Sowing seeds of change

By Saadia Azim, Deccan Herald, 16 April 2011

A small initiative heralded by 15 village women has created a new enthusiasm for self-sustenance and a new model of women’s empowerment, discovers Saadia Azim

FRUITS?OF?LABOUR?Women of the Machgeria women’s group in their vegetable  garden. Pic/WFSKakoli Satra, Malti Das and Anima Samata had shared the same dream for many years — to be able to cultivate their own food so that they can escape the clutches of poverty and hunger one day. But the back-breaking hardships they faced in their remote village of Machgeria in West Bengal had never let them think beyond their immediate responsibilities of managing a large family and making ends meet.

Kakoli (39) supports four children, Malti provides for three daughters, while Anima (33) has a 15-year-old daughter. So, dreaming big or hoping for a radical change in these circumstances was not even a remote possibility. Not until the Machgeria women’s group — of which the three are a part — decided to turn this impossible vision into a reality.

Fifteen village housewives got together in January last year and formed a self-help group. They bonded well, had a common dream and decided to get cracking. Their first step was to register themselves as a co-operative society, the Machgeria Debkul Sammita, which they did in a month’s time.

Next, they identified a one-acre piece of land in the village that had been left fallow; the owners were not using it for cultivation. In order to acquire it on lease for one year they needed money. So they approached the panchayat (village council) for a loan of Rs 17,000 under the Jibika Prashikshan Sahayak scheme, which is part of the state government’s Strengthening of Rural Decentralisation (SRD) programme.

Along the food chain

by M K Venu, Indian Express, 23 July 2010

If you get an average GDP growth of 8 per cent plus, as has been the case since 2004, per capita income would double every 10 years. Since foodgrain production has been more or less stagnant for many years, food prices tend to show greater volatility. Since growth and productivity are happening much faster in industry and services, it is logical that incomes are rising faster among these sections. Incomes in the agriculture sector, especially in the small and medium farms, may not be rising as quickly as among those engaged in manufacturing activity or services.Politicians tend to use their gut instinct and opt for direct income support to sections of the population which are poor and where incomes are not growing fast enough.Another set of researchers showed that the inflation rate had gone up more in places where NREGA was well implemented! Now we are also being told that farm labour is generally becoming more expensive in many states like Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Haryana. Younger people are rapidly moving out of agriculture, into other activities.A new form of trade unionism appears to be taking shape in the manufacturing sector. The BPO industry in Bangalore and other cities is also complaining about rising wage pressures. Whether it is wheat, non-basmati rice, pulses, cotton, sugar or milk powder, the import duty on all these items have been near zero for quite a while now. However, if import duty on mass consumption items are kept at zero the domestic farm sector ends up suffering negative duty protection vis-a-vis the US and European Union where massive farm subsidies - over $150 billion - are given to farmers as direct income support which helps them sell at 40-50 per cent lower than the cost price internationally. Can Indian farmers compete and scale up production in such a situation? If India wants to combat recurring food inflation by keeping import duty at zero and yet meet its long-term objective of enhancing agriculture production, the government will have to start giving massive direct income/ subsidy support to our farmers in the same way the EU and US had been doing in the past. We will have to go down the same path. It is the great paradox of agriculture economics that as yields and productivity rose dramatically in the West due to better practices, so did subsidy support to farmers which ensured that higher production did not result in the collapse of prices.

Pigeonpea is a high protein dietary staple in many semi-arid tropical countries of the world. It is especially important in India, eastern and southern Africa, the Caribbean and Myanmar, areas where high protein foods are scarce.
New pigeonpea for dryland ryots
by , The Hindu, 12 March, 2009

It's time to mend our farm-related policies

by Madan Sabnavis, Business Standard, 18 JUly 2010.

Between 2005-06 and 2009-10, the MSP was increased by over 80 per cent for moong, 65-70 per cent for wheat and rice, 60-65 per cent for tur, sugarcane, and coarse cereals, 50 per cent for soybean and 35-40 per cent for groundnut. The MSPs for crops other than rice and wheat are not really used by farmers to sell to the government. The result has been a gradual migration to cereals from oilseeds and pulses, which has made India more dependent on the outside world for supplies through imports.
The accompanying graph shows how the terms of trade have moved in favour of the farmers when the price indices for primary products and manufactured products are juxtaposed, with 1999-2000 being the base year.There have been three fallouts from this policy. First, there has been pressure on food prices.Second, attention has got diverted from the basic malaise of agriculture, i.e., low productivity. The other major fallout of this policy relates to the procurement and stocking objectives of FCI, which has tended to create shortages despite abundant production.The marketable surplus of rice and wheat are 80 per cent and 66 per cent respectively (based on 2006-07 data). This means that out of a total output of say 90 mn and 80 mn tonnes respectively, actually 72 mn tonnes of rice and 54 mn tonnes of wheat are available for the market.FCI has stocks of 60 mn tonnes of wheat and rice as on April-end 2010. Quite clearly, such surpluses, while doubling the sense of food security, do accentuate the shortages in the immediate time frame. This combined with the higher MSPs has put pressure on the prices of these products.

Six months ago, Aida Satybaldev and her husband Urmat told social workers they could no longer afford to feed their four children. Like many farmers in the Kyrgyz Republic, they couldn\'t make ends meet as seed and fertilizer costs soared and food and dairy prices tripled. Today, the family is receiving assistance under a special food crisis fund, established by the World Bank Group. There are many more families like Aida\'s who need help, as the food crisis is far from over. As the world slides into a global recession, some 900 million people are malnourished. Many countries can\'t yet produce enough food to feed their fast-growing populations. An even tougher problem facing the developing world is that a high percentage of people living in abject poverty now have to cope with volatile food prices.
Food Security Focus of Madrid Meeting
by , News & Broadcast, 23 January, 2009