Thursday, June 26, 2008

World food price crisis and India: a perfect case of Green Famine

The background

The global food situation is in a bad shape. Several countries are facing food riots and hunger deaths. India after opting for a globalized economy is facing the threats of acute food scarcity though the governments assure that they have enough food and the stocks are more than previous years. This assurance cannot be challenged but the rising numbers of cases of malnutrition and hunger deaths/suicides explains that the majority of our population are unable to earn enough to buy food. We are already counting the hunger related deaths that is over 5,000 children below 5 years dying every day in our country. The global count is believed to be 80,000 persons dying per day due to malnutrition and hunger related deaths.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation and several other international institutions have a common say on the number of people drifting below the poverty line, at least 1 billion. The present food price crisis is going to increase the numbers of malnutritioned childhood and mother hood to new heights, beyond imaginations. And the reasons again will remain the same as before, the deteriorating purchasing capacities of the workers, landless farmers, poor and small peasantries and burgeoning demands from a small section of our societies.

Reasons cited for the present rising food prices and food security wreckage are varied. Some leaders having global influences are trying to fudge the realities, saying that affluence in Indian and Chinese middle class is responsible for the crisis world over. Food policy analysts and economy experts present a different set of reasons. In the context of Indian food security scenario following set of reasons are behind the diminishing food security.

1. Non-equitable and unsustainable land distribution

The largest democracy, India failed to make the Indian farmers the owners of the land they are tilling and the food they are producing. Big chunks of land are under the capture of landlords and the majority of farmers are either landless or having fragile landholdings. Around 65% of land owner Indian farmers have less than 1-hectare land in their possession. The process of dispossession is also taking at a very fast pace. In 1983, the percentage of landless households was 55.9% that increased to 62.1% in 2004-05. This clearly shows that the majority of households have very less control over the means of agricultural production and the produce both. The NSSO’s Round 61 data also reveals that the control is further diminishing which, finally flows into waning of food sovereignty of the people and dependence on market for food supplies increases.

It is the poor farmers that produce the food for the country while the big farmers tend to concentrate on the productions that yield best profits, not the one that will feed the country. It is a known fact that the farming population in the country is more than 65 percent, but yet the country could not feed its population because majority of the farmers are poor. If the poor farmers are provided with adequate resources, the world will have more than enough to eat.

2. Callousness towards irrigation for poor peasantries

Several rivers were dammed in the name of irrigation; less reaching to poor peasantries while the influential and high caste rich farmers and landlords reaped the benefits. Though Dalits, tribals, single women and other vulnerable sections paid the costs, they are still struggling to lodge their control over water resources. Several regions were intentionally kept out of the irrigation plans and the traditional irrigation systems failed due to absence of political will of governments and socio-political apathy.

3. Restructuring of agriculture in the Third World

Over the last 20-30 years, poor countries around the world, in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, have been subjected to Structural Adjustment Programs imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. These structural adjustment programs have forced Third World governments to open up markets, land, and other resources to imperialist agribusiness, including food exporters. And they have hurt the mass of peasant producers. They force governments to cut subsidies to small farmers and support programs in rural areas, and to emphasize high-value export agriculture (like asparagus or exotic flowers).

The governments, inspired by neo-liberal designs ensured all the efforts to prove that rice and wheat (and other staples) could be purchased from world market at cheap rates and Indian farmers should focus more on export-oriented crops. And they succeeded in convincing the middle and rich farmers, and a good number of them switched to commercial crops. The food sovereignty got the jolt and the resulted into decline in food self-sufficiency. Countries like Malaysia saw their self-sufficiency in rice falling from 90% in 1970s to 70% now.

4. Food security is jeopardized for luxuries of a few

Vast tracks of agricultural fields and community lands have been allotted for producing bio-fuels and non-grain crops such as flowers, fruits and exotic vegetables. The ministry of agriculture is panning to divert around 12 million hectares, out of total 140 million hectares agricultural land available in India for the cultivation of Jatropha and other bio-fuel plants. The state government of Uttar Pradesh has issued licenses to 25 sugar mills for producing ethanol from sugarcane. Other state governments of sugarcane producing states may also follow the trend to protect the interest of sugar producing companies.

This might threat the availability of sugar and brown sugar/jaggery (Gur). On the other hand the government has banned export of prime grains like wheat and rice to arrest the spiralling prices of the grains. Giving licenses to sugar industries for ethanol production may result into changes in cropping pattern and farmers begin growing sugarcane dumping wheat or rice. This will further destroy the food security perspective.

5. Productivity has gone down

After several decades of over-use of chemicals in the fields the soil health is in a precarious state and the land productivity is consistently going down. The so-called Green Revolution – use of new seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides and wasteful use of water and wrong selection of crops, has been confirmed failed. The underground water systems are parched and a long-term threat of failed agriculture is the future of farming in Indian food baskets like Punjab, Haryana and Western UP.

Cropping patterns has changed and the traditional food grains have been replaced with alien commercialized seeds.

The over stressed environment is manifesting itself by erratic rainfall patterns and other natural calamities adversely effecting the agriculture and food productivity in various regions.

6. Financial speculation in agricultural commodities and hoarding of food

Future trading and speculative purchasing has resulted into hoarding of food and artificial food crisis. The multinational retail giants were allowed to purchase grains directly from farmers. Even after bumper production of grains and other food crops during the last two harvesting seasons the rates of food is going up regularly. The raids by food authorities yielded several thousand tons of food from hoarders. Still the real hoarders the retail giants are untouched and the committees constituted by the government have given clean chit to Futures Trading, saying there is no direct links between Futures and hoarding and rise in food prices. Though several national and international analysts and some governments have established the nexus time and again.

7. Industrialization of agriculture

In the most of the high yielding farm regions, agriculture has become industrialised and the self reliant and least energy intensive source of livelihood has become highly energy and capital intensive. This has further alienated and impoverished the already marginalized poor peasantry. High input costs have gripped the farmers in debt traps and the family and community food security of more than 70% of the peasantry is under severe threat of destruction.