Opinion

The double standards in support to farmers stir

Rohit Parakh | Updated on March 03, 2021

Triggering controversy

Developed nations need to look at their own subsidies to farmers, policies on GM crop and pesticide exports

The ongoing farmers’ protest has attracted a lot of global attention. So much so that the External Affairs Ministry even put out a rejoinder after some global celebrities tweeted in support of the protest. Some sections of the Indian diaspora, too, expressed their support which has attracted criticism back home.

Agriculture and food issues are increasingly connected in today’s world. How global food policies are shaped impacts Indian farmers and consumers. Consequently, to support Indian farmers, these countries must be questioned on their actions which directly have a detrimental impact on our farmers.

Countries and blocs such as the US, the EU, Japan, Australia, and Canada have opposed India’s MSP regime at the WTO. These countries’ stand must be questioned as they provide much higher subsidies to their farmers.

According to a Centre of World Trade Organization Studies report, the per farmer notified domestic support stands at $8,588 for the EU, $61,286 for the US, $13,010 for Canada whereas it is just $282 per Indian farmer.

As a result India and other developing countries have been calling for reform of the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) at the WTO for a number of years now.

Also, on the tariff front, India and other developing countries have limited space to protect themselves from cheaper imports.

There is also opposition at the WTO to India’s public stockholding of foodgrains for which the country has a temporary reprieve through a “peace clause”. India is looking for a permanent solution, which the then Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu in 2017 at the ministerial conference called “a matter of survival for 800 million hungry and undernourished people in the world” supported by G33, but a solution is still elusive.

Similarly, India’s recent proposal for mandatory GM-free certification for food imports for certain products through FSSAI, has been challenged by the US, Australia, Brazil Argentina, Canada, Paraguay and Uruguay at the WTO. This challenge has already led to delay in proposed implementation from January 1 to March 1, 2021.

It is not surprising that these countries are the leading growers of GM crops and fear loss of exports to India. It remains to be seen whether India will stand up to international pressure and implement this policy.

While the Commerce Ministry has been at the forefront in defending the interests of India’s farmers and consumers, the External Affairs Ministry too must highlight these issues at relevant international forums.

Many developed countries’ aid policies promote corporatisation of farming and advocate moving farmers out of agriculture. The UK has a project ‘India: Infrastructure Policy Fund’ whose objectives include promoting contract farming, which is one among the issues that farmers are currently protesting against. The UK aid body’s ‘Conceptual Framework on Agriculture’, which guides its agricultural aid policies in other countries, too, is mistakenly advising farmers to move out of agriculture.

This policy advice is based on the experience of the developed world, but it is precisely these policies that have led to ecologically unsustainable lifestyles in the West. Various international studies across multiple countries with support from United Nations and World Bank have shown how small-scale farming and agro-ecology based models of food production and distribution can feed the world while help tackle the challenges of climate change, nutrition, poverty and hunger.

The UK itself is beginning to re-orient its policies away from its industrialised food and farming systems.

Exports of banned pesticides

Many countries export pesticides which are banned in their own countries. It is interesting that while speaking of unifying food safety standards, they don’t find any double standards on pesticide safety issues. This is particularly dangerous for farmers in the developing who often lack awareness on safety issues and do not have access to protective equipment while handling pesticides.

While the European Commission has in a welcome development committed to ending the practice of EU companies manufacturing pesticides for export which are banned in EU, there is an urgent need for other pesticide exporting countries to follow suit.

The UK, for instance, exports to India and other developing nations pesticides like paraquat, which are prohibited in Britain. Paraquat has no antidote and doctors in just one hospital in Odisha found that it had caused hundreds of deaths.

The Indian diaspora and all the solidarity efforts in other countries must keep these issues in mind, too. Providing a helping hand to farmers in India should have a focus on supporting reform efforts in their respective governments on these matters.

The writer is a food and agriculture policy analyst and works on various issues linked to food, trade and agriculture in India and internationally

Published on March 03, 2021

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