Plan could "throw 20 million off land" in India

2019-03-05 01:04:09

By Fred Pearce Farmers from one of India’s poorest states charged the UK government on Monday with helping fund a development scheme that will throw 20 million people off their land. The Indian state of Andhra Pradesh has so far been promised £65 million in UK aid for a programme called Vision 2020. The state government says the programme will “totally eradicate poverty” inside 20 years by mechanising farms, introducing genetically modified crops and extending irrigation, roads and electricity to rural communities. But the plan, which is being funded by the World Bank and the UK’s Department for International Development, will be based round widespread “land consolidation”. That is, turning millions of small farms into larger production units. The stated aim is to reduce the proportion of the state’s 70 million people who make their living from the land from 70 to 40 per cent. “There will be a huge hardship,” says PV Satheesh of the Andhra Pradesh Coalition in Defence of Diversity, who led a protest at the UK Parliament. “They say that the people who leave the land will find jobs. But they can’t show us where the jobs will be. Right now, the government has a moratorium on jobs and the private sector is downsizing.” Speaking from a conference in Mexico, the UK international development secretary Clare Short denied that the Andhra Pradesh state government had any plans to remove people from their land. But she said development was necessary in a state where “most of the poorest people work as agricultural labourers, often on a dollar a day or less”. In effect, the protest represents a clash of two alternative visions for tackling global poverty. The state government declares that under the plan “every individual will be able to lead a comfortable life. Poverty will have been eradicated and current inequalities will have disappeared.” To turn the state into a “powerhouse of Indian agriculture”, it has asked Monsanto to introduce Bt cotton, which carries a gene for an insect-killing toxin. And another firm will develop “golden rice”, which is engineered to be rich in vitamin A. But many farmers oppose the plans. And they are backed by independent aid groups such as Christian Aid and by researchers from the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex. The institute’s Tom Wakeford helped organise a series of “citizens’ juries” in which farmers debated Vision 2020. “They unanimously decided to oppose the project,” he said. Instead they backed an alternative vision based on organic farming and community control. “Vision 2020 means huge farms, pesticides, mass mechanisation and GM crops, but offers nothing but a loss of homes and livelihoods to most of the people,