Category Archives: Agriculture

Microsoft vs Indian Farmers: Agri-Stacking the System

In April, the Indian government signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Microsoft, allowing its local partner CropData to leverage a master database of farmers. The MoU seems to be part of the AgriStack policy initiative, which involves the roll out of ‘disruptive’ technologies and digital databases in the agricultural sector.

Based on press reports and government statements, Microsoft would help farmers with post- harvest management solutions by building a collaborative platform and capturing agriculture datasets such as crop yields, weather data, market demand and prices. In turn, this would create a farmer interface for ‘smart’ agriculture, including post-harvest management and distribution.

CropData will be granted access to a government database of 50 million farmers and their land records. As the database is developed, it will include farmers’ personal details, profile of land held (cadastral maps, farm size, land titles, local climatic and geographical conditions), production details (crops grown, production history, input history, quality of output, machinery in possession) and financial details (input costs, average return, credit history).

The stated aim is to use digital technology to improve financing, inputs, cultivation and supply and distribution.

It seems that the blueprint for AgriStack is in an advanced stage despite the lack of consultation with or involvement of farmers themselves. Technology could certainly improve the sector but handing control over to powerful private concerns will merely facilitate what they require in terms of market capture and farmer dependency.

Such ‘data-driven agriculture’ is integral to the recent farm legislation which includes a proposal to create a digital profile of cultivators, their farm holdings, climatic conditions in an area, what is grown and average output.

Of course, many concerns have been raised about this, ranging from farmer displacement, the further exploitation of farmers through microfinance and the misuse of farmer’s data and increased algorithmic decision-making without accountability.

The displacement of farmers is not lost on the Research Unit for Political Economy (RUPE) which, in a three-part series of articles, explains how neoliberal capitalism has removed peasant farmers from their land to facilitate an active land market for corporate interests. The Indian government is trying to establish a system of ‘conclusive titling’ of all land in the country, so that ownership can be identified and land can then be bought or taken away.

Taking Mexico as an example, RUPE says:

Unlike Mexico, India never underwent significant land reform. Nevertheless, its current programme of ‘conclusive titling’ of land bears clear resemblances to Mexico’s post-1992 drive to hand over property rights… The Indian rulers are closely following the script followed by Mexico, written in Washington.

The plan is that, as farmers lose access to land or can be identified as legal owners, predatory institutional investors and large agribusinesses will buy up and amalgamate holdings, facilitating the further roll out of high-input, corporate-dependent industrial agriculture – which has already helped fuel wide-scale financial distress among farmers and a deep-rooted agrarian and environmental crisis.

By harvesting (pirating) information – under the benign-sounding policy of data-driven agriculture – private corporations will be better placed to exploit farmers’ situations for their own ends: they will know more about their incomes and businesses than individual farmers themselves.

Open letter

Some 55 civil society groups and organisations have written to the government expressing these and various other concerns, not least the perceived policy vacuum with respect to the data privacy of farmers and the exclusion of farmers themselves in current policy initiatives.

In an open letter, they state:

At a time when ‘data has become the new oil’ and the industry is looking at it as the next source of profits, there is a need to ensure the interest of farmers. It will not be surprising that corporations will approach this as one more profit-making possibility, as a market for so-called ‘solutions’ which lead to sale of unsustainable agri-inputs combined with greater loans and indebtedness of farmers for this through fintech, as well as the increased threat of dispossession by private corporations.

They add that any proposal which seeks to tackle the issues that plague Indian agriculture must address the fundamental causes of these issues. The current model relies on ‘tech-solutionism’ which emphasises using technology to solve structural issues.

There is also the issue of reduced transparency on the part of the government through algorithm-based decision-making.

The 55 signatories request the government holds consultations with all stakeholders, especially farmers’ organisations, on the direction of its digital push as well as the basis of partnerships, and put out a policy document in this regard after giving due consideration to feedback from farmers and farmer organisations. As agriculture is a state subject, the central government should consult the state governments also.

They state that all initiatives that the government has begun with private entities to integrate and/or share multiple databases with private/personal information about individual farmers or their farms be put on hold till an inclusive policy framework is put in place and a data protection law is passed.

It is also advocated that the development of AgriStack, both as a policy framework and its execution, should take the concerns and experiences of farmers as the prime starting point.

The letter states that if the new farm laws are closely examined, it will be evident that unregulated digitalisation is an important aspect of them.

There is the strong possibility that monopolistic corporate owned e-commerce ‘platforms’ will eventually control much of India’s economy given the current policy trajectory. From retail and logistics to cultivation, data certainly will be the ‘new oil’, giving power to platforms to dictate what needs to be manufactured and in what quantities.

Those farmers who remain in the system will be tied to contracts and told how much production is expected, how much rain is anticipated, what type of soil quality there is, what type of inputs are required and when the produce needs to be ready – and how much money they will receive.

Handing over all information about the sector to Microsoft and others places power in their hands – the power to shape the sector in their own image.

The data giants and e-commerce companies will not only control data about consumption but also hold data on production, logistics, who needs what, when they need it, who should produce it, who should move it and when it should be moved.

Bayer, Corteva, Syngenta and traditional agribusiness will work with Microsoft, Google and the big-tech giants to facilitate AI-driven farmerless farms and e-commerce retail dominated by the likes of Amazon and Walmart. A cartel of data owners, proprietary input suppliers and retail concerns at the commanding heights of the economy, peddling toxic industrial food and the devastating health impacts associated with it.

And elected representatives? Their role will be highly limited to technocratic overseers of these platforms and the artificial intelligence tools that plan and determine all of the above.

As for farmers, many, if not most, will be forced to leave the sector. Tens of millions unemployed and underemployed ‘collateral damage’ stripped of their means of production.

Centuries’ old knowledge of cultivation and cultural practices passed on down the generations – gone. The links between humans and the land reduced to an AI-driven technocratic dystopia in compliance with the tenets of neoliberal capitalism.

As it currently stands, AgriStack will help facilitate this end game.

The open letter referred to can be read on the website of the Alliance For Holistic and Sustaibable Agriculture. For a summary of the recent farm legislation and the implications see this segment by Colin Todhunter on UK-based KTV.

The post Microsoft vs Indian Farmers: Agri-Stacking the System first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Good, Bad and the Ugly of Roughshod Chemistry

“When we look at what is truly sustainable, the only real model that has worked over long periods of time is the natural world.”
— Biomimicry Institute founder, Janine Benyus

A selection of the thousands of native potato varieties that grow in Peru.

[Photo: A selection of the thousands of native potato varieties that grow in Peru. Photograph: The International Potato Centre]

It’s paramount to talk about all the untested, all the never-experimented-on synergistic affects of all those “compounds/ingredients/chemicals” the chemical industry has forced upon the public and nature through “better living/eating/drinking through chemistry.”

I was just talking with a 78-year-old woman whose father’s side of the family (56) all were murdered in Germany’s death camps. She grew up in Chile, and alas, ended up Oregon. She is working on stopping the aerial spraying of 2-4-D and other weedicides onto the clear-cuts.

She remarked at how insane the world is with so much lack of common sense and connecting of the dots when it comes to our factory/industrial food systems. She held up a potato:

How did it ever become normal to use poisons on our food? Poisons that have a direct vector not just to your gut and mine. But to the developing guts and brains of fetuses?

How to Remove Pesticides From Your Produce - CNM College of Naturopathic Medicine

Oh, that potato! Originally from Peru, the potato has crossed oceans and ended up in every part of the globe.

Only two things in this world are too serious to be jested on, potatoes and matrimony.
—Irish saying.

Now, they are genetically engineered. And they are part of the monoculture that triggered the Great Famine, also called the Irish Potato Famine. Then, the Irish used a single breed of potato, the Irish Lumper, which was vulnerable to fungus that the breed had no resistance to. However, the Peruvians grow many hundreds of varieties. That diversity of breed/varieties is what keeps a single fungus or other pests from decimating a food stock.

The problems with “conventional” potatoes are tied to the fact the soil is so eroded and decimated in industrial growing models that there is no natural fungi and bacteria, so ungodly amounts of chemical fertilizers have to be applied each season, more and more each season, that is. Again, in the USA, only several varieties of potatoes are grown.

But it’s the pesticides, man! Leave my spuds alone.

The the USDA’s Pesticide Data Program determined 35 different pesticides have been found on “conventionally-grown” (nonorganic) potatoes.

As is true of many of the plastic compounds, these pesticides have some lethal side effects:
– 6 are known or probably carcinogens
– 12 are suspected hormone disruptors
– 7 are neurotoxins
– 6 are developmental or reproductive toxins

One herbicide, chlorpropham,  is used to stop the growth of weeds and to inhibit potatoes sprouting; it’s found on up to 80 percent of all “conventionally-grown” potatoes.

According to the Extension Toxicology Network, this poison is toxic to honey bees. In labs, tests bare out the effects of chronic exposure to the herbicide: animals show “retarded growth, increased liver, kidney and spleen weights, congestion of the spleen, and death.”

Impacts of Pesticides on Honey Bees | IntechOpen

It’s systems thinking that is lacking in the full portrait of industrial farming and how agribusiness thinks and works,  yet holistic (systems thinking) approaches are utilized and integrated into true objective research (mostly by environmental safety and advocating groups) on the benefits, harms, and unintended consequences of this chemicalized world — sometimes we can only work on one chemical at a time, which takes many human lifetimes to drill down into to determine the cradle to cradle impacts of those compounds, the chemicals. The alternative to this entire agribusiness industrial model is actually to go back to the start of good farming. Agroecology is the way to go, according to many groups I have been a part of and interviewed as a journalist. This is the only way to make it through the heating planet, and all the issues tied to soil degradation and productivity falling, droughts, and, well, ocean inundation and changed water cycles throughout the globe. Agroecology, a harmonious system of saving the planet and feeding the people with no genetically engineered “foods” and vegetables and fruits sprayed with toxins. This continues what Benyus states above and ramified here:

Biomimicry offers an empathetic, interconnected understanding of how life works and ultimately where we fit in. It is a practice that learns from and mimics the strategies used by species alive today. The goal is to create products, processes, and policies — new ways of living — that solve our greatest design challenges sustainably and in solidarity with all life on earth. We can use biomimicry to not only learn from nature’s wisdom, but also heal ourselves — and this planet — in the process. — Benyus.

Are you eating frankenfoods?

All those poisons, then, are integrated into the spud, since, as a root vegetable, potatoes absorb all of the pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides sprayed above the ground which eventually spread into the soil.

There are many insider testimonies from potato farmers — Jeff Moyer, CEO at the Rodale Institute and former chair of the National Organic Standards Board, says:

I’ve talked with potato growers who say point-blank they would never eat the potatoes they sell. They have separate plots where they grow potatoes for themselves without all the chemicals.

The potato is a great example of an industrial system gone crazy. Terms like Frankenfoods, fishy tomatoes and assassin seeds are not benign. Imagine, the now defunct DNA Plant Technology of Oakland, California developed the gene therapy (sic) of inserting a fish gene into a tomato. It was the genes that helps a flounder survive in frigid waters. This “anti-freeze” fish gene was spliced into tomato cells to enhance the plant’s resistance to cold.

Monsanto developed the gene technology to create suicide seeds, of all wonderfully bad things: They call it Genetic use restriction technology (GURT), but it’s more commonly referred to as terminator technology or suicide seeds. This keeps farmers from saving seeds from Monsanto crop, as the genetic alterations either activate or deactivate) some genes only in response to certain stimuli. That second generation of seeds is infertile.

That Roundup (Monsanto) is what is sprayed all over our Oregon forests when clear cuts raze stands of trees – to keep opportunistic and invasive brush and other tree species, from overtaking the sawed over hills and valleys.

Bayer, the German company that manufactured Zyklon-B, will merge with Monsanto, the US company that

The history and politics are not lost on people like my Chilean friend — Dow Chemical and Monsanto were the two largest producers of Agent Orange, a fifty-fifty mix of the n-butyl esters 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) and 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T).

I’ve worked with military veterans exposed to Agent Orange, and worked with offspring of American veterans who were exposed.

Birth Defects Associated with Female Vietnam Veterans

  • Achondroplasia.
  • Cleft lip and cleft palate.
  • Congenital heart disease.
  • Congenital talipes equinovarus (clubfoot)
  • Esophageal and intestinal atresia.
  • Hallerman-Streiff syndrome.
  • Hip dysplasia.
  • Hirschsprung’s disease (congenital megacolon)

I’ve been to Vietnam and interviewed people working on the long-term and multi-generational effects of all of that defoliant sprayed on citizens of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia.

I reviewed a recent documentary, The People vs. Agent Orange“Eternal Impunity of Capitalism’s Crimes”

Dr. James Clary was with the Air Force in Vietnam, which ran the program. He was ordered to dump the computer and erase all memory. Instead, he printed out a stack of documents two feet high – missions, sorties, coordinates, dates, gallons dropped throughout all of Southeast Asia and Laos.

“We had the information coming from Dow that there were real problems for people associated with this chemical. It was all locked up for 35 years.”

Playing down all the negative effects of this chemical was part of the Dow plan. Dioxin was the byproduct in the brew. Dow told the US government they were having difficulty producing the volume of the chemical the US wanted. The government told them to not worry about safety standards and quality control, and that a fast production process which produced more of the dioxin would not matter, since the crops and forest were being sprayed, and if people got in contact with it, the idea coming from both industrialists at Dow and those in government and the military was, “Hey, so what, this is a war . . . these are the effing Vietnamese.”

Genetically Engineered Salmon

The idea for this environmental series is that walk along the wrack line, for sure, which has for me the past two years conjured up all sorts of topics that are worthy of many books. It is a simple walk I conduct on a calm (mostly) sandy and driftwood-strewn beach in Central Oregon. But that solitude allows some of my own decades studying environmental harms to both animals and plants to filter through my thoughts. For this short essay, it is that potato, which is still not the most sprayed crop in the industrial system.

There are many groups looking into industrial vegetables and fruits, but they all have their own very similar Dirty Dozen – These foods should be purchased organic if possible.

  • Apples – at least 99 % have residue
  • Strawberries – contained 13 different pesticides each
  • Grapes — contained 15 different pesticides
  • Celery — 13 different pesticides per sample
  • Peaches
  • Spinach
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Imported Nectarines – every sample tested positive for pesticides
  • Cucumbers
  • Cherry Tomatoes – contained 13 different pesticides each
  • Imported Snap Peas – contained 13 different pesticides each
  • Potatoes – had more pesticides by weight than any other food
Commercial Potato Farming - Non-Organic Vs. Organic - Harvest2U

We go from one chemical exposure – PFAS which is more generally known as flame retardant, and then we go to one or two common chemicals used in our food system – Roundup (glyphosate) and Atrazine – and we are not even scratching the tip of the iceberg in terms of global pesticide use, which is in the billions of pounds yearly, accounting for hundreds and thousands of different types of Herbicides/PGR Insecticides; Fungicides; Fumigants.

Remember, there are literally dozens of active ingredients in one type of herbicide. There are hundreds and sometimes thousands of chemicals in a scoop or pint of poison used in industrial ag. There are no studies on how all those interact with each other as they bioaccumulate and end up  as part of the war against the human biome.

For one of the most common herbicides, atrazine (ATR), and its persistence in the environment has resulted in documented human exposure.

Alterations in hypothalamic catecholamines have been suggested as the mechanistic basis of the toxicity of ATR to hormonal systems in females and the reproductive tract in males. Because multiple catecholamine systems are present in the brain, however, ATR could have far broader effects than are currently understood. Catecholaminergic systems such as the two major long-length dopaminergic tracts of the central nervous system play key roles in mediating a wide array of critical behavioral functions. In this study we examined the hypothesis that ATR would adversely affect these brain dopaminergic systems. Male rats chronically exposed to 5 or 10 mg/kg ATR in the diet for 6 months exhibited persistent hyperactivity and altered behavioral responsivity to amphetamine. Source.

There are many warriors in this battle to stop the war against nature, the war against Homo Sapiens.  UK’s Dr. Rosemary Mason, a retired physician and health and environmental campaigner, is one of hundreds of gutsy go-to thinkers who is pulling away the blinders and cutting through the PR spin.  In addition,  the Institute for Responsible Technology claims that cancers caused by Roundup include non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, bone cancer, colon cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, melanoma, pancreatic cancer and thyroid cancer.

Mason also quotes Robert F. Kennedy Jr, the renowned environmental attorney, who in 2018 talked of:

… cascading scientific evidence linking glyphosate to a constellation of other injuries that have become prevalent since its introduction, including obesity, depression, Alzheimer’s, ADHD, autism, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, kidney disease, and inflammatory bowel disease, brain, breast and prostate cancer, miscarriage, birth defects and declining sperm counts. Strong science suggests glyphosate is the culprit in the exploding epidemics of celiac disease, colitis, gluten sensitivities, diabetes and non-alcoholic liver cancer which, for the first time, is attacking children as young as 10.

All these injuries and diseases are covered here, at Hormones Matter.

As a capstone to this piece, it is both a testament to Rachel Carson’s work, Silent Spring, as she is considered the mother of the environmental movement. She was vilified, and her book on poisons, Silent Spring, is poetic, clear, and was published in 1962, after four years of work writing it ( her lifetime of thinking and honoring nature, that is). She was one of thousands studying at the time the world’s most dangerous pesticide, DDT.

How The Chemical Companies Fought 'Silent Spring's Inconvenient Truth

Appearing on a CBS documentary about Silent Spring shortly before her death from breast cancer in 1964, she remarked, “Man’s attitude toward nature is today critically important simply because we have now acquired a fateful power to alter and destroy nature. But man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself? [We are] challenged as mankind has never been challenged before to prove our maturity and our mastery, not of nature, but of ourselves.”

The Story of Silent Spring | NRDC

Unlike most pesticides at the time, whose effectiveness was supposedly limited to destroying one or two types of insects (though we now know that is basically not true), DDT was capable of killing hundreds of different kinds at once.

Nature writer Edwin Way Teale, warned, “A spray as indiscriminate as DDT can upset the economy of nature as much as a revolution upsets social economy. Ninety percent of all insects are good, and if they are killed, things go out of kilter right away.”

More than 75 years after Way Teale’s warnings, we are seeing the devastating  effects again of DDT. On the ocean floor, near Catalina Island. Leaving Hormones Matter readers with yet another huge gash in their hearts concerning the ill effects of this industrialized agriculture has on future generations, of both Homo Sapiens and all the other species, is possibly yet another trigger warning when reading my articles. However, this is the fabric of my own cloth looking at this all as a systems thinker.

High concentrations of DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, an insecticide that was widely used for pest control during the 1940s and 1950s) were previously detected in ocean sediments between the Los Angeles coast and Catalina Island, in 2011 and 2013. At the time, scientists who searched the seafloor in the area identified 60 barrels (possibly containing DDT or other waste) and found DDT contamination in sediments, but the full extent of the area’s contamination was unknown.

Now, a research expedition presents a clearer picture of the deep-sea dump site. Their findings reveal a stretch of ocean bottom studded with at least 27,000 industrial waste barrels — and possibly as many as 100,000, researchers with Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California said in a statement.  Live Science.

Read more?

“Monsanto Manipulates Science” from Food and Water Watch

“Organophosphates: A Common but Deadly Pesticide” from Cornucopia

Beyond Pesticides 
Pesticides Industry: Sales and Usage by EPA
“Pest-Chemgrids” from Nature 

The Future of Food

The post The Good, Bad and the Ugly of Roughshod Chemistry first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Supporting Brands That Benefit the Environment

Image Source: Unsplash

It’s impossible to ignore the effects of our actions on the environment. According to NASA, we’re dealing with rising global temperatures, warming oceans, glacial retreat, and many other environmental concerns that will have a lasting negative impact on our planet.

Because of this, more companies are taking the initiative to be more sustainable and reduce their carbon footprints. As consumers, getting on board with those companies can make a big difference.

Doing so requires an understanding of which kinds of companies and brands you should be supporting, and why that support can ultimately make a difference in our environmental future.

With that in mind, let’s look at some of the industries with the largest carbon footprint, and how you can support the right businesses within those sectors.

Travel and Transportation

It’s estimated that greenhouse gas emissions from transportation make up about 28% of all emissions in the U.S. Unfortunately, that’s also a number that continues to rise.

The biggest contributor to these emissions is the fossil fuels that are burned for almost all of our main methods of transportation, including:

  • Cars
  • Airplanes
  • Trains
  • Trucks
  • Ships

The problem starts with drilling for oil. It requires land clearing which disrupts entire ecosystems in the process. Oil drilling also contributes to dangerous emissions thanks to the extraction process, further contributing to climate change.

The easiest way to support certain transportation brands is to look for those who are “steering” away from traditional fossil fuels. Thankfully, electric vehicles are becoming more popular and prominent. Thanks to advancements in technology, some of today’s EVs can even outperform their gasoline counterparts.

Some of the most notable car manufacturers taking steps toward sustainability through EVs include Tesla, Hyundai, and Chevrolet. Looking for companies that are willing to change their methods is crucial when it comes to helping the environment, and all of these manufacturers have taken a step away from fossil fuels for a more promising future.

Personal Products

The manufacturing industry is another problematic area when it comes to greenhouse emissions. Support for these industries is usually steadfast since they create and produce products most people use daily. Unfortunately, most people don’t give the things they use and wear much thought when it comes to how they were created or sourced.

For example, that new shirt you just bought may not have been sustainably made. It might be a “fast fashion” item that wears out quickly, causing you to get rid of it. The problem is that the U.S. generates 25 billion pounds of textile waste each year, filling our landfills and causing major issues. Choosing to shop with brands that make quality clothing and use sustainable practices can help to combat this problem.

The jewelry you’re looking at in the window of your favorite shop might be pretty on the outside, but the process of sourcing it is certainly less attractive. Some mining tactics harm the environment since they utilize chemical pesticides and plasticizers. Supporting brands that promote ethical jewelry will help to ensure that the mining process was sustainable or the jewelry has been recycled.

The everyday items you use can all have an impact on the environment, including:

  • Hand soap
  • Laundry detergent
  • Toothpaste
  • Wet wipes

Thankfully, some brands offer eco-friendly alternatives for all of these. Doing your research and switching to those brands (and learning about why they’re different), will help you to see how these products traditionally do damage to the planet, and why a change is so important.

Agriculture

You might think agriculture and sustainability go hand-in-hand. Unfortunately, it’s an industry that is currently doing more harm than good. The agricultural industry has gotten out of control thanks to endless demands.

The vegetables on your plate may have been grown with pesticides and chemicals to speed up the process. They were likely harvested using large machinery that contributed to carbon emissions. Then, they were probably shipped across the country, contributing to even more emissions.

Instead of going to your local supermarket for things like produce, consider shopping locally at farm markets, or get to know some local growers. When you know the source of your produce, you can take comfort in the fact that it was organically grown and didn’t require hundreds of travel miles to get to you. In this case, supporting smaller businesses and brands is the way to go.

Alternatively, you could decide to grow your produce at home, reaping the benefits of spending time in nature. But, if you want to support businesses and the environment, go local whenever possible.

It can feel overwhelming when you consider how different industries have such a large impact on our planet. By doing your part to support brands that benefit the environment, you’re helping to keep those brands moving forward. As a result, it’s more likely that other businesses will start to follow sustainable practices, and we can see some positive changes in the alarming statistics surrounding the planet.

The post Supporting Brands That Benefit the Environment first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Walmart, Amazon and the Colonial Deindustrialisation of India

In June 2018, the Joint Action Committee against Foreign Retail and E-commerce (JACAFRE) issued a statement on Walmart’s acquisition of Flipkart. It argued that it undermines India’s economic and digital sovereignty and the livelihood of millions in India.

The deal would lead to Walmart and Amazon dominating India’s e-retail sector. These two US companies would also own India’s key consumer and other economic data, making them the country’s digital overlords, joining the ranks of Google and Facebook.

JACAFRE was formed to resist the entry of foreign corporations like Walmart and Amazon into India’s e-commerce market. Its members represent more than 100 national groups, including major trade, workers and farmers organisations.

On 8 January 2021, JACAFRE published an open letter saying that the three new farm laws, passed by parliament in September 2020, centre on enabling and facilitating the unregulated corporatisation of agriculture value chains. This will effectively make farmers and small traders of agricultural produce become subservient to the interests of a few agrifood and e-commerce giants or will eradicate them completely.

The government is facilitating the dominance of giant corporations, not least through digital or e-commerce platforms, to control the entire value chain. The letter states that if the new farm laws are closely examined, it will be evident that unregulated digitalisation is an important aspect of them.

And this is not lost on Parminder Jeet Singh from IT for Change (a member of JACAFRE). Referring to Walmart’s takeover of online retailer Flipkart, Singh notes that there was strong resistance to Walmart entering India with its physical stores; however, online and offline worlds are now merged.

That is because, today, e-commerce companies not only control data about consumption but also control data on production, logistics, who needs what, when they need it, who should produce it, who should move it and when it should be moved.

Through the control of data (knowledge), e-commerce platforms can shape the entire physical economy. What is concerning is that Amazon and Walmart have sufficient global clout to ensure they become a duopoly, more or less controlling much of India’s economy.

Singh says that whereas you can regulate an Indian company, this cannot be done with foreign players who have global data, global power and will be near-impossible to regulate.

While China succeeded in digital industrialisation by building up its own firms, Singh observes that the EU is now a digital colony of the US. The danger is clear for India. He states that India has its own skills and digital forms, so why is the government letting in US companies to dominate and buy India’s digital platforms?

And ‘platform’ is a key word here. We are seeing the eradication of the marketplace. Platforms will control everything from production to logistics to even primary activities like agriculture and farming. Data gives power to platforms to dictate what needs to be manufactured and in what quantities.

Singh argues that the digital platform is the brain of the whole system. The farmer will be told how much production is expected, how much rain is expected, what type of soil quality there is, what type of (genetically engineered) seeds and are inputs are required and when the produce needs to be ready.

This is not idle speculation. The recent article ‘Digital control: how big tech moves into food and farming (and what it means)’ on the grain.org website, describes how Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and others are moving in on the global agrifood sector.

Those traders, manufacturers and primary producers who survive will become slaves to platforms and lose their independence. Moreover, e-commerce platforms will become permanently embedded once artificial intelligence begins to plan and determine all of the above.

It is a clear concern that India will cede control of its economy, politics and culture to these all-powerful, modern-day East India companies.

Of course, things have been moving in this direction for a long time, especially since India began capitulating to the tenets of neoliberalism in the early 1990s and all that entails, not least an increasing dependence on borrowing and foreign capital inflows and subservience to destructive World Bank-IMF economic directives.

But what we are currently witnessing with the three farm bills and the growing role of (foreign) e-commerce will bring about the ultimate knock-out blow to the peasantry and many small independent enterprises. This has been the objective of powerful players who have regarded India as the potential jewel in the crown of their corporate empires for a long time.

The process resembles the structural adjustment programmes that were imposed on African countries some decades ago. Economics Professor Michel Chossudovsky notes in his 1997 book ‘The Globalization of Poverty’ that economies are:

opened up through the concurrent displacement of a pre-existing productive system. Small and medium-sized enterprises are pushed into bankruptcy or obliged to produce for a global distributor, state enterprises are privatised or closed down, independent agricultural producers are impoverished. (p. 16)

The game plan is clear and JACAFRE says the government should urgently consult all stakeholders – traders, farmers and other small and medium size players – towards a holistic new economic model where all economic actors are assured their due and appropriately valued role. Small and medium size economic actors cannot be allowed to be reduced to being helpless agents of a few digitally enabled mega-corporations.

JACAFRE concludes:

We appeal to the government that it should urgently address the issues raised by those farmers asking for the three laws to be repealed. Specifically, from a traders’ point of view, the role of small and medium traders all along the agri produce value chain has to be strengthened and protected against its unmitigated corporatisation.

The struggle for democracy

It is clear that the ongoing farmers’ protest in India is not just about farming. It represents a struggle for the heart and soul of the country. As the organisation GRAIN says on its website, there is an intensifying fight for space between local and territorial markets and global markets. The former are the domain of small-scale independent producers and enterprises; the latter are dominated by large-scale international retailers, traders and the rapidly growing influential e-commerce companies.

It is therefore essential to protect and strengthen local markets and indigenous, independent small-scale enterprises, whether farmers, hawkers, food processers or mom and pop corner stores. This will ensure that India has more control over its food supply, the ability to determine its own policies and economic independence: in other words, the protection of food and national sovereignty and a greater ability to pursue genuine democratic development.

Instead of this, we could, for instance, see India eradicating its buffer food stocks at the behest of global traders and agrifood players. India would then bid for them with borrowed funds on the open market. Instead of continuing to physically hold and control its own buffer stocks, thereby ensuring a degree of food security, India would hold foreign exchange reserves. It would need to attract foreign reserves and maintain ‘market confidence’ to ensure this inflow.

This is one intention of the recent farm legislation and constitutes a recipe for further dependency on foreign finance, unpredictable global events and unaccountable corporations. But mainstream economic thinking passes this subjugation off as ‘liberalisation’.

How is an inability to determine your own economic policies and surrendering food security to outside forces in any way liberating?

It is interesting to note that the BBC recently reported that, in its annual report on global political rights and liberties, the US-based non-profit Freedom House has downgraded India from a free democracy to a “partially free democracy”. It also reported that Sweden-based V-Dem Institute says India is now an “electoral autocracy”. India did not fare any better in a report by The Economist Intelligent Unit’s Democracy Index.

The BBC’s neglect of Britain’s own slide towards COVID-related authoritarianism aside, the report on India was not without substance. It focused on the increase in anti-Muslim feeling, diminishing of freedom of expression, the role of the media and the restrictions on civil society since PM Narendra Modi took power.

The undermining of liberties in all these areas is cause for concern in its own right. But this trend towards divisiveness and authoritarianism serves another purpose: it helps smooth the path for the corporate takeover of the country.

Whether it involves a ‘divide and rule’ strategy along religious lines to divert attention, the suppression of free speech or pushing unpopular farm bills through parliament without proper debate while using the police and the media to undermine the farmers’ protest, a major undemocratic heist is under way that will fundamentally adversely impact people’s livelihoods and the cultural and social fabric of India.

On one side, there are the interests of a handful of multi-billionaires who own the corporations and platforms that seek to control India. On the other, there are the interests of hundreds of millions of cultivators, vendors and various small-scale enterprises who are regarded by these rich individuals as mere collateral damage to be displaced in their quest for ever greater profit.

Indian farmers are currently on the front-line against global capitalism and the colonial-style deindustrialisation of the economy. This is where ultimately the struggle for democracy and the future of India is taking place.

The post Walmart, Amazon and the Colonial Deindustrialisation of India first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Madagascar: A Nation of Hunger

Madagascar is in great pain. Theodore Mbainaissem, the head of the World Food Programme (WFP) sub-office in Ambovombe, southern Madagascar, says: “Seeing the physical condition of people extremely affected by hunger who can no longer stand…children who are completely emaciated, the elderly who are skin and bone…these images are unbearable… People are eating white clay with tamarind juice, cactus leaves, wild roots just to calm their hunger.”

One third of people in southern Madagascar will struggle to feed themselves over the next few months. Until the next harvest in April 2021, 1.35 million people will be “food insecure” – almost double those in need last year – and 282,000 of them are considered “emergency” cases. Pervasive food insecurity in Madagascar is the result of a variety of factors.

Poverty

Food security is not only caused by a lack of food supply but also by the lack of political and economic power to access food. Thus, access to income is one potential means for alleviating food insecurity. In Madagascar, the majority of the people don’t have proper access to income.

Madagascar is one of poorest countries in the world. In the 2007/2008 United Nation Development Programme’s (UNDP) Human Development Index, an indicator that measures achievements in terms of life expectancy, educational attainment and adjusted real income, Madagascar was given the rank of 143rd out of 177 countries.

Madagascar’s economy is tiny. The market capitalization of U.S. tech giant Facebook is more than 40 times Madagascar’s national income. The company’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, alone is five times richer than the island nation. A large chunk of Madagascar’s minuscule national income is appropriated by the rich, evidenced in the declining consumption capacity of the poor. Between 2005 and 2010, consumption for the poorest households declined by 3.1%.

A COVID-19-triggered economic recession has debilitated an already impoverished people. The combined impact of global trade disruptions and pandemic restrictions is estimated to have resulted in a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) contraction of 4.2% in 2020. The poverty rate (at $1.9/day) is estimated to have risen to 77.4% in 2020, up from 74.3% in 2019, corresponding to an increase of 1.38 million people in one year.

Climate Change

Between 1980 and 2010, Madagascar suffered 35 cyclones and floods, five periods of severe drought, five earthquakes and six epidemics. Madagascar’s extreme weather conditions have intensified due to climate change, increasing food vulnerability.

Food insecurity affects all regions of the nation, and particularly those in the south, which have a semi-arid climate and are particularly exposed to severe and recurrent droughts. In 2019, a lack of rainfall and a powerful El Nino phenomenon led to the loss of 90% of the harvest and pushed more than 60% of the population into food insecurity.

Interruptions in food supply due to crop failures have resulted in sharp increases in the prices of different items. Some areas have seen the price of rice shoot up from 50 U.S. cents per kilogram in 2019 to $1.05 in 2020.

Extractivism

The extractivist engine of Madagascar’s economy has usurped lands intended for food crops and displaced the people living there. Transnational mining companies in search of new resources have paid increased attention to the significant mineral potential of the country, which is rich in diverse deposits and minerals, including nickel, titanium, cobalt, ilmenite, bauxite, iron, copper, coal and uranium, as well as rare earths. Nickel-cobalt and ilmenite have attracted the majority of foreign direct investment thus far.

Beginning from the early 2000s, multinational mining companies have made the largest foreign investments in Madagascar’s history. Those affected by the large-scale mining operations are subjected to the restrictions on land and forest-use associated with the establishment of the mining and offset projects. Such resource use restrictions affect important subsistence and health-related activities, with critical impacts on livelihoods and food security.

To take an example, villagers living in Antsotso have been heavily impacted by biodiversity offsetting at Bemangidy in the Tsitongambarika Forest Complex (TGK III). They have reported that QIT-Madagascar Minerals (QMM) — a public-private partnership between Rio Tinto subsidiary QIT-Fer et Titaine and the Malagasy government — did not explain to them that they were involved in a offsetting program when they were asked to participate in tree planting and were excluded from accessing the forest.

Constrained resource access due to the biodiversity offsetting measures has seriously impacted food security among Antsotso’s residents, forcing them to abandon rich fields near forest areas and instead grow manioc in inferior sandy soil next to the sea at great distance from their village. All this is the result of the concentrated clout possessed by mining magnates.

Agro-export Firms

Between 2005 and 2008, 3 million hectares were under negotiation by 52 foreign companies seeking to invest in agriculture. These companies form a landscape made up of irregularly placed and privately secured territorial enclaves that are linked to transnational networks but disarticulated from both local populations and national development projects. Since these companies are functionally integrated in a framework geared toward the enrichment of foreign investors, they have little regard for the food security of Madagascans.

In March 2009, the South Korean company Daewoo Logistics signed a 99-year lease in Madagascar for about 1.3 million hectares, or about half of the island’s arable land. It was the largest lease of this type in history and would have supplied half of South Korea’s grain imports. The organization Collective for the Defense of Malagasy Lands (TANY) was established in response to the lease and petitioned the government to first consult with stakeholders before agreeing to foreign land deals. The petition was ignored.

The deal subsequently fell through when political unrest broke out in Madagascar, which led to the fall of the former president, Marc Ravalomana. Daewoo may have been the largest and most-publicized of foreign investment in recent history, but it was not the first. The proposed land deal raised international attention to the land grabs taking place across the globe, particularly given the contemporaneous food crisis.

 Monopoly Capitalism

Hunger in Madagascar is the outcome of a confluence of crises. All of them are fundamentally related to capitalism — the system that generates the chaotic drive for ever-greater profits. In the monopoly stage of capitalism, the oppressed people are standing up against a system of generalized monopolies — a structure of power where a tiny clique of plutocrats and their tightly integrated productive apparatuses control the world.

Correspondingly, the Third World has seen its autonomy erode in the face of this neo-colonial onslaught, leading to the dominance of comprador bourgeoisie — a fraction of capitalists whose interests are entirely subordinated to those of foreign capital, and which functions as a direct intermediary for the implantation and reproduction of foreign capital. What we need today is an independent and unified initiative from the Third World, which brings oppressed countries like Madagascar into regional alliances aimed at de-linking from imperialist architectures and pursuing a socialist path.

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Farmers’ Protest in India: Price of Failure Will Be immense

Globally, there is an ongoing trend of a handful of big companies determining what food is grown, how it is grown, what is in it and who sells it. This model involves highly processed food adulterated with chemical inputs ending up in large near-monopoly supermarket chains or fast-food outlets that rely on industrial-scale farming.

While the brands lining the shelves of giant retail outlets seem vast, a handful of food companies own these brands which, in turn, rely on a relatively narrow range of produce for ingredients. At the same time, this illusion of choice often comes at the expense of food security in poorer countries that were compelled to restructure their agriculture to facilitate agro-exports courtesy of the World Bank, IMF, the WTO and global agribusiness interests.

In Mexico, transnational food retail and processing companies have taken over food distribution channels, replacing local foods with cheap processed items, often with the direct support of the government. Free trade and investment agreements have been critical to this process and the consequences for public health have been catastrophic.

Mexico’s National Institute for Public Health released the results of a national survey of food security and nutrition in 2012. Between 1988 and 2012, the proportion of overweight women between the ages of 20 and 49 increased from 25 to 35 per cent and the number of obese women in this age group increased from 9 to 37 per cent. Some 29 per cent of Mexican children between the ages of 5 and 11 were found to be overweight, as were 35 per cent of the youngsters between 11 and 19, while one in ten school age children experienced anaemia.

Former Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, concludes that trade policies had favoured a greater reliance on heavily processed and refined foods with a long shelf life rather than on the consumption of fresh and more perishable foods, particularly fruit and vegetables. He added that the overweight and obesity emergency that Mexico faces could have been avoided.

In 2015, the non-profit organisation GRAIN reported that the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) led to the direct investment in food processing and a change in Mexico’s retail structure (towards supermarkets and convenience stores) as well as the emergence of global agribusiness and transnational food companies in the country.

NAFTA eliminated rules preventing foreign investors from owning more than 49 per cent of a company. It also prohibited minimum amounts of domestic content in production and increased rights for foreign investors to retain profits and returns from initial investments. By 1999, US companies had invested 5.3 billion dollars in Mexico’s food processing industry, a 25-fold increase in just 12 years.

US food corporations began to colonise the dominant food distribution networks of small-scale vendors, known as tiendas (corner shops). This helped spread nutritionally poor food as they allowed these corporations to sell and promote their foods to poorer populations in small towns and communities. By 2012, retail chains had displaced tiendas as Mexico’s main source of food sales.

In Mexico, the loss of food sovereignty induced catastrophic changes to the nation’s diet and many small-scale farmers lost their livelihoods, which was accelerated by the dumping of surplus commodities (produced at below the cost of production due to subsidies) from the US. NAFTA rapidly drove millions of Mexican farmers, ranchers and small business people into bankruptcy, leading to the flight of millions of immigrant workers.

Warning for India

What happened in Mexico should serve as a warning as Indian farmers continue their protest against three recent farm bills that are designed to fully corporatize the agrifood sector through contract farming, the massive roll-back of public sector support systems, a reliance on imports (boosted by a future US trade deal) and the acceleration of large-scale (online) retail.

If you want to know the eventual fate of India’s local markets and small retailers, look no further than what US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in 2019. He stated that Amazon had “destroyed the retail industry across the United States.”

And if you want to know the eventual fate of India’s farmers, look no further than the 1990s when the IMF and World Bank advised India to shift hundreds of millions out of agriculture in return for up to more than $120 billion in loans at the time.

India was directed to dismantle its state-owned seed supply system, reduce subsidies, run down public agriculture institutions and offer incentives for the growing of cash crops for export to earn foreign exchange. Part of the strategy would also involve changing land laws so that land could be sold and amalgamated for industrial-scale farming.

The plan was for foreign corporations to capture the sector, with the aforementioned policies having effectively weakened or displaced independent cultivators.

To date, this process has been slow but the recent legislation could finally deliver a knock-out blow to tens of millions of farmers and give what the likes of Amazon, Walmart, Facebook, Cargill, Archer Daniels Midlands, Louis Dreyfus, Bunge and the global agritech, seed and agrochemical corporations have wanted all along. It will also serve the retail/agribusiness/logistics interests of India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, and its sixth richest, Gautam Adani.

During their ongoing protests, farmers have been teargassed, smeared and beaten. Journalist Satya Sagar notes that government advisors fear that seeming to appear weak with the agitating farmers would not sit well with foreign agrifood investors and could stop the flow of big money into the sector – and the economy as a whole.

And it is indeed ‘big’ money. Facebook invested 5.5 billion dollars last year in Mukesh Ambani’s Jio Platforms (e-commerce retail). Google has also invested 4.5 billion dollars. Currently, Amazon and Flipkart (Walmart has an 81% stake) together control over 60% of the country’s overall e-commerce market. These and other international investors have a great deal to lose if the recent farm legislation is repealed. So does the Indian government.

Since the 1990s, when India opened up to neoliberal economics, the country has become increasingly dependent on inflows of foreign capital. Policies are being governed by the drive to attract and retain foreign investment and maintain ‘market confidence’ by ceding to the demands of international capital. ‘Foreign direct investment’ has thus become the holy grail of the Modi-led administration.

Little wonder the government needs to be seen as acting ‘tough’ on protesting farmers because now, more than ever, attracting and retaining foreign reserves will be required to purchase food on the international market once India surrenders responsibility for its food policy to private players by eliminating its buffer stocks.

The plan to radically restructure agrifood in the country is being sold to the public under the guise of ‘modernising’ the sector. And this is to be carried out by self-proclaimed ‘wealth creators’ like Zuckerberg, Bezos and Ambani who are highly experienced at creating wealth – for themselves.

According to the recent Oxfam report ‘The Inequality Virus’, Mukesh Ambani doubled his wealth between March and October 2020. The coronavirus-related lockdown in India resulted in the country’s billionaires increasing their wealth by around 35 per cent, while 170,000 people lost their jobs every hour in April 2020 alone.

Prior to the lockdown, Oxfam reported that 73 per cent of the wealth generated in 2017 went to the richest 1 per cent, while 670 million Indians, the poorest half of the population, saw only a 1 per cent increase in their wealth.

Moreover, the fortunes of India’s billionaires increased by almost 10 times over a decade and their total wealth was higher than the entire Union budget of India for the fiscal year 2018-19.

It is clear who these ‘wealth creators’ create wealth for. On the People’s Review site, Tanmoy Ibrahim writes a piece on India’s billionaire class, with a strong focus on Ambani and Adani. By outlining the nature of crony capitalism in India, it is clear that Modi’s ‘wealth creators’ are given carte blanche to plunder the public purse, people and the environment, while real wealth creators – not least the farmers – are fighting for existence.

The current struggle should not be regarded as a battle between the government and farmers. If what happened in Mexico is anything to go by, the outcome will adversely affect the entire nation in terms of the further deterioration of public health and the loss of livelihoods.

Consider that rates of obesity in India have already tripled in the last two decades and the nation is fast becoming the diabetes and heart disease capital of the world. According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4), between 2005 and 2015 the number of obese people doubled, even though one in five children in the 5-9 year age group were found to be stunted.

This will be just part of the cost of handing over the sector to billionaire (comprador) capitalists Mukesh Ambani and Gautum Adani and Jeff Bezos (world’s richest person), Mark Zukerberg (world’s fourth richest person), the Cargill business family (14 billionaires) and the Walmart business family (richest in the US).

These individuals are poised to siphon off the wealth of India’s agrifood sector while denying the livelihoods of many millions of small-scale farmers and local mom and pop retailers while undermining the health of the nation.

The post Farmers’ Protest in India: Price of Failure Will Be immense first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Viral Inequality and the Farmers’ Struggle in India  

According to a new report by Oxfam, ‘The Inequality Virus’, the wealth of the world’s billionaires increased by $3.9tn (trillion) between 18 March and 31 December 2020. Their total wealth now stands at $11.95tn. The world’s 10 richest billionaires have collectively seen their wealth increase by $540bn over this period. In September 2020, Jeff Bezos could have paid all 876,000 Amazon employees a $105,000 bonus and still be as wealthy as he was before COVID.

At the same time, hundreds of millions of people will lose (have lost) their jobs and face destitution and hunger. It is estimated that the total number of people living in poverty could have increased by between 200 million and 500 million in 2020. The number of people living in poverty might not return even to its pre-crisis level for over a decade.

Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man and head of Reliance Industries, which specialises in petrol, retail and telecommunications, doubled his wealth between March and October 2020. He now has $78.3bn. The average increase in Ambani’s wealth in just over four days represented more than the combined annual wages of all of Reliance Industries’ 195,000 employees.

The Oxfam report states that lockdown in India resulted in the country’s billionaires increasing their wealth by around 35 per cent. At the same time, 84 per cent of households suffered varying degrees of income loss. Some 170,000 people lost their jobs every hour in April 2020 alone.

The authors also noted that income increases for India’s top 100 billionaires since March 2020 was enough to give each of the 138 million poorest people a cheque for 94,045 rupees.

The report went on to state:

… it would take an unskilled worker 10,000 years to make what Ambani made in an hour during the pandemic… and three years to make what Ambani made in a second.

During lockdown and after, hundreds of thousands of migrant workers in the cities (who had no option but to escape the country’s avoidable but deepening agrarian crisis) were left without jobs, money, food or shelter.

It is clear that COVID has been used as cover for consolidating the power of the unimaginably rich. But plans for boosting their power and wealth will not stop there. One of the most lucrative sectors for these people is agrifood.

More than 60 per cent of India’s almost 1.4 billion population rely (directly or indirectly) on agriculture for their livelihood. Aside from foreign interests, Mukesh Ambani and fellow billionaire Gautam Adani (India’s second richest person with major agribusiness interests) are set to benefit most from the recently passed farm bills that will lead to the wholesale corporatisation of the agrifood sector.

Corporate consolidation

A recent article on the grain.org website, ‘Digital control: how big tech moves into food and farming (and what it means)’, describes how Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and others are closing in on the global agrifood sector while the likes of Bayer, Syngenta, Corteva and Cargill are cementing their stranglehold.

The tech giants entry into the sector will increasingly lead to a mutually beneficial integration between the companies that supply products to farmers (pesticides, seeds, fertilisers, tractors, drones, etc) and those that control the flow of data and have access to digital (cloud) infrastructure and food consumers. This system is based on corporate centralisation and concentration (monopolisation).

Grain notes that in India global corporations are also colonising the retail space through e-commerce. Walmart entered into India in 2016 by a US$3.3 billion take-over of the online retail start-up Jet.com which, in 2018, was followed by a US$16 billion take-over of India’s largest online retail platform Flipkart. Today, Walmart and Amazon now control almost two thirds of India’s digital retail sector.

Amazon and Walmart are using predatory pricing, deep discounts and other unfair business practices to lure customers towards their online platforms. According to Grain, when the two companies generated sales of over US$3 billion in just six days during a Diwali festival sales blitz, India’s small retailers called out in desperation for a boycott of online shopping.

In 2020, Facebook and the US-based private equity concern KKR committed over US$7 billion to Reliance Jio, the digital store of one of India’s biggest retail chains. Customers will soon be able to shop at Reliance Jio through Facebook’s chat application, WhatsApp.

The plan for retail is clear: the eradication of millions of small traders and retailers and neighbourhood mom and pop shops. It is similar in agriculture.

The aim is to buy up rural land, amalgamate it and roll out a system of chemically-drenched farmerless farms owned or controlled by financial speculators, the high-tech giants and traditional agribusiness concerns. The end-game is a system of contract farming that serves the interests of big tech, big agribusiness and big retail. Smallholder peasant agriculture is regarded as an impediment to be replaced by large industrial-scale farms.

This model will be based on driverless tractors, drones, genetically engineered/lab-produced food and all data pertaining to land, water, weather, seeds and soils patented and often pirated from peasant farmers.

Farmers possess centuries of accumulated knowledge that once gone will never be got back. Corporatisation of the sector has already destroyed or undermined functioning agrarian ecosystems that draw on centuries of traditional knowledge and are increasingly recognised as valid approaches to secure food security.

And what of the hundreds of millions to be displaced in order to fill the pockets of the billionaire owners of these corporations? Driven to cities to face a future of joblessness: mere ‘collateral damage’ resulting from a short-sighted system of dispossessive predatory capitalism that destroys the link between humans, ecology and nature to boost the bottom line of the immensely rich.

Imperial intent

India’s agrifood sector has been on the radar of global corporations for decades. With deep market penetration and near saturation having been achieved by agribusiness in the US and elsewhere, India represents an opportunity for expansion and maintaining business viability and all-important profit growth. And by teaming up with the high-tech players in Silicon Valley, multi-billion dollar data management markets are being created. From data and knowledge to land, weather and seeds, capitalism is compelled to eventually commodify (patent and own) all aspects of life and nature.

Foreign agricapital is applying enormous pressure on India to scrap its meagre (in comparison to the richer nations) agricultural subsidies. The public distribution system and publicly held buffer stocks constitute an obstacle to the profit-driven requirements of global agribusiness interests.

Such interests require India to become dependent on imports (alleviating the overproduction problem of Western agricapital – the vast stocks of grains that it already dumps on the Global South) and to restructure its own agriculture for growing crops (fruit, vegetables) that consumers in the richer countries demand. Instead of holding physical buffer stocks for its own use, India would hold foreign exchange reserves and purchase food stocks from global traders.

Successive administrations have made the country dependent on volatile flows of foreign capital via foreign direct investment (and loans). The fear of capital flight is ever present. Policies are often governed by the drive to attract and retain these inflows. This financialisation of agriculture serves to undermine the nation’s food security, placing it at the mercy of unforeseen global events (conflict, oil prices, public health crises) international commodity speculators and unstable foreign investment.

Current agricultural ‘reforms’ are part of a broader process of imperialism’s increasing capture of the Indian economy, which has led to its recolonization by foreign corporations as a result of neoliberalisation which began in 1991. By reducing public sector buffer stocks and introducing corporate-dictated contract farming and full-scale neoliberal marketisation for the sale and procurement of produce, India will be sacrificing its farmers and its own food security for the benefit of a handful of unscrupulous billionaires.

As independent cultivators are bankrupted, the aim is that land will eventually be amalgamated to facilitate large-scale industrial cultivation. Indeed, a recent piece on the Research Unit for Political Economy site, ‘The Kisans Are Right: Their Land Is At Stake‘, describes how the Indian government is ascertaining which land is owned by whom with the ultimate aim of making it easier to eventually sell it off (to foreign investors and agribusiness). Other developments are also part of the plan (such as the Karnataka Land Reform Act), which will make it easier for business to purchase agricultural land.

India could eventually see institutional investors with no connection to farming (pension funds, sovereign wealth funds, endowment funds and investments from governments, banks, insurance companies and high net worth individuals) purchasing land. This is an increasing trend globally and, again, India represents a huge potential market. The funds have no connection to farming, have no interest in food security and are involved just to make profit from land.

The recent farm bills – if not repealed – will impose the neoliberal shock therapy of dispossession and dependency, finally clearing the way to restructure the agri-food sector. The massive inequalities and injustices that have resulted from the COVID-related lockdowns are a mere taste of what is to come.

The hundreds of thousands of farmers who have been on the streets protesting against these bills are at the vanguard of the pushback – they cannot afford to fail. There is too much at stake.

The post Viral Inequality and the Farmers’ Struggle in India   first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Farmers’ Protests Reflect Existential Crisis of Indian Agriculture    

With over 800 million people, rural India is arguably the most interesting and complex place on the planet but is plagued by farmer suicides, child malnourishment, growing unemployment, increased informalisation, indebtedness and an overall collapse of agriculture.

Given that India is still an agrarian-based society, renowned journalist P Sainath says what is taking place can be described as a crisis of civilisation proportions and can be explained in just five words: hijack of agriculture by corporations. He notes the process by which it is being done in five words too: predatory commercialisation of the countryside. And another five words to describe the outcome: biggest displacement in our history.

In late November 2018, a charter was released by the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (an umbrella group of around 250 farmers’ organisations) to coincide with the massive, well-publicised farmers’ march that was then taking place in Delhi.

The charter stated:

Farmers are not just a residue from our past; farmers, agriculture and village India are integral to the future of India and the world; as bearers of historic knowledge, skills and culture; as agents of food safety, security and sovereignty; and as guardians of biodiversity and ecological sustainability.

The farmers stated that they were alarmed at the economic, ecological, social and existential crisis of Indian agriculture as well as the persistent state neglect of the sector and discrimination against farming communities.

They were also concerned about the deepening penetration of large, predatory and profit hungry corporations, farmers’ suicide across the country and the unbearable burden of indebtedness and the widening disparities between farmers and other sectors.

The charter called on the Indian parliament to immediately hold a special session to pass and enact two bills that were of, by and for the farmers of India.

If passed by parliament, among other things, the Farmers’ Freedom from Indebtedness Bill 2018 would have provided for the complete loan waiver for all farmers and agricultural workers.

The second bill, The Farmers’ Right to Guaranteed Remunerative Minimum Support Prices for Agricultural Commodities Bill 2018, would have seen the government take measures to bring down the input cost of farming through specific regulation of the prices of seeds, agriculture machinery and equipment, diesel, fertilisers and insecticides, while making purchase of farm produce below the minimum support price (MSP) both illegal and punishable.

The charter also called for a special discussion on the universalisation of the public distribution system, the withdrawal of pesticides that have been banned elsewhere and the non-approval of genetically engineered seeds without a comprehensive need and impact assessment.

Other demands included no foreign direct investment in agriculture and food processing, the protection of farmers from corporate plunder in the name of contract farming, investment in farmers’ collectives to create farmer producer organisations and peasant cooperatives and the promotion of agroecology based on suitable cropping patterns and local seed diversity revival.

Now in 2020, rather than responding to these requirements, we see the Indian government’s promotion and facilitation of – by way of recent legislation – the corporatisation of agriculture and the dismantling of the public distribution system (and the MSP) as well as the laying of groundwork for contract farming.

This legislation comprises three acts: The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act 2020, Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act 2020 and Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act 2020

Although the two aforementioned bills from 2018 have now lapsed, farmers are demanding that the new pro-corporate (anti-farmer) farms laws are replaced with a legal framework that guarantees the MSP to farmers.

According to an article by the Research Unit for Political Economy (RUPE), it is clear that the existence of MSPs, the Food Corporation of India, the public distribution system and publicly held buffer stocks constitute an obstacle to the profit-driven requirements of global agribusiness interests who have sat with government agencies and set out their wish-lists.

RUPE notes that India accounts for 15 per cent of world consumption of cereals. India’s buffer stocks are equivalent to 15-25 per cent of world stocks and 40 per cent of world trade in rice and wheat. Any large reduction in these stocks will almost certainly affect world prices: farmers would be hit by depressed prices; later, once India became dependent on imports, prices could rise on the international market and Indian consumers would be hit.

At the same time, the richer countries are applying enormous pressure on India to scrap its meagre agricultural subsidies; yet their own subsidies are vast multiples of India’s. The end result could be India becoming dependent on imports and the restructure of its own agriculture to crops destined for export.

RUPE concludes:

Vast buffer stocks would still exist; but instead of India holding these stocks, they would be held by multinational trading firms, and India would bid for them with borrowed funds.

Instead of holding physical buffer stocks, India would hold foreign exchange reserves.

Successive administrations have made the country dependent on volatile flows of foreign capital and India’s foreign exchange reserves have been built up by borrowing and foreign investments. The fear of capital flight is ever present. Policies are often governed by the drive to attract and retain these inflows and maintain market confidence by ceding to the demands of international capital.

This throttling of democracy and the ‘financialisation’ of agriculture would seriously undermine the nation’s food security and leave almost 1.4 billion people at the mercy of international speculators and foreign investment.

But agricapital’s free-for-all bonanza and the planned displacement of tens of millions of cultivators mirrors what has been happening across the world for many decades: the consolidation of a global food regime based on agro-export mono-cropping (often with non-food commodities taking up prime agricultural land) linked to sovereign debt repayment and foreign exchange inflows and earnings and World Bank/IMF ‘structural adjustment’ directives.

The outcomes have included a displacement of a food-producing peasantry, the dominance of Western agri-food oligopolies and the transformation of countries from food self-sufficiency to food deficiency. Little wonder then that among the owners of global agribusiness family firm Cargill 14 are now billionaires – the very company that profited from running down India’s edible oils sector in the 1990s.

It is not that India needs these people. It is already the world’s largest producer of milk, pulses and millets and the second-largest producer of rice, wheat, sugarcane, groundnuts, vegetables, fruit and cotton. This is despite India’s farmers already reeling from the effects of 30 years of neoliberal policies, decades of public underinvestment/disinvestment and a deliberate strategy to displace them at the behest of the World Bank and predatory global agri-food corporations.

If unrepealed, the recent legislation represents the ultimate betrayal of India’s farmers and democracy as well as the final surrender of food security and food sovereignty to unaccountable corporations. This legislation is wholly regressive and will eventually lead to the country relying on outside forces  to feed its population – and a possible return to hand-to-mouth imports, especially in an increasingly volatile world prone to conflict, public health scares, unregulated land and commodity speculation and price shocks.

A shift towards food sovereignty – encompassing local people’s right to healthy and culturally appropriate food and their ability to define and control their own food and agriculture systems – is key to achieving genuine independence, national sovereignty, food security and facilitating farmers’ demands.

The post Farmers’ Protests Reflect Existential Crisis of Indian Agriculture     first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Indian Farmers on the Frontline Against Global Capitalism

In a short video on the empirediaries.com YouTube channel, a protesting farmer camped near Delhi says that during lockdown and times of crisis farmers are treated like “gods”, but when they ask for their rights, they are smeared and labelled as “terrorists”.

He, along with thousands of other farmers, are mobilising against three important pieces of farm legislation that were recently forced through parliament. To all intents and purposes, these laws sound a neoliberal death knell for most of India’s cultivators and its small farms, the backbone of the nation’s food production.

The farmer says:

Corporates invested in Modi before the election and brought him to power. He has sold out and is an agent of Ambani and Adani. He is unable to repeal the bills because his owners will scold him. He is trapped. But we are not backing down either.

He then asks whether ministers know how many seeds are needed to grow wheat on an acre of land:

We farmers know. They made these farm laws sitting in air-conditioned rooms. And they are teaching us the benefits!

While the corporations that will move in on the sector due to the legislation will initially pay good money for crops, once the public sector markets (mandis) are gone, the farmer says they will become the only buyers and will beat prices down.

He asks why, in other sectors, do sellers get to put price tags on their products but not farmers:

Why can’t farmers put minimum prices on the crops we produce? A law must be brought to guarantee MSP [minimum support prices]. Whoever buys below MSP must be punished by law.

The recent agriculture legislation represents the final pieces of a 30-year-old plan which will benefit a handful of billionaires in the US and in India. It means the livelihoods of hundreds of millions (the majority of the population) who still (directly or indirectly) rely on agriculture for a living are to be sacrificed at the behest of these elite interests.

Consider that much of the UK’s wealth came from sucking $45 trillion from India alone according to renowned economist Utsa Patnaik. Britain grew rich by underdeveloping India. What amounts to little more than modern-day East India-type corporations are now in the process of helping themselves to the country’s most valuable asset – agriculture.

According to the World Bank’s lending report, based on data compiled up to 2015, India was easily the largest recipient of its loans in the history of the institution. The World Bank thus exerts a certain hold over India: on the back of India’s foreign exchange crisis in the 1990s, the IMF and World Bank wanted India to shift hundreds of millions out of agriculture.

In return for up to more than $120 billion in loans at the time, India was directed to dismantle its state-owned seed supply system, reduce subsidies, run down public agriculture institutions and offer incentives for the growing of cash crops to earn foreign exchange.

The plan involves shifting at least 400 million from the countryside into cities.

The details of this plan appear in a January 2021 article by the Research Unit for Political Economy, ‘Modi’s Farm Produce Act Was Authored Thirty Years Ago, in Washington DC’. The piece says that the current agricultural ‘reforms’ are part of a broader process of imperialism’s increasing capture of the Indian economy:

Indian business giants such as Reliance and Adani are major recipients of foreign investment, as we have seen in sectors such as telecom, retail, and energy. At the same time, multinational corporations and other financial investors in the sectors of agriculture, logistics and retail are also setting up their own operations in India. Multinational trading corporations dominate global trade in agricultural commodities. For all these reasons, international capital has a major stake in the restructuring of India’s agriculture… The opening of India’s agriculture and food economy to foreign investors and global agribusinesses is a longstanding project of the imperialist countries.”

The article provides details of a 1991 World Bank memorandum which set out the programme for India. It adds:

At the time, India was still in its foreign exchange crisis of 1990-91 and had just submitted itself to an IMF-monitored ‘structural adjustment’ programme. Thus, India’s July 1991 budget marked the fateful start of India’s neoliberal era.

It states that now the Modi government is dramatically advancing the implementation of the above programme, using the Covid-19 crisis as cover: the dismantling of the public procurement and distribution of food is to be implemented by the three agriculture-related acts passed by parliament.

The drive is to drastically dilute the role of the public sector in agriculture, reducing it to a facilitator of private capital and leading to the entrenchment of industrial farming and the replacement of small-scale farms. The norm will be industrial (GMO) commodity-crop agriculture suited to the needs of the likes of Cargill, Archer Daniels Midlands, Louis Dreyfus, Bunge and India’s retail and agribusiness giants as well as the global agritech, seed and agrochemical corporations. It could result in hundreds of millions of former rural dwellers without any work given that India is heading (has already reached) jobless growth.

As a result of the ongoing programme, more than 300,000 farmers in India have taken their lives since 1997 and many more are experiencing economic distress or have left farming as a result of debt, a shift to cash crops and economic liberalisation. The number of cultivators in India declined from 166 million to 146 million between 2004 and 2011. Some 6,700 left farming each day. Between 2015 and 2022, the number of cultivators is likely to decrease to around 127 million.

We have seen the running down of the sector for decades, spiraling input costs, withdrawal of government assistance and the impacts of cheap, subsidised imports which depress farmers’ incomes.

Take the cultivation of pulses, for instance. According to a report in the Indian Express (September 2017), pulses production increased by 40% during the previous 12 months (a year of record production). At the same time, however, imports also rose resulting in black gram selling at 4,000 rupees per quintal (much less than during the previous 12 months). This effectively pushed down prices thereby reducing farmers already meagre incomes.

We have already witnessed a running down of the indigenous edible oils sector thanks to Indonesian palm oil imports (which benefits Cargill) on the back of World Bank pressure to reduce tariffs (India was virtually self-sufficient in edible oils in the 1990s but now faces increasing import costs).

The pressure from the richer nations for the Indian government to further reduce support given to farmers and open up to imports and export-oriented ‘free market’ trade is based on nothing but hypocrisy.

On the ‘Down to Earth’ website in late 2017, it was stated some 3.2 million people were engaged in agriculture in the US in 2015. The US government provided them each with a subsidy of $7,860 on average. Japan provides a subsidy of $14,136 and New Zealand $2,623 to its farmers. In 2015, a British farmer earned $2,800 and $37,000 was added through subsidies. The Indian government provides on average a subsidy of $873 to farmers. However, between 2012 and 2014, India reduced the subsidy on agriculture and food security by $3 billion.

According to policy analyst Devinder Sharma subsidies provided to US wheat and rice farmers are more than the market worth of these two crops. He also notes that, per day, each cow in Europe receives subsidy worth more than an Indian farmer’s daily income.

The Indian farmer simply cannot compete with this. The World Bank, World Trade Organisation and the IMF have effectively served to undermine the indigenous farm sector in India. The long-term goal has been to displace the peasantry and consolidate a corporate-controlled model.

And now, by reducing public sector buffer stocks and introducing corporate-dictated contract farming and full-scale neoliberal marketisation for the sale and procurement of produce, India will be sacrificing its farmers and its own food security for the benefit of a handful of billionaires.

The post Indian Farmers on the Frontline Against Global Capitalism first appeared on Dissident Voice.