Re:Why organic food can't feed the world
- Your arguments here miss the mark, Stuart. The observations hold
whether we are looking at a very dense population or not. Just
because farmers in an area were successful without fossil fuels 150
years ago does not mean they will be successful now. Everywhere
that cultivating the soil has been practiced, it has had serious
effects on soil fertility.
The article mentions how the rains in Bangledesh wash out the
nitrogen in the soil- it will wash out other water soluable
nutrients, too. And it doesn't happen just in Bangledesh, it
happens everywhere that it rains. Annual crops do not, cannot, form
the sort of extensive root systems that are always there, always
catching whatever recycled nutrients falls on the ground, and is
ready to add more to what it has already caught, building
fertility. When cultivating annual crops, nutrients will wash out.
They must be replaced.
The answer "organic" farming has to this fundamental problem, is
to take fertility from another piece of land and use it to replace
what has washed away. The observation of the article that such
organic fertilizer is heavy and takes a lot of energy to move, is
true whether in Bangledesh or Kentucky or Montana or anywhere. It
was certainly true in New England where I had experience with trying
to maintain soil fertility with organic materials. Some of the
places in New England I was living in were somewhat densely
populated and some weren't, the stuff weighed the same. But perhaps
a bigger problem this "organic" method has is that by taking
fertility from one place, you cannot expect that place to go on
producing soil nutrients like it was a magical fountain of them. It
runs out sooner or later. Organic farming is not sustainable when
this problem holds. Since in some places you can get fertility to
renew in other ways, organic farming is not completely dead, but
these areas are not nearly big enough to feed the world. If you
live near a body of water where your fertility is washing, and in
this water is growing big crops of water plants, fish, etc, and you
can haul these to your plots of land with reasonable EROEI, then you
should be ok. Though even doing this near the ocean, I've heard
warnings about salt buildups, possibly excess iodine, using salt
water plants as fertilizer. Don't know for sure if this is a real
problem or not. But in terms of feeding the world, this sort of
solution is simply not going to cut it.
Another place where people have had long running agriculture is
when fertility washes to them. Egypt had that situation.
Bangledesh gets it to some degree, as being in large part a river
delta country. Not as reliable as Egypt was, which is why they are
needing to use fertilizer. In Egypt they could not be happy with
their river that laid golden eggs of soil fertility, and killed
about the only large scale sustainable agriculture area in the
world, by building the Aswan dam. Very intelligent behavior.
Using organic fertilizer vs using synthetic, is better in one way,
the amounts of organic matter brought in, the slowly decaying fiber,
lignin, help to hold water, soil, release nutrients in a more
gradual way. Crops require less water, are generally healthier
from this factor alone. But again, it requires a great deal of
energy to move these heavy materials and it depletes the soil they
came from, and in order to maintain the effect, you must continue
hauling the stuff in.
Grazing land is often perennials, and you might think it was ok to
graze animals, but it often isn't ok, either. Why? Because people
put animals to graze the land, the animals grow, reproduce, then
people sell the excess downriver. All the nutrients taken from the
soil, put into the animals, is taken away. Year after year,
fertility taken away. People will scream about how destructive
animals are- if you manage things like that, it certainly is
destructive, but the destructive animals are people. Without people
selling away the fertility like this, animals would eat the grass
and leaves of perennials, grow, reproduce, most would end up in a
predators belly and out the tail end in the same geographical area,
and the soil nutrients would never go very far. Fertility can and
does build up under such conditions.
There are other ways to destroy land by grazing, too. Fragile
soils and weak sod covers can be destroyed by hoofs. This was a
problem in Iceland, and also apparently in the Sinai peninsula.
Digging wells in semi arid or desert lands can provide water for
more animals than the land can support, and damage is done by too
much trampling, especially around the wells.
Some people know about these things, have known parts of it for a
very long time. The argument about cultivating the soil and whether
it is sustainable probably goes back to whoever wrote the story of
Cain and Abel, where Cain is labeled a "murderer". Abel the herder
can be a murderer too, but Cain the farmer is by far the worse
killer. The destruction by cultivation, is far more inherent and
virtually impossible to fix by better management in most
geographical areas. Cain's method of food production can feed big
cities, the story teller also calls him a city builder, but it can't
last. Cultivation of the soil is generally boom and bust. There are
many ruined cities surrounded by ruined land, depleted, eroded,
sometimes salted, all done with "organic" techniques.
With all our knowledge of history, all our science, as far as
applying it to social direction, we might as well have learned
nothing. Someone once wrote, that "civilization has marched over the
globe and left a desert in its footprints". We continue the grand
march to oblivion. Anyone who actually has learned something and
might want to apply it, isn't likely to get much action out of the
present set of leaders and followers. The denial is far too strong.
--- In firstname.lastname@example.org, Stuart Studebaker
> Mr Mathews wrote:
> The following article is incredibly bad news especially when
> considered within the context of Peak Oil. I don't need to say
> anything else.
> David Mathews
> http://www.geocitie s.com/dmathew1
> Why organic food can't feed the world
> 24 September 2007by Craig Meisner
> Cosmos Online
> http://www.cosmosma gazine.com/ node/1601
> Can organic food feed the world? A recent study, published in the
> journal Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems provides new data
> suggests it can. However, I have some grave reservations about thisscience,
> prospect that are based on my experience as a scientist and my time
> living and working with real farmers in developing nations.
> <S N I P>
> There's a reason why he's an adjunct. This is TERRIFICALLY bad
> that Mr Mathews (per solitus) insists is bad news.a
> "Bangladesh is the size of England and Wales together, but with a
> larger population of about 140 million people. "
> OK, so we'll take the example of The Most Crowded Country on Earth
> [among countries with an area of over 5,000 sq km, Bangladesh, with
> 1,002 people per kilometer, ranks as the most crowded. China, with
> modest 136 people per km, ranks 31st, behind such countries asSouth
> Korea (4th; 492), Vietnam (17th; 253), the United Kingdom (19th;247),
> and Germany (20th; 231)](1,134/sq
> which has a population density vastly greater than New Jersey
> mi), the most crowded state in the USA, and well known around theworld
> for being a nasty jam-packed polluted dump site of a state, andthen
> we'll extrapolate these extreme conditions to the rest of theplanet,
> and then draw dire conclusions from it.Yes.
> Total crock of shite.
> Will NJ and Bangladesh have a bad day growing food sans petroleum?
> Will Tennessee or Kentucky or Montana? Hell no. The density ofvs. 6
> Tennessee? 138.0/sq mi. Kentucky? 101.7/sq mi. Montana? 6.19/sq mi.
> Now, 1000 people per sq km = 3820 people per sq mi. Hmmmm. 3820
> (Montana low density), 3820 v 1134 (NJ high density)observation
> A place >3(x) as crowded as New Jersey is not a legitimate
> point for a global extrapolation.Kong
> In fact, it's pretty damn stupid. "Gee - people in downtown Hong
> can't grow enough food to feed themselves without petroleum." Well,place
> The article talked about a very specific place - the most crowded
> in the world, and notes that they can't feed themselves withouttells
> fertilisers. Well, other than that being a no-brainer, it simply
> us where the canary lives. When Bangladesh goes into a die-off fromcrowded
> lack of food, then you know they're cooked, and other similarly
> spaces that have similarly ruined infrastructure and similarlycorrupt
> governments will be staring such things in the face.holed up
> However, Mr Happy Organic farmer out on the Montana Prairie or
> in the Kentucky Hills won't die off just because petroleum's gone.They
> didn't 150 years ago, and they won't now. So where's the problem?twice
> Mathews, everything you contribute is a waste of time. You are as
> misguided as you are lacking in analytical skills. Kindly think
> before you make these kinds of observations - although once wouldbe a
> grand improvement._____________________________________________________________________
> Don't let your dream ride pass you by. Make it a reality withYahoo! Autos.
- ~~~~~~~EnergyResources Moderator Comment ~~~~~~~~
Folks, when you use an acronym, like GM and GMO below, please spell out what it means, and not take for granted we all would know.
~~~~~ EnergyResources Moderator Tom Robertson ~~~~~~
--- In email@example.com, "Alan" <aelewis@...> wrote:
> --- In firstname.lastname@example.org, "Roger Arnold"
> <roger.arnold@> wrote:
> > Alan,
> > You wrote, in part:
> > > <..> In this case, the job that "nobody thought to do,
> > > or nobody could have done, before" is large-scale
> > > agriculture: the sowing of large tracts of land with
> > > species that yield commodifiable, trade-able, uniform
> > > (etc.) products <..>
> > Huh?? The subject was GM foods and what's wrong with them.
> > You can certainly argue against large-scale agriculture if you
> > want to, but it has nothing to do with the topic of genetic
> > engineering and GM foods.
> Huh?? It has everything to do with GMOs. GMOs have been
> aggressively developed and promoted by gigantic corporations
> for use in large scale industrial agricultural settings. I
> accept the point that that does not HAVE to be true; however,
> at this moment, it IS (very largely) true. Exceptions noted.
Here's what's happening -- actually happening, on the ground,
Roger. We can chat all we like about what life might be like
in some new, ideal world, where GMOs and other technologies are
developed in a different (non-elitist, non-capitalistic)
fashion and context, so that their potential benefits can be
widely shared. Meanwhile, this is what is ACTUALLY happening...
"WTO Kills Farmers": India Free Market Reforms Trigger Farmers'
by Jessica Long
Global Research, August 12, 2007
Many of us remember the crucial failure of the WTO's Fifth
Ministerial Conference in Cancun, Mexico in 2003. It was on this day
that Lee Kyung Hae, leader of the Korean Federation of Advanced
Farmers, discovered that his loudest voice was in death.
Wearing a sandwich board that read, "The WTO kills farmers!"- Lee
took a knife and stabbed himself in the chest. His death was ignored
by the WTO and the mainstream media. Given the lack of attention,
many argue that his violent end was in vain. Sadly, his dishonored
death is one of thousands being ignored by corporate mainstream
In 2003, 17,107 farmers committed suicide. In the last few years,
the number of documented suicides in India's rural areas has
skyrocketed. These suicides have become so commonplace that they are
mystifying a nation and polarizing the debate over biotechnology.
On the surface, the massive numbers of farmer suicides lack the
social unity and revolutionary opposition other revolutions employ.
In fact, the local Indian government refuses to address the
correlation between agrarian suicides and economic exploitation,
making it difficult for the international public to apply real
social forces to these farmers' actions.
However, research shows the massive numbers of farmer suicides are
linked not only with economic disparity, but with corporate
exploitation by multinational agribusinesses.
Whether addressed as "agrarian martyrs" or merely desperate
peasantry, exploited Indian farmers, like Lee Kyung Hae, have found
that their loudest voice is in death.
In a religiously and ethnically segmented nation, their actions have
founded a cultural unity that confronts the evils of globalization.
Thus, the insanely high volume of farmer suicides serves as a
shockingly unique medium of proletarian outcry.
The Republic of India is one of the top twelve nations in the world
in terms of biodiversity. Featuring nearly 8% of all recorded
species on Earth, this subcontinent is home to 47,000 plant species
and 81,000 animal species. Simultaneously, India is home to the
largest network of indigenous farmers in the world. Yet
biotechnology has led to extreme environmental degradation in the
region, threatening to replace its diverse ecology with corporate
hybrid monoculture. The original Green Revolution was supposed to
save 58 million Indian hectares. Today, 120 million of the 142
million cultivable hectares is degraded- over twice the magnitude
that the Green Revolution attempted to save! In the Indian state of
Punjab, 84 of the 138 developmental blocks are recorded as having
98% ground water exploitation. The critical limit is 80%. The result
has had devastating impacts on the agricultural community, leaving
exploited farmers with little choice of action. In the past six
years, more than three thousand farmers have committed suicide in
Andrha Pradesh, that is six to ten farmers everyday! When did this
start? Why is this occurring?
And why have such little media attention been given to this crisis?
There are three potential causes for the onset of these self-
1) exploitation by multinational agribusinesses
2) severe economic disparity and
3) a means of resistance by exposing the abuse of the agrarian
In 1998, around the inception of mass farmer suicides, the World
Bank imposed regulations that opened up India's seed market to
corporate multinationals like Monsanto. Non-renewable GM crops now
replaced a self-sustainable farming system that had been perfected
over thousands of years.
While corporate agribusinesses impose their hybrid monoculture on
peasant farmers, they refuse to consider the biodiversity that is
desired to maintain traditional practices.
For example, 75% of cultivable Indian land exists in dry zones. Non
GM rice utilizes 3,000 liters of water in order to produce one kilo,
while non-renewable hybrid rice requires 5,000 liters per kilo!
Cotton, largely considered the "pesticide treadmill," makes India
the third largest cotton grower in the world, accounting for 1/3 of
its export earnings.
Continuous GM cotton crop failures resulted in the state of Andrha
Pradesh, the seed capital of India, prohibiting the sales of Bt
cotton varieties by Monsanto. This perpetual poverty is sustained by
the bourgeois pursuit of maximizing production at the lowest
Last year the Indian government forced Monsanto to cut the royalties
they receive from the patented seeds in India- but Monsanto has
appealed to the Indian Supreme Court. The economic disparity of
Indian farmers only increases as they try to keep up with the lowest
import prices. It is estimated that they are losing $26 billion
In fact, non Indian farmers receive six times the amount of GDP that
Indian farmers get, requiring an exorbitant amount of loans to be
taken out. While 90% of farm loans come from money lenders, they are
charged anywhere from 36-50% interest, placing them in a cyclical
mode of poverty. Surely poverty alone cannot be responsible for such
massive amounts of bloodshed! After all, poverty has always existed,
so what is it about current conditions that have led to all this
bloodshed? The fact is that mass suicides have transformed these
farmers into agrarian martyrs for peasants everywhere. Their deaths
are inspiring significant social forces both by the government and
among its citizens. In response to the crisis, the government has
implemented compensation laws in which the victim's family receives
free electricity and $3,500. In response to economic disparity, the
Indian government imposed a one year suspension for all agriculture
loans while waiving interest.
However, monetary compensation laws only provide more economic
incentive for suicide, thus the citizens of India are forced to
devise alternative solutions to the problem. Arguably, the mass
suicides can be seen as a revolutionary tactic... Dr. R. Raghuarami,
an Indian psychologist, argues that many of the farmers are
takingtheir lives with direct intent of addressing attention to the
agrarian struggle. He argues that "suicide by one farmer is inviting
others to do the same." The All Indian
Kisan Sabha (AIKS), or peasants front of the Communist Party in
India view this agrarian crisis as a direct result of proletarian
exploitation. S. Ramachandran Pillai, AIKS president, "called for a
united movement of the peasantry to fight the neo-liberal
imperialist offensive looming large all over the country." AIKS has
formed allies with other social groups like the Agricultural Workers
Union, Adivasi Kshema Samithi, Center for Indian Trade Unions and
the Democratic Youth Federation of India to combat neoliberalism and
to voice demands for proletariat justice.
The nation is calling upon cultural unification to combat the
imperialist offensive and the corrupt bourgeois government. The
debate on the true reasons for the uproar of suicides and the
effects of GM crops remains heated... but, unfortunately, it is very
likely that the rest of the world would not have been aware of this
current crisis if it were not for these intense disputes. With each
passing day, an estimated seven more farmers die.... the question
remains, are you listening?
July 15th, 2004
India's Agrarian Suicides
The Indian peasantry, the largest surviving body of small farmers in
the world, is currently facing an epidemic of suicide. For thousands
of years farmers have depended on the Earth to sustain their
families. Now, in the twenty-first century, their livelihood,
prosperity, and the well-being of their families for generations to
come are being threatened by globalisation and the shift in the
linkage of agriculture from the Earth to a few profit-driven
Globalisation and the Extinction of Farmers
In 1997 India experienced its first bout of farmers suicides and
since then over 25,000 farmers have taken their own lives. The
crisis has stemmed from a number of hardships which have led to the
irreversible indebtedness of small and marginal farmers from even
the most historically productive regions of the country. India's
agriculture has turned into a negative economy due largely to three
main factors: rising costs of cultivation, plummeting prices of farm
commodities, and lack of credit availability for small farmers. Most
of these factors can be attributed to corporate globalisation and
unjust free trade policies implemented by the World Trade
In 1998, the World Bank's structural adjustment policies forced
India to open its seed sector to global agribusinesses such as
Monsanto, Cargill, and Syn genta. As a result of this adjustment,
traditional farm saved seeds have been replaced with genetically
engineered seeds which are non-renewable, thus requiring repurchase
for each growing season. What was once a self-renewing resource and
gift from the Earth has now become a corporate commodity and a
costly investment which farmers must make every season. In most
cases this has lead to poverty and severe indebtedness. In futile
attempts to relieve themselves of debt, some farmers have even sold
their own organs. When these attempts fail to rectify their
financial situations, many farmers find no way out but to take their
Along with social maladies, the planting of GM seeds poses a
significant threat to India's biodiversity and will throw off the
balance of its agro-ecosystems. While each farming region once grew
a variety of seeds, many are now limited to the production of crop
monocultures. This will lead to the extinction of millions of plant
species which will, in turn, increase risks of crop failure.
Combined with the pressure of high production costs, WTO free trade
policies have created a drastic drop in global produce market
prices. For some produce, prices have been cut in half in as little
as six years. These price cuts cannot be attributed to increased
productivity but, rather, are a function of increased subsidies and
increased monopolisation of global seed markets by just a few
multinational corporations. For example, when US farmers are given
subsidies by the US government, commodity prices are lowered
artificially. The South's small farmers cannot compete with the rock
bottom prices of imported produce. India's farmers are losing an
estimated $26 billion per year, a burden that their current state of
poverty could never allow them to bear.
Indebtedness and the Lack of Credit Availability
Although India has been a frontline crusader in the global battle to
protect the livelihoods of small farmers, its government's response
on a domestic level has unfortunately been a different story. The
government of Karnataka, a southern state, has refused to recognise
the link between economic causes (i.e. indebtedness) and farmers
suicides. Thus, instead of changing agricultural policies, officials
have made unhelpful recommendations suggesting that farmers boost
their self-reliance and self-respect. What government officials have
seemed to overlook is that self-reliance is an ideal that cannot be
achieved under the Karnataka Land Reforms Act that limits farmers'
rights to landholding and leasing. Instead of addressing the root of
the problem, the government attributes the cause of farmers suicides
to peripheral problems such as adultery and alcoholism. Ignoring the
facts will only result in failure to prevent a wave of suicides next
In order for development to be sustainable, it will have to begin in
rural areas and, more specifically, in agricultural communities.
Compared to international standards, Indian agriculture has
experienced slow annual growth. Additionally, non-farmers receive
six times more the GDP increase than farmers do. In rural areas
where almost a third of the working population is in the agriculture
sector, farmers' earnings are so low that they sometimes cannot even
meet minimum needs for their families.
Agricultural workers also face difficulty in acquiring bank loans
due to high interest rates and the poor financial states of
cooperative banks. Without help from state governments and
cooperation from commercial and regional banks, farmers are facing a
decrease in income share in their regions. In Andhra Pradesh where
18 per cent of bank loans were to go to farmers, their actual share
of loans has never exceeded 11 percent. This dearth of credit forces
farmers to take loans from rural lenders who charge interest at
exorbitant rates (anywhere between 36 and 50%) that would cause the
demise of even the largest of corporations. And, while banks
complain about bad loans that had been given to farmers, they have
yet to recover Rs 1 lakh crore from the corporate sector.
Conversely, farmers only owe about Rs 15,000 crore. In Andhra
Pradesh, six to 10 farmers commit suicide each day.
Research presents a direct relationship between credit availability
and agricultural productivity: the accessibility of credit is the
most crucial factor in agricultural development. Similarly,
agricultural development is an important factor relating to food
security, and should be especially important in the country where a
third of the world's 800 million malnourished people go to bed
hungry every night.
Prosperity Perishing: Deaths in India's Most Historically Productive
Farmers suicides are no longer limited to the drought and poverty
stricken areas of the country, though this is the picture the media
has managed paint. Now farmers in the most productive agricultural
regions such as Karnataka, Punjab, and West Bengal are ending their
lives because of their massive indebtedness.
In Karnataka 49 suicidal deaths occurred between April and October
2003 in in the drought-prone region of Hassan. Over the same period
of time, 22 suicides occurred in Mandya, the state's `sugar bowl,'
18 occurred in Shimoga, a heavy rainfall district, and 14 occurred
in Heveri, a district that receives average rainfall. While
comparing regional suicide statistics might seem callous, such
comparisons reveal that suicide is not only occurring in areas where
low production is caused by drought. Small farmers in all of these
regions owe lakhs of rupees because institutional loans, which have
fixed interest ceilings of no more than 14 percent, only provide for
about 10 percent of their credit needs. The other 90 percent of
small to marginal farmers loans comes from private moneylenders who
are infamous for constantly harassing their `clients' in order to
enjoy heavy profits of the 24-60 percent interest that they charge
on their loans. When their crops fail time after time regardless of
the money the farmers have invested in fertilizers, pesticides, and
bore wells, there is no profit to be seen and no conceivable way to
repay their lenders. When the harassment persists many farmers
become emotionally fatigued and end their lives in solemn hope that
the meagre relief package provided by the government will give their
family hope of a better future.
In Punjab, the nutrients of the soil are being destroyed by the over-
use of pesticides and chemical fertilisers needed to successfully
grow the genetically modified seeds. The use of these chemicals
gives farmers the false notion that costly inputs will ensure a
higher output; when in actuality it only leads to further
devastation of the land. This repeated degradation will result in
the loss of land productivity thus putting future generations of
farmers at even greater risks of poverty and famine.
Over 500 farmers in the state have committed suicide by jumping in
front of trains, setting themselves on fire, or poisoning
themselves. Also, the disintegration of the joint family in Punjab
has negatively affected landholding which will lead to decreased
earnings and increases in indebtedness.
While statistics may show Punjab to be India's `breadbasket,'
claiming that its soils are rich and its five rivers supply abundant
water throughout the state, the reality of this image of prosperity
is revealed by the increasing number of suicidal deaths among
Punjabi farmers. While Punjab was intended to be the paragon of the
Green Revolution success story, farmers of the region face an
estimated debt of Rs 10,000 crores. Additionally, it is the farmers
who have croplands of less than an acre who are facing these
inconceivably high debts which range from Rs 1 to 11 lakhs. Though
the small farmers constitute the majority of Punjab's farming
community, they only receive 27.02 percent of total agricultural
Punjabi farmers accuse State Chief Minister Captain Amrinder Singh
of going back on his poll promise to provide Rs. 30 per quintel on
crops in three instalments. These payments, which usually amounted
to only five to 10 rupees and only occurred in certain areas of the
state, have done little to relieve the debts. Promising the peasants
help in rectifying their debts had given them hope and backing out
of that promise has left them feeling even more helpless than before.
In Burdwan, the region of West Bengal commonly called the "rice bowl
of the East," 1,000 farmers ended their lives in 2003. The leading
cause of these suicides was the inability of farmers to repay heavy
debts while trying to compete with the cheap imports of Southeast
Asia. Land reform acts instituted by the Communist Party of India in
the late seventies had successfully brought Bengal's poverty level
down from 73 percent in 1973 to 31 percent in 1993. These rural
reforms are now suffering because of trade liberalisation policies,
putting the region right back in a state of economic distress.
Whereas land reform policies served to confiscate surplus land from
the rich class and distribute it among the poor, thus giving quasi-
landholding rights to sharecroppers; peasants are now so desperate
to relieve themselves of debt that they are selling and leasing
their land to the rich class. Recently a new rich class of farmers
known as the waterlords has emerged as a result of DVC water
scarcity and the falling water table. Small farmers have no choice
but to purchase overpriced water from the waterlords and, when they
cannot afford the price, they are forced to lease them their land.
Bengal's agricultural sector is being slowly penetrated by a
capitalist mode of production. Several transnational corporations
engaged in food processing are already bidding to purchase vast
plots of fecund cropland in the state and, with the state's current
policies, it will be difficult to keep these companies from entering
the sector. In the future, small and marginal farmers will be pitted
against these TNCs in price competitions that will finish the
The Suicides of Andhra Pradesh
The tragedy of farmers suicides in Andhra Pradesh has been occurring
regularly since 1998, hardly a sudden phenomenon. In the past few
months, however, farmers of the region have been ending their lives
at an alarming rate (six to 10 suicides per day), even after the
inauguration of the new State Chief Minister, YSR Reddy, with
promises of prosperity and free power for the agricultural sector.
Many of the farmers who felt they had no choice but to shift to the
intensive attractively marketed GM seeds now face debts caused by
unaffordable, spurious inputs such as futile seeds, pesticides, and
fertilisers, and dry borewells. Production costs of paddy,
groundnut, and cotton in the state are much higher than those of
other states, making its farmers uncompetitive in the national
market. Although it is commonly agreed that the cost of the seed
should never exceed 10 percent of total cost of cultivation, the
average groundnut seed costs the farmer almost 40 percent of total
cultivation. With little relief from provided government subsidies,
this kind of high production cost leaves the average annual income
of a farming family in AP at a mere Rs 10,000.
Because farmers cannot procure seeds, social unrest has been on the
rise. Reports of violence against agricultural officials surfaced
this past June because of a poor groundnut seed supply in the region
of Rayalseema. The farmers of Rayalseema have been dependant on
groundnut crops since the 80s when the government had restricted
edible oil imports and subsidised the seeds. Now that import
restrictions have been lifted, groundnut prices have crashed and
although the government has attempted to supply farmers with enough
seeds, there remains a deficit. Also, the government only subsidises
38 percent of seed cost and most indebted farmers cannot even afford
the remaining majority. Farmers are left with no choice but to buy
the seeds from private traders and large farmers on credit, paying
exorbitant interest rates.
While subsidies may provide limited assistance to some farmers,
growers of cotton and chilli do not enjoy any government subsidies.
These farmers buy highly priced seeds and pesticides from private
suppliers and, if the seeds fail to germinate, they rarely get
Though YSR Reddy's administration has attempted to reverse the
damage caused by Chandrababu Naidu's negligent and anti-poor
economic reforms, the state's suicide crisis will only worsen as
long as government officials refuse to recognise the harm caused by
the industrial farming models which have penetrated the state. These
intensive agricultural methods and their focus on GM cash crops has
played a severely detrimental role on the sustainable livelihoods of
AP's farmers. Andhra Pradesh's Vision 2020 document has identified
the state's intention to reduce its number of farmers to 40 percent
of the population with no plan of rehabilitating the remaining 30
percent. This decision to exterminate the state's farmer population
is highly lucrative for the government based on the finances that
will be handed over by the profit-driven international agribusiness
It is important that the state's government provides more stable
financial support to the farmers. Agriculture can be profitable and
ensure food security but it takes scientific, political, and
Farmers in all states have been under such extreme distress that
they are finding anything they possibly can to sell and make some
money. Kidney sales have been a common occurrence among indebted
farmers. In Andhra Pradesh, 26 farmers sold their kidneys in 2000.
Most of the cases occurred in the Palanadu region where cotton and
chilli crops had failed due to heavy droughts and adulterated inputs
(sand in the fertilizer, kerosene in the pesticide, and spurious
seeds) that were sold to unknowing farmers. One farmer resorted to
selling his kidney in 2000 when his chilli crop yield was low and
the market price was unprofitable. He travelled to Delhi and, after
some medical tests, sold his kidney for 50,000 rupees. Since he
needed the money desperately to pay his debts and cover the marriage
costs of his two daughters, he didn't consider the health risks
involved with the organ removal. Since he now endures chronic back
pains and is unable to lift heavy objects, his wife has become the
breadwinner of the family. The farmer can no longer lease land for
farming and is paid 30 rupees per day as an agricultural worker when
he can find employment. His debts remain at Rs 15,000, not including
the 24-30 percent interest rate on his loans.
This farmer's case is common in the region, where the state
government and banks have done little to assist those in need. In
2000, State Chief Minister YSR Reddy had stated that suicidal deaths
and kidney sales by farmers "clearly show that there is no place
left for farmers in the state." Since YSR's inauguration on May 14,
2004 over 300 farmers have committed suicide, proving his economic
gimmicks to be futile.
Suggestions to Stop the Suicides
Globalisation, WTO trade policies, and domestic negligence have had
a devastating effect on India's farmers. While nature's
unpredictability has been additionally detrimental to the welfare of
farmers in some regions, these are challenges that farmers have been
able to use their prowess to overcome in the past. GM crops have
converted a once innovative and knowledgeable community into a
community that can no longer work with the earth which they know,
but is dependent on costly, unnatural inputs with which they are
unfamiliar. It is possible for the government to modify its policies
in order to conserve the legacy of India's farmers and put a stop to
Many states currently offer financial relief packages only to the
families of deceased farmers who were unable to manage payments on
their bank loans. However, it remains that loans taken from private
moneylenders are the most difficult for farmers to pay. Since this
is the case, over half of the victims' families who need these
relief packages do not qualify for receipt by government standards.
The reality of the families' situations must be examined more
closely and compensation should be given accordingly.
While some states have attempted to ban exorbitant interest rates
implemented by private moneylenders, their effectiveness has been
questionable. Usury will continue as long as farmers continue to
depend on private loans where there are no written agreements
regarding interest ceilings. Farmers must be provided with
substantial institutional credit and given an alternative in order
to extinguish their tendency to fall prey to the convenience of
In addition, a Crop Insurance Scheme must be carefully implemented
so that farmers who are affected by crop failure will be relieved of
the subsequent financial burden. Specific attention must be given to
cover the lost profits of cash crops such as cotton, sugarcane, and
A very beneficial biproduct of efforts to aid farmers will be the
renewal of the land's biodiversity. This renewal is crucial because
if ecosystems lack natural infrastructures we will soon find
ourselves at a resource deficit. Methods of organic farming and
integrated pest management should be introduced to eliminate
dependency on commodities such as chemical fertilisers, pesticides,
and GM seeds. Organic farming methods will also serve to eliminate
emerging monocultures and promote strong, diverse agro-ecosystems.
Most importantly, agriculture must return to a "farmers first"
policy rather than its current bias towards corporations. It is only
when this ideal is achieved that farmers will regain control of
their own lives: financially and mentally.