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Food Bills open doors for global merchants of grain, their Indian corporate partners

Well-known environmentalist and scholar Dr Vandana Shiva's  unpublished briefing paper “Protecting the Rights of Small Farmers (our anna datas), the Right to Food of All Citizens to Create a Food Sovereign, Food Self-Reliant India (Atmanirbhar Bharat)” analyses the potential impact of the dismantling of India’s food sovereignty and food security regulatory and legal infrastructure framework through three food and farming Bills, passed in Parliament. 
Here is the paper, which was distributed by JanVikalp for general interest in the subject: 
*** 
Three Bills have been passed in Parliament which are being referred to as “Farm Bills”. However these are not about farming alone.
They are food system Bills. They affect the entire food system. These laws will determine how we produce our food, how much do farmers get for what they grow, how much do people pay for food, how many people have livelihoods in the food system, and how we manage our soils, biodiversity and natural resources.
They could dismantle India’s centuries old biodiversity based, small farmer centred tradition of Atma Nirbhar small farmers, and 70 years of a regulatory system to protect small farms, small farmer livelihoods, the livelihoods of millions of workers and small traders in mandis, the right to food, and the food sovereignty of the country.
The three bills are:
  • The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 which excludes food from the Essential Commodities Act
  • Farming Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020 which dismantles regulatory market framework that prevents traders and Agribusness from exploiting farmers 
  • The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance, 2020 which opens the door for global agribusiness and food processing corporations to lock farmers into new corporate slavery 
The Essential Commodities Act is not related to farm prices, but to the entire food system.
The Essential Commodities Act is a regulation to prevent profiteering from essential commodities on which life depends like seed, food and medicine. It is meant to prevent speculation and by creating artificial scarcity through hoarding.
Food is an essential commodity. When prices rise, people starve. Excluding food from the Essential Commodities Act is a recipe for speculation and profiteering.
Putting trade and profits above people’s right to food is also a recipe for hunger as we experienced during British colonial rule which destroyed our food sovereignty through trade and a system of extraction of taxes from the peasants. 
Around 60 million Indians died due the resulting famines created by the British Empire. The 1942 the Great Bengal famine killed two million people. That is why in 1955, independent India passed the Essential Commodities Act, to prevent traders from profiteering from food while people died.
The government used the Essential Commodities Act to regulate the price of Bt Cotton Seeds and stop Monsanto’s exploitation of Indian farmers. Indian farmers paid Monsanto Rs 14,000 crore during 2002-2018 (17 years) even though Monsanto had no Patent on GMO Bt Cotton.
The Essential Commodities Act is related to the right to food as a fundamental right .Food is life . Article 21 guarantees it, as does the Food Security Act of 2013 which opens with the statement that the Act is meant to provide for food and nutritional security in human life cycle approach, by ensuring access to adequate quantity of quality food at affordable prices to people to live a life with dignity and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.
The Essential Commodities Act embodies the duty of a sovereign government to regulate the prices of essential commodities. Without the regulation of food prices, there is no right to food.
Dr Vandana Shiva
The second Bill is the Farming Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020 which dismantles the regulatory market framework that prevents traders and agribusness from exploiting farmers, and is the foundation of the biggest public food system in the world to ensure the right to food mandis are governed by Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMC) on which both farmers and traders sit.
As an example, the Karnataka Agricultural Produce Marketing (Regulation) Act, 1966, clearly states:
“(iv) representation on the market committee to purchasers of agricultural produce, representatives of the purchasers' co-operative societies, representatives of co-operative marketing and processing societies, municipalities, taluk boards and the Central Warehousing Corporation or State Warehousing Corporation...”
APMCs embody three aspects: 
  1. They are governed by states. Therefore Farming Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020 is unconstitutional since the Centre is encroaching on states’ rights.
  2. Secondly mandis’ governed by APMCs are a cooperative arrangement between farmers and traders with oversight of government. Mandis are regulated. No trader can hold more than a limited stock. And prices are regulated to ensure farmers are not exploited. 
  3. Thirdly, they are a physical space that provides farmers decentralised access to markets. 
It is the existence of the mandi that guarantees farmers a fair price. And it is the existence of a decentralized network of mandis governed by states in a federal framework that is the backbone of India’s food security system.
No trader in a mandi can take more that 2.5%, and this is rooted in India’s ancient trading systems. The traders create a price difference of 6-7% between farm price and consumer price. After the 1991 neoliberal reforms, this started to diverge. After the 1997 the polarization increased to 40%.
Wherever corporations control trade and commerce under deregulated markets, they take 90-95% as the margin. Farmers’ incomes fall, food prices rise.
As corporate control increases, price polarisation between farmers price and consumer price increases.
Take the example of potatoes. Potato farmers are committing suicide because of high costs of inputs and falling prices. Pepsi sells potato seeds, pesticides, fertilisers to farmers at high cost and buys potatoes at throw away prices. In 2019, farmers in West Uttar Pradesh were selling 20 kg sacks of potato for Rs 5.
Meantime, Pepsi sued Gujarat farmers for crores for saving potato seeds. They had to withdraw the case because the Plant Variety Protection and Farmers Rights Act has Clause 39 which recognizes the farmers’ right to save, exchange, breed, and sell seeds.
Integration of farmers into the corporate food system is farmers’ slavery, not farmers’ freedom and farmers sovereignty.
Corporations are neither producers not consumers. They are middlemen who increase the distance between the farmer and the consumer, and make profits by exploiting both.
False claim is related to deregulating trade by dismantling the APMC Act, and allowing giant corporations to set up an unregulated system of selling costly inputs, buying cheap from farmers and hoarding huge amounts of grain in silos.
The justification for this deregulation is that this will get rid of “Middlemen” . This is false.
The Farming Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020 Bill does not get rid of middlemen.
It creates total freedom for agribusiness and big corporations who are in fact mega middlemen who profit by buying cheap from the farmer and selling at high cost to consumers. Food is now a major commodity which is subject of speculation.
Food distribution under the control of giant agribusiness corporations is the end of food security. The new Bill removes all stock limits and hence makes hoarding legal. It removes all price control from Corporate Traders by removing the Essential Commodities Act .This is a recipe for a farm crisis and a food crisis. In 2008 during the financial crisis when food became a commodity for speculation and the prices of bread rose there were riots in the Arab World. The Arab Spring started as bread riots.
The Contract Farming Act titled The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance, 2020, opens the door for global merchants of grain and their Indian corporate partners and food processing corporations to lock farmers into new corporate slavery
The Contract Farming Bill is justified on grounds that small farms are not viable, and this Act will allow their consolidation to make them more productive and this will increase double incomes.
However, all evidence shows that small farms are more productive than large farms. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 80% of the food we eat comes from small farmers.
Navdanya’s work with small farmers shows that small biodiverse farms based on agroecology and nutrition sensitive agriculture can provide full and adequate nutrition to two times India’s population.
Biodiverse systems that increase nutrition per acre also increase farmers’ incomes because they stop the drain for costly corporate seeds and agrichemicals, and they free the farmer from corporate chains that drive down prices of farm produce.
Research done by FAO has shown that small biodiverse farms can produce thousands of times more food than large industrial monocultures. Large farms produce commodities, not food. 

Farm Size vs Gross Output for Selected Countries: Data from FAO Report on the 1980 World Census of Agriculture, Census Bulletins:

Small food sovereign farmers and a decentralized, diverse food system is the backbone of our food security and food sovereignty.
On the farmers’ food sovereignty rests the food rights if 1.3 billion Indians. On the food sovereignty of people rests the food sovereignty of the country. Food sovereignty of farmers and Indian citizens is the essence for a self-reliant or Atmanirbhar Bharat. 

Comments

Unknown said…
#MoboCracy at Work.
Tulsi Patel said…
Truly shocking to visualise the hunger especially amidst evidence that food is the only thing that has been secure and available during the covid 19 lockdown when rest of the economy went bust. The culture of offering, serving food to the needy, to bhandaras, langars and general generosity with feeding others as a sign of Indian culture will be lost for ever.
Tulsi Patel

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