“Food is an essential requirement of society, so those who produce food must be assured of a secure livelihood. But if large sections of the society are under-fed and those who produce food are driven to suicide due to lack of a secure livelihood, then that is a definite sign of the crisis.” With these opening remarks, Birju Nayak, secretary of Mazdoor Ekta Committee began his address to the third meeting on ‘Crisis of Agriculture and its solution’ organised by Mazdoor Ekta Committee (MEC) on October 20.
Com Krishna Bhoyar, National Secretary, All India Federation of Electricity Employees; Dr Dinesh Abrol, All India People’s Science Network; and Dr B Seth, retired professor, were the other invited speakers at the meeting.
Birju Nayak was the first speaker. He referred to the recent Global Hunger Index report to highlight the alarming situation facing vast masses of people in our country. It is this same system, he said, that has failed to provide an assured livelihood to the growers of food, the kisans. He pointed to the increasing monopoly control over all essential agricultural inputs – seeds, fertilisers, pesticides, etc. as well as over procurement of the kisans’ produce. Capitalism has not ensured food security for the masses of people, nor has it assured a secure livelihood to the kisans, he concluded.
As a solution to the crisis, he proposed that the orientation of the entire economy, including that of agriculture should be changed, from that of guaranteeing maximum profits for the monopoly capitalists to that of providing for the people. It must ensure the availability of adequate and nutritious food at affordable prices for all the people. The production, storage and distribution of agricultural produce must be brought under social control, according to a comprehensive plan. The state must guarantee public procurement of all agricultural produce at remunerative prices and also ensure their distribution to all sections of the people through a universal public distribution system.
Com Krishna Bhoyar congratulated MEC for providing this forum in which workers from one sector come to know of the problems and struggles of workers in other sectors. He began by highlighting one aspect of the crisis. Agriculture in our country is unable to provide a secure livelihood to the youth, as a result of which large numbers of youth are forced to migrate to the cities in search of jobs, adding to the problem of unemployment in the cities.
The kisan andolan has put forward many proposals for the revival of agriculture, Com Bhoyar said. The Swaminathan Commission has made many recommendations too, but the government has refused to heed any of these. Com Bhoyar pointed out that the state of Maharashtra, from where he hails, is a technologically advanced state, but it is the state which has one of the highest rates of suicides of kisans. This is because the kisan is not able to get a price for his produce sufficient to cover the cost of his inputs. He sinks deeper and deeper into debt. He cannot afford the latest farming techniques and is forced to rely on outdated labour-intensive methods, with low yield. While crores upon crores of rupees of loans of the defaulting capitalists are being regularly written off by the public sector banks, there is no comprehensive policy of the government for waiver of loans of the small kisans, Com Bhoyar said.
Kisans need assistance from the state for marketing their produce, for transportation and storage and for assured public procurement at remunerative prices. The government had promised MSP to the kisans but has not implemented this so far. The kisan andolan was a shining example of unity and determination, which forced the government to withdraw the anti kisan laws. Similarly, the united struggle of kisans prevented the government from implementing the Land Acquisition Act, which would enable corporate take-over of agricultural land.
Elaborating on the struggle of the electricity workers against the Electricity Amendment Bill, Com Bhoyar said that it is totally against the interests of kisans and majority of consumers. The government has been lying to the people that this will provide consumers better and cheaper electricity supply. But once the monopoly capitalists get control of the electricity distribution, they will charge whatever rates they please, to secure maximum profits and the consumers will be powerless to do anything about it. Kisans in many states depend on irrigation. The Electricity Amendment Bill 2022 will drastically affect the kisans, com Bhoyar pointed out, because electricity for the pump sets will become out of reach of most of the kisans.
Workers are being denied their wages and rights, kisans are being denied a fair price for their produce and security of livelihood, he said. He called for a powerful united movement of workers and kisans, to resist the all-sided attacks on our livelihood and rights, as the only way to prevent the crisis from worsening and work towards its solution.
Dr Dinesh Abrol elaborated on the challenges before the kisan andolan in dealing with the agrarian crisis, through a detailed power point presentation. The agenda cannot be set by the big corporates, he said. It needs inputs from the farmers from all regions of the country. The problems faced by all sections of farmers –women, tenant, agricultural-rural workers, cattle-rearers, livestock keepers, forest dwellers fisher folk – need to be kept in mind, when working for a solution, he felt. The big corporate houses are able to invest in various kinds of modern technologies — sensors, drones, satellites, space technologies, cloud computing etc. – and thus increase their agricultural output far beyond what an individual kisan can produce.
The present system is geared towards ensuring high rates of profit for the big corporates, at the expense of the majority of kisans. Critiquing the Electricity Amendment Bill 2022, he said that the Bill will make it unaffordable for kisans to operate their pump sets to draw water for irrigation.
It is the duty of the government to ensure good quality inputs such as fertilisers and pesticides at subsidised rates in order to resolve the crisis. Irrigation is crucial in many regions which are almost entirely rain-fed. Kisans need to be made aware of advanced scientific agricultural practices, in order to improve the quality and quantity of their output. The state must ensure this in all regions and for all crops. This cannot be left in corporate hands. Kisans also need information of public procurement centres and the prices at which they can sell their produce. He also spoke of the importance of crop insurance, and the responsibility of the Union Government, State Governments and Local Self-Governments in strengthening MNREGA, irrigation and flood control, land use, soil and water conservation and farm labour welfare.
Prof B Seth explained some of the causes of the crisis in agriculture. One of the main causes he highlighted is the absence of comprehensive planning by the state, on how much of which crop should be grown in which areas, how the produce will be stored, transported, procured from the kisans, and so on. The big monopoly capitalist companies buy the produce from the kisans at low prices. Making use of their enormous storage and transportation facilities, they engage in speculation and futures trading, manipulate the demand and supply of various produce, sell the produce when the market prices are high and reap windfall profits. This leads to big fluctuations in the prices of food. Even the huge buffer stocks of food grains in the FCI godowns have not succeeded in preventing price fluctuations, he pointed out. Food grains are reported to be rotting in the FCI godowns, while people are unable to buy food and suffering from hunger and malnutrition.
The fluctuation in market prices is ruinous for the majority of small and middle kisans. They are unable to plan what they should grow and how much; they are forced to sell their produce at throwaway prices or to dump their produce on the roads, for lack of storage and transportation facilities. They are not able to recover the cost of production and are driven deeper and deeper into debt.
The solution to the crisis in agriculture, Prof Seth pointed out, lies in setting up a comprehensive state plan for agriculture covering all parts of the country. The comprehensive state plan must include inputs to the kisans at subsidised rates, guaranteed public procurement at remunerative prices, as well as a public distribution system that will ensure availability of food grains and all essential items of consumption in good quality, adequate quantity and affordable price to all the people. The plan must include public storage and transportation facilities, accessible to all kisans. It must include crop insurance and safeguards against crop failure.
Such a plan can only be implemented when workers and kisans are empowered to make decisions and reorient the economy in the interest of the vast majority, instead of serving only the interests of a tiny minority of the biggest monopoly capitalists, as is happening at present, concluded Prof Seth.
Following the invited speakers, several participants intervened to give their views. These included activists of the kisan movement, women fighting for their rights, electricity workers and railway workers opposing privatisation, youth and students agitating against fee hikes and privatisation of education, workers who spoke of their kisan origins and the conditions of their families back in the village, etc.
In conclusion, Santosh Kumar emphasised that the solution to the crisis in agriculture lies in a comprehensive state plan, which includes planning of what crops should be grown in which areas and in what quantities. The state will have to ensure availability of all essential inputs at affordable prices, storage and transportation facilities for the produce, public procurement at remunerative prices and security against crop failure. This must be accompanied with a comprehensive public distribution system, which will provide for all food and other essential items of consumption. For this it is essential that workers and kisans unite in the struggle to put an end to the monopoly capitalist agenda and take political power in their own hands. Then they can orient the entire economy towards fulfilling the growing needs of the majority of people and not towards fulfilling the greed of the handful of monopoly capitalists for higher profits.