See our Photo of the Week (and archive of more) books we recommend

Opinion Advertize Permission
To be notified of new articles Survey Store About Us
Interview with S. Kannaiyan
of India’s Tamizhaga Vivasayigal Sangam

Democratic Decentralization of the Means of Production
Matola, Mozambique

S. Kannaiyan at the Via Campesina conference in Matola, Mozambique. Photos by Nic Paget-Clarke.
S. Kannaiyan at the Via Campesina conference in Matola, Mozambique. Photos by Nic Paget-Clarke.
Tamizhaga Vivasayigal Sangam's banner at the Via Campesina conference.
Tamizhaga Vivasayigal Sangam's banner at the Via Campesina conference.
A cultural performance during the Via Campesina conference.
A celebration moment during the conference.
A celebration moment during the conference.
Cutting sugar cane near Renganathapuram, in Tamil Nadu.
Cutting sugar cane near Renganathapuram, in Tamil Nadu. To read more click here.
S. Kannaiyan is organizing secretary for the Erode District chapter of the farmers’ association Tamizhaga Vivasayigal Sangam in Tamil Nadu, India. He was in Mozambique attending the 5th International Conference of La Via Campesina. La Via Campesina is an organization of organizations, part of a global movement of peasants, family farmers, indigenous and landless people. The interview was conducted (and later edited) by Nic Paget-Clarke for In Motion Magazine on October 23, 2008 during the Via Campesina conference. The conference was held at the FRELIMO Party School in Matola, Mozambique.

Farming is the way of life

S. Kannaiyan: I’m the organizing secretary of the district chapter of Tamizhaga Vivasayigal Sangam, a farmers’ association of Tamil Nadu. I’m in the Erode district of Tamil Nadu.

In Motion Magazine: Are you yourself a farmer?

S. Kannaiyan: Yes, I am a farmer.

In Motion Magazine: What do you farm?

S. Kannaiyan: Our main crops are all kinds of vegetables, banana, and sugar cane.

In Motion Magazine: Is it a family farm?

S. Kannaiyan: It is all family farming in India. Farming is the way of life. We are born in the farming family. It is our main livelihood.

In Motion Magazine: For generations you were farmers in your family?

S. Kannaiyan: Yes. My parents, my grandfathers. All the years, we are living on farming only.

Electricity and GMOs

In Motion Magazine: Can you tell me a little about the history of your farmers’ association?

S. Kannaiyan: Our association has a long history, the last thirty years. It was started in a small way in Erode. Then, a larger farmers’ movement emerged all over the state, particularly against the high-tariff electric power supply to agriculture. More than 20 farmers lost their lives due to police firing, by the previous governments. Farmers were fighting to reduce the electric tariff in agriculture. The result of that now is that power is free for the farmers, and most all the farmers across my state are using power free from the government. It is completely, 100 percent, subsidized in Tamil Nadu.

In Motion Magazine: That was the primary reason why the organization got together?

S. Kannaiyan: Yes, but now the farmers’ association has split into three or four groups. Ours is the association which still remains as the original association -- not belonging to any political parties. It is a non-political-party association. We are working only for the cause of the farmers. We are taking up all kinds of farmer’s issues at the state, district and local level.

We are into this GMO issue, genetically-engineered crops. We had a very big dialogue with the scientific community. We brought together the might of the scientific community from the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University to meet with farmers. Mr. Devinder Sharma, who is a policy analyst from Delhi spoke on behalf of the farmers in the dialogue. Farmers also raised questions to the scientific community. But the questions of the farmers relating to bio-safety, bio-sovereignty and biodiversity, etc., were not replied to satisfactorily by the University scientists.

The Tamil Nadu Agricultural University is an agricultural university which is doing field trails for MAHYCO and Monsanto. Monsanto in India, it is MAHYCO. You might be knowing about the pioneering Indian seed company called Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company, MAHYCO. Now it is taken over by Monsanto.

We oppose these genetically-engineered seeds and policy changes are underway. The government wants to queue very quickly the companies who are applying to conduct research, the commercial release of seeds, breeding and multiplication, and the marketing of the genetically-engineered seeds. Now we have a mechanism, GEAC, Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, which has inter-ministerial representations. It has a big number of people who need to be approved, the applications. Now these companies want quick and immediate approval. It’s called single-window approval. They want biotechnology regulatory authority. We are opposing that, 100 percent, at the national level.

The WTO and Indian agriculture

The second thing we are working on is the WTO (World Trade Organization) agreement on agriculture. We had a South India-level meeting which my association facilitated. We called a meeting of the farmer’s leaders from south India -- from Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu to discuss the traps of the WTO which were before the WTO Mini-Ministerial, which was recently held and broke in Geneva.

We also met ministers in Delhi. We pressurized the government of India to safeguard the interests of small and marginal farmers in the country. We got a reply from the Commerce Minister, Mr. Kamal Nath that he was very happy that farmers’ associations are subscribing to the stand of the government. But it is not true.

He knows that we are demanding that agriculture be taken out of the purview of WTO. But the Ministry is of the opinion that if agriculture is to be taken out of the purview of WTO, it will do more harm than good. That it is the government’s position. We are going to ask the government to explain this -- what we farmers will get out of WTO if agriculture is in the purview of WTO. The government has to explain this to us. This is a big agriculture country. It is unlike in the West where 3-5 percent of the people depend on agriculture. Here, 60-70 percent of the people are in agriculture. Most of them are small- and marginal-holders, two to five acres, like that.

Mr. Pascal Lamy (director general of the WTO), immediately after the breakdown of the negotiations in Geneva, visited India. You might be aware of this visit. Do you know whom he met? The officials in the government, the negotiators, the Commerce Ministry, and the
Confederation of Indian Industries -- not the farmers. It was mainly on the agreement on agriculture. So, farmers are not even considered as stakeholders. It is definitely going to benefit the interests of the trading companies, not the farmers. That is one thing that we are working on.

From traditional millet to rice and wheat

In Motion Magazine: How many members are there in the association?

S. Kannaiyan: We have a membership of over 25,000 farmers and we have a support base of over 1 lakh (100,000) farmers in six districts in Tamil Nadu.

In Motion Magazine: Why are you opposed to genetically-modified organisms?

S. Kannaiyan: We farmers use traditional seeds in agriculture, over thousands of years, and indigenous breeds of cattle, livestock. But, after independence, because of the intervention of science and technology in agriculture, in the name of the Green Revolution, our main staple food is now rice and wheat, in India.

Previously, my parents told me, my grandparents told me, millets were the main staple food in India. There are many kinds of millets - ragi, jowar -- local millets are used. Even I, when I was a young boy, ragi was prepared as the food. Still, we cook ragi once in a while.

But, after the intervention by the government in the name of the Green Revolution, two important crops were given importance -- one is rice, the other is wheat. This was after the setting up of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines, which is part of the United Nations overseas policy to control science and technology in agriculture, in the Asia region.

If you control rice and wheat in Asia, then you can control the politics of Asia. That was the idea behind the United States, at that time, and the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation -- these are all the main foundations which funded the setup of the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines.

Our germplasm were transferred to IRRI. IRRI influenced all the Indian scientific establishments, particularly in agriculture, and rice research. IR20 was the very famous rice which is still in Tamil Nadu -- IRRI rice 20. This is the way it was -- hybridized, improved. All these things happened.

But, even after these kinds of interventions, we had a very good network of companies across the country. They were producing seeds and supplying seeds at a cheaper price to farmers -- public sector institutions that were extensively doing research on agriculture. We were able to get seeds through the government depots and, also, from the private small companies. This was the situation. Now what will happen? This genetic engineering, which is controlled by a very few companies like Syngenta and Monsanto -- the technology is with them. Even now this Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) is doing some research on genetically-engineered crops, though they are not very successful, no release so far. They are doing field trials for Monsanto seeds. This will, basically, take away the rights of the farmers over seed.

And these companies who are controlling the ultramodern technology, they are taking over, amalgamating, purchasing Indian companies, making Indian companies become allied to them, like commission agents to them. If this happens, an automatic monopoly will be established in India in the seed sector. Maybe the companies are Indian companies, the face is an Indian face, but it is controlled by Monsanto.

Bt cotton, the textile industry and farmer suicides

In Motion Magazine: What will be the impact on the regular farmer?

S. Kannaiyan: We will have to keep buying seeds from these companies and they will be free to fix prices. Even now, 70 percent of the cotton being cultivated in India is Bt cotton because all the seed companies in the country have now become allies to Monsanto. It is the truth.

It is even an argument by them, by some of the scientists who are influenced by Monsanto, and also by Monsanto, that Indian farmers are very happy about BT cotton seeds. They are buying Bt seeds. But it is not true. All the companies, all the small and medium companies who are in seed production and distribution, have become allies to Monsanto. Farmers have no other alternative. They have been trusting these companies all the years.

In Motion Magazine: And the income of the farmers?

S. Kannaiyan: The price of the BT seeds is very high when compared with the quality seeds produced before. That is one thing. And, there was a promise that in the long run, if you use Bt cotton, then the cotton crop will have immunity against boll worms. Their cotton was introducing Bollgard (a genetically-modified BT product of Monsanto). But it is not like that. Still, farmers are spraying against sucking pests. The cost of production is on the increase but the cotton price is depressed.

At this juncture, I would like to tell you about the textile industry, particularly the garment industry. In my district in Erode and my neighboring district in Coimbatore, there is a place called Tirupur on the bank of a beautiful river called Noyal, which is a tributary to the perennial River Kaveri, which is the lifeline of Tamil Nadu.

After the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) agreement, the textile is really booming in India. The number of industries, the volume of production, is on the increase. Around 11,500 crores dollars ($11.5 billion) of foreign exchange is being earned by this industry in these two districts. Around 60 percent of the global exports of garments are being done by these industries. And these are the industries who are in opposition whenever the cotton price increases. They are talking against cotton growers. Also they are a very powerful lobby now in the government.

I would like to tell you an example. Recently, three months back, there was a rally in my district. Some 4,000 people, who are all mainly working in this textile sector, were rallying.

In Motion Magazine: These were farmers?

S. Kannaiyan: Not farmers, but this garment industry -- small and medium-size textile producers, also. This rally was demanding free (access to the) supply of cotton to the industry. And, immediately after that, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu had written a letter to the government of India to ensure the supply of cotton. So what happened? The export subsidy was withdrawn; the import tariff was lifted, reduced, so imports are coming in. Cotton imports. The cotton export from India stopped. Ultimately, who is suffering? The cotton growers. That is the very powerful lobby, not the farmers.

As a result of these kind of things, among cotton farmers in India, since 1992, more than 150,000 farmers have committed suicide due to severe depression in the prices, the severe crisis in agriculture. Imagine, India is a big country. There are millions of farmers who are committing suicide? Our government is not taking this as a serious national issue. They are not really looking into ending this kind of crisis.

In Motion Magazine: What is the primary cause of these suicides?

S. Kannaiyan: Mainly, the cost of production is on the increase. There is no institutional credit to them. They are getting credit at 130 percent to 360 percent, like that, from the money lenders. They are not able to repay the money to the moneylenders because of the crop failures and the depression of the prices. They are not able to make any profit out of that. They keep getting loans from the moneylenders. They are losing their lands and losing their lives.

Self-government / Panchayats / the central government in Delhi

In Motion Magazine: One of the things talked about here at the conference is the concern that the economy is run based on capital accumulation and the market is everything, particularly the international market. Are there things that your organization is doing, or the farmers are doing, in organizing themselves, locally, that presents an alternative?

S. Kannaiyan: Yes. They are not vocally talking against capitalism, like that. We are not into that. But we small-, marginal-, and medium-level farmers who are really working to protect the interests of farming are taking up all these things in this way: opposing this WTO issue, opposing the World Bank’s entry in the agricultural sector, and opposing the industries which are the main capitalist forces who are producing these garments. Particularly garments, but also tanneries. They are not bothering about pollution. The Noyal is completely a dead river in India -- the first-ever dead river in India, by the chemical effluents.

This is the way we are fighting against capitalism.

In Motion Magazine: How are the farmers organized on a local level, in the community?

S. Kannaiyan: We are organized on a state level, and on the district level, and also in local branches. We have village branches. We have blocks -- so many blocks together constitute a district. In India we have local governments, village governments - Panchayats. Many Panchayats, together forming a union, we call a block. The block level committee we have formed.

This is the way we are functioning. The decisions are taken from the village level, block level, district level and state level.

In Motion Magazine: The Panchayats and the block level deal with issues of the organization or other community issues as well?

S. Kannaiyan: The Panchayats are the government body. We are the farmer’s association. Our village-level branches mainly deal with farmers’ community issues and also organizational issues. Many Panchayat members, Panchayat presidents, are members in my association. For example, my state president is also a representative of Chennimalai Panchayat union.

In Motion Magazine: Does this crossover between the two have a positive effect?

S. Kannaiyan: Yes, positive. It depends. The Panchayats have very limited power to execute some of the government programs to the people.

In Motion Magazine: Thinking about Gandhi’s ideas about self-government, is that at all implemented in these Panchayats or are they just instruments of higher authorities?

S. Kannaiyan: It was our dream that local self-governments would be there. It was the dream of Gandhi too. But, you might be wondering, even the state governments are losing their powers because the central government in Delhi is taking away the powers. The Panchayats have powers in agriculture, also, but they don’t have money. No resources. It is highly controlled by the state government. State government, in the sense of we have 28 states, the state
governments are very powerful and it is not very decentralized -- the power is not de-centralized to the Panchayats. Panchayats are still to be empowered. They have very limited power.

Local issues / local markets

In Motion Magazine: Your local associations, what do they talk about?

S. Kannaiyan: They are not always talking about WTO, World Bank, or genetically-modified seeds because it is still reaching them. They take up local issues, for example the infrastructure and the local water-bodies. One company, which is coming up in one village, they are going to burn these coconut shells to be used in some industries. That is highly polluting. So they are taking that up in that village.

In another place, the national highway development authority has leased out roads to private companies to build, construct, and maintain. There is one such company, a big company, they were given permission to take earth to be used in the road, to heighten it, from a traditional water-body, a place called Palathozhuvu, near Chennimalai, in the Erode district. Sixty-two hectares inside the water tank, which is 400 acres. It is a big water-body, which is a fantastic achievement done by the forefathers. It was constructed long ago. All the rain water collects there and was used for irrigation. But now the main source of water coming to the Palathozhuvu tank is polluted water from the textile processing and the dyeing industries of the SIPCOT industrial growth centre in Perundurai.

In this situation, farmers are opposing pollution because these stupid government officials have given permission to this development contractor to take away 62 hectares, nearly 150 acres -- and they are using all modern measures to take the earth away, digging up to 20 feet deep. What will happen if the polluted water is going to be stored there? The (polluted) water will reach the groundwater -- for hundreds of years.

The Palathozhuvu local branch, which took up the matter, we facilitated them to approach the high court. They got a stay order in the high court, though I do not know the final order.

In Motion Magazine: Are local markets being developed? Are there any imports?

S. Kannaiyan: We have local markets. Rice is produced from paddy. It is locally processed, made into rice, and marketed locally. Turmeric (, we have a local market. It is locally sold, not directly connected with the international market. We sell all our vegetables in local markets. There is a direct market for farmers, by name Uzhavar sandai, where local farmers sell their produce directly to consumers in nearby towns.

But, also, there is an impact from the international market. For example, palm oil is imported from Malaysia. Pepper is imported from Sri Lanka. Tea is imported. These are having disastrous impacts on the agricultural prices in India. Now, the thinking is, if we have a shortage in production -- import. But, importing means you are destroying Indian production, the Indian market, and livelihood. You are importing unemployment.

Recently, wheat was imported from Australia to be distributed in the public distribution system but the price which was paid to Australian companies is higher than the procurement price by the Food Corporation of India (FCI) from the Indian farmers. Imagine if rice is imported -- what will happen to all the rice farmers? Previously, they were thinking of increasing the production of oil seeds, increase the production of pulses, food grains, now the thinking is shift to imports.

The focus is to earn dollars. The slogan to produce more is used (only) to promote transnational corporations, to import high-yielding seeds, genetically-engineered seeds, hybrid seeds, terminator seeds.

In the hands of peasants in India

In Motion Magazine: Your strategy includes opposing that. Does it include an alternative?

S. Kannaiyan: The alternative is to promote local agriculture with the re-gaining of traditional knowledge and we have our farmer friends who are well-trained in this promotion of organic farming. We are training other farmers and we are also associating with other groups of people and farmer’s networks who are promoting organic farming. We are in support of that and a large number of people who are shifting into organic farming.

Even in my farm, my father is mainly into agriculture, we have discontinued the use of fertilizer to a large extent. We have reduced the use of chemical fertilizers. In the near future, we will completely get rid of using chemical fertilizers.

In Motion Magazine: How is that going among your general membership, that campaign?

S. Kannaiyan: It is getting momentum. There is a concept called Zero Budget Agriculture, which is being promoted by a network of farmers. Zero Budget farming means you are not going to depend on any external inputs. We are not directly facilitating these alternative models because so many people are into that. We are extending our support and when such kinds of training are organized, some kind of exposure, we are mobilizing our members, “You, please, attend this. This will be beneficial economically to you.” This is the way alternatives are being promoted.

In Motion Magazine: What does food sovereignty mean to your organization?

S. Kannaiyan: To our organization, food production and food sovereignty should remain in the hands of peasants in India. It should not be dependent on food imports. We strongly oppose food imports. The sad situation in India is people are shifting from food crops to commercial crops, particularly my place, in the hilly region of Tamil Nadu, the ragi millet was staple food there. They were producing ragi until recently. But now they are shifting to maize production. It is being used as industrial goods. It is not directly used as a food crop in India. It is being used in the poultry industry. For chicken, eggs -- there it is used. We are campaigning for food sovereignty, which means the food production should remain in the hands of farmers, peasants in India.

Industrial development / losing land

In Motion Magazine: Is access to land a problem in your area?

S. Kannaiyan: Yes, there are still a large number of landless people in Tamil Nadu. Though, recently, the government of Tamil Nadu announced that two acres of land will be distributed to landless people. The two acres of land are from government lands which are not used. Unused government lands were identified that are to be distributed. But still it is not implemented.

The problem is, now, even big farmers keep selling their farms because of the crisis in agriculture. Small and marginal farmers are also selling out. They are quitting farming. Industrial development leads to urbanization; the urban centers are expanding. People started thinking that it is better to sell and make money; better than doing farming.

I told you about the textile processing. If you lease out your land to the textile processing which is to be set up in your place, you are getting more than by doing some cropping. If one farmer allows his farm to set up a dyeing industry, or a processing industry, then polluted water will be discharged -- the neighboring farms also will become useless. The neighbors will begin to think that they can also lease out their land to some other companies like this. This is the way farmers are losing land. We are talking about the access to lands -- those who already have land, they are losing it.

You know in India we have a colonial act, called The Land Acquisition Act. The government can acquire the lands of farmers for the benefit of industries; that land can be distributed to the industries. Government is very keen on acquiring lands from the farmers to facilitate industries.

I think you can understand the access to land. Those who are already having lands are plowing. Some of them are not plowing. Some of them are quitting farming and some of them are even selling out. That is the question of accessing lands.

In Motion Magazine: Looking at India as a whole, what is going on with agriculture? Do you see a trend in what the government is trying to do?

S. Kannaiyan: In the whole India, a large stretch of agricultural lands are depending on monsoon agriculture. If monsoon fails, your crops will fail. A very limited area is under irrigation by the projects, the dams constructed across rivers and traditional water-bodies. Now, instead of improving irrigation to the farms, the government has shifted its focus to improve industries, to bring in foreign investment in India. To industrialize the country.

No place for the poor people

In Motion Magazine: Would you call this a neoliberal program?

S. Kannaiyan: Yes. You can understand. If I call the Finance Minister and the Agriculture Minister in India, they are saying that in the West, Europe and America, less than 5 percent of the people are depending on agriculture; that that should happen in India too. This is the idea of our ministers. Our government. They are representing the idea of the government. They are representing the idea of future industrialization. Imagine what will happen. Millions of people are leaving farms and going to the urban centers and seeking employment.

So, a lot of urban crisis. You need to build structures. You need sand. You need iron, steel. You need cement. A lot of pressure on our natural resources. You need all kind of things. Again the villages are exploited. Rivers are exploited. You need drinking water. You will pollute it, then you will deplete it. Half the sewers are diverted to the rivers. Clean rivers are now sewers because of the growing urban centers.

But the urban policy -- you will be shocked to know about the urban policy. The urban centers are no place for the poor people. The poor people are living on the pavement, in slums and dirty places. They are also being evicted and being thrown out of the cities and towns due to the new policies -- the policy called Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission.

The cities are clogged, choked with the traffic. Your existing roads are not sufficient, so you have high flyovers and elevated highways within the towns. You need to bring in electric train services to transport large numbers of people within the city. You are producing more cars, motorcycles, all that in the same road. Seventy-five percent of the population is transported by public transport but this public transport occupies only twenty-five percent of the road space. The private cars, the motorcycles, occupy 75 percent of the road-space. So, you are laying new roads. You are taking away farmlands. You are taking earth from water-bodies.

In Motion Magazine: When did all this start?

S. Kannaiyan: This process started after the Dunkel Draft, which was signed as the GATT agreement. It was the dream of Jawaharlal Nehru to make this country an industrial empire.
Afterwards, Indira Gandhi also boosted industrialization, then Ranjiv Gandhi came ... all of them in this family which ruled the country for a long time, they all had a dream of industrialization.

From the East India Company to 500 multinational companies

In Motion Magazine: Has it been speeding up recently?

S. Kannaiyan: Yes. In the 1990s, a very important change came into existence. Foreign companies, before the ’90s, were only allowed to hold only 49 percent of a company. But it was lifted and foreign companies were allowed to have 51 percent, which means the companies can directly have the control, have the decision, to influence the region. Now you can have your own company there with 51 percent equity. About 500 multinational companies are operating in India.

One company came, the East India Company, which enslaved us, then the British Empire, which ruled us. Now there are more than 500 companies there in India, operating, which means exploitation and also internal exploitation. These urban centers are exploiting villages, sucking the blood of the people.

For example, the textile industry in Erode and Tiripur. My area is the rice hub of Tamil Nadu, next to Thanjavur. We don’t have the labor force because hundreds and hundreds of buses are starting from Tiripur, going more than 100 kilometers into the villages, and transporting all the labor force to these industries, and then dropping them back in the villages. The buses halt in the villages. In the morning, again bringing the labor force here. But, the standard of living of the laborers has not increased.

In Motion Magazine: So when people say that the wealth of India is increasing, is that money going out of the country but still the poor are getting poorer?

S. Kannaiyan: Well, India is developing and has its own industries. It stands tenth or twelfth place in industrialization among world countries, but when you look at the per capita income of Indian people we are in the last ten or twelve places. The benefit of the development is not going to the last person. We have an act called the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. One hundred days of employment is guaranteed under the act to those who are willing to do manual work. You know how much is the minimum wage in Tamil Nadu? 80 rupees per day. I’m the person campaigning for the full implementation of the act with the letter and spirit for the last three years, but in many places people don't get even the 80 rupees a day, which is less than two dollars. About 50-60 percent of the Indian population is living on an income of less than a dollar a day.

And, since the ’90s, the gap between rich and poor is widening.

Democratic decentralization

In Motion Magazine: Is food sovereignty a solution to that situation?

S. Kannaiyan: Yes. Definitely. Food sovereignty will be the solution for that.

In Motion Magazine: Why?

S. Kannaiyan: You must invest a lot of money in the infrastructure development of agriculture. You are the country of agriculture if you properly utilize the resources in agriculture. Then you will be a food-exporting country. You can produce more agriculture-oriented business. Gandhi was not against industries, he was for an industry in which the masses can participate in the production process. Democratic decentralization of the means of production was the broad idea of Gandhiji.

For example, I was born in Chennimalai, a place where there were a number of hand looms by the time I was a small child. Slowly, hand-looms completely disappeared and power looms came. Power looms are also good. They use little power and the productivity is much higher than the hand looms, and they also generate employment. They are labour intensive, too.

But, now, the jet looms are coming. Power looms are disappearing. It is technological progress. Large numbers of spinning mills are there. Very few people are employed as labour. It doesn’t provide more employment because of automation. Employment here and there.

If you have hand-spinning, or if you have a machine which is developed by which you can spin in your own village, if the small medium-sized machines are developed, then, in the off-season, the agricultural people need not move away from the villages to the cities in search of employment. You will get employment throughout the year. You can have spinning there. You can have weaving there. Then you will have production involving people across the country.

That is the idea that farmers’ associations like Thamizhaga Vivasayigal Sangam are promoting. We are not against industrialization. We are against the very, very capital-intensive, highly technological industries which involve fewer humans and require more capital, which is polluting in nature. This kind of industry we don’t want. When you decentralize industries, you are promoting mass production by involving the masses of this country because India is a highly populated country.

You have abundant employment in one sector, in one place in Tamil Nadu, which is export-oriented garment industries. People from Orissa coming, people from Bihar coming, people from Jharkand coming for a job in Perundurai and Tirupur. All the people are there. But why not employment there in Orissa? Why not employment there in Bihar? You must have an opportunity to a decent life everywhere.

You are not doing agriculture all year. In agriculture, you can’t give employment to all agricultural laborers all yearlong. In the off-season, you have to develop plans. Develop a concept of infrastructure, like traditional water-harvesting mechanisms. You have to construct other infrastructures, roads -- linking roads, constructing buildings for the common purpose.

Less capital, more production, democratic participation

In Motion Magazine: Via Campesina is very much a horizontal organization, and you just spoke a few minutes ago about Gandhi's idea of how you would do industrialization where it involves people on a horizontal level. Can you talk some more about that?

S. Kannaiyan: In Via Campesina, people have a very strong position against capitalism, but in my country there are two states which are being ruled by the communists. They are also very strongly against capitalism, you might be knowing. But they are in complete agreement with the mode of production, the industrial model. They have don’t have a dispute with the industrial model. But we have a serious difference about the model of industrialization.

Industrialization should be a decentralized model. It should not require huge capital. We should be able to absorb more labor into the process of production. Less capital, and more productivity too. This de-centralization would be everywhere. Local production in each and every village. Agricultural products could become the finished goods there, itself. That is the way the industrialization should be.

If you want to make airplanes, it may require centralized production. A steel plant may require centralized production. But variability is possible. Whatever is possible, it should be done in a much decentralized manner. If it is not so, that will lead to the capital-intensive, high-technology-intensive, and labor-displacing industries which are all the model of capitalistic industries. The communists think when power is replaced then the capital can be controlled by the communist regime. That is not the solution. It is not going to be the solution. The capitalist model of production should be destroyed if you really want to attack capitalism. The capitalist model of production should be attacked. That should be taken up in Via Campesina in the future and we will definitely speak out on this account in the forums.

In Motion Magazine: Does this also transfer into democratic participation?

S. Kannaiyan: Once you decentralize the production model, then it will lead to real democracy. Democracy is not just electing people and transforming power. In capitalism, even though India is industrialized, why the per capita income is very low? Because very few people are making money, the capital outcome is in very few people’s hand.

Capital is growing, growing, growing, in very few people's hands. It is reinvested. The technology is improved, in the way of displacing people. So, it is growing, growing -- it leads to exploitation. They are expanding the industries to other countries also. It is not only the West which is expanding their industries, exploiting in other countries; even Indian multinational companies are expanding. When money is accumulated, capital is accumulated in a few hands, that leads to the exploitation.

Only when this level is destroyed and the people’s model, the decentralized model, is established, will that lead to a healthy democracy. It will lead to the equitable development of humanity.

Youth and ideas of gender equality

In Motion Magazine: How important, do you think, is the Via Campesina campaign against violence against women is in India?

S. Kannaiyan: This campaign gives us inspiration. There is very powerful legislation in India which came in to operation two years back. It is Domestic Violence Act 2005 which protects the rights of women from domestic violence. Farmers associations should take up issues related to all forms of violations against women. We will give appropriate trainings to our cadre about the legislations which protect the rights of women. I am really impressed by the way the Via Campesina convention is being organized with the equal participation of women. It gives a lot of positive energy. But India is highly male-dominated. It is a challenge, even for me, mobilizing women to participate in this kind of work. It is really challenging. But we will definitely be successful in the future.

In Motion Magazine: Do you think this particular campaign is important -- fighting against violence against women?

S. Kannaiyan: Yes, the campaign is necessary to fight the violence against the women. Because the violence against women is on the increase day by day in India too. I’m also a human rights activist. I participate in many campaigns like that which include violence against women. But if you ask me to talk about the farmers association, even though the food production, even though in agricultural production the involvement of women is more than that of men, the participation in the association still it is very sad. It has to be improved.

In Motion Magazine: Can it?

S. Kannaiyan: Definitely.

In Motion Magazine: How will you do that?

S. Kannaiyan: The young people are taking over the leadership of the association. We have exposure to the world. We have ideas of gender equality, gender sensitivities among the young people. Slowly it will definitely be possible to bring women into decision making.

In Motion Magazine: Is there an economic basis to gender equality?

S. Kannaiyan: The economic basis in the sense of in every farm, in every house, women are taking part in decision making, but as far as this association is concerned, the farmers movement is concerned, women are not into that. They are participating in struggles but if you ask me to talk about decision making in the movement, women are not there.

In Motion Magazine: So you think the hope for that is the fact that younger people are becoming involved?

S. Kannaiyan: Yes. Young people are coming in. It is still a challenge to bring women in to the farmers movement. Women are very successful in the self-help movements but landed people are conservatives in their thinking. But, hope lives on. My dream is to involve fifty-percent women in decision making.

Published in In Motion Magazine April 14, 2009

Also see:

  • 5th International Conference of La Via Campesina: Series of interviews and articles gathered by In Motion Magazine in Mozambique during and after the 5th International Conference of La Via Campesina in October 2008

  • Interview with Henry Saragih
    General Coordinator of La Via Campesina and Chairman of the Indonesian Peasant Union
    Not Wait for the Changing of Our Society Through the Government
    Matola, Mozambique

  • The Global Food Crisis and the Right to Food
    Via Campesina Statment at the U.N. General Assembly
    Henry Saragih
    New York, New York

  • Interview with Paul Nicholson
    Member of the Basque Country’s EHNE
    Food Sovereignty and a New Way of Internal Democracy
    Matola, Mozambique

  • Interview with Diamantino Nhampossa
    of the União Nacional de Camponeses / National Peasants' Union
    Organizing Food Sovereignty in Mozambique
    Matola, Mozambique

  • The Soils of War
    The real agenda behind agricultural reconstruction in Afghanistan and Iraq
    by GRAIN
    Barcelona, Spain

  • India -- New Delhi, Ahmedabad, Madurai and around Tamil Nadu: Extended series of interviews and articles

  • Devinder Sharma -- New Delhi-based food and trade policy analyst