Defending food security, farmers and farm workers’ rights in India

Indian farmers strike
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From the IUF website

The three new farm laws imposed by the Indian government threaten to undermine food security across the country, depriving rural communities of their right to food, and driving marginal farmers and farm workers into greater poverty and insecurity.  This comes at a time of rapidly rising food prices and a looming global food crisis – a crisis that the United Nations warns is the worst global food crisis in 50 years.

By removing the regulation of the production, supply, and distribution of cereals and pulses, the new farm laws put everyone’s food security at risk. Even a marginal increase in food prices will have significant impact on people’s ability to access their right to food and nutrition, especially for vulnerable rural communities and workers on poverty wages or in precarious employment.

By dismantling the protection of marginal and small farmers, the new laws promote the rapid expansion of the corporate control of agriculture. The ability of small and marginal farmers to secure fair prices and to negotiate the sale of crops will be severely undermined, with agri-food conglomerates and supermarket chains gaining increased power over pricing and greater profits. The new laws actively promote unsustainable chemical-intensive contract farming that puts crop diversity, farm workers’ health and safety and community health at risk.

While the current protests correctly draw attention to the threat that the new farm laws pose for farmers’ livelihoods and food security, it is vital that we recognize that these laws completely ignore the rights and interests of farm workers who work under various employment arrangements, including payment in kind.

For example, in Punjab and Haryana farmers growing rice and wheat receive crop price support from the government because these crops are essential to food security. Farmers refuse to employ local agricultural workers, instead exploiting the vulnerability of migrant farm workers from other states such as Bihar and UP. These migrant workers are not paid a living wage and live and work in hazardous conditions. Farm workers like these make up the largest group of producers dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods. Yet they are denied access to right to a living wage, right to food and nutrition and a safe working environment.

While we must strongly oppose the new farm laws, we must promote a more sustainable and equitable agriculture. The new farm laws threaten to remove crop price support by states, which clearly threatens the income and livelihood of farmers. This must be opposed. But in doing so we cannot simply defend the status quo.Guaranteed crop prices for farmers did not translate into fair wages for farm workers or living wages. The only way that regulations supporting crop prices can translate into fair wages for farm workers is that farm workers can exercise their right to freedom of association and collective bargaining, as guaranteed in ILO Convention No.11. Only through the right to form and join unions can farm workers combine to exercise the collective power needed to secure fair wages, safer work, and food security.

Therefore, we oppose the farm laws that promote the corporate control of agriculture and sacrifice food security for corporate profit. At the same time, we call for progressive agricultural reforms that guarantee agricultural workers’ access to their right to freedom of association and combination through which they can access right to a living wage, the right to food and nutrition, and the right to occupational health and safety. We call for change that promotes environmentally and socially sustainable agriculture as the basis for realizing genuine food security.