Mainstream, VOL LIV No 32 New Delhi July 30, 2016
A Strong National Alliance is Needed for Survival of Farmers
Tuesday 2 August 2016
by Avik Saha
Today, farmers and farming are in crisis. Farming has become a loss-making proposition. Although input costs of farming are continuously increasing and cost of living is also rising, prices of agricultural produce are not. One calamity like drought, hailstorm, flood and the farmer’s backbone is broken. Wallowing in debt, the farmer is forced to commit suicide.
The reason for this condition of farmers is not fate, vagaries of nature or machinations of the market economy. At the root of the agrarian crisis are games of politics and the cruel hand of the government. The discriminatory and exploitative policies and systems of governments are looting farmers.
If this continues, farmers will not survive—they will lose their livelihoods, be compelled to sell off their land and drown in debt. Farmlands will be ruined and villages destroyed.
There is only one way to save farmers and farming. Farmers have to themselves rise up and engage in struggle. But how will this struggle be organised? Today, farmers need farmers’ movements more than ever before. However, never before have farmers’ movements been as weak as they are today. Farmers of the north are separated from farmers of the south. Farmers producing wheat think differently from farmers producing sugarcane. Big farmers and small farmers are separated by a chasm and farm workers are completely cut off from both big and small farmers. After suffering torture in the hands of governments for five years together, when the time to vote comes, farmers get divided on lines of caste and creed. Taking full advantage of this division among farmers, leaders rule.
To organise farmers of all sizes and classi-fications, a strong national alliance of farmers’ organisations and unions is the need of the hour. It is now a question of survival of farmers and all petty and minor differences have to be buried. All organisations and unions, small, medium and big, need to come together on one platform with a common minimum programme. Without losing their identity, they need to fight as one coalesced force, deriving power from numbers and tactical edge of pooled intellectual and strategic thinking.
The single point demand should be that farmers should get full value of their hard work by way of guarantee of minimum income so that they can live a life of dignity. The thinking must be beyond the next crop; it should be for the next generation of farmers.
Amongst others, the proposed alliance could focus on these issues:
• Water, forests and land belong to local communities and hence all land-grabbing laws, that take away farmland without consent and without giving fair compensation, should be withdrawn.
• Every hardworking farming family should be guaranteed such income that enables them to live a life of dignity and honour at the same level as those in business and service. Governments have to acknowledge that farmers are soldiers who protect the nation’s food sovereignty and security and hence it is the duty of the government to guarantee that the farmers live a life of dignity.
• All farmers should get full and timely compensation for crop-loss, which should be determined fairly. When crops are damaged, instead of arbitrary and whimsical grants, farmers should get compensation at fair and pre-determined rates so that the income of farmers does not fall below the guarantee-line.
• The government should give each landless agricultural family at least two acres of land and assistance to increase productivity of the land. Landless families, who have already received deeds to lands, should be given possession of their lands.
• Laws should be made to ensure that all rural families get homestead land.
• Rights of adivasi farmers, contract farmers, sharecroppers and women farmers should be protected.
• While negotiating the terms of WTO or other trade arrangements, the nation’s food sovereignty and the livelihood of farmers should be given top priority and all treaties that are against the interests of farmers should be immediately scrapped.
• The traditional right of farmers to conserve, improve and distribute seeds should be protected and the monopoly of companies on seeds should not be permitted.
• Permission should not be given to GM seeds till scientists and farmers are satisfied about their impact on environment and health.
• Farmers should be progressively freed from the present method of farming which requires expensive inputs and external dependence and which have proved to be dangerous and are destroying soil and ground water and poisoning food, water and farmlands. The government should give a lot of support to low cost and ecologically sustainable agriculture so that within ten years, farmers are freed from the poisonous farming techniques now being used.
• In dry-land areas, large-scale irrigation arrangements should be made. Investigation should be done with regard to shortcomings, delay and corruption in irrigation projects. Greater attention should be given to tank and canal-type minor irrigation projects and conservation of ground water. To encourage dry-land agriculture, low-water-requiring crops, fodder crops and animal husbandry should be encouraged.
• Farmers should be given bank loans upto rupees one lakh, free of interest and without mortgage of land. Such loans should also be given to sharecroppers, contract farmers and women farmers.
• Loans reserved on priority for agriculture should be given only to farmers and not corporates in the name of agriculture. Prohibition on mortgage of land for loans given for agricultural inputs should be strongly enforced.
• Just like corporates, outstanding loans of farmers should be re-structured and arrange-ments should be made for transfer of loans taken by farmers from private moneylenders, to banks.
• Public distribution system and purchase of crops by the government for such system should not be removed; instead it should be decentralised and made stronger.
• Rural people engaged in animal husbandry, dairy farming, fishery and poultry farming should be treated as farmers and should be assured the minimum guaranteed income demanded for farmers.
• Milk and egg etc. should be protected by systems like minimum support price. Milk cooperatives should be promoted and prices paid by private companies should be regulated.
• Poultry farming should be given the status of cottage industry and protected from the onslaught of large corporates.
• Outstanding payments due to sugarcane farmers should be immediately paid and for this government assistance should not be given to mill owners but instead directly to farmers.
Jai Kisan Andolan gives this call and invites all farmers’ organisations and unions to come together and work together for the survival of farmers and food security of the nation.
Avik Saha is the Co-Convenor, Jai Kisan Andolan of the Swaraj Abhiyan.