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April 5, 2001


Woes of Third World Farming: A Indian Woman Farmer's


Dear Agbioview Readers:

Please find below a commentary on the predicament of Indian farmers from a
woman activist.

The farmers in India are in an extremely distressing situation. The
Government has failed to come to their rescue. As of now, there are 40
million tonnes of food stock in the Government warehouses, while at the
same time there are 300 million people languishing below poverty line, and
with no purchasing power. The WTO, which is now projected as a demon, is
creating a terrible scare among the farmers. We are also confronted with
the dilemma of whether or not to use the GMOs.

India is at cross roads because 70% of her people living in the rural
areas are utterly confused, what with an uncertain future looming ahead of

The enclosed short story is written by a lady farmers activist and whose
sentiments i wish to share with you all. I also request your valuable time
to give suggestions on finding a solution to farmers problems in India.


P. Chengal Reddy



- Ms. Umashankari.

In the 70s a slogan in the Women’s movement used to appeal to me very
much, which I used to shout spiritedly at processions and gatherings: “ If
half of India consists of women then why is she so helpless?”

It not only expressed the anger and anguish at the plight of women; by
being in the question format, it made us reflect and question the status
quo; by stressing on the numbers it pointed to the potential of garnering
our strengths and forging ahead… “If three fourths of India are farmers
why are they not eating three square meals a day?”

Are we thieves? Are we criminals? Do we not have a right to a decent life?
“Ask not what the country can do for you; ask what you can do for the

Well said. Let us see what farmers have done for Andhra Pradesh (a state
in India):

Agricultural development and farmers’ plight in AP:

* Production of principal crops (rice, sorghum, millets, pulses,
groundnut, castors, sesamum, sugarcane, cotton, tobacco) rose by 3 to 4
times, from 58 lakh (1 lakh - 100,000) tons (LT) in 1951 to 157 LT in 1996.
*Rice production increased by 4 times, from 22.73 LT to 90 LT in the same
period. AP ranks third in India, accounts for 13.3% of India’s production,
2.8 % of world’ production.
*Our state AP ranks second in maize production in India, with 1.35 million
tons (MT) accounting for 12.6%.
* It ranks third in cotton, sunflower and groundnut, first in tobacco,
fifth in sugar cane, second in mulberry and silk cocoons, first in mango,
first in chillies.
* Food grains yield per hectare increased almost 4 times from 480 kgs to
1800 kgs
*Income per hectare of gross cropped area rose by 36 times between 1950
and 1966.
*Between 1970 and 1995 milk production rose by 8 times, egg production by
9 times, (ranks first in the country) fish by 1.5 times, accounts for 25%
0f marine exports of the country.(AP at 50-p.187, 170- see annexures – 1,2

In spite of all these achievements, scores of farmers are committing
suicide in AP. In Chittoor district, where I live, farmers are a weary,
tired lot today. Whatever they may do they seem to be in losses. The
feeling of frustration and resignation is all – pervasive; the sense of
inferiority is profound. Farmers introduce themselves apologetically, much
like the women who introduce themselves as ‘just housewives’.

People are looking for ways to get out of agriculture at the first
opportunity. (state non-agricultural income is double that of agricultural
income; non-agricultural wage is 4 times that of agricultural wage AP at
50:202 – annexure). However, it is not easy. Certainly not as easy as our
Chief Minister would like to believe. Lack of capital, lack of educational
skills, lack of markets chase them back to agriculture. Public sector
recruitment has almost stopped (Except for teachers).

Within agriculture, farmers find it more profitable and less difficult to
give the land on tenancy or sharecropping. Sharecroppers take the land but
continue to go for daily labor for meeting their daily expenses.
Agricultural labor prefer non-agricultural wage employment where wages are
higher. Ultimately land is the loser for want of capital and attention.

A vicious cycle of losses leading to more losses has set in. This has
affected the psyche of the farmer in peculiar ways. He does not want to
invest. He would rather hoard the money and / or do money lending. Every
other person you will find is doing money-lending. At very high rates of
interest! But nobody ever believes in paying back. Willful non-payment of
debts is the rule rather than the exception. People don’t even bother to
buy agricultural tools and implements. The dictum is ‘what you can beg,
borrow or steal you should not buy’. (AP at 50:195 See Annexure)
Interestingly land prices are very high – an acre of wet land costs Rs. 1
to 1.5 lakhs [one lakh = 100,000; 1US$- Rs. 45] . One would think people
are bursting with money! What usually happens is that someone who is
leaving or left the village for greener pastures wants to sell a small
plot of land. This sets off a keen competition among the neighbors, for,
wet land is scarce, that too a contiguous plot is too much of a temptation
to let go. Big pieces of land (above 5 acres) are rarely bought by local
farmers, they are usually bought by outsiders – businessmen, merchants,
government employees, who have made it good in the outside world.

Joys and sorrows of farming:

When I have to introduce myself I say I am a farmer. My city friends
qualify the statement ‘she does other things also’. It is true, I do other
things and I am a ‘hardly’ working farmer. But I feel my primary identity
in the last few years has been that of a farmer. Not only because major
part of,our income comes from farming but also because I enjoy doing it,
at least managing it. Agriculture is not merely about yields, profits and
losses. To me it is about the games we play with nature. We make our moves
and nature makes its own. The results can never, never be predicted. Every
crop, every season, every year is a surprise, a different story. True,
fertilizers and pesticides help. Irrigation and new seeds bring better
yields, but an important factor is the weather. Not just rainfall but also
temperature, number of sunny days, cloud cover, mist, length of the
seasons, early or delayed onset of the season etc, etc, all of which is
beyond our control. The earth, as the environmentalists are never tired of
saying, seems to have a life of its own. It continuously challenges,
tantalizes and frustrates.

In Tamil tradition, there are three great ruiners, desire for soil, desire
for woman, and desire for gold. I could never understand why desire for
soil was included till I started doing farming. Agriculture awakes the
experimenter in the farmer and keeps his playfulness going. In this
guessing game the farmer losses often but rarely gives up because you
never know, you may have better luck next time.

In these in-built uncertainties, economic calculations go haywire. There
is a saying in Tamil “If the farmer calculates the costs and returns he
would be left only with an ounce. “ So how could they survive in the past?
And how could they support the city and the civilization? Let me hazard a
few suggestions.

The farmer in the pre-British period was never taxed too heavily – 1/6,
1/4, 1/10th although all these shares appear to be high, they were only
after leaving a substantial portion, amounting to about 25 to 40% of the
produce, for the village economy, for various goods and services-from
potters to priests, from irrigation tanks to cremation grounds. This is
apart from the manyams/ inams or grants of land assigned to various
categories of people, particularly religious institutions, and local
militia which amounted to 25 to 50%. Secondly they were not collected
strictly particularly in the years of drought and lean productivity.
Thirdly common property resources like grazing lands, forests and water
bodies were not controlled by external forces. The state actively
cooperated with farmers in creating agricultural infrastructure,
especially irrigation facilities. The ideal image of the king was one who
was benign to farmers, not surprising since land revenue was the most
important source of income for the state. The homology between landed
gentry of yesteryears and today’s industrial class is striking. Of course
internal cleavages within the agriculture sector between tenant –
cultivators, untouchable – landless- agricultural worker castes and
landowner – non-cultivator castes were sharp and continue to plague the

The British period saw higher land revenues, abolition of some of the
manyams/inams and deductions. Common property resources were taken over by
the state, and irrigation tanks were grievously neglected. The
post-Independence state in India continued with the same policies,
draining the surplus from rural areas for ‘development’ and emaciating it.

Coming back to the present day economics of agriculture

*Whole sale prices of agricultural commodities have risen by 3 times since
1970, but cost of cultivation for rice and jowar has risen by 7 times and
a little less for other crops.
* Cost of cultivation has also been above the gross value of output. This
is either because yields are stagnating or they are not getting the right
price of both.
*Cost of cultivation has also been higher than minimum support price (MSP)
in almost all years in all the crops since 1970.
*MSP has been below the wholesale market price in all crops in all years,
since 1970.
* MSP is only notional, without machinery to enforce it. So this year,
when the price of rice crashed the CM and his team made a lot of noise.
The Center assured that it will procure 10 lakh tons of paddy and 10 lakh
tons of rice every month. Not even one lakh tons was actually produced by
*Cost of cultivation is rising above MSP or market prices in spite of all
the subsidies.
*The WTO effect on agriculture has been devastating. Rice and groundnut
account for half the cropped area. 40 lakh hectares (LH) out of 80 LH in
Kharif, 15 out of 35 LH in Rabi. Rice procurement was not effective and
there was large-scale distress sale. Our rice could not be exported
because international price of rice was 5-10$ cheaper. Groundnut and
coconut prices crashed due to import of palm oil. Sugarcane prices crashed
due to import of sugar; jaggery prices have stagnated for the last 5
years. Chillies worth 100 crores is lying unsold in Guntur cold storage.
(Frontline February 2, 2001 )
*Agricultural wages (real) has gone up by three to four times but consumer
price index for agricultural labor rose by 12 times since 1960. On the
other hand PDS rice has decreased in quantity and costs more from 25 kg at
Rs. 2/- per kg per family to 20 kg at Rs. 6.50 per kg. The government is
talking about exporting rice at BPL (below poverty line) prices to relieve
the godowns of food stocks ! Minimum wages for agricultural labor is only
in the statute books. Land reforms is a forgotten issue.

Poverty and prosperity

Elders in our village say that practically everything used to be grown in
the village. The only constraint was manpower. More the children,
especially males, the better. An iron grip over the agriculture labor
caste was part of this scenario. (Land was not a constraint as long as one
could pay the land revenue. All one had to do was to go to the palegar and
ask him to assign some land, and he would). Not only several varieties of
rice and millets but even wheat was grown. Grams – red, black and green ;
groundnut, sesamum, coconut, castor, pongamia and neem for oil; fruits –
mango, sweet lime, lemon, guava, bananas; custard apple, wood apple etc,
growing wild. Vegetables – not only the usual ones, but even beetroot,
cabbage and carrots were tried. Betel leaves and eating leaves were not
left out. The forest was / is just two kilometers away, and whatever was
useful and needed was collected. Not only bio-diversity but more
importantly the knowledge of it was significant. It is unfortunate that
this knowledge base is shrinking.

Particularly all the inputs for agriculture came almost free, from
nature,- livestock, agricultural waste and forests provided the
fertilizers, pesticides, medicines for humans and cattle, materials for
housing, transport, agricultural tools, furniture, etc, etc,. The human
beings fashioned them according to their needs, particularly the artisanal
castes, who, while they largely provided for the needs of agriculture,
also enjoyed a fair degree of autonomy. Today each one of these things
costs money, and worse, comes from the city.

We have been trying to do organic farming with purchased organic inputs –
particularly fertilizers and pesticides. I can tell you the thrill is
high, but the economics is absurd. Our friends have tried to be helpful
with marketing, and we are thankful to them, but there are queer problems
– when they want rice, we would have jaggery (brown sugar), and when they
want jaggery, we would have rice! Or the transport costs are too high and
the price offered doesn’t compensate. Or there are technical problems;
what works for one season / crop doesn’t work for another. For instance,
mango, which has become a monoculture in Chittorr district is heavily,
sprayed with pesticides. We have been trying all kinds of bio-pesticides
on the mango trees in a two acre plot the last six, seven years, with no
success whatsoever, losing from Rs.20,000 to Rs.40,000 of gross income
every year. This year in sheer disgust we didn’t spray anything; and the
trees are faring as well as those in the other garden where we usually
spray chemical pesticides. Or take our rice. Biopesticides worked
beautifully on rice, but this year they failed miserably. Sometimes I have
a suspicion that our fellow farmers are making a silent vow to themselves:
not to go on the organic road. Our tenants certainly do not want to do
organic farming – they cannot afford additional losses. We are caught in a
dilemma: if we do own cultivation, which we have doing for several years,
we not only have to put in all the inputs, but also bear very high labor
costs, for, when the tenants cultivate, they don’t incur so much labor
costs. But the tenants do not want to do organic farming, and we have no
right to demand it from them.

I have never been able to decide whether people are eating better today or
in the past, notwithstanding whatever the NSS rounds may say. The routine
fare consists of rice sangati (rice cooked with ragi (finger millet) and
shaped into balls) with one vegetable curry or chutney/or rasam. Some
families indulge in better milk and that is always mentioned specially to
show that they are eating better. Milk only infants and the sick drink.
Pulses and meat are reserved for festivals, eggs if there are visitors.

There is hardly any difference in the eating habits between Dalit
(oppressed) castes and the upper farmers except that Dalits eat beef.
Dalits are also a lot more dependent on purchased food and are to that
extent more vulnerable. Fish was available aplenty people say. Not only in
the streams, tanks and wells, but even in sometimes sell them to farmers.
Children are always searching for things to eat: Gooseberries, custard,
apple, parigi, regi, neredu, wood apple, mango, tamarind, sugarcane… Today
new foods are available. Biscuits, toffees, pepsi, tea, coffee, bidi, pan
masala etc. And people do consume them occasionally. For instance,
Thums-up is supposed to relieve the discomfort of urinary infection in
women! It is also much in demand as a cocktail with liquor. But the
routine fare as I said earlier, is a cereal with one vegetable and rasam.

It is not only that they cannot afford anything more; there is no time to
cook an elaborate meal. The women have so many things to do, where is the
time to cook more than one dish? People generally eat the previous day’s
leftover rice for breakfast, cook a meal for the afternoon and cook just
rice for the night, enough to last for the next day breakfast.

Bad habits always catch up more easily than good ones. Till the sixties
most people were eating hand-pound rice. For the last twelve years we have
been persuading people to eat unpolished rice milled in shellers but not
succeeded. But pan masala, tea and coffees have quickly replaced older
versions. Considering 90% of the food consists of rice I think it would go
a long way to eat better quality rice. But bad habits die harder. Clothes
and how you dress are becoming very important. Cinema, TV, telephone, the
dish antennae are all part of the village life and landscape now.

Long term trends:

Dry regions, Telangana and Rayalaseema are affected more than wet regions.
Regional disparities are growing. Farmers are going in for crops, where
returns are more assured and operating costs are less. In our area, rain
fed crops like pulses and millets were given up almost a decade ago. Today
even rice and groundnut are being given up in favor of mangoes and
sugarcane and vegetables, provided marketing and transport facilities

Farmers prefer to leave their lands fallow than cultivate rain fed crops.
Fallows have increased in the state from 33 lakh hectares in 1950 to 44
lakh hectares in 1990s.

There is a mad rush for bore wells. Well irrigation has increased by five
times since 1960s. There are 20 lakh pump sets in AP. At 1 lakh rupees per
well it works out to Rs.20,000 crores (I crore - 10 million). The interest
alone at 12% works out to 2400 crores. Farmers are asking for power at
reasonable rates, but even that is being denied to them because power
subsidies are not acceptable to the World Bank. In the mean time, ground
water depletion is causing its own anxieties. Even if you are ready to
invest you are not sure you will strike water and how long it will last.

The cheapest source of irrigation in dry areas is through tanks, which
have been subject to criminal neglect. It receives 10% of allocation to
irrigation while 90% goes to major and medium projects. Out of this 10%
actual amount going to the works is probably 3% the rest going for
salaries. On this ground alone one should be against big dams. ( Sreedhar
1997 )

Let us see some figures for the Chittor district:

*Gross cropped area has in increased only marginally from 4.98LH to 5.25LH;
* Gross irrigated area has been stagnating and even declining – it was
2.05 LH in 1956, it declined to 1.99 LH in 1995 in spite of increase in
the number of pump sets from 1100 in 19970 to 1,30,000 in 1995!
*Rice has declined from 1.29 to 0.83;
* Ground nut from 2.76 to 2.98; Sugarcane has gained but only marginally
from o.24 to o.30LH.
* 711 factories employed 24,000 persons in 1996 out of a population of 32
lakhs – a mere 2% to 4%.

There is a constant pressure to go for capital intensive, attention
demanding, high-risk farming. We are forced to chase the latest fad or
invention – Drip –irrigation; tissue cultures plants, floriculture, now
genetically modified food seeds, etc., all of which cost a lot of money
but uncertain returns. Ad nauseum farmers are given advice on new
technologies, much of which is dubious; nobody wants to talk about prices,
wages, or rate of return in agriculture, parity between sectors. As Dr.
Swaminathan says, (Frontline: February 2, 2001) while small farm is
conducive to intensive agriculture, small farmer is severely
handicapped—shortage of capital, marketing facilities, credit, etc. The
problem is compounded by opening our agriculture to world markets, which
are highly volatile which the Indian farmer is nowhere capable of taking

This is what perhaps the political elite wants. Our CM is advising us to
leave farming and to do micro-enterprises. He wants to bring in corporate
farming. We would like to know how many of the small scale industrial
units, which were started in the seventies, are functioning? Why is
household industry in AP declining? Instead of protecting the small farmer
who now employs himself, feeds himself and the state without making too
many demands (and even casting his vote for his own enemies!), the
political elite of all hues make irresponsible statements and plans: all
for getting a pat on the back from the World Bank or Washington, not
realizing that the same World Bank or Washington will also chastise them
for poverty, unemployment and law and order problems tomorrow when they
become rampant.

In spite of all the bad economies we enjoy living in the countryside.
There are real pleasures in rural living: the fresh water and air of
course; but also star – studded skies, milky full moon nights, the
constant gentle breeze, even in summer, the stillness and silence
interrupted only by the calls of birds and insects, the leisurely pace of
life – people work all the time, but never in a hurry – all these things
get under skin, even without being aware of it. We have learnt to enjoy
the long spells of not doing anything in particular – just shelling
groundnuts, reading a two-day old newspaper or just musing. The sight of
water in our tanks with cranes perched above and wild ducks paddling
(where were they all these months?) and the coolness of the monsoon
weather has never failed to bring joy in my heart. It makes the farmers
gait light and sprightly, for, how do you know, this year may be better.

Blessed is the “idiocy” of the peasant!


- Andhra Pradesh at 50: a data based analysis. Data News Features,
Hyderabad 1998.
- Strategy paper of agriculture and allied departments. Govt. of AP, 2001
- Frontline, February 2, 2001
- Dharampal “Some aspects of earlier Indian society and polity and their
relevance to the present” New Quest 1987 (Nos. 56, 57 and 58)
- G. Sreedhar, Tank Irrigation in Semi – Arid Zones.
- Sunrise Publications, Banglore 1997.


Letter claims responsibility for Monsanto fire, ANSA says

- MILAN, Italy (AP) via NewsEdge Corporation - April 6, 2001

The Italian news agency ANSA said it received an anonymous letter Thursday
claiming responsibility for an arson attack on a Monsanto depot in
northern Italy earlier this week.

The fire came after the Italian government accused Monsanto of illegally
importing genetically modified seeds. The letter, mailed to ANSA's Milan
bureau, said ``we poured...gas in different points'' in the warehouse and
placed ``incendiary time devices.'' It went on to say that
``multinationals such as Monsanto domineer in an arrogant way, imposing
the reason of their absolute power over all forms of life.''

Carabinieri police in Milan were investigating the claim. The Monsanto
depot in Lodi, about 30 kilometers (18 miles) south of Milan, was set
afire in the early hours Tuesday. Police found two containers of flammable
liquid at the scene and the words ``Monsanto Killer: No GMOs,'' or
genetically modified organisms, spray-painted on a wall.

Monsanto, a U.S. biotechnology company, came under attack after the
agriculture minister accused it of illegally importing genetically
modified soybean and corn seeds from the United States. The fire damaged a
warehouse with conventional seeds, not the one containing the suspect
seeds. The Agriculture Ministry said last week that tests showed the
presence of genetically modified material in the seeds.

Monsanto maintains that the seeds were conventional. It also said that
even if there were genetically modified organisms present, they would be
below the level necessary to require labeling as genetically engineered


GM Food Risks Must Be Treated 'Case By Case'/ Mexican Expert

MEXICO CITY, Apr 5, 2001 (Reforma/Infolatina via COMTEX) via NewsEdge

The risks posed to consumers by genetically modified (GM) agricultural
food products must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, according to
Hector Bourges, of Mexico's Salvador Zubiran National Institute for
Medical and Nutritional Sciences.

"There's no reason for them to be harmful, nor reason for them to be
harmless. The key is always to differentiate and study. Some products that
we commonly eat can have adverse effects for some individuals. Everything
depends on personal susceptibility," Bourges said, Mexico City daily
Reforma reported. "The problem is not so much what is eaten as how it is
eaten. The rule is to study new foods and products, and keep in mind that
harm is relative," he said.



April 6, 2001 New Zealand Life Sciences Network Media Release
(From: Francis Wevers )

The decision of Nelson City to go GE Free poses serious problems for
citizens, which the City Council has obviously failed to think through,
the Chairman of the Life Sciences Network, Dr William Rolleston, said
today. "In the first place the Council is likely to put the City at risk
of being in breach of the Fair Trading Act. If the City promotes itself as
GE-Free then it is clear it must not allow any GE products to be present
within the city's boundaries.

To achieve GE-Free status it would have to stop all GE medicines such a s
GE insulin for 90% of the diabetics living within the city; such as GE
hepatitis B vaccine; such as G E produced enzymes in washing powders and
proteins in food. The Fair Trading Act does not allow people to describe
something as being GE-Free if it isn't 100% GE-Free. Does this mean that
anyone who must use GE products, or chooses to, will be forced to leave
Nelson City for breach of the GE-Free code. If this is the outcome there
are serious issues to do with people's constitutional rights to live how
they choose. Nelson appears to be setting a standard which it will be
impossible for people and business to comply with and is at risk of being
hoist by its own petard.

Nelson residents are faced with the prospect of being scornfully referred
to as: 'Nearly GE-Free Nelson'; or 'Partly GE-Free Nelson'. Think what
that will do for the irreputation in New Zealand and overseas. It is
disappointing that Nelson City Council took this step before the Royal
Commission on Genetic Modification had reported but not surprising in view
of the large number of alternative life-stylers who live in the Nelson
area. Nelson people will have an opportunity to decide whether they want
this decision foist on them when they go to the polls later this year"
concluded Dr Rolleston.