ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

Date:  11 March 2001


via Marcus Williamson and the GMO FEREE ZONES list - see reply to address

excerpt:   The real security threat to the country is not a war -- it is the dismantling of
               our food security and the potential displacement of three quarters of India.
*  *  *
India: Corporatisation of agriculture disastrous

Our food and farming systems are in deep crisis. Food scares are spreading. Farmers are committing suicide in thousands or selling their kidneys to pay back debts for high cost agricultural inputs such as seeds and pesticides which were supposed to have brought them prosperity by increasing their productivity. The prosperity that globalisation was supposed to spread is also proving elusive.

by Vandana Shiva

Prices of agricultural commodities are collapsing, as import restrictions are removed and subsidised products flood domestic markets, even while domestic producers are denied price support and procurement subsidies.

Yet, low prices from farmers do not mean low prices for Third World consumers, the majority of whom are desperately poor and already malnourished. Food prices are rising in the Third World, even as prices of agricultural produce collapse as food subsidies are removed, and the polarisation between prices farmers receive and prices consumers pay increases.

Prices of food are also increasing as vertical integration increases corporate profits, and as pseudo hygienic laws are used to legally ban low cost, culturally and economically appropriate food processing systems such as the "ghanis" (tiny cold pressed oil mills), the "chakkis" (the small family run flour mills), the "halwai" shops (sweet and savoury snack makers).

The livelihoods and food rights of millions are eroding as Indian agriculture is being reduced to a market for global corporations -- for their seeds and agrichemicals, for their processed foods, for
dumping their subsidised grain and commodities.

The corporate take-over of Indian agriculture has been facilitated by the globalisation of agriculture, through the imposition of structural adjustment by the World Bank and IMF, and the trade rules of WTO as embodied in its Agriculture Agreement and TRIPs (Trade in Intellectual Property Rights) Agreement. This corporatisation is now part of India's National Agriculture Policy (NAP).

Trade liberalisation rules have camouflaged the corporatisation of agriculture by creating a jargon about competitiveness, market access, aggregate measure of support which hides the emergence of corporate monopolies, the dumping of subsidised products, and the growth of corporate subsidies.

Trade liberalisation as deregulation of commerce privileges traders over producers, profits over needs.

Both peasants and poor consumers are paying the price for globalisation in terms of their very lives -- either through malnutrition and hunger, or through suicides.

India is faced with the paradox of falling farm prices, rising food prices. Even as farm prices are falling, retail prices of food and essential commodities are rising.

The normal explanation for falling prices is overproduction, and the normal explanation for rising prices is scarcity.  However, we do not have overproduction of food, nor do we have a new
scarcity. The paradoxical and double crisis of falling prices at the farm and rising food prices for consumers is the direct result of the World Bank and WTO driven economic reforms and trade
liberalisation policies which have removed price controls.

These policies have pushed farm prices downwards and costs of production, upwards. Withdrawal of subsidies in the input sector and the deregulation of the seed and input sector has worked together to raise costs of production and push farmers into a debt trap.

The withdrawal of price support and procurement guarantee has taken the floor out of farm prices. With inventory and price controls removed,  traders and the processing industry are also exploiting the farmer, by refusing to buy agricultural produce except at prices much below the cost of production.

In meantime, the withdrawal of food subsidies and amendments to the Essential Commodities Act have taken the ceiling out of food prices. Subsidies are being withdrawn from farmers and are being given to trading corporations.

The sudden withdrawal of the government subsidies from procurement and the crisis farmers are facing in terms of collapse of markets is also in preparation of handing over India's domestic markets to seed giants like Cargill, which is no saviour of farmers. Its profits are based on turning farmers into serfs, controlling inputs and markets, production and sales. It has done this to farmers
in its own country, the US.

The second cause of the collapse of farm prices is the removal of the Quantitative Restrictions (QR) on imports. Growers of coconut, mustard, coffee, tea, spices are all facing threats to their survival as highly subsidised artificially cheap products are dumped on the Indian market.

Even small quantities of artificially cheap imports can send prices into a downward spin, wiping out domestic markets and consequently domestic production. In a season or two, with domestic production destroyed, import dependence can become absolute.

QRs must be brought back.   WTO disciplines do not make removal of QRs inevitable. The worst that would happen if we maintain QRs is that US would try and introduce trade sanctions. The best candidate for trade sanctions would be IT exports, but the US needs India's IT even more than we do.

In any case, no trade sanction could do more economic damage than the destruction being caused to India's economy by the removal of QRs.

Farmers' suicides, and the growing number hunger among the poor, show that the removal of import restrictions and economic reforms have started to threaten the very survival of Indian farmers and poor consumers.

The Government has an obligation under the Indian Constitution and a right under the WTO to act in defence of the protection of the right to life and livelihood of Indian peasants and the Indian people.

The real security threat to the country is not a war -- it is the dismantling of our food security and the potential displacement of three quarters of India.

A farm leader recently said: "As long as farmers have their sickle, they will be peaceful. But if their sickle is snatched from their hands, it will be replaced by a gun".

The WTO Agreement on agriculture is currently being reviewed.  This is the time to put food security and farmers survival as the most urgent concern.

The government has no excuse to unleash a war against its own farmers. Alternatives are available that the government must use.

The largest democracy, home to the majority of farmers in the world, must exercise its democratic rights and duties in the defence of its food security and the survival options of its people. Preventing the destruction of our agriculture and our farmers will be the most severe test for our functioning as a democracy and as a free economy. If we fail this test, we will be wiped out as a
society, as a civilisation.

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