During the 8th BRICS summit held in Goa, India on 15-16 October, 2016, the five governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the establishment of a BRICS Agricultural Research Platform. It also finds a mention in the Goa declaration, which calls for intensification of cooperation amongst BRICS countries in agricultural research policies, science and technology, innovation and capacity building, including technologies for small-holder farming. The agricultural research centre was first mooted by PM Modi at the previous BRICS summit in Ufa, Russia.
The proposed centre is certainly a laudable idea given that large populations in these countries are agriculture dependent and their agrarian sectors are facing varied crises such as acute droughts, floods, and lack of access to affordable inputs, markets and extensions services. The BRICS countries have also repeatedly raised concerns about the negative effect of climate change on food security, the detrimental impact of speculative activities on the prices and availability of food grains, and the trade distorting subsidies and barriers of developed countries.
Through various Ministerial declarations on Agriculture, the BRICS have attempted to articulate the perspective of developing countries; they have reinforced the need for public stockholdings for achieving food and nutrition security and generating incomes for smallholder farmers, they have reiterated their demand for environment friendly technology transfer by developed countries in accordance with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, and they have called for multilateral negotiations to eliminate export subsidies and other trade distorting barriers in the form of sanitary and phyto-sanitary rules andimprove market access.
The declarations suggest policy measures for improving food productivity and raising rural employment by focusing on smallholder farms, women and youth, and increasing efficiency of small and medium sized agro-industrial units and productivity of family farms. They also mention sustainable farming based on resource saving agriculture, diversification through livestock and fisheries, restoration of degraded land, and maintenance of biodiversity.
However, the BRICS governments have continued with a GDP driven, commodity export based model of growth which seeks greater market integration and has been extremely detrimental to agricultural workers, especially landless labourers and small farmers in Brazil, South Africa and India. In India, landless workers, small and marginal farmers, and other natural resource dependent communities are at the receiving end of huge land acquisitions and intensive mining for mega infrastructure projects. An industrial form of agriculture, which is input intensive, agri-business oriented and dominated by private investment has led to stagnating incomes and high levels of debts in rural areas, along with severe environmental degradation. Meanwhile, livestock and fisheries, which are crucial to rural and coastal economies,continue to be neglected.
The Indian government is also in the process of negotiating various free trade agreements which are antithetical to the idea of food sovereignty as they increase import dependency, intensify exposure to volatile market prices, and make farmers vulnerable to competition from multinational agro-processing and retail firms that they do not have the capacity to withstand given the current state of agricultural infrastructure.
As such, it is imperative for an agricultural research centre of the South to include the following in its priorities: -
- Land reforms- ensuring secure tenure rights and access to land, natural resources, credit, and fair markets for small and mid-scale farmers, with a focus on women and indigenous communities. Furthermore, developing comprehensive land use plans which are based on promotion of agro-centric rural livelihoods, smallholder farming and communities’ control over resources.
- Alternate production systems- ecological farming with gender responsiveness, water conservation, soil regeneration, food security and sovereignty, and sustainability as core principles should be developed and encouraged. There is also a case to be made for greater public investment that prioritises agricultural and allied livelihoods such as livestock, poultry and fisheries.
- Labour reforms- ensuring living wages for small and marginal farmers, formulating and enforcing strong labour laws and social security provisions to protect agricultural workers, and improving crop insurance systems is vital for people engaged in agricultural livelihoods.
- Conservation programmes- mapping water bodies, commons, wetlands and bio diverse zones and developing conservation technologies and programmes which focus on protecting them. Further, formulating guiding principles for investments in land, fisheries, forests and other natural resources which adhere to the various international guidelines evolved in UN processes (such as voluntary guidelines and free, informed and prior consent (FPIC)).
- Climate change mitigation and adaptation technologies- developing technologies related to weather forecasting, information dissemination, and mapping crop damage to limit the impact of climate change related disasters, along with facilitating the exchange of best practices and policies across the BRICS countries.