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Wednesday, Sep 18, 2002

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Little succour to farm workers from globalisation: Study

G. Chandrashekhar

MUMBAI, Sept. 17

FAR from helping to improve their lot, the process of globalisation of agriculture has raised serious concerns of displacement and loss of livelihood for agricultural workers in the country because of labour displacing mechanisation and other new technologies as also changes in crop patterns.

This is one of the major findings of a research project commissioned by the International Union of Food and Agricultural Workers (IUF) to study the impact of globalisation on farm workers in India.

Although labour has tried to cope with the situation by resorting to increased migration and by entry into non-agricultural work, opportunities for doing so seem to be limited, the report observed.

Increasing feminisation of the agricultural workforce has been noticed. Male workers have shown greater tendency to migrate to non-agricultural work and women have replaced them. Landowners seem to prefer women as they are able to pay less and find them a docile and dependent workforce.

Thus, wage discrepancies between mean and women have continued. Agriculture seems to have become a sector where the comparatively less privileged women workers are being used increasingly as marginalised workers, the survey noted.

While globalisation has not brought relief for agricultural workers as increased productivity has failed to lead to higher wages, positive changes, where found, in wage rates seem to be associated with bargaining by agricultural workers or with the availability of alternative work opportunities.

Work on the farms continues to affect labour with occupational hazards. Increasing use of pesticides, chemical fertilisers and machinery expose worker to several risks of life and limb. Unfortunately, no progress is discernible in the adoption of safety and health measures for workers, the research study revealed.

Some other ways in which globalisation is impacting the lives of agricultural workers include huge decline in the ownership of cattle; gradual loss of ownership of land; and deterioration in the living environment due to over-exploitation of natural resources such as water and forests.

Based on discussion with agricultural labourers' unions in ten States, the study has highlighted the need to resist invasion of agriculture by the corporate sector. Laws are required to protect the agricultural workers, rather than agribusinesses, it is pointed out.

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