ASHA Letter to PM Narendra Modi: Fulfilling the BJP promise of according highest priority to agricultural growth, increase in farmers’ income and rural development
Shri Narendra Modi,
Government of India.
Sub: Fulfilling the BJP promise of according highest priority to agricultural growth, increase in farmers’ income and rural development – reg.
Greetings! ASHA (Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture) is a large, nation-wide informal network of more than 400 organisations drawn from 20 states of India, that have come together in 2010 to organise a Kisan Swaraj Yatra, a nation-wide mobilisation to draw attention to issues pertaining to our FOOD, FARMERS, FREEDOM. The network consists of farmers’ organisations, consumer groups, women’s organisations, environmental organisations, organic farming collectives, individual citizens and experts who are committed to the cause of sustainable and viable farm livelihoods in rural India including by ensuring that productive resources are in the control of farming communities and thereby, safe, nutritious, diverse and adequate food for all Indians. From the dialogues that emerged during the Kisan Swaraj Yatra and subsequent work, ASHA articulates a 4-pillared Kisan Swaraj Neeti and calls on governments to adopt the same. This policy articulation provides a framework for a forward-looking agricultural policy approach for India. The four pillars of Kisan Swaraj are (1) income security for farm households; (2) ecological sustainability of agriculture; (3) people’s control over agricultural resources like land, water and seed; and (4) access to safe, healthy, nutritious and sufficient food for all.
Before India walked into the general elections, more than hundred farmers’ organizations, representing lakhs of farmers had come up with a Charter of Demands (https://kisanswaraj.in/
Sir, we welcome the emphasis that Bharatiya Janata Party has placed on Agriculture in its 2014 Election Manifesto.
1. Profitability and Income Security for dignity in farming
One of the first things that BJP promises is to “take steps to enhance the profitability in agriculture, by ensuring a minimum of 50% profits over the cost of production, cheaper agriculture inputs and credit, introducing latest technologies for farming and high yielding seeds and linking MGNREGA to agriculture”.
Getting at least a 50% margin over the cost of production is something that many farmers’ organizations including ASHA have been demanding for some time now. As you are kindly aware, this is a recommendation from the National Farmers’ Commission too. An important way of ensuring this is by way of remunerative prices and effective market intervention and procurement of course. One of the proposals that ASHA has is that of a Price Guarantee or Price Compensation or Deficit Price Payment mechanism wherein estimates of cost of production are improved within the Comprehensive Scheme of the Department of Economics and Statistics, followed by announcing a Minimum Guaranteed Price (MGP) that has a margin of at least 50% over the cost of cultivation that is legally guaranteed, followed by an improved decentralized procurement system that covers a variety of grains locally suited and an effective, recast market intervention scheme that has government agencies stepping in whenever prices fall below the MGP and finally, a price compensation mechanism of directly paying up the difference to cultivators wherever realized price is below the MGP. Attached (https://kisanswaraj.in/?
Also important is an overarching institutional framework that ensures minimum living incomes and profitability in farming. You would kindly recall that a BJP government in Karnataka was the first to make an effort in this direction and set up a Farm Income Commission. We urge your government to also set up a Farm Income Commission mandated with ensuring minimum living incomes to all farm households, including through a process of annual farm income assessments for various categories of farmers (particular cropping systems, regions and landholding class as well as for landless farm households and sharecroppers/tenant cultivators). A note drawn up by ASHA, on ensuring minimum living incomes is attached (https://kisanswaraj.in/?
Sir, the BJP Manifesto promised a Price Stabilisation Fund in the context of food security. If such a fund is set up for farmers, for effective market intervention and to administer the price compensation mechanism also, given the de-coupled nature of remuneration for farmers, it would ensure that food inflation is not a matter of worry for consumers even as it pays our producers their due share.
Apart from cheaper agriculture inputs, reducing cost of cultivation by promoting appropriate low-external-input technologies is very important. Also important is redesigning our agricultural insurance system and improving coverage and implementation to cover tenant farmers and others (this is something that the BJP manifesto has promised).
- Promoting and establishing ecological agriculture across the country in a time-bound fashion
Sir, BJP has also aptly recognized the importance of organic farming when it promised to “set up the Organic Farming and Fertiliser Corporation of India” to promote organic farming and fertilizers, and provide incentives and support for marketing organic produce. We note that organic farming policies have been created under BJP governments in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh etc.
We welcome the Manifesto promise around organic farming. Attached (https://kisanswaraj.in/?
We also urge your government to set up organic market yards of at least one such yard per taluka all over the country, with separate storage and processing facilities for organic produce (which requires segregation and traceability systems to be put into place all the way to the retail point which is one of the major difficulties being encountered in the organic supply chains at this point of time).
Further, organic farming collectives need financial support for capital for procurement of produce from members, for storage and processing facilities so that marketing prospects improve for these producers.
- Focusing on agro-diversity revival and seed self-reliance
“Conserving agro-biodiversity and preserving rare indigenous varieties” is something that finds a mention in the BJP Manifesto and we welcome this, Sir. Agro-diversity is the very basis of sustainability in agriculture as well as farm livelihoods.
We urge your government to translate this into reality by ensuring that agro-diversity is not relegated to ex-situ gene banks, but by promoting diversity-based farming, including to combat climate change. Further, due recognition of the immense value that indigenous/desi varieties have, especially for resource poor farmers, has to be realized, including in the form of nutritive value of such varieties.
For this to happen, the exaggerated emphasis being placed on Seed Replacement Rates has to be addressed, especially in the “post-modern agriculture science” scenario; further, departments are required to actively promote diversity based farming and devise ways of distributing desi/indigenous varieties to farmers. This also requires the government to address squarely the regulatory systems related to seed which favour the private sector without any liability and accountability worth the name. Aggressive marketing by seed companies is also correlated with erosion of agro-diversity and this has to be curbed given that Seed is an Essential Commodity as per Indian Law.
We urge you to actively encourage farmer seed-breeders through special efforts; to get agri-research institutions to take up seed breeding in organic growing conditions given that today, all seed breeding in India is done only in a chemical-responsive situation; to characterize and popularize traditional/desi seed varieties; to take up participatory varietal selection and seed breeding; and by the government setting up community seed banks everywhere. All such efforts should specifically recognize the skills, knowledge and role of women.
- (Lack of) Need for, and Biosafety of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)
Sir, we are deeply reassured by BJP’s promise to the citizens of this country that GM foods will not be allowed without full scientific evaluation of their long term effects on soil, production and biological impact on consumers. This would also ensure that we do not jeopardize the livelihoods of our producers with risky technologies. There is ever-growing scientific evidence on the adverse impacts of Genetically Modified Organisms and we attach a compilation of such studies. Each passing year, more regions around the world are actively rejecting GM crops. Sir, this is also not just about biosafety, as you know. GMOs are seen a dangerous and costly distraction from real solutions that have to reach farmers immediately, which already exist. As you are aware, hundreds of scientists from across the country have been writing to the government advising caution on GMOs and pointing out that there are viable, safe, farmer-controlled alternatives for all the problems that GMOs are touted as a solution for. They have also effectively shown that food security myths around GM technology are unfounded and unrealized (some relevant material is available on www.indiagminfo.org on this subject). In this context, we urge you to direct the stoppage of all open air field trials of GMOs in this country, given the risk involved in such trials/open air releases of new organisms in Nature, which take place without any scientific evaluation of biosafety and other socio-economic risks.
- Control of productive resources in the hands of farming communities
BJP has promised to adopt a “national land use policy” for scientific acquisition of non-cultivable land, to protect interest of farmers and to meet food production and economic goals of the country. A Land Use Policy is welcome – it is however ideally evolved through Land Use Planning from Gram Sabha upwards and we urge you to initiate such a process. Here, it is important to ensure that land is secured for the landless, that no forcible land acquisition takes place and that cultivable land is not diverted to non-agricultural uses. You would recall that it was the BJP which proposed that land lease and not land acquisition should be the norm during the debate on the land acquisition statute in the country.
We urge you to similarly protect the country’s and communities’ seed sovereignty by making sure that Seed is not monopolized through any IPRs and that bio-piracy is actively prevented. We advocate an open source seed system that prevents any exclusive rights of ownership on Seed, and we also believe that the existing passport information on our seed bank accessions should be treated ‘prior art’ to prevent biopiracy in screening any IPR applications. Certain clauses in the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act, which could prevent such biopiracy are yet to be activated by the concerned institutions and we urge your government to ensure the same.
- Rights of Women Farmers in India
As you are kindly aware, an overwhelming majority of women workers in India find that agriculture is the mainstay for their livelihoods. It is also common knowledge that women make enormous contribution to Indian agriculture – however, they are invisible and their invaluable knowledge and skills are undervalued by the nation. BJP’s Manifesto refers to women as the nation-builders and promises strict implementation of laws related to women. The manifesto expressly promises to remove any remaining gender disparities in property rights. We urge you to kindly ensure that the concerned line departments are made accountable when it comes to implementation of women’s property inheritance rights. Best practices from some states have to be scaled up at the national level to ensure de jure and de facto rights of women, to their land as well as towards various support systems in their own right as farmers.
- Adivasi food and farming systems
We are glad to note that BJP has promised that tribal land will not be alienated. The importance of minor forest produce has also been acknowledged. What is not recognized and incorporated into policy discourse is the importance of forests as food-producing habitats for adivasi food and nutrition security. Such a recognition will certainly ensure different approaches to food security, forestry, land use and agricultural policies and we urge your government to take this path-breaking approach in all your policies, schemes and programmes meant for adivasi empowerment.
Your party has also rightly placed emphasis on water conservation recognizing the importance of rural water resources. We hope that there will be concrete action to follow.
We urge you and the concerned Ministries to address all the above, so that we can indeed make agriculture into a sustainable and dignified source of livelihoods for millions of our Anna Daatas.
Cc: (1) Shri Radha Mohan Singh, Minister for Agriculture, Government of India;
(2) Shri Prakash Javadekar, Minister of State for Environment & Forests, Government of India.