Monday, April 13, 2009

Those Killer Fields

The talks on agricultural subsidies just never get off the launching pad when world leaders get together. As we recently observed closely in G20 meetings where our new president showed great abilities for unifying the nations with a formerly offensive U.S. stance, leaders on parade need to stay responsive to their constituencies. Farming, and food, remain an area that is personal to constituencies everywhere.

The farmer has faded into our background in U.S. economic decisions, while still holding a strong sway in our imagination. Our policies are enriching large agricultural industries rather than the family farm, as a result. On the floor of congress, the speeches wax emotional about those idyllic rural institutions, but the effects of farm subsidies is mainly one of swill for the Bigtime hogs that are farming businesses.

A vastly different picture comes out of India, where small farmers are accumulating debts so overwhelming that suicides are epidemic as the only way to end the torment for family farmers. While it is almost easy to assume that the blame is with out promotion of our own agricultural economics, a closer look indicates that the world's lax regard when it comes to banking regulation has been more to blame than lobbying for support for farmers.

Each year before the harvest, the small farmers of Punjab, who make up nearly 85% of the state's farming community, borrow from local rural moneylenders at exorbitant interest rates to meet production costs, including fertilisers and electricity for irrigation.

"[Lakhbir] has a loan of more than 700,000 rupees ($15,000), which he cannot repay," says Ms Kaur.

Defaulting on payment increases the rates of interest and a farmer is publicly humiliated in the local panchayat (self-governing rural body) if he fails to pay up.

"His elder brother, my father, committed suicide more than a year ago, as his loan had accumulated up to $20,000," says 15-year-old Jasbir, who discovered her father's body.

"I do not think I can ever repay the whole amount," Lakhbir confesses.
Another government report published in 2007 suggested that "about 12% of marginal and small farmers have left farming" over the past few years.

Among the reasons is the lack of access to credit, a facility denied by banks to farmers with no property.

"Bank loans to small farmers without collateral declined sharply as India introduced neo-liberal policies in the 1990s," says Bernard D'Mello, deputy editor of Economic and Political Weekly.

Farmers had to approach rural moneylenders who charge exorbitant rates.

Estimates of more than 200,000 farmers committing suicide since 1997 also attribute their plight to a growing surplus of crops, lowering prices for producer/farmers.

Farming in this country is usually attributed to a landowner, but that is not always the case. Many of our rural farming incomes come from 'croppers' who farm other people's large acreage. Often the elderly and land-poor (those who have large properties they can't farm for themselves) rely on those farmers who till several farms and share their returns - along with their failures. A bad year for sharecroppers is a bad year for the landowner too, even with crop insurance. In third world farming communities, returns are diminished by increasing productivity, ironically enough. While our governments are coddling financial innovations like credit default swaps, our actual wellbeing is going unattended to as productivity gets negative rewards.

In the Great Depression of the 30's, a characteristic sign of despair was of the broken investors on Wall Street leaping out of windows. In this depression, we are seeing the productive members of society reduced to such despair that we have an onslaught of shootings of their families and themselves in working communities, and last resort suicides in impoverished countries like India.

Our attention as a society needs redirection. Manipulating monies does not make us prosperous, and this country is in the position of losing businesses and jobs because our mogul horde has made real production costly instead of profitable.

This government needs to begin the overdue rewarding of workers, and turn away from its practice of stripping the rewards of labor away.

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Anonymous WarOnWarOff said...

Heya Ruth, did you see this at Digby's place?

Pesticide Makers To Michelle Obama: Please Grow Tasteless, Chemically-Soaked Food

11:37 AM  
Blogger Ruth said...

Saw that, WoWo, not surprised. Once anyone learns what food tastes like, they do the back to nature stuff and are lost forever to plastics. Skritches to the kittehs, too.

11:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found a video that talks about the mass suicides in India a little further, but what I thought was the most interesting is that companies will use Bollywood actors to sell engineered seeds to uneducated farmers. This tactic tricks them into paying higher prices and, essentially, more loans. Horrible.

8:34 AM  
Blogger Ruth said...

And all Chuck Norris wants is to make TX a country with himself as premier. When he could have Monsanto!

9:28 AM  

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