The British government, through the Department for International Development (DFID), is giving 65 million in 'development assistance' to the government of the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh to carry out a programme called Vision 20/20.
The Government of Andhra Pradesh has a vision for the shining new face of India. They contracted the US consultancy firm, McKinsey, to draw up a plan to place their state firmly in the middle of the global economy. The resulting document - Vision 20/20 - contains a complete poverty eradication strategy linked to a focus on 'high growth sectors' such as IT and construction, but when you look at the steps to be taken, it becomes apparent that the strategy will cause poverty rather than relieve it.
The crux of the Vision 20/20 strategy for development is the modernisation of the food systems of Andhra Pradesh through consolidating farms, mechanising agriculture, increasing fertiliser and pesticide use, building roads and transport systems and introducing genetically modified crops such as vitamin A enriched rice and BT cotton. The government officials and corporations have managed to convince large development agencies (with their outdated belief that corporate agriculture can alleviate poverty through a trickle-down effect) that the poor will benefit. A DFID spokesman was quoted by Straits Times as saying, "Vision 20/20 is going ahead. Our aim is to take farmers out of the poverty they and their families have been in for centuries. The only way to do so is by modernisation, commercial consolidation of farms and the introduction of up to date farming methods, including the use of pesticides and machines and GM crops".
What DIFD forgot to do is to discuss it with the people who will be affected. The majority of the 70 million population of Andhra Pradesh is engaged in small scale farming, primarily for subsistence and local markets. 80 percent of these farmers are women who work small 2-5 acres plots using organic, traditional methods, a wide diversity of seed and few external inputs.
Recently, the International Institute for Environment and Development, along with the University of Hyderabad and other bodies, organised a grassroots consultative process called a 'citizens jury', in which the Vision 20/20 programme was analysed and unanimously rejected by small farmers.
The jury's main objection to Vision 20/20 is that the proposed reduction of farmers making their living from the land would fall from 70 to 40 percent of the population. This would result in 20 million farmers losing their land and livelihoods. The farmers of Andhra Pradesh are very skilled and knowledgeable about their traditional methods of farming, but they are not trained in any other occupations and are mostly low-caste and illiterate. Some will be able to find work as contract labourers, factory workers, or servants, but many more will end up migrating to urban slums to join in the desperate scramble for employment and survival.
Secondly, most of the dalits ('untouchables') - tribal and low-caste people who farm small plots of land - will have their land taken from them to be consolidated and given to another farmer who can work it using modern methods. Few will be given any compensation for their land because more often than not they do not hold legal title to it. Monetary compensation in any case, would not be adequate to compensate for the loss of land which represents livelihood and a crucial part of culture.
Thirdly, the model for agricultural development proposed by Vision 20/20 involves farmers contracting their land, labour and production to corporations in exchange for investment in inputs. The diversity of crops, which are traditionally grown on a smallholding for the use of the family, would be replaced with large plots on which a monoculture is grown for export, with the farmer receiving a low wage. Low wages can be acceptable when a farmer has subsistence crops with which to feed the family, but are insufficient without them and will inevitably lead to an impoverished diet.
Fourthly, as well as the everyday work on their own plots, small farmers do paid work for larger farmers when they need cash. Participants in the People's Jury expressed deep concern about the prospect of increased mechanisation depriving them of any opportunity for paid agricultural work, forcing them off their land as they lose cash income. Mechanisation may dismantle existing working patterns in which farmers have a degree of control, producing a desperate workforce ideally placed for exploitation by industry.
Finally, Andhra Pradesh farmers traditionally save their seed from year to year. The crops they grow vary according to the types of land, the seasons and rainfall. Many require no irrigation. GM seed would put money in the hands of the corporations. Not only would farmers have to buy the seed, the crops would require inputs that farmers would have to buy. If GM did increase the yield of a crop, it would only be for export and not for the needs of the people.
The farmers of the citizens' jury have outlined an alternative programme, which would allow them direct access to the funding for sustainable farming practices, based on "our own indigenous knowledge, practical skills and institutions."
Recently a delegation of Indian farmers visited the UK where they demanded to be able to speak with some of the DFID officials involved in Vision 20/20. The officials, in the face of public pressure, have agreed to embark upon a process of consultation outlined by the farmers.
For more information or to get involved in a campaign against the Vision 20/20 programme contact:
Grassroots Action on Food and Farming (GAFF)
16b Cherwell Street,
Oxford OX4 1BG,UK
or email: email@example.com