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Avoid Farmers Suicide In Ladakh

By Stanzin Dawa

20 November, 2006

Over the last few years we have seen the hopes and fears of Government of India to protect the interest of Indian farmers in the WTO agriculture trade agreement irrespective of which political party comes in the power. May we know about which farmers are they talking about? Is it Punjabi, Haryanvi or other agriculturally rich states, I am very much sure its not for the small farmers as the Government of India is behaving in the same fashion what United States and European Union is behaving with the poor and developing countries.

Traditionally in Ladakh, the staple food is barley and wheat. Ladakhi farmers have for centuries grown barley and wheat in harmony with the nature, while harvesting the glacier water in the lap of Himalaya. Ladakh being a part of India also gets affected with the Government of India's policy both good and bad one, in fact the good policies in one place may proved to be the worst in some other place. Like the PDS system in India is based on the wheat and rice model, which is a boon for Punjabi, Haryanvi and other agriculturally rich states which produce these crops but the same policy has not only distorted the local economy and livelihood of Ladakhi farmers but also developed inferiority complex. As the Government owned Food Corporation of India procures the wheat and rice from these states instead of barley and wheat from Ladakhi farmers and dumped in Ladakh, although rice is not a staple grain of Ladakhi household but today you will find Ladakhis even eating rice three times a day. It has not only significantly changed the food habits of people across the region, but led to a complete neglect of traditionally grown barley and wheat, which are otherwise extremely nutritious. The government is distorting centuries old self sustaining agriculture system in Ladakh by making rice and wheat available in the local market through Government owned FCI stores are available at a cheaper price than the local barley and wheat in spite of the distances. The unbalanced and distorted subsidies are responsible for breaking down of small farmer's economy, livelihood, family and villages at least its happening in Ladakh. Even in a democratic and sovereign country like India big fishes are eating the smaller one not because they are bigger in size, but the government is more concerned to protect the interest of the big fishes. Is this the vision and wisdom of the Government for Development? Can we say such policies a progressive policy or a Policy of Mass Destruction?

We would have appreciated this transformation if the PDS had been able to actually reduce the hunger population within the country as a result of its focus on wheat and rice-based security programs; the recent UN report shows a very shameful and hazardous picture. Nearly 50 percent of the world's hungry live in India, a low-income, food-deficit country. Although India has adequate food to feed its one billion populations, hunger and food insecurity have increased since the mid 1990s. Who is gaining from the liberalization and globalization of the economy? I don't see the poor farmers are gaining anything rather its draining everything they owe even many times their own lives "Farmers Suicide". Food grain availability in the rural India has fallen to 152 Kg per capita, 23 Kg less than in the 1990s, creating large scale food insecurity in India's rural areas. The poorest 30% of Indian households eat less than 1,700 Kilo calories per day, per person well below the International minimum standard of 2100 Kilo calories per day, even if they spend 70% of their income on food. The findings of the UN Report on the Right to Food prepared by Jean Ziegler reveals all these pictures.

The article 47of the Indian Constitution states that it's the duty of the State to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health. The State shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties and, in particular, the State shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health. The UN Report clearly shows how the state has been drastically failed in fulfilling this goal of the Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSP) of the constitution.

There may be number of causes for the state's failure but one of the significant causes is Lack of Government Vision and clarity of intention to benefit the poor and small farmers like in Ladakh. I am amazed to see the spirit of "No to Suicide" by the Ladakhi farmers after all these distortions, destructions and devastations. It may be because Ladakhi farmers are still nurturing a very strong cooperative culture based on mutual faith and benefits. I have both hopes and fears with the sudden flush of rupees 260 crores by the World Bank for the watershed development in Ladakh. Proper implementation of this project will improve the water harvesting system, bring efficient technologies; more barren and fallow land can be cultivated in the result Ladakhi farmers may go for large scale production. In order to meet their large scale production they will take heavy bank loans but due to the Government regressive policy they would be living under heavy debt. If the Government's policy of procurement don't gets reformed the same World Bank Watershed Development Project will convert into a Ladakhi Farmers Suicideshed Project, we may see another Vidarbha in Ladakh. Vision is what; when you can see the invisible, application of mere human intelligence can make you visualize this vision like a Ghost.

Developed countries subsidized the agricultural sector with billion of dollars. It leads to epidemic overproduction and dumping surpluses in the global markets. Poor and developing countries like India consistently demanding for reform in the existing harsh and hostile trade practices that impoverish developing and poor countries while enriching the developed. Many critics of the farm subsidies believe that stopping subsidies to farmers in the developed nations would improve the lives of farmers in developing countries. While understanding the agriculture policy of India and its affects over the Ladakh I am little apprehension about the benefits of the shelling out of the farm subsidies to the small farmers. I think the benefits would go to the rich farmers and large agro business corporations, as its benefiting now.

The article 48 of the Indian Constitution states that the State shall endeavour to organize agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps for preserving and improving the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter, of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle. Neglect and lop sided policy of the state for the agricultural development in Ladakh reflects the discriminatory attitude of the state. The state should respect to the principles mentioned in the Constitution not only in the interest of the majority but should also to accommodate the interest of the minority and underprivileged who are also the citizens of this country as much as the rich and powerful of this democratic country.

It's not too late to "Think Globally and Act Locally", as the ancient wisdom says that "Prevention is better than Cure". The Government while advocating in the WTO to protect the due interest of the Indian farmers also need to act locally by reforming its own distorting policies and programmes, so that farmers in Ladakh can also be pride of their own production, their own wisdom, their own economy which is based on organic, cooperation and compassion. This way we can avoid 'Farmers Suicide' in Ladakh. Let's practice what we preach.

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