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Farming: Going The American Way

By Devinder Sharma

23 March, 2010
Ground Reality

India follows the US: Pushing farmers out of agriculture, and inviting industry to take over

About 100 years back, the United States had pushed some 25 million people off the farms. In India, we are now trying to do the same. In the US, the native Indians were in lot many ways exterminated. In India, we are also picking up a leaf from the US copybook, and adopting it ruthlessly.

The latest essay by Arundhati Roy "Walking with the comrades" (Outlook, Mar 2010) tells you all. Ever since I read it believe me it has become difficult for me to let my thoughts emerge out of the jungles of Chhatisgarh. I admire the courage of Arundhati, and I feel she is perhaps amongst the great writers who have taken it upon themselves to stand by truth. As Arundhati wrote to me: "I am haunted by what is going on." I can understand how and why she feels like this.

But the urban population in India gives a damn. While I still can't believe that the industry and government are so blatantly hand in glove in driving out these simple tribal people from their habitat, the upwardly mobile in India are actually happy. In many ways the bigger tragedy is that people living in Delhi/Mumbai or the other burstling towns have no clue about the gun battle that goes on in the name of Operation Green Hunt.

The urbanites are happy and content, feeling safe and spend hours watching the IPL cricket matches. They live in their own make believe world, buttressed by government subsidies and doles in the name of development, and have little idea about the country beyond the outer limits of Delhi Metro (the new rail subway) for instance. They genuinely believe the war against Maoists is in some alien land. Who cares?

Anyway, I take you back to the farming model that India has adopted from the US. Paul Stephens, a 4th generation homestead-farmer from Highwood (in US), long ago driven off the land, had in Jan this year, sent me this communication:

"The Montana Agribusiness Association and the Grain Elevators Association are meeting today here in Great Falls - a big trade show, prominently featuring GMO firms like Monsanto and Bayern. They have been covered heavily (and completely uncritically) by Northern Broadcasting and other Montana media.

It seems unbelievable to me that most farmers and even grass-roots agriculture organizations like the Farmer's Union are almost completely ignorant of the massive destruction wrought by the promotion and use of GMO seeds, recombinant bovine growth hormones, the introduction of insecticide-producing genes into corn and other crops, and the whole movement toward "tillage-free agriculture", in which the ground is soaked with chemicals and herbicides instead of regular farming which aerates and loosens the soil to provide a healthy seed bed.

Last week, they had an even bigger convention, the MAGIE, which featured a spraying machine costing several hundred thousand dollars. Large corporate farms are adopting satellite technology (GPS) to control their machines. One salesman, probably unintentionally, made the bizarre statement that such a machine could save some small number of hours a year of farmer's time - at a cost, probably, of $1000's/hour for this "savings." It's like something out of science fiction, and yet, smaller, family farms (less than 2000 acres) are all but extinct here, and the larger ones exist entirely by government subsidies, amounting to billions of dollars a year just in Montana.

I've been trying to talk to farmers I knew for the past 40 years about the threats posed by factory farming and being taken in by the agribusiness monopolies. Unfortunately, their kids are the ones who are now selling it to them - trained by "land grant" universities like Montana State which have virtually been taken over by firms like Monsanto, becoming "partners in crime" with their program to destroy the small, family farm, and force everyone to use their toxic products.

I know it is a tough battle, and small farmers just don't think they have a chance of surviving by doing anything different. In fact, it's their only chance for survival."

Not only forced eviction, even technology is pushing farmers off the land. I am sure you can see a similar pattern being followed in Indian agriculture. This only goes to endorse what I have been saying for long. The entire objective of reforms in agriculture is to push farmers out of agriculture. It is an exit policy for farmers.

Barbara Panvel, another amazing activist from UK, has today sent me an analysis
which draws from a recent news report from the pages of Financial Times. The report entitled: "India's tribals in land fight with business" (FT Mar 9, 2010) is by Amy Kazmin, and she writes from Lohandiguda. This is what she says:

First, the land surveyors came. Then the rumours spread through the villages: Tata, one of India’s biggest conglomerates, would build a steel mill in the district.

Finally, government officials came to ask the villagers in Lohandiguda in Chhattisgarh state, who are mainly illiterate farmers from the Gond tribe, to relinquish their fields for the promise of cash, jobs and a better future.

For Banga Ram, the 65-year-old patriarch of a large family, the request was absurd. “What will we do with the money?” he asked. “We have to do agriculture to feed these children.” But local officials were not taking “No” for an answer.

Banga Ram was arrested. After he spent 13 days in jail, he says his sons signed away the land and accepted compensation.

In nearby Chindgaon village, Sundar Kashyap, who earns Rs10,000 ($219, €161, £146) a month working for the government animal husbandry department, says his bosses warned him of trouble if his younger brothers refused to sign over two of their five acres. They, too, signed.

Yet five years after Tata Steel announced its plans for the mill, the families of both men are still cultivating their ancestral fields. Officials are struggling to complete the contentious land acquisition, with 20 per cent of the required 5,000 hectares still outstanding and a local civil rights lawyer threatening legal action against the process.

“I am going to challenge it,” says Pratap Agrawal, an attorney in the nearby small town of Jagdalpur. “Villagers are absolutely against handing over even an inch of their land.”

Battles over forcible acquisition of agricultural land for industry are raging across India. But nowhere are they as fraught as in India’s tribal belt, where long-neglected indigenous animist tribes, known as adivasis, have upset the plans of corporate groups such as Vedanta, Tata Steel, Essar Steel and National Mineral Development Corp to tap mineral riches. (You can read the full report at http://www.chs-sachetan.org/?page_id=18)

Well, did you notice how similar with the US is the approach that India is following? Once these tribals are displaced, and the World Bank has suggested training them to become industrial workers, the agribusiness industry will move in with their own battery of economists and agricultural scientists. They will shout from the roof-top that the industry is required for launching the 2nd Green Revolution, and the Planning Commision will oblige by reforming the food security parameters (see todays lead story in ET: Montak calls for sweeping reforms to boost farmville).

It is the beginning of the end of farmers.

Shouldn't we thank the US for showing us the way to get rid of our farmers? It all begins with exterminating the native population (in India, since we do not use the word native, we call them tribals).

Mera Bharat Mahaan!



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