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Re:Why organic food can't feed the world

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  • Arthur C. Noll
    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
    Message 1 of 64 , Sep 30, 2007
      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 energyresources@yahoogroups.com, Stuart Studebaker
      <misterstudebaker@...> wrote:
      > 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.
      > Sincerely,
      > David Mathews
      > http://www.geocitie s.com/dmathew1
      > Opinion
      > 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 this
      > 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.
      > First:
      > "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
      > (Bangladesh)
      > [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 as
      > Korea (4th; 492), Vietnam (17th; 253), the United Kingdom (19th;
      > and Germany (20th; 231)]
      > which has a population density vastly greater than New Jersey
      > mi), the most crowded state in the USA, and well known around the
      > for being a nasty jam-packed polluted dump site of a state, and
      > we'll extrapolate these extreme conditions to the rest of the
      > and then draw dire conclusions from it.
      > 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 of
      > 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
      vs. 6
      > (Montana low density), 3820 v 1134 (NJ high density)
      > A place >3(x) as crowded as New Jersey is not a legitimate
      > point for a global extrapolation.
      > In fact, it's pretty damn stupid. "Gee - people in downtown Hong
      > can't grow enough food to feed themselves without petroleum." Well,
      > DUH.
      > The article talked about a very specific place - the most crowded
      > in the world, and notes that they can't feed themselves without
      > fertilisers. Well, other than that being a no-brainer, it simply
      > us where the canary lives. When Bangladesh goes into a die-off from
      > lack of food, then you know they're cooked, and other similarly
      > spaces that have similarly ruined infrastructure and similarly
      > governments will be staring such things in the face.
      > However, Mr Happy Organic farmer out on the Montana Prairie or
      holed up
      > in the Kentucky Hills won't die off just because petroleum's gone.
      > didn't 150 years ago, and they won't now. So where's the problem?
      > 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 would
      be a
      > grand improvement.
      > S2
      > TO
      > ON
      > Don't let your dream ride pass you by. Make it a reality with
      Yahoo! Autos.
      > http://autos.yahoo.com/index.html
    • Alan
      ~~~~~~~EnergyResources Moderator Comment ~~~~~~~~ Folks, when you use an acronym, like GM and GMO below, please spell out what it means, and not take for
      Message 64 of 64 , Oct 14 5:56 PM
        ~~~~~~~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 energyresources@yahoogroups.com, "Alan" <aelewis@...> wrote:
        > --- In energyresources@yahoogroups.com, "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-
        inflicted massacres:

        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
        possible expense!!!!!

        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
        multinational corporations.

        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
        own lives.

        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
        growing season.

        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
        farmers off.

        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
        economic dedication.

        Last Resorts

        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
        farmers suicides.

        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
        private moneylenders.

        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
        edible oils.

        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.
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