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Posted by Ramoo on December 31, 2008

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Interview with Dr. Vandana Shiva By Gary Null Progressive Radio Network, Broadcast December 16, 2008

GARY NULL (GN): My guest today is one of the more remarkable individuals that you will ever hear speak on the subjects that we’re going to discuss: the relationship between globalization and poverty, the oil industry’s destruction of agriculture, plus other issues involving the disposition of land and power and the body politics in Africa and India. Dr. Vandana Shiva is one of India’s top nuclear physicists and an internationally renowned environmental and social activist. She has been credited as a principal founder of India’s ecological and eco-feminism movement.
In 1982 she founded The Research Foundation for Science and Technology and Ecology in New Delhi, which led to the creation of an organization, Navdanya, dedicated to the restoration of organic farming across India and the preservation of indigenous knowledge and culture. For several decades Vandana has fought for changes in the globalized practices of agriculture and food and has traveled the world speaking against the bio-piracy of indigenous plants and their medicinal properties by large agriculture and pharmaceutical corporations. She has received numerous international awards including the Alternative Nobel Prize, UNEP’s Global 500 Award, and the UN Earth Day International Award. Her most recent book is “Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in An Age of Climate Crisis.” There are so many pressing issues in the world today, and I would like to start with one that is not getting the mainstream media attention that it deserves, specifically the relationship between corporate globalization and increased poverty, including the policies of the World Bank, IMF, the WTO and their western government backers. From your point of view how has the US and its aggressive push for free market economics contributed to the increase in poverty and a widening of the gap between the haves and have nots throughout the world, especially in light of Barack Obama recently stating that he is very much for globalization and free market efforts.

VANDANA SHIVA (VS): I think India is a good test case to see how globalization increases real poverty even while measurements of growth make it look like the country is booming. India’s growth these last few years has been 9 percent and it is seen as one of the fastest growing economies. And yet in this decade of high growth under free market globalization India has the largest number of hungry people in the world. An agrarian society that has all the capacity to feed itself is today unable to feed its children partly because the land is being diverted for mining, for car companies and highways, and because agriculture itself is being diverted for luxury crops for the rich. One of the greatest tragedies of the new poverty that India is witnessing is the emergence of an epidemic of farm suicides. It’s one step beyond poverty to have to end your life because you’re so deeply indebted and the debt is completely related to corporate seed monopolies, such as Monsanto’s genetically engineered BT cotton. It’s a globalized agriculture controlled by a handful of agribusiness companies-the Cargill’s and ConAgra’s-and the WTO that wrote the rules of agriculture. The combination of seed and commodity controls has denied India its basic right to food, especially for the poor.

GN: There is also 9.1 percent growth in China and still 66 million hungry, unemployed people who are now beginning to protest. Do you believe that we will begin to see protests and riots in India such as what we have seen in Pakistan where the poor were not being subsidized and where there is no infrastructure to care for the poor?

VN: Actually protests are happening. Some protests come out in the language, voice and pain of the people themselves. They protest for land. They protest for food. They protest for water. They protest for forests, for the indigenous communities. But very often, just as our food is being genetically modified protests too are being genetically modified to appear as if they concern religion or are related to terrorism and extremism. And this mutation into a new form of response is partly a manipulation of those powers in control. They do not allow a farmer’s protest to be viewed as simply a farmers’ protest. This is what was happening in the state of Punjab two decades ago. Farmers’ protests were mutated into a protest about religion. Out of it came the invasion of the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the military standoff, and finally the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who had ordered the army to deal with the issue of the Punjab and extremism. But today terrorism is made to look like it appears by itself. I can offer two examples of conflicts about land and livelihood which have been distorted to look like they’re conflicts initiated by people on the basis of caste, religion and ethnicity. We have had a major protest among the pastoral tribes in a region of Rajasthan, a desert area where livestock is the only economy because you can’t really farm extensively with very little water. All of those common lands which are pastoral have been handed over to industry to grow bio-fuel. The pastoralists are now without land as well as livelihood. When they protest they stop the entire transport system of India. Yet the protest is not written in the language of the land and people’s livelihood. It is written in the language of caste. Caste is a name for an occupation, just as pastoralists signify a pastoral occupation. Even the large Darfur conflicts in the Sudan, which are made to appear as if they are only about religious strife, is really about collapsing livelihoods with increasing desertification due to climate change. The settled agriculturalists and the pastoralists cannot meet their own needs. So they end up warring against each other. I think it is time for us to read the narrative of the new conflict and the new violence as distorted protests that were engineered to look like something else. And of course it suits the powerful and wealthy because they can keep free market globalization going and define war economies in every society as a means to contain terrorism.

GN: A lot of that has to do with policies on Wall Street and in Washington, which today are virtually one and the same. So if you have a peaceful protest of hungry farmers who cannot afford and do not want to use the genetically modified crops, such as cotton, and who are in such personal debt that they would rather commit suicide by the tens of thousands instead of seeing their families suffer anymore, then of course they would. But when you have people sitting on corporate boards and on Wall Street and in Washington who don’t give a damn about the Indian public-in fact they don’t even care about the average American because the average American is being thrown out on the street while these individuals are reaping humungous rewards by the very people who caused the problem. These are anti-civic individuals. How do you stop that mindset so that every truly progressive movement that deserves to be heard is not just stamped with the moniker of terrorist?

VN: I think the most important way to conduct resistance for a more just and peaceful society is to be absolutely committed to nonviolence. That was the bar of India’s freedom movement, and that is the bar of the civil rights movement in the United States-to challenge power and wealth strategically but also nonviolently. That is a very strong demand of our time. The second very important issue is to continue to defend the democratic right to dissent. After all what is democracy if not the right to dissent? A dictatorship doesn’t allow the right to dissent, and as I’ve written in book after book corporate globalization has become a dictatorship. It is drawing states into implementing that dictatorship, and as long as corporate globalization implements this dictatorship it will destroy democracy. It will treat every legitimate democratic action as equal to the worst form of terrorism. So we stand for democracy and democracy is our birthright and our duty.

GN: In our society, like your own, we have our own caste system. There are the have’s and have not’s. I’ve never in my lifetime seen the powerful bring in the poor and ask for their advice. So how in the world are we ever to change any thing constructively if the most powerful people in the land surround themselves with the elitists and refuse to acknowledge that the poor and those less up the ladder also may have something constructive to offer? Was it not Albert Camus who said, “We rarely confide in those who are better than we are?” What if the ‘better’ means people with more humanistic and practical views of how to solve problems, such as the advocates of the organic movement? What if all of India, Africa, and the United States were to start looking at long-term sustainability of small agriculture projects in every community using organic heirloom instead of genetically modified crops? Think of the consequences to the water, to the air, to the land, to erosion, to reforestation, to sustainability and compatibility. And yet we have no such movement except at the grassroots level. Not a single dollar in the United States goes for organic, and yet everything goes for the big and very immoral food companies.

VS: During the last 20 years I’ve worked with both a scientific realization as well as a political realization that one of the most radical revolutions of our time is adopting biodiversity, saving open-pollinated seeds and practicing organic farming. As you said it’s a solution to every problem we face. It’s a solution to climate change. Moving beyond oil returns more to the soil, and we find in an ecological and organic agriculture both the mitigation and the adaptation strategies for knowing how to deal with the mess that a fossil fuel civilization has created. Organic food is the best solution to the biggest health problem of our time. Two billion obese and ill with food-related diseases. One billion denied their rights to food. Hence three billion are denied the right to wholesome food that can be solved with a local ecologically robust food economy. Then there is the issue of water. Ten times more water is used in industrial chemical agriculture. Water is clearly a limiting factor and will become more of a crisis as climate change melts our glaciers, dries up our springs, and leaves more and more areas water scarce. It’s also a solution to the conflicts all around us. I recently returned from a long field trip in the very poor Indian state of Orissa. Culturally, in terms of peace and harmony between nature and people and between people and people, there are amazing examples. Every villager has the deepest humanity. Every villager has the deepest sense of self sufficiency and enough-ness. That is the future we have to strive for. And I think the biggest monopoly in our time is when agribusiness went into the oil economy. It is a new genetic engineering industry. They are not going to allow governments to move towards organic farming rapidly. They will try everything to force genetic engineering upon us. Two decades ago when I started the Navdanya movement in India, these companies had announced they would have all seeds patented and all crops genetically engineered by the turn of the century. They have so far only genetically engineered four crops on any significant scale: cotton, soy, rice and canola. They haven’t managed to patent everything under the sun, and we have built a movement that will not acknowledge patents. I call it the seed satyagraha just like Gandhi’s satyagraha when he told the British that nature gives salt for free. We need it for our survival. We will make our own salt. In the same way we get seeds from our ancestors and nature. We will continue to save them for future generations, and we will not obey patent laws. I believe if we keep saving our open-pollinated seeds, if we keep doing organic farming, and those in the cities commit themselves to eating only food that is genuinely free of patents, GMO’s, pesticides and toxins, and free of corporate control, we can succeed. Even if governments don’t change their policies we will have created another economy. And if you look at the growth of the movement, it has grown without policy protection in spite of adverse policies. When we combine the financial, climate and food crises, the manipulative corporate economies will not survive. The economies of care and compassion fight it by their recognition that we live on a very fragile earth and have a very high level of responsibility to protect it. If there’s going to be a future, it’s going to be found in people’s actions.

GN: I’ve always been an organic farmer, and I’ve been a major promoter of organic farming in the United States on a small scale. I’m a believer in moving back to the land, and then creating small sustainable communities. To grow one pound of organic potatoes takes 60 gallons of water. To grow one pound of meat, a 16 ounce steak, requires 12,000 gallons of water. If we’re running out of water, and we are, would you suggest that it would make sense to preserve our water by being conscious that you’re going to eat something that requires less? Now that meat has arachidonic acid. That arachidonic acid increases chemicals in the body called cytokines and tumor necrosis factors that result in inflammation. By eating organic and eating more naturally not only are avoiding these chemicals, besides many environmental toxins, but we are also saving water. Much food we buy at our corporate markets has traveled thousands of miles to reach our tables, and this leaves a large carbon footprint. So wouldn’t it be better to buy something local, support our local food crops and organic movements to lessen pollution? Isn’t it advantageous then to do everything we can to clean up the environment by going green? For those in India and other parts of the world who are principally vegetarian, and who care about life and the environment, do you imagine that at some point there needs to be a collective shift in consciousness that supersedes the power brokers and the policy makers, and says, “We tried it your way and look where we’re at. We’re now going to do it our way, and you’re welcome to join us, but we’re not going to listen to you anymore.”

VS: Just because the corporate media doesn’t cover it, doesn’t mean it’s not happening on a large scale. I think if you add together the people who want to eat and live consciously, who want to reduce the human ecological footprint on the planet, who want to do less harm to other human beings — because every economic system that does violence to the planet also violates the rights of fellow human beings — creates a powerful force in the world. I think as this information becomes more coherent and moves more quickly a conscious shift will take place. A year ago people would never have believed those of us who were saying all these measures of financial growth are fictitious. It’s just a bubble waiting to burst. Twenty years ago I started to organize rallies of half a million farmers in the street to declare that the agra-industrial system would kill our farmers. It was a death knell for our farmers and a recipe for hunger. People didn’t believe it. Today the farmers are committing suicide. Today the food prices have risen. Food sovereignty and local food systems are back on the agenda and that reveals the incoherence of the dominant corporate system. The governance of the truth we stand by, the truth of the earth, the truth of nature, the truth of justice is our greatest strength and that will only increase consciousness. From it we’ll only grow with every step along the way. The next five and ten years will be absolutely unpredictable times, but as long as we can hold our ground and hope, I believe the shift of consciousness will turn today’s dominators into the marginals who will be enlightened to come join our table of peaceful food and of abundant food.

GN: Well I absolutely agree with you. That was a very special insight. Now to two other areas that are not getting the attention, in my opinion, that they deserve in the United States. Every US administration, Democrat or Republican, has looked at profit as preferable to people. How has the mega corporations and western administrations given us a false utopian concept regarding human and economic development and environmental sustainability for raising people out of poverty? During the elections I didn’t see a single statement that was printed or a voice spoken about the hundred million poor in the United States, the 36 million who go to bed hungry each day, the 12 million children in the United States who don’t have enough to eat, let alone the 27 thousand children who die each year, and most of them from infections, from bad water or malnutrition. Not a word about these things, and yet they blather on as if somehow they’re in touch. I’m asking who are they in touch with? Since it’s always about profit and never about people.

VS: You know as the food crisis has intensified during the last year, food prices have doubled. But we’ve also seen the corporate profits driving the food system double. I think we now have a major contest between two futures. There’s the future that you and I are talking about and living in. It’s a future of providing food security to the last child on the basis of people working lovingly with the land. More farmers growing good food, growing organic food, and this will drive away hunger and food scarcity. I really find the United Nation’s millennium goals highly un-ambitious because seven or eight years ago they talked only about halving the number of people who go to bed hungry. Well, with ecological farming and biodiversity agriculture we are not only doubling and tripling but we could increase food production five-fold and nutritional production even higher because the foods grown organically have much higher levels of nutrition. That’s the way to address the problem of hunger. That’s the way to make sure society does not neglect people. Of course there is another agenda. And that agenda will attempt to use the crisis it has created to grab more of the food and agrarian economy. Look at what happened at the June Summit on climate and food. The biggest winner was fortune’s foremost Bill Gates and his foundation who wants to sell more chemical fertilizers to Africa, and then commercialize the food supply for Africa. The second winner was the genetic engineering lobby. Of course both of these plans are completely inappropriate. The prices of fertilizers are going high. Nitrogen fertilizers are a major cause of global warming because the nitrogen oxides emitted are 300 times more lethal in global warming than carbon dioxide. To push more chemical fertilizers during this period of climate change is doubly criminal because it will force African peasants into debt, and then it will force all of humanity into an ecological debt. The genetic engineering lobby offered a false solution. They said only they can solve the problem of addressing climate change. They can’t because genetic engineering can only deal with single gene manipulations. Climate resilience in crops is a multi-genetic trait. They cannot engineer climate resilience. They can steal salt resistant seeds from us. They can steal flood resistant seeds from us. They can steal sources of seeds from us. I’m in fact preparing for our next campaign against bio-piracy-when agricorporations patent our traditional knowledge, our indigenous seeds. And when corporations are patenting, and there are 500 pending patents on climate resilience traits in crops, all of this is based on bio-piracy. Of course the real solution that we are offering is building community seed banks, building the commons for people to share as disasters happen. For example, we took salt tolerant rice down to the tsunami areas and drought tolerant rice to the areas in central India where they were having a four-year drought linked again to a climate catastrophe. The corporations will continue to seek profits. So we have to build on community. We have to build on people’s rights. And this contest is not going to go away in a hurry. But the fact that it doesn’t go away in a hurry doesn’t mean we don’t build the power of people.

GN: I would like to discuss the relationship between how the loss of natural biodiversity increases population growth and thereby increases poverty. If you would address the large agro-industrial players that you mentioned earlier and the destruction of biodiversity with their genetically modified seeds. I might mention that Hillary and Bill Clinton were sponsors of the Stevens Financial Group out of Little Rock, Arkansas, who was a major player in developing these genetically modified seeds. Under NAFTA and the WTO, the Clinton administration and its supporters thought it was a great idea. Little did they ever consider or care about the consequences. So if you would take a look at what it means to be forced into using seeds because your own natural seeds are no longer available. This has been true around the world where the World Bank and IMF went into almost every developing country and said, “We’ll give you a loan, but you must now give us structural adjustments. No more growing sustainable crops. No more small crops. Now you’re going to plant cash crops: cotton, soybeans, rubber and crops that you can get out of the country and sell abroad. That was also the case in India. Also speak about the contradiction between the great Green Movement, which won one person the Nobel Prize. But they weren’t looking at what this green revolution actually meant in terms of the average person.

VS: Well you know the Green Revolution was far from green. It was introduced in India in 1965 and ’66 when we had a drought. Because of the drought we needed to buy grain, and the US government said we could not have higher imports unless we changed our agriculture to the new seeds and the new chemicals. This package of new seeds that required chemicals is what is called the Green Revolution. The seeds had been evolved by Norman Borlaug who received the Nobel Peace Prize. The assumption was that commercializing and making agriculture more dependent on purchases would create a capitalist alternative to the spread of communism. And the reason the Green Revolution was called green was because it was contrary to red. It was not called green because it was ecological. The word green did not describe any ecological movement at that time. The Green Revolution was also pushed by the World Bank, which forced structural adjustments on India. It gave loans linked to structural adjustment to move seeds, pesticides and chemicals. The World Bank financed large dams that provided the intensive irrigation their seeds and chemicals required. Within the first few years 25 percent of the peasantry of Punjab had been wiped out. They were displaced from the land. Well within a decade, agriculture in Punjab had fallen into disarray, which is what then led to the extremist movement of the late ’70s and early ’80s. That was the basis of my book, “The Violence of the Green Revolution,” because I wanted to understand why the land, which was called the most prosperous, is today the angriest and why young Punjabis were taking to guns. What the Green Revolution basically did was push farmers into debt. It left the land desertified. It destroyed variety. Punjab used to grow 250 crop varieties. Today it grows monocultures of wheat and rice during two separate seasons and a monoculture of genetically engineered cotton. Punjab is one of the areas where we have large numbers of farm suicides. Twenty percent of the Punjab is now unfit for cultivation. Ten percent is water logged by putting too much water in intensive irrigation. Now this is precisely the package upon which the genetic engineering revolution has been built. The biotechnology industry calls it the second green revolution, and Bill Gates wants to take this package to Africa as the Alliance for the Green Revolution in Africa. Gate’s, the Rockefeller’s and their corporate affiliates would like to bulldoze over Africa a green revolution like they bulldozed it on India in 1965 through conditions and through destruction of our sovereignty and democratic decision making. But the true green revolution is the ecological agriculture revolution. That’s what we are trying to build.

GN: A final question I would like you to address is the difference between what evolutionary biologists, such as the late Francisco Varella and others, call autopoetic systems as opposed to allopoetic systems. Autopoetic systems are those that are self-organized and are self renewed and such systems rely on biodiversity and are self-sustained. If agriculture, human development and economics were to think autopoetically there would be a flourishing of well being and sustainability. On the other hand, allopoetic systems are externally driven. This is what the entire Green Revolution believed in. Therefore, this revolution seized upon external stimuli to develop artificial energy and external resources. However, this is a completely mechanistic model. There is nothing holistic about it. It’s totally against what we’re talking about and requires increasing energy input like dumping more and more fossil fuels into an industry that would not be required if it was autopoetic.

VN: In my view, ecology is about self organization. It’s the ability of an eco system to clean itself up. That’s self organization, an autopoetic system. It’s about seeds being able to reproduce themselves. That’s an autopoetic system. A genetically engineered seed is an allopoetic system. It needs an external control for its reproduction. A genuine seed is a seed that needs only itself, some soil and sunshine to give you a plant. A child growing into an adult in their full humanity is an autopoetic system. Slaves live under allopoetic conditions. Chemical agriculture and industrial agriculture are allopoetic. The free market globalized economy is an allopoetic system. It’s externally organized. Sovereign local economies are autopoetic systems. Gandhi called this an economy of place, the ability to be creative and to produce for yourself and to meet your own needs. Self-organization is also the highest form of democracy. Democracy is not just going and voting. Genuine democracy is the ability to self-organize to make real decisions about how we are to live: to be able to shape our food system and our education. That means taking power back. That power will not be handed over to us by those who have taken it away. It will have to be shaped by our everyday actions. We will have to reclaim that deep democracy and that’s our autopoetic system.

GN: I want to thank you very, very much for being with us today. You’ve given us a lot of great insights, and hopefully people will read your new book, “Soil Not Oil: Justice in An Age of Climate Crisis,” or go to your website: and see all of your activities.

Gary Null, Ph.D. is the nation’s longest talk show host on alternative health on NPR and Pacifica radio stations, and an award winning director of documentary films.

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Food Crisis: The Moral Failure of Liberal Economists

Posted by Ramoo on August 31, 2008

August 30, 2008

Time was when writers lampooned economists for “knowing the price of everything but the value of nothing.” Today, they seem to be unaware even of the price of things!

By Aseem Shrivastava

From Hardnews (Delhi, India) August 2008
(Original title: (Stiglitz and Sen: Profit and Pain”)

An economic transaction is a solved political problem. Economics has gained the title of queen of the social sciences by choosing solved political problems as its domain.
— Abba Lerner

Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz has recently expressed his views on the ongoing food crisis around the world. Given his pre-eminence in the profession and his vast experience as an advisor to governments, his views deserve to be scrutinized carefully.

The Stiglitz diagnosis

Stiglitz traces the problem of inflation in food and energy prices around the world to the policies that have been enacted in the US and elsewhere during the past few decades. He finds fault with the massive financial deregulation and generous tax cuts for the rich in the Anglo-Saxon world since the Thatcher-Reagan years, attributing to them rightly the “huge increase in inequalities in most countries,” the dramatic fall in household savings rate in the US, significant declines in employment prospects for most people everywhere and most worryingly, threats to nutrition standards even in the so-called developed world. A less flattering catalogue of global failures would be hard to summon.

The proliferation of opaque financial products in the wake of deregulation didn’t so much manage risk as enhance it, converting the world economy into a gambler’s paradise (since most countries were made to choose similar policies of deregulation — by the IMF and the World Bank), which has been systematically transferring wealth and real income from the poor to the rich globally, relying on the unerring precision of market forces.

Additionally, Stiglitz points to two significant policies of the Bush administration that have exacerbated food and energy crises in recent years. He points to Washington’s war on Iraq. Bush’s foolish policies have made the connection between food and energy markets tight, thanks to a misguided biofuels programme during the past few years.

Stiglitz makes it a point to underscore how Third World agriculture has been put in severe jeopardy not just because of benign neglect by governments, international financial institutions and aid agencies, but also because of unfair competition from a systematically and heavily subsidized agriculture in the rich world. This last is a criminal hypocrisy (the West being at the forefront of the messianic crusade for ‘free’ markets) too

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banal to belabor. The powerful World Bank is once again waking up slowly to the resilient truth that there is simply no way to reduce (let alone eliminate) poverty in the world without paying special attention to agriculture.

The Stiglitz remedy

What according to Stiglitz is the solution?

“Rich countries must reduce, if not eliminate, distortional agriculture and energy policies, and help those in the poorest countries improve their capacity to produce food. But this is just a start: we have treated our most precious resources — clean air and water — as if they were free. Only new patterns of consumption and production — a new economic model — can address that most fundamental resource problem.” (The Guardian, June 15, 2008)

Other than a euphemistic argot all too familiar in Orwellian times and the habit-bound economist’s search for the universally right ‘model’ to implement everywhere, a technocratically enlightened formula for guaranteed success, the above words could have come from Jesus Christ himself.

So where does Stiglitz fall short?

Stiglitz wants rich countries to “reduce, if not eliminate distortional agriculture and energy policies.” But don’t we already know they will never do this? Stiglitz keeps appealing to a constituency he already knows has long been morally deaf. For someone sacked by the US Treasury from his plum position near the top of the World Bank not so long ago, Stiglitz certainly knows this. Under the revolving door system the Americans have between their highest public and corporate offices, it is a sure wager that it was precisely the annoyance at Stiglitz on the part of the global investor class that prompted his sacking. Then why does he pretend otherwise?

“The world” he appeals to for merciful economic policies in the future is in actual fact the world’s tiny and shrinking class of corporate captains, precisely the bunch which sponsors the lobbies and policy elites which have led the relentless, decades-long campaign for financial deregulation, the very phenomenon Stiglitz holds responsible for the mess around us. This band of global corporate czars lives better than the royalty of other ages of humanity. It takes a dozen flights on private jets every week and dines every evening on wine and caviar which have been flown half way around the world especially for their banquets. Why should they listen to mad men like Stiglitz?

For at least half a generation many have been trying to persuade the governments of the rich nations to remove the unjust agricultural subsidies that harm Third World agriculture. Why have the governments of the rich nations not followed this morally impeccable advice? Is it not because they are influenced by transnational businesses maximizing profits globally? Is it not because they are cynically Machiavellian?

The real world

The latter hypotheses can hardly be dismissed. Consider what US Senator Hubert Humphrey said 50 years ago:

“I have heard that people may become dependent on us for food. To me that is good news because before people can do anything, they have got to eat. And if you are looking for a way to get people to lean on you and be dependent on you, in terms of their own cooperation with you, it seems to me that food dependence would be terrific.”

So the idea, far from helping “those in the poorest countries improve their capacities to produce food” (as Stiglitz continues to wish in vain) is to keep them permanently locked into a state of fundamental economic dependence on the West. (Did we ever get done with colonialism?) If Stiglitz and his panglossian followers think that times have changed (and the West is more civilized after all these decades of folly upon culpable folly), they should listen to President Richard Nixon’s chilling words from a more recent decade: “Let us remember that the main purpose of aid is not to help other nations but to help ourselves.”

More recently, in 1986, John Block, the US Agriculture Secretary said:

“The push by some developing countries to become more self-sufficient in food may be reminiscent of a bygone era. These countries could save money by importing more food from the US.”

If Stiglitz thinks such an opinion is unusual, he might ask himself if it is fundamentally different from the following view:

“Food self-sufficiency is a peculiarly obtuse way of thinking about food security. There is no particular problem, even without self-sufficiency, in achieving nutritional security through the elimination of poverty (so that people can buy food) and through the availability of food in the world market (so that countries can import food if there is not an adequate stock at home)…The focus has to be on income and entitlement, and the ability to command food rather than on any fetishist concern about food self-sufficiency…”

The words belong to Stiglitz’s illustrious colleague and fellow-Nobel laureate Amartya Sen. He gave an interview on the topic of world hunger to The Guardian in 2002.

Sen writes as though trade, income and entitlement were there just for the asking! He surely knows enough history to know that food has always been a weapon of warfare. He writes:

“There are situations in which self-sufficiency is important, such as during wars. At one stage in the Second World War, there was a real danger of Britain not being able to get enough food into the country. But that is a very peculiar situation, and we are not in one like that now, nor are we likely to be in the near future.”

Iraq was invaded by Washington, London and Canberra within a year of Sen’s interview.

Sen’s “trade fetish” is symptomatic of a global pandemic among academic economists. It only indicates his deep-seated conditioning by the economics profession as it has been shaped by a decadent intellectual culture in the western world after World War II. The intellectuals of the ex-colonies have never considered decolonizing their minds. Sen is the leading example. They might do well to read Tagore and Gandhi once more.

State of the dismal science

This sums up the professional consensus within “the dismal science.” The real world for most hungry people (we know for sure after recent food price inflation) is very different from what economists imagine it to be. In the latter’s world, poor nations, on the verge of industrial breakthroughs and massive transfers of labour away from agriculture to more “productive” and lucrative occupations (events which have not transpired yet in countries like India and China), can feed themselves much like Belgium or the Netherlands do — by importing food from abroad (from rich countries which do not even have to have a comparative advantage in the production of food, but have profligate treasuries and ignorant, gullible taxpayers to fund the subsidies and can thus let their agribusinesses sell cheaper than anyone else in the world market).

From the real world where the poor and the powerless live under hegemonies of forced production and consumption along lines dictated by the megacorps, the latter’s ‘international’ financial institutions, and also their State patrons, things couldn’t look more different. Global markets could never seem so innocent to hungry, suicide-prone farmers in India or Africa, as they do to technocratic dreamers in the seminar rooms of Columbia or Cambridge.

Why economists perpetuate misunderstanding

In times as transparently and confidently unjust as ours, it’s either dim-witted naiveté or outright knavery for economists to continue to keep their technocratic heads buried in the “innocent” sands of social “science.” They keep pretending that economics and politics belong to different planets.

Economists are dispassionate thinkers practicing disinterested science. Economics is on its way to becoming a pure science. Society and human communities are irrelevant. In any case, “there is no such thing as society.” Governments are a nuisance. They ought to stay away from markets. Markets are omniscient. They know everything that needs to be known (and not just about prices). Markets are free of politics. (What have they got to do with corporate power and influence?) They are the repositories of the best virtues in human nature. Therein rules liberal utopia.

Thou shalt not doubt these time-tested verities.

These are the kernels of truth that adorn the seminar rooms of the economics profession around the world today. America’s imperial conquests are more obvious in the ‘intellectual’ realm than in any other, with an obviously unscientific bubble economics (suitably insulated from facts) always leading the charge. Give or take a little here, some there, and you get the spectrum of opinions within the economics profession. They all must have not human communities — but the ‘free’ market at the heart of their conformist meditations.

Every economist — and Stiglitz and Sen are iconic iconoclasts within the tribe — is career-habit-and-hide-bound to pay his homage to the wisdom of market forces, even when he is critical of them (as both Sen and Stiglitz are in measurable degree). Such are the touchstones of the theology that today provides the primary justification for the widespread ecological and social ruin being precipitated by globalized growth around the planet.

The world has been “liberalized, privatized and globalized” with a messianic passion over the past few decades in the name of this putatively omniscient economics. It teaches the ancient virtue of patience. A little pain for some now, so that everyone can gain more tomorrow. As long as the masters of the universe are allowed a free hand to invest anywhere from the Mariana Trench to the moon. Trickle-down truths. Stale air. They all have faith in it, even if they are Sen or Stiglitz.

But as always, the cash-strapped housewife or the woman slaving at the construction site (or the one waiting in queue for one of those employed to break an arm) knows better than the pundits.

Time was when writers lampooned economists for “knowing the price of everything but the value of nothing.” Today, they seem to be unaware even of the price of things! They are desperate to rescue their fading conscience after having long back traded it away for professional success and career advancement. Moral failure was always on the cards. Now the writing is all over the wall for anyone with eyes to read.

The writer is an economist and independent researcher

Posted in Economy, Food crisis, Globalisation | 1 Comment »

India wants removal of non-tariff barrier in agriculture

Posted by Ramoo on April 2, 2007



GENEVA: India has joined the chorus in criticising the EU’s non-tariff barriers (NTBs) and SPS issues, and market access in agriculture at the WTO Trade Policy Review of the EC.
According to the WTO Secretariat report the EC’s agriculture policies were a matter of concern with its protection by a complex tariff structure, high tariffs, tariff quotas of which some were not filled, and high levels of domestic support and export subsidies.
In its intervention India informed the WTO of its steady, significant intensification of strategic partners dialogue and of a proposed agreement on trade and investment between India and the EU. The negotiations of which could commence shortly and “open vast opportunities for businesses on both sides.”
The EC is one of the largest sources of FDI from India. It is not only India’s largest trading partner, it accounts for almost a quarter of India’s exports and imports. In 2005 India-Europe trade was around 40 billion euros, EU’s exports to India grew by 23.8%, and EU imports from India by 16.2% as compared to 2004.
India stated that it has submitted written questions to the EC for clarification on some of its trade policies, however mentioned that Indian agriculture exporters continue to suffer on account of NTBs and SPS issues.
It pointed out that in market access several instances had been brought to the Indian government’s notice by Indian exporters of meat and meat products, marine products, milk products, egg products, Basmati, mushrooms, refrigerators, lack of intra EU harmonisation of standards, which impede exports from India to the EC.
India stated that it seeks dismantling of these non-tariff barriers to enable it increase access to the European markets for Indian exporters. India also focused on the EC restrictive policy on Services which it urged to take urgent stops to address.
India stated that despite its advantage of young population, complemented by a vast network of academic infrastructure and educated, English-speaking talent, India’s opportunities with the EC in trade services sector are hindered by issues relating to Mode 4, the imposition of unclear ENTs, domestic regulations, territorial requirement to set up business, residence requirements, and discriminatory tax treatment.

Posted in Economix, Globalisation, Marketing reforms, Policy issues | Leave a Comment »

India is colonising itself

Posted by Ramoo on March 26, 2007

By Arundhati Roy & Shoma Chaudhuri

26 March, 2007

There is an atmosphere of growing violence across the country. How do you read the signs? Do you think it will grow more in the days to come? What are its causes? In what context should all this be read?

You don’t have to be a genius to read the signs. We have a growing middle class, being reared on a diet of radical consumerism and aggressive greed. Unlike industrializing western countries which had colonies from which to plunder resources and generate slave labour to feed this process, we have to colonize ourselves, our own nether parts. We’ve begun to eat our own limbs. The greed that is being generated (and marketed as a value interchangeable with nationalism) can only be sated by grabbing land, water and resources from the vulnerable. What we’re witnessing is the most successful secessionist struggle ever waged in Independent India. The secession of the middle and upper classes from the rest of the country. It’s a vertical secession, not a lateral one. They’re fighting for the right to merge with the world’s elite somewhere up there in the stratosphere. They’ve managed to commandeer the resources , the coal, the minerals, the bauxite, the water and electricity. Now they want the land to make more cars, more bombs, more mines – super toys for the new super citizens of the new superpower. So it’s outright war, and people on both sides are choosing their weapons. The government and the corporations reach for Structural Adjustment, the World Bank, the ADB, FDI, friendly court orders, friendly policy makers, help from the ‘friendly’ corporate media and a police force that will ram all this down peoples’ throats. Those who want to resist this process have, until now, reached for dharnas, hunger-strikes, satyagraha, the courts, and what they thought was friendly media. But now, more and more are reaching for guns. Will the violence grow? If the ‘growth rate’ and the sensex are going to be the only barometres the government uses to measure progress and the well-being of people, then of course it will. How do I read the signs? It isn’t hard to read sky-writing. What it says up there, in big letters is this: The shit has hit the fan, folks.

You once remarked that though you may not resort to violence yourself, you think it has become immoral to condemn it, given the circumstances in the country. Can you elaborate on this view?

I’d be a liability as a guerilla! I doubt I used the word ‘immoral’-morality is an elusive business, as changeable as the weather. What I feel is this: Non-violent movements have, for decades knocked on the door of every democratic institution in this country and have been spurned and humiliated. Look at the Bhopal Gas victims, the Narmada Bachao Andolan. The NBA for example, had a lot going for it, high profile leadership, media coverage, more resources than any other mass movement. What went wrong? People are bound to want to re-think strategy. When Sonia Gandhi begins to promote Satyagraha at the World Economic Forum in Davos it’s time for us to sit up and think. For example, is mass civil disobedience possible within the structure of a democratic nation-state? Is it possible in the age of disinformation and corporate-controlled mass media? Are hunger-strikes umblically linked to celebrity politics? Would anybody care if the people of Nangla Machhi or Bhatti mines went on a hunger-strike? Sharmila Irom has been on a hunger strike for six years. That should be a salutary lesson to many of us. I’ve always felt that it’s ironic that hunger-strikes are used as a political weapon in a land where most people go hungry anyway. We are in a different time and place now. Up against a different, more complex adversary. We’ve entered the era of NGOs – or should I say the era of palthu shers – in which mass action can be a treacherous business. We have demonstrations which are funded, we have sponsored dharnas and social forums which posture militantly but never follow up on what they preach. We have all kinds of ‘virtual’ resistance. Meetings against SEZs sponsored by the biggest promoters of SEZs. Awards and grants for environmental activism and community action given by corporations responsible for devastating whole ecosystems. Vedanta, a company mining bauxite in the forests of Orissa wants to start a university. The Tatas have two charitable trusts that directly and indirectly, fund activists and mass movements across the country. Could that be why Singur has drawn so much less flak than Nandigram, and why they have not targeted, boycotted, gheraoed? Of course the Tatas and Birlas funded Gandhi too – maybe he was our first NGO. But now we have NGOs who make a lot of noise, write a lot of reports,but who the sarkar is more than comfortable with. How do we make sense of all this? The place is crawling with professional diffusers of real political action. ‘Virtual resistance’ has become something of a liability.

There was a time when mass movements looked to the courts for justice. The courts have rained down a series of judgments that are so unjust, so insulting to the poor in the language they use, they take your breath away. A recent Supreme Court judgment allowing the Vasant Kunj Mall to resume construction though it didn’t have the requisite clearances said in so many words, that the question of Corporations indulging in malpractice does not arise! In the era of corporate globalization, corporate land-grab, in the era of Enron and Monsanto, Halliburton and Bechtel, that’s a loaded thing to say. It exposes the ideological heart of the most powerful institution in this country. The judiciary along with the corporate press, is now seen as the lynchpin of the neo-liberal project.

In a climate like this when people feel that they are being worn down, exhausted by these interminable ‘democratic’ processes, only to be humiliated eventually, what are they supposed to do? Of course it isn’t as though the only options are binary – violence versus non-violence. There are political parties that believe in armed struggle, but only as one part of their overall political strategy. Political workers in these struggles have been dealt with brutally, killed, beaten, imprisoned under false charges. People are fully aware that to take to arms is to call down upon yourself the myriad forms of violence of the Indian State. The minute armed struggle becomes a strategy, your whole world shrinks and the colors fade to black and white. But when people decide to take that step because every other option has ended in despair–should we condemn them? Does anyone believe that if the people of Nandigram had held a Dharna and sung songs the West Bengal Government would have backed down? We are living in times, when to be ineffective is to support the status quo (which no doubt suits some of us). And being effective comes at a terrible price. I find it hard to condemn people who are prepared to pay that price.
You have been traveling a lot on the ground — can you give us a sense of the fissures you are seeing on the ground. What are the trouble spots you have been to? Can you outline a few of the combat lines in these places?

Huge question – what can I say? The military occupation of Kashmir, neo-facism in Gujarat, civil war in Chhattisgarh, MNCs raping Orissa, the submergence of hundreds of villages in the Narmada Valley, people living on the edge of absolute starvation, the devastation of forest land, the Bhopal victims living to see the West Bengal government re-wooing Union Carbide – now calling itself Dow Chemicals – in Nandigram. I haven’t been recently to Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharshtra, but we know about the almost hundred thousand farmers who have killed themselves. We know about the fake encounters and the terrible repression in Andhra Pradesh. Each of these places is has its own particular history, economy, ecology. None is amenable to easy analysis. And yet there is connecting tissue, there are huge international cultural and economic pressures being brought to bear on them. How can I not mention the Hindutva project, spreading its poison sub-cutaneously, waiting to errupt once again. I’d say the biggest indictment of all is that we are still a country, a culture a society which continues to nurture and practice the notion of untouchability. While our economists number-crunch and boast about the growth rate, a million people, human scavengers – earn their living carrying several kilos of other peoples’ shit on their heads every day. And if they didn’t carry shit on their heads they would starve to death. Some fucking superpower this.

How does one view the recent State and police violence in Bengal?

No different from police and State violence anywhere else – including the issue of hypocrisy and doublespeak so perfected by all political parties including the mainstream Left. Are communist bullets different from capitalist ones? Odd things are happening. It snowed in Saudi Arabia. Owls are out in broad daylight. The Chinese Government tabled a bill sanctioning the right to private property. I don’t know if all of this has to do with climate change. The Chinese Communists are turning out to be the biggest capitalists of the 21st century. Why should we expect our own Parliamentary Left to be any different? Nandigram and Singur are clear signals. It makes you wonder – is the last stop of every revolution advanced capitalism? Think about it – the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, the Chinese Revolution, the Vietnam War, the Anti- Apartheid struggle, the supposedly Gandhian Freedom struggle in India…what’s the last station they all pull in at? Is this the end of imagination?

The Maoist attack in Bijapur — the death of 55 policemen. Are the rebels only a flip face of the State?

How can the rebels be the flip side of the state? Would anybody say that those who fought against Apartheid – however brutal their methods – were the flip side of the state? What about those who fought the French in Algeria? Or those who fought the Nazis? Or those who fought Colonial Regimes? Or those who are fighting the US occupation of Iraq? Are they the flip side of the State? This facile new report-driven ‘human rights’ discourse, this meaningless condemnation game that we all are forced to play, makes politicians of us all and leaches the real politics out of everything. However pristine we would like to be, however hard we polish our halos, the tragedy is that we have run out of pristine choices. There is a civil war in Chattisgarh sponsored, created by the Chattisgarh Government which is publicly pursing the Bush doctrine – if you’re not with us, you are with the terrorists. The lynch pin of this war, apart from the formal security forces, is the Salwa Judum – a government backed militia of ordinary people forced to take up arms, forced to become SPOs (Special Police Officers). The Indian State has tried this in Kashmir, in Manipur, in Nagaland. Tens of thousands have been killed, hundreds of thousands tortured, thousands have disappeared. Any Banana Republic would be proud of this record.. Now the government wants to import these failed strategies into the heartland. Thousands of Adivasis have been forcibly moved off their mineral –rich lands into police camps. Hundreds of villages have been forcibly evacuated. Those lands, rich in iron-ore are being eyed by corporations like the Tatas and Essar. MOUs have been signed, but no one knows what they say. Land Acquisition has begun. This kind of thing happened in countries like Colombia – one of the most devastated countries in the world. While everybody’s eyes are fixed on the spiraling violence between government backed militias and guerilla squads, multinational corporations quietly make off with the mineral wealth. That’s the little piece of theatre being scripted for us in Chattisgarh.

Of course it’s horrible that 55 policemen were killed. But they’re as much the victims of Government policy as anybody else. For the Government and the Corporations they’re just cannon fodder – there’s plenty more where they came from. Crocodile tears will be shed, prim TV anchors will hector us for a while and then more supplies of fodder will be arranged. For the Maoist guerillas the police and SPOs they killed were the armed personnel of the Indian State, the main, perpetrators of repression, torture, custodial killings, false encounters. The ones whose professional duties involve burning villages and raping women. They’re not innocent civilians – if such a thing exists – by any stretch of imagination.

I have no doubt that the Maoists can be agents of terror and coercion too. I have no doubt they have committed unspeakable atrocities. I have no doubt they cannot lay claim to undisputed support from local people – but who can? Still, no guerrilla army can survive without local support. That’s a logistical impossibility. And the support for Maoists is growing, not diminishing. That says something. People have no choice but to align themselves on the side of whoever they think is less worse.

But to equate a resistance movement fighting against enormous injustice, with the Government which enforces that injustice is absurd. The government has slammed the door in the face of every attempt at non-violent resistance. When people take to arms, there is going to be all kinds of violence – revolutionary, lumpen and outright criminal. The government is responsible for the monstrous situations it creates.

The term Naxals and Maoists and outsiders is being used very loosely these days. Can you declutter it.

‘Outsiders’ is a generic accusation used in the early stages of repression by governments who have begun to believe their own publicity and can’t imagine that people have risen up against them. That’s the stage the CPI (M) is at now in Bengal, though some would say repression in Bengal is not new, it has only moved into higher gear.. In any case what’s an outsider? Who decides the borders? Are they village boundaries? Tehsil? Block? District? State? Is narrow regional and ethnic politics the new communist mantra? About Naxals and Maoists – well… India is about to become a police state in which everybody who disagrees with what’s going on risks being called a terrorist. Islamic terrorists have to be Islamic – so that’s not good enough to cover most of us. They need a bigger catchment area. So leaving the definition loose, undefined, is effective strategy, because the time is not far off when we’ll all be called Maoists or Naxalites, terrorists or terrorist sympathisers and shut down, by people who don’t really know – or care -who Maoists or Naxalites are. In villages of course that has begun – thousands of people are being held in jails across the country, loosely charged with being terrorists trying to overthrow the state. Who are the real Naxalites and Maoists? I’m not an authority on the subject, but here’s a very rudimentary potted history.

The Communist Party of India the CPI was formed in 1925. The CPI (M) Communist Party Marxist- split from the CPI in 1964 and formed a separate party. Both of course were parliamentary political parties. In 1967 the CPI (M) along with a splinter group of the Congress, came to power in West Bengal. At the time there was massive unrest among starving peasantry in the countryside. Local leaders of the CPI(M) – Kanu Sanyal and Charu Mazumdar led a peasant uprising in the district of Naxalbari which is where the term Naxalites comes from. In 1969 the government fell and the Congress came back to power under Siddharta Shankar Ray. The naxalite uprising was mercilessly crushed – Mahashweta Devi has written powerfully about this time. In 1969 the CPI (ML) – Marxist Leninist split from the CPI (M). A few years later around 1971, the CPI (ML) devolved into several parties: the CPI -ML (Liberation) largely centred in Bihar, CPI –ML (New Democracy) functioning for the most part out of Andhra Pradesh and Bihar, the CPI-ML (Class Struggle) mainly in Bengal. These parties have been generically baptized ‘Naxalites.’ They see themselves as Marxist Leninist, not strictly speaking Maoist. They believe in elections, mass action and, when, absolutely pushed to the wall or attacked- armed struggle. The MCC – the Maoist Communist Centre at the time mostly operating in Bihar was formed in 1968. The PW Peoples War, operational for the most part in Andhra Pradesh was formed in 1980. Recently, in 2004 the MCC and the PW merged to form the CPI (Maoist) They believe in outright armed struggle and the overthrowing of the state. They don’t participate in elections. This is the party that is fighting the guerilla war in Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Jharkhand.

The Indian state and media largely view the Maoists as “internal security” threat. Is this the way to look at them?

I’m sure the Maoists would be flattered to be viewed in this way.
The Maoists want to bring down the State. Given the autocratic ideology they take their inspiration from, what alternative would they set up? Wouldn’t their regime be an exploitative autocratic violent one as well? Isn’t their action already exploitative of ordinary people? Do they really have the support of ordinary people?

I think it’s important for us to acknowledge that both Mao and Stalin are dubious heroes with murderous pasts. Tens of millions of people were killed under their regimes. Apart from what happened in China and the Soviet Union, Pol Pot, with the support of the Chinese communist party (while the West looked away discreetly) wiped out two million people in Cambodia and brought millions of people to the brink of extinction from disease and starvation. Can we pretend that China’s cultural revolution didn’t happen? Or that that millions of people in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe were not victims of labour camps, torture chambers, the network of spies and informers, the secret police. The history of these regimes is just as dark as the history of Western Imperialism, except for the fact that they had a shorter life-span. We cannot condemn the occupation of Iraq, Palestine and Kashmir while we remain silent about Tibet and Chechnya. I would imagine that for the Maoists, the Naxalites as well as the mainstream Left, being honest about the past is important to strengthen peoples’ faith in the future. One hopes the past will not be repeated, but denying that it ever happened doesn’t help inspire confidence….Nevertheless, in this part of the world, the Maoists in Nepal have waged a brave and successful struggle against the monarchy in Nepal. Right now in India the Maoists and the various Marxist Leninist Groups are leading the fight against immense injustice in India. They are fighting not just the State, but feudal landlords and their armed militias. They are the only people who are making a dent. And I admire that. It may well be that when they come to power they will as you say, be brutal, unjust and autocratic, even worse than the present government. Maybe, but I’m not prepared to assume that in advance. If they are, we’ll have to fight them too. And most likely someone like myself will be the first person they’ll string up from the nearest tree – but right now, it is important to acknowledge that they are bearing the brunt of being at the forefront of resistance. Many of us are in a position where we have are beginning to align ourselves on the side of those who we know have no place for us in their religious or ideological imagination. It’s true that everybody changes radically when they come to power – look at Mandela’s ANC. Corrupt, capitalist, bowing to the IMF, driving the poor out of their homes – honouring Suharto the killer of hundreds of thousands of Indonesian communists with South Africa’s highest civilian award. Who would have thought it could happen? But does this mean South Africans should have backed away from the struggle against apartheid? Or that they should regret it now? Does it mean Algeria should have remained a French Colony, that Kashmiris, Iraqis and Palestinians should accept military occupation? That people whose dignity is being assaulted should give up the fight because they can’t find saints to lead them into battle?

Is there a communication breakdown in our society?


Posted in Displacement, Economix, Globalisation, Opinion pieces, Policy issues, Second Green Revolution, SEZs | 1 Comment »

The suicide economy of corporate globalisation

Posted by Ramoo on March 22, 2007

By Vandana Shiva

05 April, 2004

The Indian peasantry, the largest body of surviving small farmers in the world, today faces a crisis of extinction.

Two thirds of India makes its living from the land. The earth is the most generous employer in this country of a billion, that has farmed this land for more than 5000 years.

However, as farming is delinked from the earth, the soil, the biodiversity, and the climate, and linked to global corporations and global markets, and the generosity of the earth is replaced by the greed of corporations, the viability of small farmers and small farms is destroyed. Farmers suicides are the most tragic and dramatic symptom of the crisis of survival faced by Indian peasants.

1997 witnessed the first emergence of farm suicides in India. A rapid increase in indebtedness, was at the root of farmers taking their lives. Debt is a reflection of a negative economy, a loosing economy. Two factors have transformed the positive economy of agriculture into a negative economy for peasants – the rising costs of production and the falling prices of farm commodities. Both these factors are rooted in the policies of trade liberalization and corporate globalisation.

In 1998, the World Bank’s structural adjustment policies forced India to open up its seed sector to global corporations like Cargill, Monsanto, and Syngenta. The global corporations changed the input economy overnight. Farm saved seeds were replaced by corporate seeds which needed fertilizers and pesticides and could not be saved.

As seed saving is prevented by patents as well as by the engineering of seeds with non-renewable traits, seed has to be bought for every planting season by poor peasants. A free resource available on farms became a commodity which farmers were forced to buy every year. This increases poverty and leads to indebtedness.

As debts increase and become unpayable, farmers are compelled to sell kidneys or even commit suicide. More than 25,000 peasants in India have taken their lives since 1997 when the practice of seed saving was transformed under globalisation pressures and multinational seed corporations started to take control of the seed supply. Seed saving gives farmers life. Seed monopolies rob farmers of life.

The shift from farm saved seed to corporate monopolies of the seed supply is also a shift from biodiversity to monocultures in agriculture. The District of Warangal in Andhra Pradesh used to grow diverse legumes, millets, and oilseeds. Seed monopolies created crop monocultures of cotton, leading to disappearance of millions of products of nature’s evolution and farmer’s breeding.

Monocultures and uniformity increase the risks of crop failure as diverse seeds adapted to diverse ecosystems are replaced by rushed introduction of unadapted and often untested seeds into the market. When Monsanto first introduced Bt Cotton in India in 2002, the farmers lost Rs. 1 billion due to crop failure. Instead of 1,500 Kg / acre as promised by the company, the harvest was as low as 200 kg. Instead of increased incomes of Rs. 10,000 / acre, farmers ran into losses of Rs. 6400 / acre.

In the state of Bihar, when farm saved corn seed was displaced by Monsanto’s hybrid corn, the entire crop failed creating Rs. 4 billion losses and increased poverty for already desperately poor farmers. Poor peasants of the South cannot survive seed monopolies.

And the crisis of suicides shows how the survival of small farmers is incompatible with the seed monopolies of global corporations.

The second pressure Indian farmers are facing is the dramatic fall in prices of farm produce as a result of free trade policies of the W.T.O. The WTO rules for trade in agriculture are essentially rules for dumping. They have allowed an increase in agribusiness subsidies while preventing countries from protecting their farmers from the dumping of artificially cheap produce.

High subsidies of $ 400 billion combined with forced removal of import restrictions is a ready-made recipe for farmer suicides. Global prices have dropped from $ 216 / ton in 1995 to $ 133 / ton in 2001 for wheat, $ 98.2 / ton in 1995 to $ 49.1 / ton in 2001 for cotton, $ 273 / ton in 1995 to $ 178 / ton for soyabean. This reduction to half the price is not due to a doubling in productivity but due to an increase in subsidies and an increase in market monopolies controlled by a handful of agribusiness corporations.

Thus the U.S government pays $ 193 per ton to US Soya farmers, which artificially lowers the rice of soya. Due to removal of Quantitative Restrictions and lowering of tariffs, cheap soya has destroyed the livelihoods of coconut growers, mustard farmers, producers of sesame, groundnut and soya.

Similarly, 25000 cotton producers in the U.S are given a subsidy of $ 4 billion annually. This has brought cotton prices down artificially, allowing the U.S to capture world markets which were earlier accessible to poor African countries such as Burkina, Faso, Benin, Mali. The subsidy of $ 230 per acre in the U.S is genocidal for the African farmers. African cotton farmers are loosing $ 250 million every year. That is why small African countries walked out of the Cancun negotiations, leading to the collapse of the W.T.O ministerial.

The rigged prices of globally traded agriculture commodities are stealing incomes from poor peasants of the south. Analysis carried out by the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology shows that due to falling farm prices, Indian peasants are loosing $ 26 billion or Rs. 1.2 trillion annually. This is a burden their poverty does not allow them to bear. Hence the epidemic of farmer suicides.

India was among the countries that questioned the unfair rules of W.T.O in agriculture and led the G-22 alliance along with with Brazil and China. India with other southern countries addressed the need to safeguard the livelihoods of small farmers from the injustice of free trade based on high subsidies and dumping. Yet at the domestic level, official agencies in India are in deep denial of any links between free trade and farmers survival.

An example of this denial is a Government of Karnataka report on “Farmers suicide in Karnataka – A scientific analysis”. The report while claiming to be “scientific”, makes unscientific reductionist claims that the farm suicides have only psychological causes, not economic ones, and identifies alcoholism as the root cause of suicides. Therefore, instead of proposing changes in agricultural policy, the report recommends that farmers be required to boost up their self respect (swabhiman) and self-reliance (swavalambam).

And ironically, its recommendations for farmer self-reliance are changes in the Karnataka Land Reforms Act to allow larger land holdings and leasing. These are steps towards the further decimation of small farmers who have been protected by land “ceilings” (an upper limit on land ownership) and policies that only allow peasants and agriculturalists to own agricultural land (part of the land to the tiller policies of the Devraj Urs government).

While the “expert committee” report identified “alcoholism” as the main cause for suicides, the figures of this “scientific” claim are inconsistent and do not reflect the survey. On page 10, the report states in one place that 68 percent of the suicide victims were alcoholics. Five lines later it states that 17 percent were “alcohol and illicit drinkers”.

It also states that the majority of suicide victims were small and marginal farmers and the majority had high levels of indebtedness. Yet debt is not identified as a factor leading to suicide. On page 32 of the report it is stated that of the 105 cases studied among the 3544 suicides which had occurred in five districts during 2000 – 2001, 93 had debts, 54 percent had borrowed from private sources and money lenders.

More than 90% of suicide victims were in debt. Yet a table on page 63 has mysteriously reduced debt as a reason for suicide to 2.6%, and equally mysteriously, “suicide victims having a bad habit” has emerged as the primary cause of farmers suicides.

The government is desperate to delink farm suicides from economic processes linked to globalisation such as rise in indebtedness and increased frequency of crop failure due to higher ecologic vulnerability arising from climate change and drought and higher economic risks due to introduction of untested, unadopted seeds.

This is evident in recommendation no. “The government should launch prosecution on the responsible persons involved in misleading the public and government by providing false information about farmers suicide as crop failure or indebtedness” (page 113 of expert committee report).

However, farmers suicides cannot be delinked from indebtedness and the economic distress small farmers are facing. Indebtedness is not new. Farmers have always organised for freedom from debt.

In the nineteenth century the so call “Deccan Riots” were farmers protests against the debt trap into which they had been pushed to supply cheap cotton to the textile mills in Britain. In the eighties they formed peasant organisations to fight for debt relief from public debt linked to Green Revolution inputs.

However, under globalisation, the farmer is loosing her / his social, cultural, economic identity as a producer. A farmer is now a “consumer” of costly seeds and costly chemicals sold by powerful global corporations through powerful landlords and money lenders locally.

This combination is leading to corporate feudalism, the most inhumane, brutal and exploitative convergence of global corporate capitalism and local feudalism, in the face of which the farmer as an individual victim feels helpless. The bureaucratic and technocratic systems of the state are coming to the rescue of the dominant economic interests by blaming the victim.

It is necessary to stop this war against small farmers. It is necessary to re-write the rules of trade in agriculture. It is necessary to change our paradigms of food production. Feeding humanity should not depend on the extinction of farmers and extinction of species. Another agriculture is possible and necessary – an agriculture that protects farmers livelihoods, the earth and its biodiversity and public health.

Posted in Farmers Suicides, Globalisation, Policies | 1 Comment »

MP committee slams govt’s farmer policy

Posted by Ramoo on March 21, 2007

MP committee slams govt's farmer policyNDTV Correspondent
Wednesday, March 21, 2007 (New Delhi):

Empty promises, persistent government apathy where even the Prime Minister’s Vidarbha relief package does not take off.
This is not an attack by the opposition but a scathing indictment of the government by a Parliamentary Committee.
Farmer anger from Nandigram to Punjab over SEZ. The other face of despair is a suicide graph that stains state after state as a recurring shortage of onions and pulses fuels the price rise.
As agriculture lurches from one crisis to another, a parliamentary report has slammed the entire government saying these are mere symptoms of a deeper malaise.
“The Committee wonders whether the government is waiting for farmers of these states to commit suicides in large numbers before announcing any package.
“Whatever is announced in the budget and in Parliament don’t get into execution because of differences of opinion among ministries. We are not impressed by the rosy picture portrayed by the Planning Commission.”
“Planning Commission is not generous about releasing money,” said Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, Rural Development Minister.
Hard facts
But it’s not just rhetoric hard facts back this attack on the government.
There is prevalence of a draconian law in states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana, Orissa, which equips the police to arrest a loan defaulting farmer.
A Rs 1000 crore shortfall in allocation for agriculture in this year’s budget collapse of the credit system, and government apathy best evidenced in the failure of even the PM’s rehabilitation package for Vidarbha farmers.
“The government tells us it wants inclusive growth of tribals, Dalits or minorities it never mentions farmers,” said Sharad Joshi, Member, Standing committee on Agriculture.
Elections one after another and tall promises about rejuvenating agriculture but this 70 page document prepared by a committee of parliamentarians belonging to different political parties brings out the brutal truth.

Posted in Debt burden, Economix, Farmers Suicides, Globalisation, Policy issues, Reports/Studies | Leave a Comment »

Not import liberalisation, but justified protection needed for farm sector

Posted by Ramoo on March 19, 2007


Posted online: Monday, March 19, 2007 at 0000 hours IST

NEW DELHI, MAR 18:  Reduction in tariff protection in South Asian agriculture has been the primary cause of import surge, leading to fall in employment in farm activities, lowering of returns to farmers and increased levels of poverty in rural areas. This is observation made by the South Asian Yearbook of Trade and Development recently released by the Delhi-based Centre for Trade & Development (Centad) and Wiley India Pvt Ltd.

The Yearbook further said that the absence of income and insurance safety nets compounded the problems leading to desperate and irreversible actions by afflicted farmers—an obvious reference to the series of farmers’ suicides.

The observations in the Yearbook is a caution to the Indian government which is deliberately engaged in the process of import liberalisation. The commerce minister, Kamal Nath at the sidelines of the recent World Economic Summit at Davos made an unilateral offer on behalf of the developing countries to be flexible on the issues of designation of special products and application of Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM).

The agriculture minister, Sharad Pawar has openly favoured a liberalized export-import regime. Last week in the Parliament he announced that private trade, corporate houses and multinational corporation would be allowed to import dutyfree wheat. Government would also import 3 million tonne wheat despite a good production of over 80 million tonne wheat in the country, according to several experts. However, the government has made a conservative estimate of 72 million tonne wheat production, despite the increase in area under wheat crop by over 28 million hectare.

Government’s justification for allowing dutyfree wheat import is to augment its supply and arrest the rising trend in prices. But such action did not result in a solution and the government’s Economic Survey 2006 admitted that wheat imports failed to hold the price line.

Rather the global prices of wheat appreciated when India became a bulk import. Wheat production in previous year was sufficient to meet the domestic needs and so also is the case in the present year. The prime cause for price rise is deliberate hoarding of stocks and market manipulation, which the government is reluctant to control.

Unwarranted import liberalization is no solution, rather it may be counterproductive. The Yearbook suggests adequate protection of food security and livelihoods of small and resource poor farmers through multilateral disciplines of SPs and SSM. Discussions on SPs and SSM is central for the Third World. G-33, group of about 40 developing and least developed countries are meeting in Jakarta in Indonesia to discuss the strategy. G-33 has proposed that 20% of the tariff lines should be protected under SPs, while several civil society organizations have said that all farm produces should be designated as SPs.

In India, the agriculture ministry has identified very few products—about 80 tariff lines—as SPs. The Yearbook, however pleads for developing separate objective criteria for for designating SPs in South Asia which should be broad enough to cover large range of products. “An earlier case study on India has shown that 57% of tariff lines need greater flexibility as SPs. With regard to the SSM, price-triggers are found to be more appropriate than volume triggers.” Thus, let us act before it is too late.

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India’s role key to break the Doha deadlock: Lamy

Posted by Ramoo on March 17, 2007
Posted online: Tuesday, March 13, 2007 at 0000 hours IST
NEW DELHI, MAR 12 :  WTO director-general Pascal Lamy on Monday criticised the slow progress of the Doha Round of talks and called for speeding up the process to achieve a breakthrough by June. India can help in breaking the ice, Lamy said.

Lamy, who was here to participate in a seminar on the Doha Round said, “Time is not on our side and many members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) are becoming impatient. The multilateral process of negotiations must therefore begin at full speed and chairpersons of various negotiation groups must come in centrestage.”
“We need to speed up the process to grasp the opportunity, which closes in June, with the expiry of the US Trade Promotion Authority,” Lamy added.

Lamy, however, said, at present, political leaders were focussing to get a breakthrough since they realised the cost of failure would be “absolutely huge”. Meanwhile, around 200 protestors from farmers’ groups, including Bharat Krishak Samaj (BKS), Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) and NGOs Housing Rights Association, Peoples Campaign for Justice and Sovereignty, Youth for Justice and Slum Dwellers Association, gathered outside the venue and demanded to be heard. “We do not want a bad deal at any cost,” they said. Vandana Shiva of Navdanya questioned why no farmers’ leader was invited at the seminar.

“I was informed that some progress has been made in testing hypothesis, approaches and formulae last week in bilateral contacts between the US, EU, Brazil and India” Lamy said during his speech. On agriculture, Lamy said WTO members have agreed that this Round has to deliver effective cuts in trade-distorting farm subsidies in developed countries

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Under pressure, India makes U-turn

Posted by Ramoo on March 16, 2007

At a two-day international seminar on “Saving Doha and delivering on development” that concluded at New Delhi on 13 March, India’s Commerce Minister Kamal Nath provided ample evidence of India’s willingness to go along with the rich and industrialised countries. The writing is on the wall, says Devinder Sharma.

15 March 2007 – The writing is clearly on the wall. With India succumbing to pressure and the G-33 group of developing countries unlikely to stand in the way, the controversial Doha Development Round of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) may just be all set to sail through.

At a two-day international seminar on “Saving Doha and delivering on development” that concluded at New Delhi on Mar 13, India’s Commerce Minister Kamal Nath provided ample evidence of India’s willingness to go along with the rich and industrialised countries. In what appears to be a u-turn in India’s position so far, Mr Kamal Nath said: “This round is not about removal, but about reduction of distortions that lead to artificiality in prices.”

To be seen in conjunction with what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the same day at another roundtable organised by The Economist in New Delhi: “India was committed to an early positive conclusion of the Doha Development Round,” the underlying message is crystal clear.

For a few months now, after the suspension of the Doha round negotiations in mid-2006, New Delhi has been under pressure to drop its opposition. WTO chief Pascal Lamy had time and again visited India, and had used every opportunity to negotiate on behalf of the developed countries so much so that he was allowed to walk after he had literally threatened India. Knowing well that Kamal Nath’s ‘tough’ posturing is aimed only at the media, Lamy now made it abundantly clear that an agreement on Doha round has to be reached before the expiry of the US Trade Promotion Agreement in June.

If the agreement is not signed by June, the US President will lose his Fast Track authority to approve international trade agreements, which means the US Senate/Congress will then oversee the agreements. That is why the US wants to hurry. If no agreement is signed by June it will still be beneficial for Indian agriculture. As long as the subsidies stay in the rich countries, we will not be able to protect our agriculture.

The two-day conference in New Delhi was therefore an effort by the Ministry of Commerce to provide justification for a complete somersault in its official stand. The list of invitees, and the selective picking up of speakers and rapporteurs made the real objective copiously clear. Keeping the real stakeholders away, and ensuring that the critical voices were not present, “Saving Doha” became the rallying point.

for complete article…

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Economic globalisation has become a war against nature and poor

Posted by Ramoo on March 16, 2007…

by Vandana Shiva

RECENTLY, I WAS visiting Bhatinda in Punjab because of an epidemic of farmers’ suicides. Punjab used to be the most prosperous agricultural region in India. Today every farmer is in debt and despair. Vast stretches of land have become waterlogged desert. And, as an old farmer pointed out, even the trees have stopped bearing fruit because heavy use of pesticides has killed the pollinators — the bees and butterflies.

And Punjab is not alone in experiencing this ecological and social disaster. Last year I was in Warangal, Andhra Pradesh, where farmers have also been committing suicide. Farmers who traditionally grew pulses and millets and paddy have been lured by seed companies to buy hybrid cotton seeds referred to as “white gold”, which were supposed to make them millionaires. Instead they became paupers.

Their native seeds have been displaced with new hybrids which cannot be saved and need to be purchased every year at a high cost. Hybrids are also very vulnerable to pest attacks. Spending on pesticides in Warangal has increased 2,000 per cent from $2.5 million in the 1980s to £50 million in 1997. Now farmers are consuming the same pesticides as a way of killing themselves so that they can escape permanently from unpayable debt.

The corporations are now trying to introduce genetically engineered seed, which will further increase costs and ecological risks. That is why farmers like Malla Reddy of the Andhra Pradesh Farmers’ Union had uprooted Monsanto’s genetically engineered Bollgard cotton in

On March 27th, twenty-five-year-old Betavati Ratan took his life because he could not pay back debts for drilling a deep tube well on his two-acre farm. The wells are now dry, as are the wells in Gujarat and Rajasthan where more than 50 million people face a water famine.

The drought is not a “natural disaster”. It is “man-made”. It is the result of mining of scarce ground water in arid regions to grow thirsty cash crops for export instead of water-prudent food crops for local needs.

It is experiences such as these which tell me that we are so wrong to be smug about the new global economy. It is time to stop and think about the impact of globalization on the lives of ordinary people. This is vital if we want to achieve sustainability.

Seattle and the World Trade Organization protests last year have forced everyone to think again. For me it is now time to re-evaluate radically what we are doing. For what we are doing in the name of globalization to the poor is brutal and unforgivable. This is especially evident in India as we witness the unfolding disasters of globalization, especially in food and agriculture.

WHO FEEDS THE WORLD? My answer is very different from that given by most people.

It is women and small farmers working with biodiversity who are the primary food providers in the Third World and, contrary to the dominant assumption, their biodiversity-based small farm systems are more productive than industrial monocultures.

The rich diversity and sustainable systems of food production have been destroyed in the name of increasing food production. However, with the destruction of diversity, rich sources of nutrition disappear. When measured in terms of nutrition per acre, and from the perspective of biodiversity, the so-called “high yields” of industrial agriculture do not imply more production of food and nutrition.

Yield usually refers to production per unit area of a single crop. Output refers to the total production of diverse crops and products. Planting only one crop in the entire field as a monoculture will, of course, increase its individual yield. Planting multiple crops in a mixture will have low yields of individual crops, but will have high total output of food. Yields have been defined in such a way as to make the food production on small farms, by small farmers, disappear.

This hides the production by millions of women farmers in the Third World — farmers like those in my native Himalaya who fought against logging in the Chipko movement, who in their terraced fields grow Jhangora (barnyard millet), Marsha (amaranth), Tur (pigeon pea), Urad (black gram), Gahat (horse gram), soy bean (glycine max), Bhat (glycine soya), Rayans (rice bean), Swanta (cow pea), Koda (finger millet). From the biodiversity perspective, biodiversity-based productivity is higher than monoculture productivity. I call this blindness to the high productivity of diversity a “Monoculture of the Mind”, which creates monocultures in our fields.

The Mayan peasants in the Chiapas are characterized as unproductive because they produce only two tons of corn per acre. However, the overall food output is twenty tons per acre when the diversity of their beans and squashes, their vegetables and fruit trees is taken into account.

In Java, small farmers cultivate 607 species in their home gardens. In sub-saharan Africa, women cultivate as many as 120 different plants in the spaces left alongside the cash crops, and this is the main source of household food security.

A single home garden in Thailand has more than 230 species, and African home gardens have more than sixty species of tree. Rural families in the Congo eat leaves from more than fifty different species of tree.

A study in eastern Nigeria found that home gardens occupying only 2% of a household’s farmland accounted for half the farm’s total output. Similarly, home gardens in Indonesia are estimated to provide more than 20% of household income and 40% of domestic food supplies.

Research done by fao has shown that small biodiverse farms can produce thousands of times more food than large, industrial monocultures.

And diversity is the best strategy for preventing drought and desertification.

What the world needs to feed a growing population sustainably is biodiversity intensification, not chemical intensification or genetic engineering. While women and small peasants feed the world through biodiversity, we are repeatedly told that without genetic engineering and globalization of agriculture the world will starve. In spite of all empirical evidence showing that genetic engineering does not produce more food and in fact often leads to a yield decline, it is constantly promoted as the only alternative available for feeding the hungry.

THAT IS WHY I ASK, who feeds the world?

This deliberate blindness to diversity, the blindness to nature’s production, production by women, production by Third World farmers, allows destruction and appropriation to be projected as creation.

Take the case of the much-flaunted “golden rice” or genetically engineered vitamin A rice as a cure for blindness. It is assumed that without genetic engineering we cannot remove vitamin A deficiency. However, nature gives us abundant and diverse sources of vitamin A. If rice were not polished, rice itself would provide vitamin A. If herbicides were not sprayed on our wheat fields, we would have bathua, amaranth, mustard leaves as delicious and nutritious greens.

Women in Bengal use more than 150 plants as greens. But the myth of creation presents biotechnologists as the creators of vitamin A, negating nature’s diverse gifts and women’s knowledge of how to use this diversity to feed their children and families.

The most efficient means of rendering the destruction of nature, local economies and small autonomous producers is by rendering their production invisible.

Women who produce for their families and communities are treated as “non-productive” and “economically inactive”. The devaluation of women’s work, and of work done in sustainable economies, is the natural outcome of a system constructed by capitalist patriarchy. This is how globalization destroys local economies and the destruction itself is counted as growth.

And women themselves are devalued, because for many women in the rural and indigenous communities their work co-operates with nature’s processes, and is often contradictory to the dominant market-driven “development” and trade policies, and because work that satisfies needs and ensures sustenance is devalued in general. There is less nurturing of life and life support systems.

The devaluation and invisibility of sustainable, regenerative production is most glaring in the area of food. While patriarchal division of labour has assigned women the role of feeding their families and communities, patriarchal economics and patriarchal views of science and technology magically make women’s work in providing food disappear. “Feeding the World” becomes disassociated from the women who actually do it and is projected as dependent on global agribusiness and biotechnology corporations.

Industrialization and genetic engineering of food and globalization of trade in agriculture are recipes for creating hunger, not for feeding the poor.

Everywhere, food production is becoming a negative economy, with farmers spending more buying costly inputs for industrial production than the price they receive for their produce. The consequence is rising debts and epidemics of suicides in both rich and poor countries.

ECONOMIC GLOBALIZATION is leading to a concentration of the seed industry, the increased use of pesticides, and, finally, increased debt. Capital-intensive, corporate-controlled agriculture is being spread into regions where peasants are poor but, until now, have been self-sufficient in food. In the regions where industrial agriculture has been introduced through globalization, higher costs are making it virtually impossible for small farmers to survive.

The globalization of non-sustainable industrial agriculture is evaporating the incomes of
Third World farmers through a combination of devaluation of currencies, increase in costs of production and a collapse in commodity prices.

Farmers everywhere are being paid a fraction of what they received for the same commodity a decade ago. In the us, wheat prices dropped from $5.75 to $2.43, soya bean prices dropped from $8.40 to $4.29, and corn prices dropped from $4.43 to $1.72 a bushel. In India, from 1999 to 2000, prices for coffee dropped from Rs.60 to Rs.18 per kg and prices of oilseeds declined by more than 30%.

The Canadian National Farmers’ Union put it like this in a report to the senate this year:

“While the farmers growing cereal grains — wheat, oats, corn — earn negative returns and are pushed close to bankruptcy, the companies that make breakfast cereals reap huge profits. In 1998, cereal companies Kellogg’s, Quaker Oats and General Mills enjoyed return on equity rates of 56%, 165% and 222% respectively. While a bushel of corn sold for less than $4, a bushel of corn flakes sold for $133. In 1998, the cereal companies were 186 to 740 times more profitable than the farms. Maybe farmers are making too little because others are taking too much.”

And a World Bank report has admitted that “behind the polarization of domestic consumer prices and world prices is the presence of large trading companies in international commodity markets.”

While farmers earn less, consumers, especially in poor countries, pay more. In
India, food prices have doubled between 1999 and 2000, and consumption of food grains has dropped by 12% in rural areas, increasing the food deprivation of those already malnourished, pushing up mortality rates. Increased economic growth through global commerce is based on pseudo surpluses. More food is being traded while the poor are consuming less. When growth increases poverty, when real production becomes a negative economy, and speculators are defined as “wealth creators”, something has gone wrong with the concepts and categories of wealth and wealth creation. Pushing the real production by nature and people into a negative economy implies that production of real goods and services is declining, creating deeper poverty for the millions who are not part of the dotcom route to instantaneous wealth creation.

WOMEN — AS I HAVE SAID — are the primary food producers and food processors in the world. However, their work in production and processing has now become invisible.

According to the McKinsey corporation, “American food giants recognize that Indian agro-business has lots of room to grow, especially in food processing. India processes a minuscule 1% of the food it grows compared with 70% for the US, Brazil and
Philippines.” It is not that we Indians eat our food raw. Global consultants fail to see the 99% food processing done by women at household level, or by small cottage industry, because it is not controlled by global agribusiness. 99% of
India’s agroprocessing has been intentionally kept at the household level. Now, under the pressure of globalization, things are changing. Pseudo hygiene laws that shut down the food economy based on small-scale local processing under community control are part of the arsenal of global agribusiness for establishing market monopolies through force and coercion, not competition.

In August 1998, small-scale local processing of edible oil was banned in
India through a “packaging order” which made sale of open oil illegal and required all oil to be packed in plastic or aluminium. This shut down tiny “ghanis” or cold-pressed mills. It destroyed the market for our diverse oilseeds — mustard, linseed, sesame, groundnut and coconut.

The take-over of the edible oil industry has affected 10 million livelihoods. The take-over of “atta” or flour by packaged branded flour will cost 100 million livelihoods. These millions are being pushed into new poverty.

The forced use of packaging will increase the environmental burden of millions of tonnes of plastic and aluminium. The globalization of the food system is destroying the diversity of local food cultures and local food economies. A global monoculture is being forced on people by defining everything that is fresh, local and handmade as a health hazard. Human hands are being defined as the worst contaminants, and work for human hands is being outlawed, to be replaced by machines and chemicals bought from global corporations. These are not recipes for feeding the world, but for stealing livelihoods from the poor to create markets for the powerful. People are being perceived as parasites, to be exterminated for the “health” of the global economy. In the process new health and ecological hazards are being forced on Third World people through dumping genetically engineered foods and other hazardous products.

Recently, because of a wto ruling, India was forced to remove restrictions on all imports. Among the unrestricted imports are carcases and animal waste parts that create a threat to our culture and introduce public health hazards such as mad cow disease.

The US Center for Disease and Prevention (cds) in Atlanta has calculated that nearly 81 million cases of food-borne illnesses occur in the us every year. Deaths from food poisoning have more than quadrupled due to deregulation, rising from 2,000 in 1984 to 9,000 in 1994. Most of these infections are caused by factory-farmed meat. The us slaughters 93 million pigs, 37 million cattle, 2 million calves, 6 million horses, goats and sheep and 8 billion chickens and turkeys each year. Now the giant meat industry of the us wants to dump contaminated meat produced through violent and cruel methods on India.

The waste of the rich is being dumped on the poor. The wealth of the poor is being violently appropriated through new and clever means like patents on biodiversity and indigenous knowledge.

PATENTS AND INTELLECTUAL property rights are supposed to be granted for novel inventions. But patents are being claimed for rice varieties such as the basmati for which theDoon Valley — where I was born — is famous, or pesticides derived from the neem which our mothers and grandmothers have been using. Rice Tec, a US-based company, has been granted Patent No. 5,663,484 for basmati rice lines and grains.

Basmati, neem, pepper, bitter gourd, turmeric . . . every aspect of the innovation embodied in our indigenous food and medicinal systems is now being pirated and patented. The knowledge of the poor is being converted into the property of global corporations, creating a situation where the poor will have to pay for the seeds and medicines they have evolved and have used to meet their needs for nutrition and health care.

Such false claims to creation are now the global norm, with the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights Agreement of the wto forcing countries to introduce regimes that allow patenting of life forms and indigenous knowledge.

Instead of recognizing that commercial interests build on nature and on the contribution of other cultures, global law has enshrined the patriarchal myth of creation to create new property rights to life forms just as colonialism used the myth of discovery as the basis of the take-over of the land of others as colonies.

Humans do not create life when they manipulate it. Rice Tec’s claim that it has made “an instant invention of a novel rice line”, or the Roslin Institute’s claim that Ian Wilmut “created” Dolly denies the creativity of nature, the self-organizational capacity of life forms, and the prior innovation of Third World communities.

Patents and intellectual property rights are supposed to prevent piracy. Instead they are becoming the instruments of pirating the common traditional knowledge from the poor of the Third World and making it the exclusive “property” of Western scientists and corporations.

When patents are granted for seeds and plants, as in the case of basmati, theft is defined as creation, and saving and sharing seed is defined as theft of intellectual property. Corporations which have broad patents on crops such as cotton, soya bean and mustard are suing farmers for seed-saving and hiring detective agencies to find out if farmers have saved seed or shared it with neighbours.

The recent announcement that Monsanto is giving away the rice genome for free is misleading: Monsanto has not made a commitment to stop patenting rice varieties or other crops.

Sharing and exchange, the basis of our humanity and our ecological survival, have been redefined as a crime. This makes us all poor.

Nature has given us abundance. Women’s indigenous knowledge of biodiversity, agriculture and nutrition has built on that abundance to create more from less, to create growth through sharing. The poor are pushed into deeper poverty by being made to pay for what were their resources and knowledge. Even the rich are poorer because their profits are based on theft and on the use of coercion and violence. This is not wealth creation but plunder.

Sustainability requires the protection of all species and all people and the recognition that diverse species and diverse people play an essential role in maintaining ecosystems and ecological processes. Pollinators are critical to the fertilization and generation of plants. Biodiversity in fields provides vegetables, fodder, medicine and protection to the soil from water and wind erosion.

As humans travel further down the road to non-sustainability, they become intolerant of other species and blind to their vital role in our survival.

In 1992, when Indian farmers destroyed Cargill’s seed plant in Bellary, Karnataka, as a protest against seed failure, the Cargill Chief Executive stated: “We bring Indian farmers smart technologies which prevent bees from usurping the pollen.” When I was participating in the United Nations Biosafety Negotiations, Monsanto circulated literature to defend its Roundup herbicide-resistant crops on grounds that they prevent “weeds from stealing the sunshine”. But what Monsanto calls weeds are the green fields that provide vitamin A rice and prevent blindness in children and anaemia in women.

A world-view that defines pollination as “theft by bees” and claims that biodiversity “steals” sunshine is a world-view which itself aims at stealing nature’s harvest by replacing open, pollinated varieties with hybrids and sterile seeds, and at destroying biodiverse flora with herbicides such as Monsanto’s Roundup. The threat posed to the Monarch butterfly by genetically engineered bt. crops is just one example of the ecological poverty created by the new biotechnologies. As butterflies and bees disappear, production is undermined. As biodiversity disappears, with it go sources of nutrition and food.

When giant corporations view small peasants and bees as thieves, and through trade rules and new technologies seek the right to exterminate them, humanity has reached a dangerous threshold. The imperative to stamp out the smallest insect, the smallest plant, the smallest peasant comes from a deep fear — the fear of everything that is alive and free. And this deep insecurity and fear is unleashing violence against all people and all species.

The global free-trade economy has become a threat to sustainability. The very survival of the poor and other species is at stake not just as a side effect or as an exception but in a systemic way through a restructuring of our world-view at the most fundamental level. Sustainability, sharing and survival are being economically outlawed in the name of market competitiveness and market efficiency.

We need urgently to bring the planet and people back into the picture. The world can be fed only by feeding all beings that make the world.

In giving food to other beings and species we maintain conditions for our own food security. In feeding the earthworms we feed ourselves. In feeding cows, we feed the soil, and in providing food for the soil, we provide food for humans. This world-view of abundance is based on sharing and on a deep awareness of humans as members of the earth family. This awareness that in impoverishing other beings, we impoverish ourselves and in nourishing other beings, we nourish ourselves is the basis of sustainability.

The sustainability challenge for the new millennium is whether global economic man can move out of the world-view based on fear and scarcity, monocultures and monopolies, appropriation and dispossession and shift to a view based on abundance and sharing, diversity and decentralization, and respect and dignity for all beings.

Sustainability demands that we move out of the economic trap that is leaving no space for other species and most humans. Economic globalization has become a war against nature and the poor. But the rules of globalization are not god-given. They can be changed. We must bring this war to an end.

Since Seattle, a frequently used phrase has been the need for a rule-based system. Globalization is the rule of commerce and it has elevated Wall Street to be the only source of value, and as a result things that should have high worth — nature, culture, the future — are being devalued and destroyed. The rules of globalization are undermining the rules of justice and sustainability, of compassion and sharing. We have to move from market totalitarianism to an earth democracy.

We can survive as a species only if we live by the rules of the biosphere. The biosphere has enough for everyone’s needs if the global economy respects the limits set by sustainability and justice.

As Gandhi reminded us, “The Earth has enough for everyone’s needs, but not for some people’s greed.”

Posted in Economix, Environment, Farmers Suicides, Globalisation, Policy issues | 22 Comments »