Right to Food Campaign
- We urge Government of India to safeguard food sovereignty and food security for all Indians while negotiating at the WTO Bali Ministerial – Protect farmer’s livelihoods and expanded PDS
- The Right to Food campaign will also take this issue up with Indian Parliamentarians asking them to raise this in the Parliament as this affects the livelihoods of our farmers and our ability to fight against hunger
Production, procurement, storage and distribution are all important components of ensuring food security. Unfortunately, in the National Food Security Act (NFSA) the Government took a minimalistic view by focussing only on distribution despite the demands by many for a comprehensive law. Even the minimal entitlements for food given under the NFSA are now under threat because it is claimed that the public procurement to the extent of the foodgrain requirements of the NFSA violate the WTO Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) that India is a part of. Although the NFSA is being blamed, the allocation under the NFSA is only about 3 million tonnes higher than the current amount. This WTO Agreement can be used as an excuse to dismantle or weaken the PDS and replace it with cash transfers.
Support the G33 proposal, Reject the Peace Clause
G33 countries are concerned with this Agreement, especially in the current context of high inflation. The AoA is being renegotiated and is expected to be finalised in the Bali Ministerial coming up in the first week of December. The Indian delegation led by Commerce Minister Anand Sharma must lead the developing countries in the negotiations and ensure that the interests of our farmers or of the millions of hungry poor in the country are not compromised with. In this scenario, we believe that the G-33 group of countries, led by India, has tabled a food security proposal which asks that such subsidies be included under the Green Box and be allowed without any restrictions. However, it is now learnt that this proposal is being put in the backburner and a new peace clause being proposed.
The developed countries rejected most of the elements of the G33 proposal and the Peace Clause which is currently under discussion only gives India a temporary reprieve from legal actions by other countries in case the subsidy limit is breached. However, this does not in any way guarantee that the permanent solution, i.e. of allowing such subsidies under the Green Box, will actually be reached. In fact the stringent conditionalities imposed on this Peace Clause will make India very much exposed to disputes. Importantly, it will cover very few staples and may limit the scope for expansion of coverage under the Food Security Bill.
Protecting Farmers’ Interests is Integral to Food Security
The current Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) at the WTO see the subsidy on price support as unfair as it apparently discriminates against other producers. Most production related subsidies are seen by the WTO as unfair, including price support, and are limited by the WTO to a total of 10% of value of production. Breaching of this limit is subject to action by other member states. However this idea needs to be challenged in the strongest terms.
Historically, India’s small farmers have contributed significantly to meeting its food needs and form an essential bulwark of the domestic food supply chain. Price support is essential for ensuring adequate foodgrain production and also livelihood security for the more than 600 million people in India who are dependent on agriculture. At present agriculture is also in the middle of a severe crisis, with reports of farmers suicides and increased distress migration. Any adverse measure which reduces support to small farmers at such a time would be nothing short of disastrous. Weakening small farmer production will further leave us exposed to ransom by large agri-business. Even more worrisome, India will be dependent on the global market which is again controlled by big multinationals. Indian procurement for PDS will then have to deal with volatile global prices aggravated by rampant speculation in food. Ensuring adequate support for production is the only way to ensure that India remains self-sufficient in food and any shift away from domestic small-holder production will jeopardise the access to food of millions. Many MPs from across parties during the debate on the NFSA in Parliament talked about the importance of decentralised procurement and the need to protect small and marginal farmers. It is now time that they show country if they really meant what they said.
The WTO is discriminatory
As far as the WTO is concerned, it is well known that all the agreements have until now been pushed by the advanced countries in their favour. Progressive groups and pro-people Governments across the world have therefore been opposing it, especially the Agreement on Agriculture, right from the Uruguay Round of 1999. While developing countries such as India are barred from giving essential development subsidy for ensuring food security under WTO rules, countries such as the USA, EU have always been allowed to give huge subsidies on both production and consumption under various schemes.According to the World Bank, more than half of EU support goes to 1% of producers while in the US 70% of subsidies go to 10% of producers, mainly agri-businesses. The US has moved nine tenths of their production subsidies to the so called “Green Box”. In the case of EU, this is about half. These subsidies are seen as fair (not trade distorting) though in reality, it is now established that they are more unfair than subsidies (such as the Indian MSP) given by developing countries to meet key food needs. Interestingly, while the Green Box includes public food stockholding programme such as our PDS, it specifically leaves out price support to farmers, even if they are small, poor and are catering to the domestic market.
A final question needs to be raised is on the non-transparency of the trade negotiations in general. Issues such as these which ultimately impact a huge section of our population are being decided on with little public debate.
We, from the RTF Campaign, believe that such WTO rules cannot be allowed to come in the way of Indian people’s right to basic food entitlements. We believe that such subsidies must necessarily be included under the Green Box and that the government must hold up to its commitments to provide food to its people, especially its poor and hungry. Guaranteeing such food security needs the direct access to food, and nothing in exchange, including cash, will suffice.
We, as the RTF Campaign, call upon the government of India:
- to defend the G-33 proposal, to ensure that such key development subsidies are included in the Green Box and settle for nothing less;
- to reject the current peace clause as it will do more harm than good by binding India to onerous commitments;
- to defend its policy space arduously and ensure that the citizens’ constitutional rights are not violated;
- to ensure that such frivolous and unfair WTO rules are later not used to weaken the implementation of the Food Security Bill, which must include a strong PDS that supports both producers and consumers in need.
AnuradhaTalwar of the Right to Food campaign and BirajPatnaik, Principal Adviser to the Supreme Court Commissioners (in the Right to Food case) will be going to the Bali Ministerial to raise their voice both inside and outside the Conference along with the NGO forums
Kavita Srivastava on behalf of the Steering Committee of the Right to Food Campaign
Annie Raja (National Federation for Indian Women), AnuradhaTalwar and GautamModi (New Trade Union Initiative), Arun Gupta and RadhaHolla (Breast Feeding Promotion Network of India), ArundhatiDhuru and Ulka Mahajan (National Alliance of People’s Movements), Asha Mishra (Bharat GyanVigyanSamiti), Aruna Roy, Anjali Bharadwaj and Nikhil Dey (National Campaign for People’s Right to Information), Ashok Bharti (National Conference of Dalit Organizations), Colin Gonsalves (Human Rights Law Network), G V Ramanjaneyulu (Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture), Kavita Srivastava and BinayakSen (People’s Union for Civil Liberties), LaliDhakar, Sarawasti Singh, ShilpaDey and RadhaRaghwal (National Forum for Single Women’s Rights), Mira Shiva (Jan SwasthyaAbhiyan), Paul Divakar and Asha Kowtal (National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights), Prahlad Ray and AnandMalakar (RashtriyaViklangManch), SubhashBhatnagar (National Campaign Committee for Unorganized Sector workers)
VeenaShatrugna, M Kodandram and Rama Melkote (Andhra Pradesh), Saito Basumaatary and Sunil Kaul (Assam), Rupesh (Bihar), Gangabhai and Sameer Garg (Chhattisgarh), Pushpa, Dharmender, Ramendra, Yogesh, Vimla and Sarita (Delhi), SejalDand and Sumitra Thakkar (Gujarat), Abhay Kumar and Clifton (Karnataka), Balram, Gurjeet Singh and James Herenj (Jharkhand), Sachin Jain (Madhya Pradesh), Mukta Srivastava and Suresh Sawant (Maharashtra), TarunBharatiya (Meghalaya), Chingmak Chang (Nagaland) BidyutMohanty and Raj Kishore Mishra, Vidhya Das, ManasRanjan (Orissa), Ashok Khandelwal, Bhanwar Singh and Vijay Lakshmi (Rajasthan), V Suresh (Tamil Nadu), Bindu Singh (Uttar Pradesh), Fr. Jothi SJ and Mr. Saradindu Biswas (West Bengal)