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Posts Tagged ‘minimum support price

Why Bharat must tell the WTO to go to hell

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Update: So far, India’s Minister for Commerce and Industry has said what our farmers’ need him to say at the WTO ministerial meeting.

Activists protest against the World Trade Organisation (WTO) conference in Bali, Indonesia, on 2013 December 04. Image: AFP

Activists protest against the World Trade Organisation (WTO) conference in Bali, Indonesia, on 2013 December 04. Image: AFP

This is good news for our millions of cultivator households, and is also good news for cultivating families and communities in the countries of the South. This bloc must oppose without reservation and compromise of any kind the USA- and EU-led puppeteering of the WTO rules of agriculture to help their food-seed corporations.

The reaction in the corporatised media has been typical, with headlines like ‘Bleak outlook for WTO deal as rifts widen over food subsidies’. Reuters has reported that there are “deep divisions with only one day left to the end of talks” but that “India gains supporters for its stance on food subsidies” and also that “a Bali deal could benefit world economy by as much as $1 trillion”. We have no idea where these absurd numbers have appeared from concerning the alleged ‘benefits’ of the WTO, but foreign and Indian media have also reported the spiky warnings from the Trade Representative of the United States of America, Michael Froman.

He is reported to have said: “Let us not sugar-coat reality: leaving Bali this week without an agreement would deal a debilitating blow to the WTO as a forum for multilateral negotiations.” Froman and his government don’t (or won’t) understand that such an outcome is exactly what we want – no more WTO, for good and forever. He is also reported to have that if the WTO is finished “the unfortunate truth is that the loss will be felt most heavily by those members who can least afford it”. Froman is lying, for it is with WTO that farmers and cultivators in their millions have suffered grievously for a generation.

The Hindu reported that developing nations including India want a ‘peace clause’ (see a few paragraphs below for why we should have no such ‘peace clause’) “till a permanent solution is found on the matter for smooth implementation of the food security programme”. The Hindu report has quoted Sharma as having said that India was not isolated on the food security matter in WTO and majority of countries where over 75% people live are supporting New Delhi’s stand. “I would like to make this absolutely clear that we have not come here as petitioners to beg for a peace clause,” he was quoted as having said.

The section of foreign media that has long spoken for the USA-EU axis of agreement on WTO and its perverse agriculture rules has complained about what it calls India’s opposition. One such newspaper is the Wall Street Journal, which has reported that India “is angry over WTO rules that don’t allow it to move ahead with a massive food subsidy programme”, that negotiators have been trying to win over India by “allowing it to break those rules for four years before reducing the scope of its subsidies”. It needs to be said here (see more below) that an outside agency’s ‘rules’ are immaterial to what Bharat’s people need, and that there is no question of any agency, country, group of countries or foreign entity of any sort ‘allowing’ India to decide the manner of its service to its people.

WTO-bullock-cartEarlier: Our kisans and our farmers have no use for a WTO ‘peace clause’. Our households and families that squeeze their weekly budgets to buy their food staples have no place in their lives for definitions of ‘market distorting subsidies’. Our retailers and wholesalers and fair price shops which supply these households and pay our kisans for the food they grow are much too busy to bother with what ‘amber box’ and ‘green box’ mean, or with the Ninth Ministerial Conference of the WTO.

The question is one not of food sovereignty or the right to food alone, it is also one of our country’s sovereignty and of democratic principles to be respected. For the so-called ‘developed’ countries who are also WTO members, the government of India paying farmers a minimum support price to buy crops that can be stocked (as needed) or released into the Public Distribution System is a ‘market distortion’ and they have invoked all sorts of WTO regulations to show why it is. This is dangerous and must be firmly and finally treated as a threat to the integrity of the Republic of India and its citizens. Whether those who have been sent to the WTO Ministerial Conference (in Indonesia, 2013 December 03-06) to argue India’s case will do so in a manner that protects our kisans and our households is yet to be seen.

Food security, prices that balance the income of farmers and the needs of food-purchasing households, and the quantities involved are matters that lie between the people of Bharat and the government (central and state) that exists to serve us. It is not the business in any way, in any year and under any pretext, of any of the other 192 member countries of the United Nations or of any grouping from amongst them. It is not the business of any UN agency nor any multilateral and/or inter-governmental body or agency regardless of whether India is a member or signatory to any such group or entity. That is the meaning of the sovereignty that exists as the contract between citizens and the state, and that means between us and the government of the Republic of India.

What business does the WTO imagine it has in this matter? Consider its chief operating statement: “The World Trade Organization deals with the global rules of trade between nations. Its main function is to ensure that trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible.” Arrogant and entirely mercantile, the WTO is incompetent in the matter just described – food security in Bharat. Via Campesina, the worldwide small farmers’ and peasants’ movement, has said: “”After several collapses and stalemates in the negotiations, the WTO has found a way to revive not only itself but also to deepen the free trade liberalisation agenda and expand into areas not previously covered by trade.”

An agricultural road ahead minus a WTO is what India must strive for now.

An agricultural road ahead minus a WTO is what India must strive for now.

Are India’s named representatives at the Ninth Ministerial of the WTO saying so clearly and loudly so that the entire UN system and the WTO can hear? Here is an extract from the statement made by the Union Minister of Commerce and Industry, Anand Sharma, on 2013 December 02: “We cannot continue to have rhetoric of development agenda without even a reasonable attempt to address the issues which are of primary concern to developing economies. For decades, handful of farm lobbies of some countries have shaped the discourse and determined the destiny of millions of subsistence farmers of the developing countries. The massive subsidisation of the farm sector in the developed countries is not even a subject matter of discussion, leave aside serious negotiations.” This position may be useful, but we have to wait and see how it is developed between now and the end of this Ninth Ministerial.

That it may not be developed is already hinted at, for the same minister has also said: “It is therefore difficult for us to accept an interim solution as it has been currently designed. As a responsible nation, we are committed to a constructive engagement for finding a lasting solution. But till such time that we reach there, an interim solution which protects us from all forms of challenge must remain intact.” The ‘interim solution’ is what has popularly been called a ‘peace clause’, by which is mean that the use of measures to procure foodgrains by developing countries to promote food security would continue to be deemed illegal but WTO members would not go into the process of dispute settlement for a certain period.

Moreover, this ‘interim solution’ will be effective for only four years (that is, less than a single of our Plan periods) and Sharma’s saying that “we are committed to a constructive engagement for finding a lasting solution” is no indicator that our representatives to the WTO will tell the WTO that our farmers, our crops and food and our prices is none of its business. As the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy has mentioned, a country might seek to use both purchases and sales of stocks to support a level of equilibrium in market prices that supports long-term development objectives.

The bloc of so-called ‘developed’ countries – the USA and some of its habitual crony countries, and the European Union, all of them having subsidised their agriculture heavily and steadily for 50 years – are holding up WTO ‘rules’ to say that if the price paid by our government is higher than the ‘external reference price’, the difference is considered a ‘trade-distorting subsidy’. And what is this reference price? The average international price of 1986-88! As anyone who has even a passing interest in food knows, true food inflation (which households experience) in most of the world has for the last six years been 10% and above. Fuel price inflation has been as much if not more. Fertiliser price inflation: ditto. It is the USA and (some) countries of the EU that have annually supported the cost of cultivation and held retail food prices low to the extent of half their agricultural GDP – which they today say is permitted under WTO rules, but that India’s crop procurement prices is a ‘market distorting subsidy’ that gets in the way of a ‘free market price’!

The concept of a ‘free market price’ is a mythical entity, Prabhat Patnaik has pointed out. “There are so many things that go into the price formation of any commodity, that to single out only a few of them as constituting ‘distortions’ and the rest as ‘non-distorting’ is totally arbitrary,” he has said. “This distinction which has been foisted upon the WTO by the advanced capitalist countries to serve their own interests, and imposed through it upon the entire world, is invidious for several reasons.”

End_WTO_BaliBut the WTO Director-General, Roberto Azevêdo, is considered to have as his priority the success of this Ninth Ministerial Conference in Indonesia (he warned WTO members in his inaugural speech this year that the “world will not wait for the WTO indefinitely” – what he thinks such a waiting world is was not clear, but our kisans want no WTO in their lives). [The International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development has more.]

Several farmers’ organisations, trade unions and peoples’ campaigns in India have resolved to support the Indian government’s position to not trade away national food security. The group welcomed the decision of the Indian Cabinet on 2013 November 28 November to reject any “peace clause” that does not guarantee a permanent solution. The peace clause has been widely opposed by the Chairs of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Commerce and Agriculture, the Left parties, and mass organisations, which include Bhartiya Kisan Union, Bharatiya Krishak Samaj, Bharatiya Majdoor Sangh, Focus on the Global South India, Right to Food Campaign, Shram Seva Nyas, South Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers’ Movements, Swadeshi Jagran Manch and Third World Network India.

Nonetheless, the danger we in Bharat have to guard against is both outside and inside. This year, India is an active and vocal member of the group of 33 countries (G-33) whose position is that the present WTO rules which constrain the ability of developing countries’ governments to purchase food from small farmers and stock them must be clarified or changed. But India is also a BRIC country whose ministers are doing all they can to allow foreign ownership of everything from banking to airports to defence to food. Hence this stance is hypocritical (as is India’s stance at the useless and totally compromised climate change COP meetings). Thus, the danger outside is how the USA (plus crony countries) and the EU employ Indian ministers to push through the WTO rules. The danger inside is that Parliament and state legislatures – which technically represent directly affected parties – are being by-passed while the interests of the corporate-financial elite (global, regional, national) are being protected.

It is this danger that has been referenced in the representation by 15 of the major farmer unions of India, including the Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) and the Karnataka Rajya Ryota Sangha (KRRS). The representation to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said: “Forth-seven years after the green revolution was launched, India is being directed at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to dismantle its food procurement system built so assiduously over the past four decades. This ill-advised move is aimed not only at destroying the country’s hard-earned food security but also the livelihood security of over 600 million farmers, 80% of them being small and marginal.”

And that is why it is time for us to give our government the ultimatum – the world is not about trade but about people and the planet. Ours is not an agriculture in the service of the WTO’s murderous rules and our kisans will not abide being beggared. The crops grown to feed our households rural and urban and the prices set in the mandis and found in the kirana shops are a matter for Bharat. That is why it is time for us to face down the sly brokers in the WTO – and their masters – once and for all.

Shrinking cereals, growing food parks

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Local grain in Mapusa market, North Goa

Local grain in Mapusa market, North Goa

This short comment has been written for India’s alternative economics group, Macroscan, and you’ll find it here.

The first release of summary data from the 64th round of the National Sample Survey Organisation, ‘Household Consumer Expenditure in India 2007-08‘ (NSSO report 530), captures the early impact of the rising trend in food prices for rural and urban India. This period is significant in the recent history of food price rise in India, for it signals the strengthening of the factors that led to the retail food price highs of 2008 which began to be recorded around two years earlier. Several of the most important factors have to do with the rapid pace of urbanisation (most visible in the non-metro tier 1 cities) and the steady growth in the food processing and food logistics industries, which has taken place alongside the deepening of the agricultural commodity markets.

“To judge from survey data of food intakes, the situation has been getting worse rather than improving, at least in terms of per capita calories consumed, and this phenomenon is fairly widespread affecting all classes, rural and urban and those below and above the poverty threshold,” the FAO report, ‘World agriculture: towards 2030/2050‘ had stated in 2006 in its comment on India’s growth-malnutrition paradox. The report’s authors had at the time commented that matters in India “are getting worse in the rural areas as people have to pay more than before for things like fuel and other basic necessities of life” and that rural incomes have not improved at anything near the rates implied by the high overall economic growth rates.

To illustrate the continuing impact of rising cereal prices on rural households in Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa, district per capita incomes for 2004-05 to 2009-10 are estimated for five representative districts from these states. These are districts that record a median per capita income based on data for the 2004-05 year (the last NSSO household consumption survey year) available with the Planning Commission’s district domestic product tables: Bhabua in Bihar, Dhamtari in Chhattisgarh, Deoghar in Jharkhand, Khandwa in Madhya Pradesh and Jajpur in Orissa. The per capita income increases in these districts are recorded upto 2006-07, and taking the national GDP growth rate for the years following (9.7%, 9.2%, 6.7% and 7.2%) the overall finding is that statistical per capita income increases are between 36% (for Khandwa) and 47% (for Dhamtari) for the period 2005-06 to 2009-10.

Expenditure on food and non-food needs, Indian states

Expenditure on food and non-food needs, Indian states

In these five states, the cereals basket occupies a dominant share of monthly per capita expenditure (MPCE) on food, accounting for 42% of MPCE on food and 25% of total MPCE in Bihar, 41% and 21% in Chhattisgarh, 42% and 25% in Jharkhand, 33% and 17% in Madhya Pradesh, and 42% and 24% in Orissa. The impact of a steady upward trend in the prices of cereals in these states – whose rural households spend roughly the same on food as they do on non-food needs (see Chart 1) – can be gauged from retail price data on essential food items collected by the Department of Economics and Statistics, Ministry of Agriculture. This data, although the most reliable weekly series recorded in a number of centres in the country, is weakened by deficiencies (gaps in series, numerical mismatches and so on). Even so, the patterns they provide are valuable.

From 2005 January to 2010 January, the prices of atta in Sehore and Bhopal (MP), of desi wheat in Bhopal and of maize in Patna have risen by 200%. The prices of ‘kalyan’ wheat (a widespread HYV cultivar) in Bhopal, Sehore and Patna (Bihar) have risen by 173% to 177%; the prices of maize in Ranchi (Jharkhand) and common quality rice in Bhubaneshwar (Orissa) have risen by 171%; the prices of ‘desi’ wheat in Patna and atta in Ranchi have risen 170%; and the prices of common rice in Cuttack and in Dhanbad (Jharkhand) have risen by 169% and 164%. Over this period, the price of the available basket of cereals has risen 157% in Cuttack, 162% in Bhubaneshwar, 159% in Sehore, 174% in Bhopal, 176% in Patna, 166% in Ranchi and 152% in Dhanbad.

Erratic data posting (and possibly validation difficulties) have meant that a better understanding of the food baskets of North-East India is yet to be achieved. Even so, NSSO 530 shows the heavy reliance by the households of the North-Eastern states on cereals (rice) with the regional average consumption greater than that of the states of eastern and central India in which rice also play a major dietary role: West Bengal, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Jharkhand. What Chart 2 illustrates is that for those regional populations dependent on rice, the cost of this dependency is high.

Cereal consumption and prices, Indian states

Cereal consumption and prices, Indian states

This is not so for wheat in Punjab and Haryana, whose average per capita consumption quantity of the cereal is both relatively low (as a percentage of the cereal component of the food basket) and less expensive. For Gujarat, Maharashtra and Karnataka – all three states affected by rapid urbanisation and absorbed by the race to build urban and transport infrastructure – their rural households are far less dependent on a single cereal than their counterparts in North-East, Eastern or North India. Wheat is the preferred cereal in Gujarat but accounts for no more than 40% of the total cereals purchase; rice is the preferred cereal in Karnataka but accounts for no more than 53% of the total cereals purchase; wheat is the preferred cereal in Maharashtra but accounts for no more than 36% of the total cereals purchase.

Food inflation is now a concern for the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) which has begun to make direct causal links between per capita availability of foodgrains and high retail prices. Deepak Mohanty, executive director of RBI, in an address on ‘Inflation Dynamics in India: Issues and Concerns’ (March 2010) has also drawn a connection between food prices the minimum support price (MSP) announced by the Government of India for procurement of various commodities. “The high increase in MSP since 2007-08 has given an upward bias to agricultural prices. Reduced availability of foodgrains also tends to keep food prices high. As per the Economic Survey 2009-10, per capita net availability per day of cereals and pulses has been lower than that observed in the previous four decades. The per capita daily availability of foodgrains was 447 grams in the 1960s and 1970s, which successively increased to 459 grams in the 1980s and 478 grams in the 1990s but came down to 446 grams during 2000-08 and stood still lower at 436 grams in 2008.”

At the same time, the Government of India has approved proposals for joint ventures and foreign collaboration (including 100% FDI) in processed food businesses (including 100% export oriented units), and “mega food parks”. According to Indian Credit Rating Agency (ICRA), the processed food market accounts for 32% of the total food market with the “most promising” sub-sectors listed as soft-drink bottling, confectionery manufacture, fishing, aquaculture, grain-milling and grain-based products, meat and poultry processing, alcoholic beverages, milk processing, tomato paste, fast-food, ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, food processing, food additives and flavours. From the point of view of the major national industry associations (CII, FICCI, Assocham) the approximately 7,500 regulated mandis lack critical infrastructure, the provision of which will cost at least Rs 12,000 at 2009 prices. The potential of the public-private partnership model in the foods business is seen by industry as being embodied in ventures such as Safal market in Karnataka (considered an example of wholesale market modernisation), ITC’s e-Chaupal, Hariyali Kisan Bazaar, Mahindra Shubh Labh, Cargill Farmgate Business and Tata Kisan Sansar.

Removed from such a view are the recurrent protests since late 2009 in a number of urban centres over food inflation, urgent signals that the increasing corporatisation of food production, procurement, movement and distribution is contributing to household food insecurity, particularly amongst the rural and urban poor. The ‘Report on the State of Food Insecurity in Rural India‘ (M S Swaminathan Research Foundation) explicitly stated that “over the longer period of 1993-94 to 2004-05, the states of Karnataka, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh show significant increase in the percentage of population suffering acute calorie deprivation. On the whole, it is clear that, by our measure of food insecurity, the period of economic reforms and high GDP growth has not seen an improvement in food security but deterioration for the majority of Indian states.”

How many onions in this mandi?

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Wordcloud credit: www.wordle.net

Wordcloud created at wordle.net from names of major crops and states

Who finds and collects the numbers – the enormous diverse sets of numbers – that help describe India’s agriculture? How these are found and used is an absorbing story. In their most encapsulated form, they are given to us as micro-tables by the Ministry of Agriculture in weekly briefings in New Delhi. Depending on the time of the year, these ar titled “rabi sowing progressing well” or “kharif sowing progressing well” (that didn’t happen in 2009, with the failed monsoon, but these habits are hard to break).

Our agri-bureaucracy is large and deep. It’s big enough to rival other countries’ entire administrations. Who in all that byzantine maze is responsible for keeping track of the dozens of foodgrain crops, dozens of commercial crops, the land use in 35 states and union territories, the vast network of departments, research institutes, agricultural extension offices, state agricultural universities, livestock, fisheries, boards and finally the tens of thousands of farmers’ cooperatives?

Here’s a short attempt at describing this universe. The Ministry of Agriculture consists of three departments: Department of Agriculture and Cooperation; Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries; and Department of Agricultural Research and Education. Each department has its own statistical organisation and system, and I have my doubts about whether they exchange data and methods on subjects that matter.

There’s an Agriculture Census Division which is responsible for organising the quinquennial agricultural census and input surveys in the country in collaboration with the State Agricultural Census units. There are two main statistical activities of the Division: the Agriculture Census and the Input Survey. The Agriculture Census collects quantitative information about the structure of agriculture in India. So far, seven Agriculture Censuses from 1970-71 and six Input Surveys since 1976-77 have been completed.

Ploughing a field in Satara district, Maharashtra

Ploughing a field in Satara district, Maharashtra

The Directorate of Economics and Statistics (DES) is responsible for “collection, collation, dissemination and publication of statistical data on diverse facets of agriculture and allied sectors, required for planning and policy formulation by the Government”. The Agricultural Statistics Division maintains state-wise estimates of area, production and yield of 44 principal crops (27 major and 17 minor) under the two broad seasons of kharif and rabi. The estimates are updated annually in February or March after the release of final estimates of area, production and yield of the preceding agricultural year. This Division also estimates and measures demand and supply projections of foodgrains, oilseeds and other commercial crops. Agricultural wages constitute a major item towards cost of production. Data on agricultural wages in 17 states is collected by DES every month, the wage data relate to the agricultural year (July to June).

Then there is a ‘Timely Reporting Scheme’ which assesses the area sown under principal crops on the basis of what it calls “complete enumeration of 20% villages selected randomly”, which in country with 600,000 villages is a lot. This scheme is put to work in 16 land record states – Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh – and 2 Union Territories – Delhi and Puducherry.

The Cost Study Division implements the “Comprehensive Scheme for Studying the Cost of Cultivation of Principal Crops in India”. This division compiles cost data on principal agricultural crops grown in India: barley, gram, jute, lentils, peas, rapeseed and mustard, safflower, sugarcane, wheat, arhar (tur), bajra, coconut, cotton, groundnut, jowar, maize, moong, nigerseed, onion, paddy, potato, ragi, sesamum, soyabean, sunflower, tapioca, urad and tobacco. This division supplies cost estimates to the all-important Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) which then makes “suitable recommendations” on the Minimum Support Prices of 24 agricultural commodities, which it is then the responsibility of the state governments to ensure that each state’s farmers are paid (at least) those prices for the major crops they bring to the procurement yards.

Finally, there’s the Prices and Markets Division, which collects data on wholesale prices, retail prices, farm harvest prices and market arrivals of selected agricultural commodities from all over India. The bulk of the daily and weekly commercial data is gathered by this division and the scale and scope is staggering: weekly wholesale prices of 154 agricultural commodities are collected from around 600 selected markets and centres; weekly retail prices of 45 food items and monthly retail prices of 43 non-food items from 87 selected markets and centres covering 32 states and union territories. The prices are collected every Friday. It also collects annual farm harvest prices for 26 principal crops from all major states and union territories.

That, in a nutshell, is the story of the numbers that (we hope) help describe India’s agriculture.