Pauperising farmers

With nine per cent economic growth, India has apparently arrived. It is not too clear where ‘destination India’ happens to be, but it is one that includes nuclear weapons, a space programme, luxury townships and an upcoming Formula 1 race track for rich men to drive expensive cars and for the well-to-do to watch. Eye-catching stuff. What more could a country want?

How about policies that prioritise food sovereignty and water security for a burgeoning yet vulnerable population, delivered by a thriving agriculture sector?

Take the current building of the Delhi to Agra Yamuna expressway, for instance. Will this project benefit the 70 per cent, mainly rural folk who struggle to get by on less than two dollars a day, or is it just intended to benefit the rich and their planned townships and sports cities along the road and tourism? Huge tracts of fertile land have been gained cheaply and sold for massive profit. Parts of the area are now up for sale at 18 times the price that was paid to farmers for the land.

Farmers’ leaders claim the number of deaths over this land acquisition to be at least 70. Police action has included firing live bullets and rapes on peaceful and unarmed people demanding justice and their rights. This is symptomatic of what is happening across the country.

In Jaitapur, police recently opened fire on peaceful protesters demonstrating against the proposed nuclear power park in Maharashtra. In Orissa, state forces are to be deployed to assist in what many regard as the anti-constitutional land acquisition to protect the stake of India’s largest foreign direct investment project, the Posco steel project. The anti-Posco movement in its five years of peaceful protest has faced state violence numerous times.

Decent roads and other infrastructure are necessary, but at what cost to whom and at what sacrifice as far as other infrastructure such as agriculture is concerned?

Apart from displacing people and selling off much needed fertile land, the government has placed part of agriculture in the hands of powerful western agribusiness. You don’t have to look far to read the many reports and research papers to know the effects — biopiracy, patenting and seed monopolies, pesticides and the use of toxins leading to superweeds and superbugs, the destruction of local rural economies, water run offs from depleted soil leading to climate change and severe water resource depletion and contamination.

Export-oriented policies that are part of agricultural globalisation have led to a shift in India from the production of food crops to commodities for exports. Where farmers traditionally grew paddy, pulses, millets, oilseeds and vegetable crops, they now grow cotton for export or wheat. India’s biodiversity is being uprooted. The subcontinent used to have 30,000 varieties of rice to cope with different climates. There are now 15.

Change in priorities
One in four people in India is hungry and every second child is underweight and stunted. But environmentalist Vandana Shiva argues that hunger is a structural part of the design of the industrialised, globalised food system and of the design of capital-intensive, chemical-intensive monocultures of industrial agriculture. In her view, this type of agriculture merely created a market for corporations to breed crops that respond to high chemical inputs. It has increased production of wheat and cotton at the cost of the production of other crops, some of which is now imported.

Shiva argues for a shift towards ecological, biodiversity-intensive, low-cost farming systems. Her organisation, Navdanya, is helping farmers across India implement a practical shift away from centralised, globalised food supply controlled by a handful of corporations towards decentralised, localised food systems that are resilient in the context of climate vulnerability and price volatility. She asserts such a system could feed India’s population.

Of course, the biggest beneficiaries of what is currently happening are the Monsantos, Syngentas and Cargills. The biggest losers are the many farmers who have been conned, forced into debt and have committed suicide en masse.

If the present path is continued, the mass of the population will find itself increasingly reliant on an insecure supply of food that is unnecessarily shifted around the planet, increasing water scarcities and expensive food that has less nutritional content and involves a greater threat to health. An article in the journal ‘Hortscience’ in 2009 indicated falling nutritional values as a result of industrialised agriculture, and various studies point to the health risks from intensive, industrial methods as chemicals and the impact of genetic modifications become prevalent within the food chain.

According to officialdom, current construction projects comprise ‘necessary infrastructure’, and giving free rein to agribusiness serves ‘public purpose’. The reality is however that such trends form part of a skewed notion of ‘development’ dictated by elite interests in India and at the World Bank and by the corporations that pull the strings at the World Trade Organisation, who have all succeeded in getting their ‘free trade’ agendas accepted.

Where is the logic in giving the thieves the keys to your home? Why hand over the country to those who regard food and fertile land as resources to be looted for profit?
India may have nine per cent economic growth, but this doesn’t give the true picture. Surely, like some of the plants now grown, it’s a case of ‘abnormal swelling.’

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