Farmers: India Will Have 400 Million Agricultural Refugees
By Devinder Sharma
22 June, 2007
It was on the cards. With Prime
Minister Manmohan Singh announcing the formation of a new rehabilitation
policy for farmers displaced from land acquisitions, it is now official
-- farmers have to quit agriculture.
Ever since the Congress-led
UPA Coalition assumed power after an angry rural protest vote threw
out the erstwhile BJP-led NDA combination in May 2004, the Prime Minister
had initiated a plethora of new policies for the spread of industrialization.
After having laid the policy framework that allows private control over
community resources – water, biodiversity, forests, seeds, agriculture
markets, and mineral resources -- the UPA government finally looked
at the possibility of divesting the poor people of their only economic
security – a meagre piece of land holding.
“Special Economic Zone
(SEZ) is an idea whose time has come,” the Prime Minister had
said at an award ceremony in Mumbai sometimes back. Supported by all
political parties, including the Left Front, he has actually officiated
a nationwide campaign to displace farmers. Almost 500 special economic
zones are being carved out (see The
New Maharajas of India). What is however less known is
that successive government’s are actually following a policy prescription
that had been laid out by the World Bank as early as in 1995.
A former vice-president of
the World Bank and a former chairman of Consultative Group on International
Agricultural Research (CGIAR), a body that governs the 16 international
agricultural research centers, Dr Ismail Serageldin, had forewarned
a number of years ago. At a conference organised by the M S Swaminathan
Research Foundation in Chennai a few years back, he quoted the World
Bank to say that the number of people estimated to migrate from rural
to urban India by the year 2015 is expected to be equal to twice the
combined population of UK, France and Germany.
The combined population of
UK, France and Germany is 200 million. The World Bank had therefore
estimated that some 400 million people would be willingly or unwillingly
moving from the rural to urban centres by 2015. Subsequent studies have
shown that massive distress migration will result in the years to come.
For instance, 70 per cent of Tamil Nadu, 65 per cent of Punjab, and
nearly 55 per cent of Uttar Pradesh is expected to migrate to urban
centres by the year 2020.
These 400 million displaced
will constitute the new class of migrants – agricultural refugees.
Twice the number of people that are expected to be displaced by global
warming worldwide are alone be pushed out of agriculture in India.
Acerbating the crisis are
the policy initiatives that promotes privatization of natural resources,
take over of farm land, integrating Indian agriculture with the global
economy, and moving farmers out of agriculture – in essence the
hallmark of the neo-liberal economic growth model.
Agricultural reforms that
are being introduced in the name of increasing food production and minimising
the price risks that the farmers continue to be faced with, are actually
aimed at destroying the production capacity of the farm lands and would
lead to further marginalisation of the farming communities. Encouraging
contract farming, future trading in agriculture commodities, land leasing,
forming land-sharing companies, direct procurement of farm commodities
by amending the APMC Act will only drive out a majority of farmers out
of subsistence agriculture.
Although the land holding
size is diminishing, the answer does not lie in allowing the private
companies to replace farmers. Somehow the entire effort of the policy
makers is to establish that Indian agriculture has become a burden on
the nation and the sooner the country offloads the farming class the
better it will be for economic growth.
Contract farming therefore
has become the new agricultural mantra. Not realising that private companies
enter agriculture with the specific objective of garnering more profits
from the same piece of land. These companies, if the global experience
is any indication, bank upon still more intensive farming practices,
drain the soil of nutrients and suck ground water in a couple of years,
and render the fertile lands almost barren after four to five years.
It has been estimated that the crops that are contracted by the private
companies require on an average 20 times more chemical inputs and water
than the staple foods.
Sugarcane farmers, for instance,
who follow a system of cane bonding with the mills, actually were drawing
240 cm of water every year, which is three times more than what wheat
and rice requires on an average. Rose cultivation, introduced a few
years back, requires 212 inches of groundwater consumption in every
acre. Contract farming will therefore further exploit whatever remains
of the ground water resources. These companies would then hand over
the barren and unproductive land to the farmers who leased them, and
would move to another fertile piece of land. This has been the global
experience so far.
Allowing direct procurement
of farm commodities, setting up special markets for the private companies
to mop up the produce, and to set up land share companies, are all directed
at the uncontrolled entry of the multinational corporations in the farm
sector. Coupled with the introduction of the genetically modified crops,
and the unlimited credit support for the agribusiness companies, the
focus is to strengthen the ability of the companies to take over the
I have always warned that
agribusiness companies in reality hate farmers. Nowhere in the world
have they worked in tandem with farmers. Even in North America and Europe,
agribusiness companies have pushed farmers out of agriculture. As a
result, only 7,00,000 farming families are left on the farm in the United
States. Despite massive subsidies in European Union, one farmer quits
agriculture every minute. Knowing well that the markets will displace
farmers, the same agriculture prescription is being applied in India.
A Planning Commission study
has shown that 73 per cent of the cultivable land in the country is
owned by 23.6 per cent of the population. With more and more farmers
being displaced through land acquisitions, either for SEZ or for food
processing and technology parks or for real estate purposes, land is
further getting accumulated in the hands of the elite and resourceful.
With chief ministers acting as property dealers, farmers are being lured
to divest control over cultivable land. Food security and food self-sufficiency
is no longer the country’s political priority.
The government has very conveniently
taken refuge behind an NSSO study that says some 40 per cent of the
farmers have expressed the desire to quit farming. After all, what the
government is facilitating is to make it easier for the farmers to abandon
their land. It believes that a rehabilitation policy for the farmers
therefore is the need of the hour. What is however not being seen through
is that an agrarian economy like India cannot afford large-scale displacement
of farmers. It will lead to social unrest the kind of which has not
been witnessed. What India needs desperately is a policy paradigm that
restores pride in agriculture, stops take-over of agricultural lands,
and ensures sustainable livelihoods for 600 million farmers.
is a food and agriculture policy analyst. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.orgThis
enabled to view it , or visit www.dsharma.org.
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