form government. In the 2014 elections, the BJP alone had won 282 seats.

“So, the argument is that even if at the peak level – immediately after the Balakot airstrike (in February 2019 end)– all that BJP would get is 200-220 seats. In case BJP is not being able to sustain the nationalistic narrative, they may again slip back to 180 seats and then rural distress would make a comeback,” Mukhopadhyay added.

However, Maharashtra’s Vijay Jawandhiya feels that the changing narrative will push back the issues that he and his farmer community have been trying to bring into focus. .

“The effort to bring emotions (nationalism) in the elections will lead to all other issues going under the carpet. The farmers will continue to die,” Jawandhiya said.

This article by Mayank Aggarwal was first published on 20 March 2019 on Mongabay
Banner Image by David Meek.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Indian Farmers calls upon government to reject RCEP and present an eighteen point demand to all political parties

All India Coordination Committee of Farmers’ Movement comprising all the major farmers unions in India such as the Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU), Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS), Tamilaga Vivasaiyagl Sangham (TVS), Adivasi Gothra Mahasabha (AGM) and a host of organisations from South India held a press conference in New Delhi to place their eighteen point demand to all the political parties to include in their manifestoes (with clear mandate of timeline when they would implement) for the forthcoming general election.

They also unanimously rejected the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) free trade agreement which India is currently negotiating with 16 countries- which include major economies like China, Australia, and ten ASEAN countries.

“RCEP will manipulate our seed laws; it will strengthen the power of seed companies and their patents while restricting farmers freedom to save and exchange as they have done for centuries,” said B Nagendra, State President KRRS, Karnataka.

India’s dairy sector is particularly vulnerable, with the majority being unorganized and providing livelihoods to over 150 million, especially women. Corporations like Danone, Fonterra land others receive massive subsidies in their countries and are looking to conquer India, which is the highest dairy consumer in the world. Indian cooperatives like Amul and Karnataka Milk Federation have joined India’s farmers in resisting the RCEP.

“RCEP will destroy Indian milk- we have excellent dairy cooperatives like Amul which provide jobs to millions, it will benefit foreign corporations,” said Sellamuthu.

“The Indian government has taken a cautionary step as elections are near, and we warn them that any attack on our food sovereignty and farmers rights will be met with huge resistance,” said Yudhvir Singh, coordinator of the All India Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements. Besides agriculture, India’s manufacturing sector is under serious threat from Chinese imports.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Indian farmers to organise a national consultation on the mega regional free trade agreement 'RCEP'

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is a free trade partnership, which will open India’s markets to some of the largest economies in Asia- like China, Japan and South Korea.

The RCEP is currently being negotiated between 16 countries- which includes ten ASEAN countries as well as other Asia Pacific countries include Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.

RCEP has reached a major turning point as free trade is facing a legitimacy crisis across the world. After USA withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) (a similar initiative that included many Asian, but also American nations), RCEP remains as the main mega-regional agreement for Asian & Pacific nations.

The RCEP agreement will be the largest in the world in terms of population (3.4 billion or 49 per cent of world population), with a combined GDP of around $22 trillion and a trade share of 30 per cent.

India has been asked to remove import duties on 92% of all traded commodities. While India has been resisting and asking for 80%. A key controversial point is that once reduced to zero, the RCEP will not allow India to raise duties at a later date – a provision that even the WTO did not impose.

Major agricultural products like fruits, vegetables, pulses, potatoes, spices, plantation crops, seeds, silk, sugarcane, as well as processed foods will be impacted, as cheaper imports from massive economies like China, Australia will flood the market damaging the livelihoods of local producers.

The RCEP agreements are being negotiated behind closed doors; though several components of the texts under negotiation have been leaked online and have been analysed. The analysis indicates that the RCEP negotiations will impact agrarian economies in countries like India. It is therefore important for the farmers groups to understand RCEP and its likely impacts on the livelihoods of small and marginal farmers.

People in India, have already felt the brunt of liberalisation through earlier trade agreements, such as the multilateral WTO, India-ASEAN FTA and other FTAs. They have experienced the surge of imports of oil seeds and cash crops leading to loss of production and failure of market within the country. The mega regional FTA (RCEP) also raises concerns about pushing ‘WTO-plus’ issues on developing countries.

This is when there is evidence of how existing WTO commitments in intellectual property (TRIPS), agriculture (AoA) and investment measures (TRIMS) have adversely impacted policy space and livelihoods. Apart from the global level, RCEP also raises Constitutional challenges at the state level where many of these sectors under negotiation fall under state jurisdiction.

In this context several prominent peasant movements in India under the banner of Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements (ICCFM) are holding a ‘National level consultation on the Impact of Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and other Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) on Farmers and Farming in India’ on 13th March in New Delhi.

Representatives of of farmers organizations, representatives from government, ally researchers who have been closely following the negotiations will join the workshop.

Please find the invite here.

For the life and dignity of women, we fight together against the exploitation and oppression of the capitalist and patriarchal system!

For the life and dignity of women, we fight together against the exploitation and oppression of the capitalist and patriarchal system!

La Via Campesina Press Release

International Women’s Day

(Harare, March 8th, 2019)  The goals that gave rise to International Women’s Day continue to inspire us. They have become the rallying cry of the women and men in all parts of the world who are engaged in organised resistance to capitalism and patriatrchy.

This is the reason why, today, in a spirit of unity and solidarity, we, La Via Campesina women from Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe fighting for our rights and for life, are taking part in all of the activities and demonstrations organised by rural and urban women workers.

This March 8th, we too are going on strike!

On this day of global action, we will be in the streets and public spaces, in peasant communities and rural areas, imbued with our strength and our capacity for resistance and organisation, re-affirming our message of struggle. In the current world context of an onslaught by capitalism in its most savage and overwhelming form, there have been increases in social inequality, in conflicts, and the incidence of xenophobia and homophobia, as well as in  the criminalisation of those of us who are struggling for human rights and for life. In a climate of war-mongering and a context of migratory crisis, millions of people, including millions of women, are subjected to extreme poverty and violence.      

For this reason, we La Via Campesina women are mobilising today, March 8th, 2019, as we have done in years past. We are organising; we are struggling; we are calling for an End to Neoliberalism and an End to the Patriarchy! We are putting forward our proposal for the construction of abetter world, celebrating our Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and other People Working in Rural Areas, a political instrument that was adopted by the United Nations as a result of our concerted struggles. This declaration safeguards the right to a life with dignity for those of us who feed the world’s peoples, and who are the custodians of land, water, and forests.

For us, La Via Campesina women, food cannot be commodified in a globalised market that is driven solely by profit and that leaves millions of people hungry. For us, food production should be grounded in Food Sovereignty that is built on agroecology. In this context, we are the principal actors, promoting peasant agriculture on the basis of respect for the rights of peasant women and men. This would require a change in regional policies for rural areas, accompanied by a feminist perspective – a popular peasant feminism that guarantees the rights of women and ensures their participation in political decision-making.   

We believe that in order to end gender-based violence it is essential to empower women and to guarantee their rights and bring about their emancipation. This is why the women and men of La Via Campesina, in a single expression of struggle and liberation, are saying today: For the life and dignity of women, we fight together against exploitation and oppression!

We remain firm in our mission of planting the seeds of hope and liberation for rural and urban women all over the world. We are therefore expressing our sisterly solidarity with all of the women of the International Women’s Strike, the aim of which is to show that women’s work is a crucial element in the maintenance and reproduction of life and of the global economy. Only through social organisation and through training and political study, in cooperation with other feminist organisations of women and women workers, will we be able to advance towards a dignified life for women and men.

For  the life and dignity of women, we fight together against exploitation and oppression!

The Sri Lankan government must stop pursuing destructive land policies that would affects millions

Written by Sajeewa Chamikara - Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR)
There are a number of pillars that underpin the human centric approach to land rights and identification of land needs. Among them are the legal right to hold land that can be used for agriculture and habitation and the right to access the public resources (commons) that are situates around the area one lives and works in. Moreover Article 14. 1. h of the Sri Lankan Constitution states that a Sri Lankan citizen has the right to live in any part of the island (freedom of movement and of choosing one's residence within Sri Lanka.) The ownership of land is of great importance to Sri Lankans because this is directly linked to their social and economic conditions. However the land rights of Sri Lankans and their right to access public resources are being swiftly curtailed. The government is preparing national physical plans that lay ground work for 'development projects' that do not take into account the impact they will have on the people. They are also amending legislation and drafting new laws that would enable foreign companies to own large swaths of land and resources, which were once considered public. This will effectively make millions of Sri Lankans into 'refugees' in their own countries. This project of displacement of the local populations and opening doors to global capital at the expense of Sri Lankans is now a few decades old have already degraded the economic, social, health and education levels on many Sri Lankans. However the people of the country does not seem to have understood the gravity of the danger they face, even those who have already been displaced.
World Bank recommendations and amendments to the Land Act
In its 2015 report 'Sri Lanka Ending Poverty and promoting shared prosperity: A systematic country diagnostic,' the World Bank has laid out some strategies that the government must take to eradicate poverty in Sri Lanka. They are insisting that one of the main reasons preventing foreign investment to Sri Lanka is the complexity of our land laws and the restrictions imposed on foreigners to acquire land. The solution for this, according to the World Bank, is to open land to free market mechanisms. The first step in achieving this was the amendment the Land (Restriction on Alienation) Act, No: 38 Of 2014 to remove restrictions placed on foreigners, foreign companies and companies that are owned by foreign nationals to buy land in Sri Lanka. This was achieved by the land (restrictions on alienation) (amendment) act, no. 3 of 2017. Article 5A of this amended act states that Land Lease Tax will not to be applicable, with effect from January 8, 2017, to a lease of any land— to a foreigner; or to a company incorporated in Sri Lanka under the Companies Act, where any foreign shareholding in such company, either direct or indirect, is fifty per cent or above; or to a foreign company,
Moreover the Department of the Land Commissioner General's Department circular 2015/07, issued on December 30, 2015 titled Alienation of State Lands for Special Investment Protects attempts to fasten the process of handing over state land to 'special projects'. This says that 'the government adopts a policy of encouraging local and foreign direct investments in development projects and accordingly the government is in the receipt of continuous applications and requests for lands identified for such development projects. The government has paid its special attention on the comments made by the investors on the inefficiency and the long period of time spent for the process of alienating lands through the present procedures formulated in accordance with the existing laws. A set of new proceedings have been introduced to amend the existed procedures by my circular No.2012106 dated 18.1A.2012 with a view to ensuring efficient and expedite alienation of lands for development oriented special projects.' This circular has been sent to all Divisional Secretaries and Deputy/ Assistant Land Commissioners (Inter Provinces.) This is also a part of the World Bank recommendations.
Displacing farmers by amending the Paddy Lands Act
The 2018 budget was fully geared to implement the World Bank recommendations. The budget documents state that the government plans to amend the Paddy Lands Act, No. 1 of 1958 and the Agricultural Lands Act (No. 42 of 1973). This would allow the use of paddy lands for non-agricultural purposes. The people must be vigilant because such attempts would be aplenty on the 2019 budget as well. On November 14, 2017, The cabinet of Ministers agreed to amend the Land Development Ordinance 1935 (No. 19 of 1935) to easily release the land for development projects.
The Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on June 03, 2016 approved a three year Extended Fund Facility (EFF) of approximately USD 1.5 billion for Sri Lanka to 'support the balance of payments (BOP) position and in support of the government’s economic reform agenda.' This fund was tied to conditions, i.e. 'strategic reforms' that the government should carry out to address six main concerns on the short and medium term. A detailed report on how to accomplish this was published on May 19, 2016 as the Staff report for the 2016 article iv consultation and request for a three year extended arrangement under the extended fund facility. These reforms fell under six pillars, fiscal consolidation; revenue mobilization; public financial management reform; state enterprise reform; transition to flexible inflation targeting under a flexible exchange rate regime; and reforms in the trade and investment regime. The Staff report also states that the existing land laws of the country was too complex and restrictive and recommends immediate action to amend these laws and to make it easier for companies to acquire land (remove barriers to foreign investment entry and establishment (including access to land). The current administration is implementing these recommendations steadily.
Vision 2025 – making life easy for corporates
The economic policy of the administration, Vision 2025 document and the 2018 budget proposals were directly aimed at carrying out the recommendations of World Bank and the IMF. The 2018 budget attempted to change land ad agricultural laws to and make it easy for market mechanisms to wreak havoc.
According to the Vision 2025 document, the existing laws and regulations on land creates inefficiencies in the land market and adversely affect the investment opportunities. Since the existing laws and regulations hampers private investments, the government is to create a Land Bank and enter into the competitive land market. This is exactly what the World Bank recommended in 2015.
This is another indication that the government is bent on reducing the public access to land and natural resources while opening these to large scale private investors. Moreover steps have been taken to lease out state owned land to private owners through 'state enterprises restructuring, and to allow large foreign companies to access Sri Lankan lands by establishing land banks. Thus the real goal of the 2018 budget has been to accelerate the dispossession of Sri Lankans.
Non establishment of the National Land Commission
Although the current administration and those before it have taken great pains to carry out the recommendations of the World Bank and the IMF, none of the administrations have attempted to establish the National Land Commission. This Commission was created by the 13th amendment to the Constitution. However although 32 years have passed no government has attempted to establish this.
The 2nd list under the 9th schedule to the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution states that a National Land Commission should be established. The main objective of the National Land Commission is to create a national policy on land. Although this amendment was passed in 1987, the National Land Commission has still not been established. The 3rd sentence of the 2nd List states a number of things. Accordingly the government should establish a National Land Commission and this Commission is responsible for coming up with a national policy on the use of state land. This Commission must also include representatives of all provincial councils of the country. The National Land Commission should have a technical secretariat that will help it analyse the socioeconomic factors regarding land use as well as physical factors of natural resources management. The national policy on the use of state land should be based on technical reasons and not on political or ethnic reasons. The National Land Commission must look at factors including soil, climate, rainfall, soil erosion, forest cover, environmental factors and economic utility and formulate common theories on land use. Moreover the Provincial Councils were instructed to pay close attention to this national policy. All governments were legally bound to implement these. However unfortunately the National Land Commission is limited to the constitution.
Misleading the public through manifestos
The current administration is following the advice of the World Bank and the IMF. Therefore it is unlikely that they would reach the goals set by the 'Maithri Governance - A stable Country or the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a collection of 17 global goals set by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015. The SDGs are part of Resolution 70/1 of the United Nations General Assembly. Goal 2 of the SDGs is Zero hunger. This states that by 2030 we should end hunger and all forms of malnutrition. This would be accomplished by doubling agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers (especially women and indigenous peoples), by ensuring sustainable food production systems, and by progressively improving land and soil quality. However it's obvious that this lofty goal can't be achieved by exposing our lands to the chaotic forces of markets. The SDGs state that the best way to eradicate world poverty by 2030 is by ensuring that all men and women, especially those from vulnerable communities, have access to economic resources, essential services, land and other natural resources, necessary technology and to financial services. But the World Bank insists that poverty can be alleviated by expanding opportunities for investments and by bringing in natural resources under market forces. However given what we have seen in Sri Lanka and across the world, it is obvious that the outcome of following World Bank and IMF advise is displacement of small holder farmers. Adhering to these policies ensures that we will lose our natural resources that are vital as catchment areas and as cushions that protect us from the impacts of natural disasters.
The 15th SGD is protecting, restoring and promoting sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably managing forests, combating desertification, and halting and reversing land degradation and halting biodiversity loss. The SDGs also aim to conserve and restore the use of terrestrial ecosystems such as forests, wetlands, dry lands and mountains by 2020. However the current administration is attempting to sell off the natural resources to foreign investors and depriving Sri Lankans the access to our public goods.
There are two options that lie ahead. Either we can follow the path laid by the World Bank and the IMF, which is the one we have been treading since 1977. The other one is the path laid out by the SDGs. It is obvious that the current administration has chosen the path laid by the World Bank and the IMF and this would ensure that we keep on destroying our environment as well as livelihoods of the most vulnerable among us.
The government can't sell state land
The government doesn't have the right to sell natural resources of the country, this includes land as well. According to the Supreme Court case 884/99, (Bulankulama and Others v. Secretary, Ministry of Industrial Development and others) where the SC stopped the sale of the Eppawala Phosphate mine, a government is only a temporary guardian of the country. A government does not own the country. A temporary guardian does not have the right to sell land and other natural resources of the country. Therefore it does not have the right to formulate laws that facilitates this process. The sovereignty of the people is temporarily given to a government through a vote. However the people do not transfer their fundamental rights to the government. Thus a government can't deprive the people of their right to land, their right to use commons, their right to access natural resources and the right to water. The real owners of state owned lands are the people and such land should be given wisely and to people who do not have access to land. The objective of the government should be the wellbeing of the people and the development of the nation. Being a land sale agent is not the best way to achieve these goals.
The SriLankan government is attempting to place 981, 368 acres of land under the Land Reform Commission in a land bank. This is one of the preliminary requirements to enter the land market and give private investors an access to state land. With this plantation land is to be given to large companies for non - agricultural purposes. This attempt must be defeated soon. If not a large number of people, from estate sector workers to small holder farmers will forever be shut out of land ownership. Thus defeating the land bank act as well as other attempts to deprive the people of their social, economic and cultural rights should be defeated. For this we need to educate the people and their mobilization.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

KRRS activists protest proposed amendments to land acquisition law

Mysuru: Dubbing the amendments proposed by the state government to the Land Acquisition Act ‘anti-farmer’, activists of the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS) on 28th February staged a protest in front of the Mysuru deputy commissioner’s office, and submitted a memorandum addressed to Karnataka governor Vajubhai Vala, requesting him not to approve the proposed changes to the legislation.

The protesters said that the state government must recall the proposed amendments, and convene a meeting of all stakeholders and hold a nuanced discussion on the subject. The protest was led by KRRS president Badagalapura Nagendra, and the activists vented their angst at being left out of the discussions. “The coalition government did not even table the amendments for discussion in the assembly owing to the din in the house following the controversy surrounding ‘audiogate’. Besides not talking to stakeholders, the government did not talk to the elected representatives about the amendments,” said the protesters

According to the newly-amended bill, exemptions have been made for certain projects vital to national security, defence, irrigation, drinking water projects, etc. With this, the state aims to grow at a fast rate.

The government has taken up various mega projects in the infrastructure and communication sectors, while construction of national highways, new railway lines and drinking water projects have been sanctioned. “All those projects require that land be made available soon, or there will be escalation in costs and benefits of development will be stalled,” the amendment bill copy said.

The protesters pointed out that laws pertaining to land acquisition had been altered during the years when the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was in power at the Centre. “It came about after protest that lasted for decades. Land acquisition laws that had been in place till then dated back to the Colonial days when the British administrators would acquire land acting on their whims and fancies. Although the government retained the right to acquire farm land for public purposes, it was mandated that those losing land must be fairly compensated and their families taken care of. Land acquisition laws came with strict provisos, which the state government is looking to dilute,” said the protesters.

The proposed changes to the legislation also threatened food security, the activists said, alleging that they favoured industrialists and the real estate sector. “The governor must not approve these alterations,” they said.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Peasant movements in Bangladesh intensifies the fight against commercial release of Golden Rice in the country

Peasants groups and environmentalists are mobilising to protest against the commercial release of golden rice in Bangladesh. Bangladesh Agricultural Farm Labour Federation(BAFLF) along with major farmers groups held a demonstration rally on 26th February and submitted a letter to the Agriculture Minister of Bangladesh demanding to stop the commercial release of Genetically Engineered Golden Rice in the country. BAFLF and ally groups earlier in the month had declared a two month long protest activities to fight against the release of the Golden Rice. Bangladesh Agriculture Minister Abdur Razzak announced in early February that cultivation of golden rice may start in the country within three months.

In 2013 Bangladesh approved the commercial cultivation of the controversial Genetically Modified Brinjal in the country that is banned in neighbouring India and many other nations. And now it is heading towards the commercial release of the Golden Rice. Bangladesh has been favoured by the GM lobby as the country does not have a stringent bio-safety law to regulate commercial cultivation of GM crops or organisms.

As Down To Earth reported in its latest article, Bangladesh completed the confined field testing of golden rice at the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI), Gazipur, in early 2017. It has already allowed commercial production of BT Brinjal in the country.

In 1999, a group of European scientists led by Dr Ingo Potrykus tried to change traditional rice by developing genetically-engineered rice that contains beta-carotene — by inserting bacteria and daffodil and maize genes into it. This is the golden rice, called so because of the golden colour of its grains.

The golden rice was introduced in 2000 and argued to be the panacea for world’s malnutrition problem. It was claimed that the rice is bio-fortified, and is supposedly high in Vitamin A, Iron and Zinc. It was considered as a significant breakthrough in biotechnology, with its first field trials conducted by the agriculture centre of Louisiana State University in 2004. Later, it has been claimed that field trials were conducted in the Philippines, Taiwan and Bangladesh. However, all these field trials were marred with controversy over the lack of transparency and credible independent safety studies.[1]

In 2018, GRAIN released a report on the Golden Rice, it reported that "Golden Rice is a false saviour,  the delay of the commercialization of Golden Rice, and the ‘lackluster acceptance’ of the public is due to the inherent flaws and failures of both the technology and the product itself. Golden Rice is going to be useless and unlikely to achieve its objective of helping to solve (Vitamin A Deficiency) VAD if its beta-carotene is consistently low, and even prone to degradation. Yields have been consistently low, indicating that farmers might suffer economically if they choose to plant Golden Rice. Meanwhile, Golden Rice will allow corporations to set their foot at the door of our agriculture and introduce more genetically-modified food crops. Golden Rice is a techno-fix to malnutrition and a corporate ploy to control our agriculture. It is not needed by Asian people nor the world. Indeed, the solution to hunger and malnutrition lies in comprehensive approaches that ensure people have access to diverse sources of nutrition. Securing small farmers’ control over resources such as seed, appropriate technologies, water and land is the real key to improving food production and eradicating hunger and malnutrition."[2]

Bangladesh Agricultural Farm Labour Federation(BAFLF) issued a press statement on 26 Feb 2019, it states that it has submitted a four point memorandum to the agriculture minister through the District Collectorate of Gazipur, the main demands include,
1. The introduction of Golden Rice has to be stopped.
2. Trail of all GMO crops presently underway must be cancelled and commercial cultivation of Bt Brinjal has to be stopped.
3. Ban on import and use of harmful chemical pesticides.
4. Update Bio Safety Rules 2012 and ensure its proper implementation.

Speaking at the protest rally, BAFLF general secratery Abdul Mazid stated that the multinational companies have targeted Bangladesh as laboratory for the trail of their GM crops and using people and farmers as guinea-pigs for their own interest. GMO crops are controversial in terms of bio safety, environment and public health. Scientists could not prove that transgenic seed will not cause biological contamination to local varieties and any risk caused by consumption of the GM food crop by humans. In view of these concerns, there are international rules and regulations in regards to the introduction of GE seeds. Those scientific and legal warnings are not followed properly in the introduction of GMO crops in Bangladesh. The main objective of the approval of Golden Rice for commercial cultivation is to serve multinational companies interest. If the Golden Rice is introduced in Bangladesh, agriculture and farmers will be severely affected, food security will be more vulnerable and will have serious effect on the food sovereignty of the communities.

Nasrin Sultana said, The multinational companies’ paid scientists and propagandists are facilitating and promoting Golden rice telling that this rice will address the problem of Vitamin-A deficiency. Golden Rice is not the right solution to eliminate Vitamin A deficiency; rather it is an ineffective solution. Compared with golden rice, sweet potato has fifty times more beta- carotene level and can be grown on non-arable land. Besides, there is a lot of vitamin-A in common fruits and vegetables that are already grown in the country. Poverty and lack of purchasing poor are major cause of malnutrition including VAD. Introducing golden rice is not proper solution to address Vitamin-A deficiency. The introduction of Company patented rice will make our agriculture production system more dependent on multinational companies and have serious impact on the traditional agricultural system. Golden Rice commercialisation equates to billions of worth corporate profit at the cost of public health, environment and farmers’ seed freedom. Government must abstain from Golden rice commercial release.

The peasant movements and civil society in Bangladesh  are planning to intensify the campaign against commercial release of Golden Rice. As part of it BAFLF will organise a national consultation and if situation demands we will mobilise peasants in large numbers in the coming months said Golam Sorowor of BAFLF.

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Suggested readings :
When Bt brinjal is a failure, why Golden rice?