Home > In Focus > Protect farmers, don’t target them

By Dr Vandana Shiva – The Asian Age, 23 June 2017

Now farmers have started to awaken the nation to the farming crisis with strikes in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.


Indian civilisation is based on gratitude to our farmers and all beings who contribute to our food — annadata sukhibhava. Our traditional belief is “Uttam-kheti, madhyam-vyapar, neech-naukri”.

The combination of the Green Revolution in Punjab imposed in the 1960s and the corporate globalisation “reforms” started in the 1990s have created policies for annadata dukhi bhava, undermining our 10,000-year civilisational heritage of Earth-first and farmer-first policies.

Since 1995, approximately 3, 10, 000 farmers have committed suicide with the globalisation of agriculture and the hijack of our seeds, agriculture and food systems. And the suicides continue.

Now farmers have started to awaken the nation to the farming crisis with strikes in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. Instead of gratitude and justice, they got bullets. This is not democracy; this is not the expression of our civilisational values.

The Green Revolution works against the Earth. It is based on chemicals, and is a war against the Earth, the farmers — our annadatas — and against innocent citizens who are suffering from an epidemic of chronic diseases because they are being condemned to eat nutritionally empty, toxic commodities, not food.

Debt resulting from the purchase of costly non-renewable seeds and unnecessary toxic inputs is the primary reason for suicides by farmers and protests by them. While the immediate short-term measure is debt relief and higher MSP, the lasting solution to the agrarian crisis is a debt-free internal input ecological agriculture called by a variety of names — agroecology, organic, zero budget, permaculture, biodynamic, vedic krishi, natural farming, etc.

The government driven and controlled by MNCs is planning to deepen the debt trap by creating more markets for costly seeds and chemicals. The 2017 Budget has `10 lakh crore allocated for agricultural credit, which means encouragement to farmers to get into more debt by buying more chemicals and more hybrid and GMO seeds from multinationals. This is a recipe for deeper debt traps and more suicides.

The seeds of the agrarian crisis lie in the seed. The Green Revolution seeds were bred for chemicals. That is why Norman Ernest Borlaug had to evolve dwarf varieties that reduced biomass, triggered desertification and water famine. Monsanto’s GMO Bt cotton increased cotton seed prices by more than 70,000 per cent, trapping farmers in debt and establishing a seed monopoly. Most of the 3,10,000 farmer suicides were in the cotton belt. Monsanto controls 95 per cent of the cotton seed.

Bayer via Deepak Pental is now trying to introduce herbicide-resistant GMO mustard that produces less than non-GMO mustard. Most of the patents linked to GMO mustard are with Bayer. Mr Pental is also advocating that India’s patent laws, which forbid patents on seeds through 3j, must be changed, so his bosses can reap limitless profits from royalties on seeds.

In 2004, I started a bija satyagraha to stop the seed law that would have taken away farmers’ seed freedom by making it compulsory for farmers to register their seeds with a centralised authority. Seeds are a commons, regulated by communities beyond the state and the market. Seed freedom is a farmer’s birthright. Native seeds have been bred and evolved over centuries by farmers, and farmers’ rights to save and exchange their varieties among themselves are the foundation of bija swaraj. We collected more than 1,00,000 signatures of farmers who committed themselves to continue to save and exchange their seeds, and not obey the law, and gave them to then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The law was not passed.

Under its so-called evergreen revolution, the government has announced it will reintroduce the Seed Bill for compulsory licensing, further facilitating corporate rule in agriculture and adding to farmers’ slavery and distress.

Crop and animal biodiversity, integration of crops, animals and small farmers’ livelihoods are the distinctness of Indian agriculture, the basis of its sustainability and productivity. Just like seeds are in the commons, animal breeds have been in the commons, with our farmers and pastoralists breeding the most amazing diversity of animals for renewable animal energy, milk, fibre and other products.

Pashudhun was traditionally the real wealth of rural communities. Just as the dwarf varieties in crops displaced plant biodiversity, the cross-bred dairy cow displaced our animal diversity and the made the male calf disposable, beginning the epidemic of slaughter. The animal diversity bred by farmers and pastoralists is traditionally exchanged among farmers through local farmers markets, including animal fairs such as Sonepur Mela and Pushkar. For farmers, animals are part of their extended family — vasudhaiva kutumkam. When farmers are in distress because of an unfair economy or because of drought, which leads to fodder scarcity, they are forced to part with the animals they love. The highest protection of animals is protection of the farmers who take care of them.

Hiding behind the fig leaf of animal welfare, the government is trying to destroy our domestic livestock sector, our pashudhan. The word cattle as defined by our law means a bovine animal, including bulls, bullocks, cows, buffalos, steers, heifers and calves and includes camels.

After having encouraged beef exports to decimate our cattle wealth, it is criminalising the farmers’ livestock economy through the animal trading law, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules 2017, which prohibits all exchange of animals between farmers through their traditional exchange mechanisms, and transforms the livestock economy into a state-controlled inspector raj.

Governments do not care for animals, communities do. Care is cultivated in the commons through the culture of compassion, not by creating a police state. The animal rules are a denial and an erasure of India’s rich traditional science of animal breeding. The Animal Market Committee does not include farmers or pastoralists who are the breeders of our native breeds and know and love animals.

Cruelty includes “putting any ornaments or decorative materials on animals”. Mattu Pongal in South India is celebrated by decorating and worshipping the animals and then letting them roam free. Does the government want to make Mattu Pongal illegal? Has it forgotten Jallikattu?

The new animal trade rules are an assault on India’s sanskriti of living peacefully and lovingly with our animals. Our seed economy and livestock economy must be a swadeshi farm economy based on non-violence and ahimsa. Ahimsa is cultivated through swaraj, self-rule, self-governance.

For 30 years, Navdanya has practised and spread an ahimsic non-violent swadeshi ecological agriculture based on seed sovereignty, animal sovereignty and food sovereignty. Navdanya farmers on using their time-tested seeds are growing more nutritious crops per acre and can feed two Indias. They are earning 10 to 100 times more than farmers growing commodity crops. No ecological farmer practising sovereignty and fair trade has committed suicide.

The path to reverse the agrarian distress, end farmer suicide and stop cruelty to humans and other animals is clear. It is chemical-free, corporate-free, violence-free farming, Swadeshi kheti. It is time to stop being colonised by the violent systems promoted by global agribusiness. It is time for the third freedom movement to protect our farmers, our seeds, our animals.