British aid policy: How Useful is it? -- By Peter Popham Back   Home  

Indian farmers are being forced to give up their land to work in miserable conditions in cities because of British government efforts to combat poverty, a charity claims.

The Department for International Development gives India 100m a year to eliminate poverty, and a big chunk of that goes to the central Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

One of India's biggest states with a population of 84 million, Andhra Pradesh is one of the department's stars. Chandrababu Naidu, its dynamic chief minister, has committed his government to transforming the state in the next 20 years.

Among his goals is the reduction of those earning their livelihood from the land from 70 per cent to 40 per cent. But according to Action Aid, a British aid agency with a substantial Indian presence, this goal is rejected by the very people it is supposed to benefit. Many farmers who lose their land end up slaving with their families in brick kilns on the outskirts of cities.

Last week Action Aid held a "citizens' jury" in the Medak district of Andhra Pradesh, composed of 19 small and marginal farmers, which over the course of five days heard arguments from experts for and against the state government's plans. At the end of the process the jury flatly rejected them.

Their verdict read: "We oppose the proposed reduction of those making their livelihood from the land in Andhra Pradesh by land consolidation and displacement of rural people ... We desire food and farming for self-reliance and community control over resources."

The verdict of the farmers will be embarrassing to the Secretary of State, Clare Short, who has declared: "I will be discussing with the government of India ... how best to harness the power of globalisation to benefit the poor."

According to Action Aid, "globalisation" has led to the mechanisation of harvests and the consolidation of small farms into large landholdings and contract farming by agribusiness corporations in place of farmers growing their food on their own land.

It also involves the accelerated introduction into India of GM crops. Tom Wakeford of Action Aid says: "Surprisingly, given the British Government's hesitation in approving GM crops for growth in the UK, the department is now providing major funding for their early introduction in an Indian state without waiting for the results of research aimed at testing the environmental and social impact of such crops."

Ms Short said last night that her department was not funding projects to move people off the land. "We support the aim of the government of Andhra Pradesh to eradicate poverty in 20 years and we are funding projects in education, health and access to clean water and sanitation," she said.


This article was published at the URL http://www.independent.co.uk/story.jsp?story=82203. It was sent to me by my friend Vinitha.