[India] 16 October, World Food Day: Today, let’s pledge to protect our farmers and our food sovereignty

Statement by Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers’ Movements (ICCFM)

16 October is observed as World Food Day. It is also a day several farmers’ organizations worldwide celebrate the idea of Food Sovereignty.

Food Sovereignty has been defined by La Via Campesina – a transnational farmers’ coalition – as “the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts the aspirations and needs of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations.”

This concept is more relevant for the world and our country now. World Hunger has been rising since 2015. Today it is estimated that there are nearly a billion people facing hunger in the world today (FAO). A recent report also pointed at India faring poorly on the hunger index, ironically when the country has attained self-sufficiency in foodgrains production.

In the past 30 years, India has seen an increase in farmers’ suicides. Farm incomes have declined over the years. Lack of legally guaranteed Minimum Support Price (MSP), coupled with poor implementation of support price on the ground, has pushed a large majority of farm households into severe debt. Add to this the increasing cost of production and lack of proper rural infrastructure, and farming has become unviable for our people. When agriculture becomes unviable, the whole country suffers, and its food security and sovereignty are at stake in the long run.

The United States, Canada, and several countries in the European Continent underwent large-scale corporatization of agriculture over the last four decades. It has resulted in the small-holder farms giving way to sizable corporate-controlled contract farms and small-scale farmers losing autonomy over seeds. Ours is a country of nearly 1.4 billion people. Over half of the population have their livelihoods tied to agriculture and allied activities. India cannot afford to blindly adopt corporate agriculture as a magic pill for all the ills facing today’s agricultural sector.

The corporatization of agriculture, now evident in the three controversial farm laws and a series of free trade agreements, threatens our small-scale farmers and dairy farmers and will eventually threaten our food sovereignty. These so-called reforms are readying the Indian market for an “export-oriented agriculture” where only a handful of commodities are traded globally. And large farmers of wealthy western nations receive massive subsidies, making their produce far more competitive in the global market. Indian farmers, where almost 70% of them are small and marginal holders, will perish and give way to a concentrated, corporate farming model. It poses a significant threat to rural economies and creates a crisis of unemployment in farm households.

These laws will facilitate corporate capture at all stages of production, processing, and distribution, which will move into the hands of a few MNCs who focus on profit rather than equality. Over the last year, all members of ICCFM – which includes Bhartiya Kisan Union, Karnataka State Farmers Association(KRRS), and Tamil Nadu State Farmers Association (TVS) – have been opposing these laws to prevent this corporate take-over from happening. The three laws will also weaken the government’s procurement system, whereby the government buys staples and majorly distributes them under the Public Distribution program to ensure the food security of the masses, thereby jeopardizing the country’s food security.

Farmers and farmworkers are both producers and consumers. Such control will provide dictating powers in the hands of a few corporations, leaving the majority of farmers and workers in unimaginable distress.

At a time like this, it is crucial to ensure pro-farmers policies centered around food sovereignty. All governments must ensure that the farmers of our country have the autonomy and freedom to define and decide their local food systems. These local food systems, which will draw upon agroecological practices suited to the diverse climatic conditions of India, can serve healthy and sustainably made food to our people first before we trade the surplus.

India needs decentralized collective farming through farmers’ cooperatives. The Prime Minister’s appeal to be “Vocal for Local” has to translate into actual actions on the ground. It would mean, to begin with, providing a policy framework that encourages agroecological production. It would mean promoting producer cooperatives and raising public investment in rural infrastructure. It would mean advancing public research on agroecology and developing a producer-consumer chain that caters to local demands. We need more public investments in public research and agricultural universities. We must build viable solidarity economies that are local, agroecological, and suitable to each landscape and climatic condition.

India is among the countries that overwhelmingly voted for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants in 2018. Article 15.4 of that Declaration points explicitly to the obligation of governments in implementing food sovereignty everywhere. The country’s commitment to such efforts cannot just remain on paper but be visible in practice.

The World Food Day is yet another occasion to remind the Central and State governments that their accountability is to the people, the farmers, and not large corporations.