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Posted at: Feb 6, 2018, 2:22 AM; last updated: Feb 6, 2018, 2:22 AM (IST)

Sainath: Shifting farmers from food to cash crops has been disastrous

Rahul Devesh

Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, February 5

Shifting millions of farmers from food to cash crop has been disastrous, noted journalist P Sainath said here today.

“Cash crop farmers are much more vulnerable and small farmers cannot take the risk associated with cash crop. When prices come down, you can eat food crop but you can’t eat cotton, rubber or tea. In Kerala, people shifted to vanilla in 2003 as the Mexican vanilla crop was destroyed. The US Vanilla Federation paid them a handsome price. At one point, they were paid $100 per kg. Everybody took to it. Next year, when other countries started producing it, vanilla prices crashed to Rs 70 per kg. This killed a large number of farmers,”said Palagummi Sainath, Ramon Magsaysay Award winning journalist and author of “Everybody Loves a Good Drought”, during a programme at the Chandigarh Press Club. Speaking on the farmers’ issues, the founder editor of the People’s Archive of Rural India and the former rural affairs editor of the Hindu, said the aim of government policies was to push people away from land and encourage the corporate farming.

The veteran journalist was not in agreement with the thrust to improve exports when pointed out that Finance Minister Arun Jaitely in his budget speech had said the country had the potential to export food products to the tune of $ 100bn as against $ 30bn now.

Criticising the policy, the veteran journalist said, “Allow exports where you have surplus. Building your economy on tourism and exports is very volatile. You stimulate internal demand. Vanilla had zero demand. Look, how many farmers committed suicide.”

On the implementation of the Swaminathan Commission report, Sainath admitted that it would bring about dramatic changes, even though the recommendations have been gathering dust for the past 11 years. “It is unfortunate that for 11 years, the government did not allow a debate on the report in Parliament. A special session should be called to discuss the crisis faced by farmers,” he added.

Sainath was also not much hopeful of farmers getting remunerative price of their produce in the present situation. When asked if it was possible to double farmers’ income by 2022, as claimed by the NDA government in the Centre, he quickly remarked, “It will be miracle if they don’t lose income the way policies are.”

Meanwhile, he expressed worry over the climate change and genetically-modified crops, which, according to him, have led to a massive crisis. “Climate change is extremely serious but we did not take it seriously until our Finance Minister and the Prime Minister wanted to find an excuse for their failure to double farmers’ income. Then a story appears in a national daily, saying farmers would lose 25 per cent of their income due to climate change. The government never accepted it earlier. The Indian Meteorological Department does not use the word climate change but they would show a massive increase in the number of extreme weather conditions, ” he said.

On media

Speaking on the topic, ‘Media and the Prevailing Challenges’, at the Chandigarh Press Club, noted journalist P Sainath said of late, media had divorced itself from reality. "When I joined the profession, it was a calling but now corporates have intruded. The contractual system has made the journalists vulnerable. Earlier, during the freedom struggle, the press, despite having low circulation and resources, talked of a large section of society. Today, 69 per cent of population gets only 1 per cent of coverage. An analysis has shown that only 0.67 per cent space has been given to the deprived sections by national papers on the front page. It is outrageous that more than 3 lakh farmers committed suicides in the past 20 years, but the media kept mum," Sainath added.  

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