ITO advised to protect farmers’ rights

Hyderabad, January 4:

Noted Indian agricultural scientist M S Swaminathan, who is drafting a national farmers policy, has mooted that India should set up a trade body on the lines of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to safeguard domestic farm interests.

“You cannot live in the world without your own analyses and monitoring, so we need to set up our own instrument - India Trade Organisation (ITO), as a counterpart of the WTO,” Swaminathan said here today at the ongoing 93rd Indian Science Congress.

While commending commerce minister Kamal Nath for successfully safeguarding the interests of Indian farmers, Swaminathan cautioned that the “postponement of agreement in agricultural negotiations will however prolong the unequal trade bargain entered into at Marrakech in 1994”.

Through an ITO with India’s own boxes for monitoring domestic agriculture support on the WTO model, the chairman of the National Commission on Farmers India would be able to have a body to specifically look into globalisation issues.

In a report presented to the government on December 29, Swaminathan has stated the ITO could serve as a brain and information bank for enabling decision makers to take proactive steps and also provide timely advice on potential surpluses and shortages in major commodities.

“It should help to save resource poor farm families from the onslaught of the subsidy, technology and capital driven agri-business paradigm of developed countries. For this purpose, the National Land Use Advisory Service can function as an arm of ITO,” he said.

Swaminathan envisages that ITO would be able to checkmate any adverse global trade trend by stimulating timely national action to prevent farmers’ distress.

On the proposed national policy for farmers, Swaminathan said the draft would be ready by April and would hopefully be adopted by parliament by yearend. The proposed farmers’ policy envisages a change in mindset where agriculture progress would not merely be looked at in terms of rise in productivity but also increase in farm incomes and a more humane approach to farmers’ problems.

“Through increase in productivity in the same land area as being cultivated currently, our target is that by August 2007 - the 60th anniversary of our independence, India should be hunger free,” he said. India is planning to observe the 2006-07 crop year (June-May) as the Year of Agricultural Renewal Movement. This is part of steps to meet the target of doubling foodgrain production from the current 210 million tonnes to over 420 million tonnes and fruits and vegetables production to over 300 million tonnes in the next decade. This is to be achieved through better care of the soil health, water resources, supply of electricity, technological support, credit reforms and better crop insurance coverage.

The agriculture renewal movement is likely to be launched on Baisakhi Day (April 13) with the support of central and state governments and all other stakeholders, Swaminathan said.

He underlined that technology dissemination at the field level is very essential for raising food productivity or else India could have more suicides as is being witnessed in the case of cotton farmers.

Cautioning against privatisation of water, Swaminathan said there is a need for state-owned research organisations to focus more on the needs of small and poor farmers or else they could be at the mercy of high technology peddlers.