Category Archives: Industrial Farming

The Decade Of Transformation: Being In Balance With Nature

Save Our Planet Save Our Future, Belgium, January 31, 2019 (Photo: EuroNews/Twitter)

This is the fourth newsletter in our series on the 2020s as a decade of transformation See Remaking International Relations, Remaking the Economy for the People, and Remaking Healthcare. In addition to COVID-19 and the economic collapse, multiple crises are reaching a peak and the world is changing as a result. How the world changes will be determined in some part by our actions. This week, we look at what can be done to bring our societies into balance with nature.

Biologist Elisabet Sahtouris describes an alternative theory of evolution to Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” in her book, “Earthdance: Living Systems in Evolution.” Sahtouris finds that evolution is cyclical, a spiral instead of linear. She describes how when a new species arises, it upsets the ecological equilibrium as it comes into competition with other species over habitat. The task of that species in the adolescent phase of its evolution is to find its niche in a way that is cooperative with other species. If it fails, it goes extinct.

The human species is in its adolescent phase, and now it is time to recognize our mistakes and change our behaviors. Sahtouris writes:

Like any adolescent who is suddenly aware of having created a very real life crisis, our species faces a choice — the choice between pursuing our dangerous course to disaster or stopping and trying to find mature solutions to our crises. This choice point is the brink of maturity — the point at which we must decide whether to continue our suicidal course or turn from it to responsible maturity. Are we going to continue our disastrously competitive economics, our ravaging conversion of our natural supply base into things, our pollution of basic soils, waters and atmosphere in the process? Or will we change the way we see life — our worldview, our self-image, our goals, and our behavior — in accord with our new knowledge of living nature in evolution?

We’re in for a rough patch

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic occurred quickly. The first documented cases occurred in Wuhan, China in late December. The first reported case outside of China occurred two weeks later in Thailand. At that point, it was also discovered that human-to-human transmission of the virus could occur. One week later, the first case of COVID-19 was identified in the United States. Within a month, 18 countries besides China had infections. By early March, there were 500 cases in the United States impacting 30 states plus the District of Columbia. And within another month, the number of cases in the US grew one thousand-fold to 500,000, with 20,000 deaths. These are only the ones we know about. It is certain that the number of cases in the US is being undercounted, perhaps by a factor of ten, as are deaths.

Within a matter of months, the pandemic has had wide-ranging and devastating impacts. There are nearly two million cases in 210 countries. Over 100,000 people have died. Health care systems are being overwhelmed. The pandemic triggered a global recession, which the world was on course to experience at some point soon, and this was before the economy started shutting down.

Nearly 17 million people in the US became unemployed in the last three weeks. This is also likely an underestimate as unemployment offices are overwhelmed. And a majority of workers in the fields of construction, manufacturing, and transportation, and in the service sectors are unable to meet their basic needs. Millions are losing their health insurance when they need it most.

As abruptly as the pandemic and global economic collapse have changed our lives, scientists predict another rapid disruption in our lives is on the horizon. A new study published in Nature predicts ecosystem collapse could start occurring within the next decade. Researchers found that many species are already living near the limits of the conditions they require to survive. As the planet heats up, many species will reach their limit simultaneously and there will be mass die-offs.

Bob Berwyn of Inside Climate News explains:

As global warming heats their habitat to the point that it is intolerable, many species have no place to go. Some will go extinct, with a domino effect that affects scores of other species. If it gets too hot for bumblebees, for example, it affects the reproduction of plants. If it gets too warm for insects and reptiles, it affects food supplies for birds and mammals.

When ecosystems start collapsing abruptly, we will face similar situations as we are facing today with the twin COVID-19 pandemic and global recession. We will be forced to adapt to a new reality, but this time it will be a reality that threatens the food supply in addition to increasing the risk of disease. Just as health professionals warned us for years that we were unprepared for an inevitable pandemic, climate scientists are warning us of ecosystem collapse. We can mitigate the crisis, but that is only going to happen if we take the initiative to make it happen.

COVID-19 will change the world (From News Karnataka)

We’re all connected and it’s all connected

Before we start looking at solutions, we must understand the roots of the crises we face. It is by changing systems at the root level that we will bring about the transformation we need. Of course, this won’t be an in-depth examination. That is beyond the scope of a newsletter.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that we are a connected global community. Diseases, greenhouse gases, and capital are not restricted by borders. What we do in one place, impacts another. To stop the pandemic, we must control the infection everywhere or there will always be a repository perpetuating it and putting any of us at risk. International cooperation and solidarity are required to make the transition we need.

The same is true with the climate crisis and the globalized neoliberal economy. They are connected to each other and to our health. It is the globalized neoliberal financial system that has driven the race to the bottom. Capital moves freely about the world in search of the cheapest labor and resources. Many governments, especially those in the global south, compete with each other to loosen regulations that protect workers and the environment to attract capital to their countries. Corporate trade agreements make transnational corporate profits more important than protecting the planet. Humans have created multiple environmental crises from polluting the Earth, as Robert J. Burrowes writes, turning it into a junk planet.

Capitalism knows no limits when it comes to profits. People are being displaced from their land as corporations gobble it up for mining, energy production or industrial agriculture. This forces people deeper into wild habitats where they come in contact with wildlife and also pushes wildlife into human communities. It increases the chances of transmission of disease.

As Keishia Taylor explains, “…human activity disrupts ecosystems and damages biodiversity, shaking loose viruses, which then need a new host.” As the barriers between humans and wildlife break down, the greater the risk for zoonoses, diseases that are transmitted from animals to humans. COVID-19 “is the sixth major epidemic in the last 26 years that originated in bats, mediated by a range of farmed, domesticated or hunted animals.” Factory farming is a great culprit driving these epidemics. Large numbers of animals live in crowded and unnatural environments, which weaken their immune systems and make disease transmission more likely.

Biodiversity is key to healthy ecosystems, writes Eric Roston in TIME. He adds, “Almost half of the new diseases that jumped from animals to humans… after 1940 can be traced to changes in land use, agriculture, or wildlife hunting. …There may be 10,000 mammalian viruses potentially dangerous to people.” The climate crisis is another threat to biodiversity as described above, for which governments are not responding.

Capitalism drives the exploitation of people and resources for profit without regard for the consequences. The burning of cheap, dirty fossil fuels for transportation required to connect disparate parts of the global supply chain as well as the oil and gas industry’s history of pushing dirty forms of transit drives greenhouse gas emissions along with large polluting industries and factory farms. Destruction of the land, including our forests, has lowered the capacity for natural carbon sequestration. This has led to the high levels of carbon in the atmosphere that cause climate chaos; record high temperatures are heating the oceans and storms, fires and droughts are causing more damage.

Vijay Prashad describes the many ways neoliberal capitalism has also driven privatization of state institutions, such as healthcare, and has created precarious livelihoods in his newsletter “We Won’t Go Back to Normal, Because Normal Was the Problem.” And that is our task: to make sure that out of these crises come major changes, the maturation of our species to cooperate with the ecosystems in which we live.

Activists march in a climate change rally in London, Britain, September. 20, 2019 (Reuters)

Opportunities for change

Life has changed drastically for many people as we are suddenly required to stay in our homes. Education has moved online. People are doing more of their own food preparation. Conferences and other large gatherings have been canceled, and some have moved online. We’ve had to change our habits quickly to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19 cases.

One positive side effect of our reduced activity is that greenhouse gas emissions have dropped significantly. Charles Komanoff and Christopher Ketcham of the Carbon Tax Institute estimate that the drop could be as much as 50% this year. They identify four positive lessons from the pandemic: greater reliance on science, the recognition that government action is required to confront crises, the knowledge that we can change our behavior quickly, and the necessity of social solidarity.

We can take rapid action to “flatten the curve” of greenhouse gas emissions just as we are for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here is a list of ten basic steps we can take to reduce greenhouse gases and support the health of all living beings and the planet:

  1. Decentralize agriculture – End monopolized industrial agriculture and return to small and medium-sized farms owned by farmers who will manage the land in ways that support biodiversity, rebuild the soil and sequester carbon. This means organic farming methods and includes urban agriculture to produce food locally.
  2. End land grabs – Stop the land grabs that drive people off their land and allow them to return. Smaller landowners tend to be better stewards of the land.
  3. Sequester carbon naturally – Do this through regenerative farming methods, and by restoring wetlands which has the added benefit of buffering sea level rise, and protecting forests, especially mature forests.
  4. Restore wildlife habitat – Protect wildlife areas and plan our communities in ways that do not encroach upon them. This includes rethinking tourism. There are some areas humans ought to avoid out of respect for wildlife habitat.
  5. End fossil fuel and nuclear use – Move rapidly to a carbon-free and nuclear-free energy economy. To make this a just transition, areas that overuse energy will need to reduce consumption and areas that do not have enough energy to meet basic needs will need to increase energy use. This also means finding ways to reduce travel until we can reduce the carbon output. Many businesses and organizations are changing to online meetings and conferences instead of doing them in-person.
  6. Decentralize energy production – Massive solar and wind farms can be disruptive through displacement of communities and the destruction of wildlife areas. Energy production can be integrated into the infrastructure; e.g., on rooftops, parking lots and community solar. Decentralized production ends energy monopolies and allows many people to benefit from the energy they produce.
  7. Remake transportation – Reduce energy use significantly through investment in mass public transit and shared ownership of vehicles as cars are parked 95% of the time. Many cities already have fleets of cars for short-term rental. Fewer cars mean fewer resources being used. And we can increase bike and pedestrian areas to encourage less driving.
  8. Rebuild the rail system – Electrify our railroads and increase their use for moving goods and people. Decentralized energy production can feed into the rail line to power it. This is a concept called Solutionary Rail.
  9. Become zero waste communities – Rethink our consumption and reduce it to what is necessary and then find ways to meet our necessities through closed-loop production cycles, reuse of materials, sharing of items and more.
  10. Cooperate more – In this pandemic, people around the world are organizing mutual aid to provide food and other basic needs. Let’s build on this spirit to look out for each other and connect human-to-human. We may find that building our communities will increase sharing and reduce our desire for so much stuff.

There are more steps we could add to this list that include socializing sectors of the economy so that human rights and protection of the planet supersede corporate profits, remaking trade along the same lines and strengthening localized, worker or community-owned enterprises.

We are truly at a crossroads. The pandemic has taught us to act in solidarity and that we can alter our lifestyles drastically when necessary. The climate crisis requires us to flatten the curve of our greenhouse gas emissions and toxic, polluting society. We can’t go back to normal because normal is killing us. The time is now to create a new world in balance with nature.

Toxic Agriculture and the Gates Foundation

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was launched in 2000 and has $46.8 billion in assets (December 2018). It is the largest charitable foundation in the world and distributes more aid for global health than any government. One of the foundation’s stated goals is to globally enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty.

The Gates Foundation is a major funder of the CGIAR system (formerly the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research) — a global partnership whose stated aim is to strive for a food-secured future. Its research is aimed at reducing rural poverty, increasing food security, improving human health and nutrition and ensuring sustainable management of natural resources.

In 2016, the Gates Foundation was accused of dangerously and unaccountably distorting the direction of international development. The charges were laid out in a report by Global Justice Now: ‘Gated Development – Is the Gates Foundation always a force for good?‘ According to the report, the foundation’s strategy is based on deepening the role of multinational companies in the Global South.

On release of the report, Polly Jones, the head of campaigns and policy at Global Justice Now, said:

The Gates Foundation has rapidly become the most influential actor in the world of global health and agricultural policies, but there’s no oversight or accountability in how that influence is managed.

She added that this concentration of power and influence is even more problematic when you consider that the philanthropic vision of the Gates Foundation seems to be largely based on the values of ‘corporate America’:

The foundation is relentlessly promoting big business-based initiatives such as industrial agriculture, private health care and education. But these are all potentially exacerbating the problems of poverty and lack of access to basic resources that the foundation is supposed to be alleviating.

The report’s author, Mark Curtis, outlines the foundation’s promotion of industrial agriculture across Africa, which would undermine existing sustainable, small-scale farming that is providing the vast majority of food across the continent.

Curtis describes how the foundation is working with US agri-commodity trader Cargill in an $8 million project to “develop the soya value chain” in southern Africa. Cargill is the biggest global player in the production of and trade in soya with heavy investments in South America where GM soya monocrops (and associated agrochemicals) have displaced rural populations and caused health problems and environmental damage.

According to Curtis, the Gates-funded project will likely enable Cargill to capture a hitherto untapped African soya market and eventually introduce GM soya onto the continent. The Gates foundation is also supporting projects involving other chemical and seed corporations, including DuPont, Syngenta and Bayer. It is effectively promoting a model of industrial agriculture, the increasing use of agrochemicals and patented seeds, the privatisation of extension services and a very large focus on genetically modified crops.

What the Gates Foundation is doing is part of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) initiative, which is based on the premise that hunger and malnutrition in Africa are mainly the result of a lack of technology and functioning markets. Curtis says AGRA has been intervening directly in the formulation of African governments’ agricultural policies on issues like seeds and land, opening up African markets to US agribusiness.

More than 80% of Africa’s seed supply comes from millions of small-scale farmers recycling and exchanging seed from year to year. But AGRA is promoting the commercial production of seed and is thus supporting the introduction of commercial (chemical-dependent) seed systems, which risk enabling a few large companies to control seed research and development, production and distribution.

The report notes that over the past two decades a long and slow process of national seed law reviews, sponsored by USAID and the G8 along with Bill Gates and others, has opened the door to multinational corporations’ involvement in seed production, including the acquisition of every sizeable seed enterprise on the African continent.

Gates, pesticides and global health

The Gates Foundation is also very active in the area of health, which is ironic given its promotion of industrial agriculture and its reliance on health-damaging agrochemicals. This is something that has not been lost on environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason.

Mason notes that the Gates Foundation is a heavy pusher of agrochemicals and patented seeds. She adds that the Gates Foundation is also reported to be collaborating in Bayer’s promotion of “new chemical approaches” and “biological crop protection” (i.e. encouraging agrochemical sales and GM crops) in the Global South.

After having read the recent ‘A Future for the World’s Children? A WHO-UNICEF-Lancet Commission’, Mason noticed that pesticides were conspicuous by their absence and therefore decided to write to Professor Anthony Costello, director of the UCL Institute for Global Health, who is the lead author of the report.

In her open 19-page letter, ‘Why Don’t Pesticides Feature in the WHO-UNICEF-Lancet Commission?’, she notes in the Costello-led report that there is much talk about greater regulation of marketing of tobacco, alcohol, formula milk and sugar-sweetened beverages but no mention of pesticides.

But perhaps this should come as little surprise: some 42 authors’ names are attached to the report and Mason says that in one way or another via the organisations they belong to, many (if not most) have received funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Gates Foundation is a prominent funder of the World Health Organization and UNICEF. Gates has been the largest or second largest contributor to the WHO’s budget in recent years. His foundation provided 11% of the WHO’s entire budget in 2015, which is 14 times greater than the UK government’s contribution.

Perhaps this sheds some light on to why a major report on child health would omit the effects of pesticides. Mason implies this is a serious omission given what the UN expert on toxics  Baskut Tuncak said in a November 2017 article in the Guardian:

Our children are growing up exposed to a toxic cocktail of weedkillers, insecticides, and fungicides. It’s on their food and in their water, and it’s even doused over their parks and playgrounds. Many governments insist that our standards of protection from these pesticides are strong enough. But as a scientist and a lawyer who specialises in chemicals and their potential impact on people’s fundamental rights, I beg to differ. Last month it was revealed that in recommending that glyphosate – the world’s most widely-used pesticide – was safe, the EU’s food safety watchdog copied and pasted pages of a report directly from Monsanto, the pesticide’s manufacturer. Revelations like these are simply shocking.

Mason notes that in February 2020, Tuncak rejected the idea that the risks posed by highly hazardous pesticides could be managed safely. He told Unearthed (GreenPeace UK’s journalism website) that there is nothing sustainable about the widespread use of highly hazardous pesticides for agriculture. Whether they poison workers, extinguish biodiversity, persist in the environment or accumulate in a mother’s breast milk, Tuncak argued that these are unsustainable, cannot be used safely and should have been phased out of use long ago.

In his 2017 article, he stated:

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most ratified international human rights treaty in the world (only the US is not a party), makes it clear that states have an explicit obligation to protect children from exposure to toxic chemicals, from contaminated food and polluted water, and to ensure that every child can realise their right to the highest attainable standard of health. These and many other rights of the child are abused by the current pesticide regime. These chemicals are everywhere and they are invisible.

Tuncak added that paediatricians have referred to childhood exposure to pesticides as creating a “silent pandemic” of disease and disability. He noted that exposure in pregnancy and childhood is linked to birth defects, diabetes, and cancer and stated that children are particularly vulnerable to these toxic chemicals: increasing evidence shows that even at ‘low’ doses of childhood exposure, irreversible health impacts can result.

He concluded that the overwhelming reliance of regulators on industry-funded studies, the exclusion of independent science from assessments and the confidentiality of studies relied upon by authorities must change.

However, it seems that the profits of agrochemical manufacturers trump the rights of  children and the public at large: a joint investigation by Unearthed and the NGO Public Eye has found the world’s five biggest pesticide manufacturers are making more than a third of their income from leading products, chemicals that pose serious hazards to human health and the environment.

Mason refers to an analysis of a huge database of 2018’s top-selling ‘crop protection products’ which revealed the world’s leading agrochemical companies made more than 35% of their sales from pesticides classed as “highly hazardous” to people, animals or ecosystems. The investigation identified billions of dollars of income for agrochemical giants BASF, Bayer, Corteva, FMC and Syngenta from chemicals found by regulatory authorities to pose health hazards like cancer or reproductive failure.

This investigation is based on an analysis of a huge dataset of pesticide sales from the agribusiness intelligence company Phillips McDougall. This firm conducts detailed market research all over the world and sells databases and intelligence to pesticide companies. The data covers around 40% of the $57.6bn global market for agricultural pesticides in 2018. It focuses on 43 countries, which between them represent more than 90% of the global pesticide market by value.

While Bill Gates promotes a chemical-intensive model of agriculture that dovetails with the needs and value chains of agri-food conglomerates, Mason outlines the spiraling rates of disease in the UK and the US and lays the blame at the door of the agrochemical corporations that Gates has opted to get into bed with. She focuses on the impact of glyphosate-based herbicides as well as the cocktail of chemicals sprayed on crops.

Mason has discussed the health-related impacts of glyphosate in numerous previous reports and in her open letter to Costello again refers to peer-reviewed studies and official statistics which indicate that glyphosate affects the gut microbiome and is responsible for a global metabolic health crisis provoked by an obesity epidemic. Moreover, she presents evidence that glyphosate causes epigenetic changes in humans and animals – diseases skip a generation then appear.

However, the mainstream narrative is to blame individuals for their ailments and conditions which are said to result from ‘lifestyle choices’. Yet Monsanto’s German owner Bayer has confirmed that more than 42,700 people have filed suits against Monsanto alleging that exposure to Roundup herbicide caused them or their loved ones to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that Monsanto covered up the risks.

Mason says that each year there are steady increases in the numbers of new cancers and increases in deaths from the same cancers, with no treatments making any difference to the numbers; at the same time, she argues, these treatments maximise the bottom line of the drug companies while the impacts of agrochemicals remains conspicuously absent from the disease narrative.

She states that we are exposed to a lifetime’s exposure to thousands of synthetic chemicals that contaminate the blood and urine of nearly every person tested – “a global mass poisoning.”

Gates Foundation in perspective

As part of its hegemonic strategy, the Gates Foundation says it wants to ensure global food security and optimise health and nutrition.

However, Rosemary Mason alludes to the fact that the Gates Foundation seems happy to ignore the deleterious health impacts of agrochemicals while promoting the interests of the firms that produce them, but it facilitates many health programmes that help boost the bottom line of drug companies.  Health and health programmes seem only to be defined with certain parameters which facilitate the selling of the products of the major pharmaceutical companies which the foundation partners with. Indeed, researcher Jacob Levich argues that the Gates Foundation not merely facilitates unethical low-cost clinical trials (with often devastating effects for participants) in the Global South but also assists in the creating new markets for the “dubious” products of pharmaceuticals corporations.

As for food security, the foundation would do better by supporting agroecological  (agrochemical-free) approaches to agriculture, which various high-level UN reports have advocated for ensuring equitable global food security. But this would leave smallholder agriculture both intact and independent from Western agro-capital, something which runs counter to the underlying aims of the corporations that the foundation supports – dispossession and market dependency.

And these aims have been part of a decades-long strategy where we have seen the strengthening of an emerging global food regime based on agro-export mono-cropping linked to sovereign debt repayment and World Bank/IMF ‘structural adjustment’ directives. The outcomes have included a displacement of a food-producing peasantry, the consolidation of Western agri-food oligopolies and the transformation of many countries from food self-sufficiency into food deficit areas.

While Bill Gates is busy supporting the consolidation of Western agro-capital in Africa under the guise of ensuring ‘food security’, it is very convenient for him to ignore the fact that at the time of decolonisation in the 1960s Africa was not just self-sufficient in food but was actually a net food exporter with exports averaging 1.3 million tons a year between 1966-70. The continent now imports 25% of its food, with almost every country being a net food importer. More generally, developing countries produced a billion-dollar yearly surplus in the 1970s but by 2004 were importing US$ 11 billion a year.

The Gates Foundation promotes a (heavily subsidised and inefficient – certainly when the externalised health, social and environment costs are factored in) corporate-industrial farming system and the strengthening of a global neoliberal, fossil-fuel-dependent food regime that by its very nature fuels and thrives on, among other things, unjust trade policies, population displacement and land dispossession (something which the Gates Foundation once called for but euphemistically termed “land mobility”), commodity monocropping, soil and environmental degradation, illness, nutrient-deficient diets, a narrowing of the range of food crops, water shortages, pollution and the eradication of biodiversity.

At the same time, the foundation is helping powerful corporate interests to appropriate and commodify knowledge. For instance, since 2003, CGIAR (mentioned at the start of this article) and its 15 centres have received more than $720 million from the Gates Foundation. In a June 2016 article in The Asian Age, Vandana Shiva says the centres are accelerating the transfer of research and seeds to corporations, facilitating intellectual property piracy and seed monopolies created through IP laws and seed regulations.

Besides taking control of the seeds of farmers in CGIAR seed banks, Shiva adds that the Gates Foundation (along with the Rockefeller Foundation) is investing heavily in collecting seeds from across the world and storing them in a facility in Svalbard in the Arctic — the ‘doomsday vault’.

The foundation is also funding Diversity Seek (DivSeek), a global initiative to take patents on the seed collections through genomic mapping. Seven million crop accessions are in public seed banks.

Shiva says that DivSeek could allow five corporations to own this diversity and argues:

Today, biopiracy is carried out through the convergence of information technology and biotechnology. It is done by taking patents by ‘mapping’ genomes and genome sequences… DivSeek is a global project launched in 2015 to map the genetic data of the peasant diversity of seeds held in gene banks. It robs the peasants of their seeds and knowledge, it robs the seed of its integrity and diversity, its evolutionary history, its link to the soil and reduces it to ‘code’. It is an extractive project to ‘mine’ the data in the seed to ‘censor’ out the commons.

She notes that the peasants who evolved this diversity have no place in DivSeek — their knowledge is being mined and not recognised, honoured or conserved: an enclosure of the genetic commons.

This process is the very foundation of capitalism – appropriation of the commons (seeds, water, knowledge, land, etc.), which are then made artificially scarce and transformed into marketable commodities.

The Gates Foundation talks about health but facilitates the roll-out of a toxic form of agriculture whose agrochemicals cause immense damage. It talks of alleviating poverty and malnutrition and tackling food insecurity but it bolsters an inherently unjust global food regime which is responsible for perpetuating food insecurity, population displacement, land dispossession, privatisation of the commons and neoliberal policies that remove support from the vulnerable and marginalised, while providing lavish subsidies to corporations.

The Gates Foundation is part of the problem, not the solution. To more fully appreciate this, let us turn to a February 2020 article in the journal Globalizations. Its author, Ashok Kumbamu, argues that the ultimate aim of promoting new technologies – whether GM seeds, agrochemicals or commodified knowledge — on a colossal scale is to make agricultural inputs and outputs essential commodities, create dependency and bring all farming operations into the capitalist fold.

To properly understand Bill Gates’s ‘philanthropy’ is not to take stated goals and objectives at face value but to regard his ideology as an attempt to manufacture consent and prevent and marginalise more radical agrarian change that would challenge prevailing power structures and act as impediments to capitalist interests. The foundation’s activities must be located within the hegemonic and dispossessive strategies of imperialism: displacement of the peasantry and subjugating those who remain in agriculture to the needs of global distribution and supply chains dominated by the Western agri-food conglomerates whose interests the Gates Foundation facilitates and legitimises.

The full text of Rosemary Mason’s 19-page document (with relevant references) — ‘Why Don’t Pesticides Feature in the WHO-UNICEF-Lancet Commission?’ — can be accessed via the academia.edu website)  

Challenging the Flawed Premise Behind Pushing GMOs into Indian Agriculture

A common claim is that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are essential to agriculture if we are to feed an ever-growing global population. Supporters of genetically engineered (GE) crops argue that by increasing productivity and yields, this technology will also help boost farmers’ incomes and lift many out of poverty. Although in this article it will be argued that the performance of GE crops to date has been questionable, the main contention is that the pro-GMO lobby, both outside of India and within, has wasted no time in wrenching the issues of hunger and poverty from their political contexts to use notions of ‘helping farmers’ and ‘feeding the world’ as lynchpins of its promotional strategy. There exists a ‘haughty imperialism’ within the pro-GMO scientific lobby that aggressively pushes for a GMO ‘solution’ which is a distraction from the root causes of poverty, hunger and malnutrition and genuine solutions based on food justice and food sovereignty.

Last year, in the journal Current Science, Dr Deepak Pental, developer of genetically engineered (GE) mustard at Delhi University, responded to a previous paper in the same journal by eminent scientists PC Kesavan and MS Swaminathan which questioned the efficacy of and the need for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture. Pental argued that the two authors had aligned themselves with environmentalists and ideologues who have mindlessly attacked the use of genetic engineering (GE) technology to improve crops required for meeting the food and nutritional needs of a global population that is predicted to peak at 11.2 billion. Pental added that aspects of the two authors’ analysis are a reflection of their ideological proclivities.

The use of the word ‘mindlessly’ is telling and betrays Pental’s own ideological disposition. His words reflect tired industry-inspired rhetoric that says criticisms of GE technology are driven by ideology not fact.

If hunger and malnutrition are to be tackled effectively, the pro-GMO lobby must put aside this type of rhetoric, which is designed to close down debate. It should accept valid concerns about the GMO paradigm and be willing to consider why the world already produces enough to feed 10 billion people but over two billion are experiencing micronutrient deficiencies (of which 821 million were classed as chronically undernourished in 2018).

Critics: valid concerns or ideologues?

The performance of GE crops has been a hotly contested issue and, as highlighted in Kevasan and Swaminathan’s piece and by others, there is already sufficient evidence to question their efficacy, especially that of herbicide-tolerant crops (which by 2007 already accounted for approximately 80% of biotech-derived crops grown globally) and the devastating impacts on the environment, human health and food security, not least in places like Latin America.

We should not accept the premise that only GE can solve problems in agriculture. In their paper, Kesavan and Swaminathan argue that GE technology is supplementary and must be need based. In more than 99% of cases, they say that time-honoured conventional breeding is sufficient. In this respect, conventional options and innovations that outperform GE must not be overlooked or sidelined in a rush by powerful interests like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to facilitate the introduction of GE crops into global agriculture; crops which are highly financially lucrative for the corporations behind them.

In Europe, robust regulatory mechanisms are in place for GMOs because it is recognised that GE food/crops are not substantially equivalent to their non-GE counterparts. Numerous studies have highlighted the flawed premise of ‘substantial equivalence’. Furthermore, from the outset of the GMO project, the sidelining of serious concerns about the technology has occurred and despite industry claims to the contrary, there is no scientific consensus on the health impacts of GE crops as noted by Hilbeck et al (Environmental Sciences Europe, 2015). Adopting a precautionary principle where GE is concerned is therefore a valid approach.

As Hilbeck et al note, both the Cartagena Protocol and Codex share a precautionary approach to GE crops and foods, in that they agree that GE differs from conventional breeding and that safety assessments should be required before GMOs are used in food or released into the environment. There is sufficient reason to hold back on commercialising GE crops and to subject each GMO to independent, transparent environmental, social, economic and health impact evaluations.

Critics’ concerns cannot therefore be brushed aside by claims that ‘the science’ is decided and the ‘facts’ about GE are indisputable. Such claims are merely political posturing and part of a strategy to tip the policy agenda in favour of GE.

In India, various high-level reports have advised against the adoption of GE crops. Appointed by the Supreme Court, the ‘Technical Expert Committee (TEC) Final Report’ (2013) was scathing about India’s prevailing regulatory system and highlighted its inadequacies and serious inherent conflicts of interest. The TEC recommended a 10-year moratorium on the commercial release of all GE crops.

As we have seen with the push to get GE mustard commercialised, the problems described by the TEC persist. Through her numerous submissions to the Supreme Court, Aruna Rodrigues has argued that GE mustard is being pushed through based on outright regulatory delinquency. It must also be noted that this crop is herbicide tolerant, which, as stated by the TEC, is wholly inappropriate for India with its small biodiverse, multi-cropping farms.

While the above discussion has only scratched the surface, it is fair to say that criticisms of GE technology and various restrictions and moratoriums have not been driven by ‘mindless’ proclivities.

Can GE crops ‘feed the world’?

The ‘gene revolution’ is sometimes regarded as Green Revolution 2.0. The Green Revolution too was sold under the guise of ‘feeding the world’. However, emerging research indicates that in India it merely led to more wheat in the diet, while food productivity per capita showed no increase or actually decreased.

Globally, the Green Revolution dovetailed with the consolidation of an emerging global food regime based on agro-export mono-cropping (often with non-food commodities taking up prime agricultural land) and (unfair) liberalised trade, linked to sovereign debt repayment and World Bank/IMF structural adjustment-privatisation directives. The outcomes have included a displacement of a food-producing peasantry, the consolidation of Western agri-food oligopolies and the transformation of many countries from food self-sufficiency into food deficit areas. And yet, the corporations behind this system of dependency and their lobbyists waste no time in spreading the message that this is the route to achieving food security. Their interests lie in ‘business as usual’.

Today, we hear terms like ‘foreign direct investment’ and making India ‘business friendly’, but behind the rhetoric lies the hard-nosed approach of globalised capitalism. The intention is for India’s displaced cultivators to be retrained to work as cheap labour in the West’s offshored plants. India is to be a fully incorporated subsidiary of global capitalism, with its agri-food sector restructured for the needs of global supply chains and a reserve army of labour that effectively serves to beat workers and unions in the West into submission.

Global food insecurity and malnutrition are not the result of a lack of productivity. As long as these dynamics persist and food injustice remains an inbuilt feature of the global food regime, the rhetoric of GE being necessary for feeding the world will be seen for what it is: bombast.

Although India fares poorly in world hunger assessments, the country has achieved self-sufficiency in food grains and has ensured there is enough food (in terms of calories) available to feed its entire population. It is the world’s largest producer of milk, pulses and millets and the second-largest producer of rice, wheat, sugarcane, groundnuts, vegetables, fruit and cotton.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), food security is achieved when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.

Food security for many Indians remains a distant dream. Large sections of India’s population do not have enough food available to remain healthy nor do they have sufficiently diverse diets that provide adequate levels of micronutrients. The Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey 2016-18 is the first-ever nationally representative nutrition survey of children and adolescents in India. It found that 35 per cent of children under five were stunted, 22 per cent of school-age children were stunted while 24 per cent of adolescents were thin for their age.

People are not hungry in India because its farmers do not produce enough food. Hunger and malnutrition result from various factors, including inadequate food distribution, (gender) inequality and poverty; in fact, the country continues to export food while millions remain hungry. It’s a case of ‘scarcity’ amid abundance.

Where farmers’ livelihoods are concerned, the pro-GMO lobby says GE will boost productivity and help secure cultivators a better income. Again, this is misleading: it ignores crucial political and economic contexts. Even with bumper harvests, Indian farmers still find themselves in financial distress.

India’s farmers are not experiencing financial hardship due to low productivity. They are reeling from the effects of neoliberal policies, years of neglect and a deliberate strategy to displace smallholder agriculture at the behest of the World Bank and predatory global agri-food corporations . Little wonder then that the calorie and essential nutrient intake of the rural poor has drastically fallen.

However, aside from putting a positive spin on the questionable performance of GMO agriculture, the pro-GMO lobby, both outside of India and within, has wasted no time in wrenching these issues from their political contexts to use the notions of ‘helping farmers’ and ‘feeding the world’ as lynch pins of its promotional strategy.

GE was never intended to feed the world

Many of the traditional practices of India’s small farmers are now recognised as sophisticated and appropriate for high-productive, sustainable agriculture. It is no surprise therefore that a recent FAO high-level report has called for agroecology and smallholder farmers to be prioritised and invested in to achieve global sustainable food security. It argues that scaling up agroecology offers potential solutions to many of the world’s most pressing problems, whether, for instance, climate change and carbon storage, soil degradation, water shortages, unemployment or food security.

Agroecological principles represent a shift away from the reductionist yield-output industrial paradigm, which results in among other things enormous pressures on soil and water resources, to a more integrated low-input systems approach to food and agriculture that prioritises local food security, local calorific production, cropping patterns and diverse nutrition production per acre, water table stability, climate resilience, good soil structure and the ability to cope with evolving pests and disease pressures. Such a system would be underpinned by a concept of food sovereignty,  based on optimal self-sufficiency, the right to culturally appropriate food and local ownership and stewardship of common resources, such as land, water, soil and seeds.

Traditional production systems rely on the knowledge and expertise of farmers in contrast to imported ‘solutions’. Yet, if we take cotton cultivation in India as an example, farmers continue to be nudged away from traditional methods of farming and are being pushed towards (illegal) GE herbicide-tolerant cotton seeds. Researchers Glenn Stone and Andrew Flachs note the results of this shift from traditional practices to date does not appear to have benefited farmers. This isn’t about giving farmers ‘choice’ where GE seeds and associated chemicals are concerned. It is more about GE seed companies and weedicide manufactures seeking to leverage a highly lucrative market.

The potential for herbicide market growth in India is enormous and industry looked for sales to reach USD 800 million by 2019. The objective involves opening India to GE seeds with herbicide tolerance traits, the biotechnology industry’s biggest money maker by far (86 per cent of the world’s GE crop acres in 2015 contain plants resistant to glyphosate or glufosinate and there is a new generation of crops resistant to 2,4-D coming through).

The aim is to break farmers’ traditional pathways and move them onto corporate biotech/chemical treadmills for the benefit of industry.

Calls for agroecology and highlighting the benefits of traditional, small-scale agriculture are not based on a romantic yearning for the past or ‘the peasantry’. Available evidence suggests that (non-GMO) smallholder farming using low-input methods is more productive in total output than large-scale industrial farms and can be more profitable and resilient to climate change. It is for good reason that the FAO high-level report referred to earlier as well as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Prof Hilal Elver, call for investment in this type of agriculture, which is centred on small farms. Despite the pressures, including the fact that globally industrial agriculture grabs 80 per cent of subsidies and 90 per cent of research funds, smallholder agriculture plays a major role in feeding the world.

That’s a massive quantity of subsidies and funds to support a system that is only made profitable as a result of these financial injections and because agri-food oligopolies externalize the massive health, social and environmental costs of their operations.

But policy makers tend to accept that profit-driven transnational corporations have a legitimate claim to be owners and custodians of natural assets (the ‘commons’). These corporations, their lobbyists and their political representatives have succeeded in cementing a ‘thick legitimacy’ among policy makers for their vision of agriculture.

From World Bank ‘enabling the business of agriculture’ directives to the World Trade Organization ‘agreement on agriculture’ and trade related intellectual property agreements, international bodies have enshrined the interests of corporations that seek to monopolise seeds, land, water, biodiversity and other natural assets that belong to us all. These corporations, the promoters of GMO agriculture, are not offering a ‘solution’ for farmers’ impoverishment or hunger; GE seeds are little more than a value capture mechanism.

To evaluate the pro-GMO lobby’s rhetoric that GE is needed to ‘feed the world’, we first need to understand the dynamics of a globalised food system that fuels hunger and malnutrition against a backdrop of (subsidised) food overproduction. We must acknowledge the destructive, predatory dynamics of capitalism and the need for agri-food giants to maintain profits by seeking out new (foreign) markets and displacing existing systems of production with ones that serve their bottom line.  And we need to reject a deceptive ‘haughty imperialism within the pro-GMO scientific lobby which aggressively pushes for a GMO ‘solution’.

Decimation of the Rainforests and the Money Men

During August thousands of fires ravaged the Amazon rainforest in Brazil and Bolivia. Some are still burning. In the wet ecosystem of the rainforest fires are not a natural phenomenon, they are started by people, mostly well-organized criminal gangs that profit from illegal logging and land clearance.

Brazil’s right-wing President, Jain Bolsanaro, took office in January; since then deforestation in the country has doubled, there have been 87,000 fires in the Amazon, the highest number since 2010. Funding to Brazil’s Environmental Protection Agency, IBAMA, has been cut by 25%, including monies allocated for prevention and control of fires, which was slashed by 23%, he has publicly attacked organizations working to protect the rainforest, like Guardians of the Forest (made up of indigenous people), and turned a blind eye to environmental crimes.

By dismantling “all the state organs that enforce environmental protection,” Alfredo Sirkis, director of the Brazil Climate Center, says Bolsonaro is inciting environmental crimes and facilitating deforestation; through his words and deeds he is complicit in the environmental crimes being perpetrated. A spokesman for Guardians of the Forest told Human Rights Watch, “If we were to wait for the authorities to act there will be nothing left.”

80,000 acres a day

The World’s rainforests are the lungs of the planet. They soak up greenhouse gas emissions, affect wind currents and rainfall patterns and produce the oxygen we need to survive. They provide habitat for hundreds of animals, thousands of birds and tens of thousands of plants: around 25% of modern pharmaceuticals are derived from ingredients found in rainforests.

In 1950 they covered around 15% of the earth’s land surface.  Now, due to intensive deforestation, it’s down to just 6%. According to Scientific American, “most experts agree that we are losing upwards of 80,000 acres of tropical rainforest daily, and significantly degrading another 80,000 acres every day on top of that. Along with this loss and degradation, 135 plant, animal and insect species are disappearing every day………as the forests fall.”

In 2015 the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) claimed that “over the past 25 years the rate of net global deforestation has slowed down by more than 50 percent”.  However, according to the World Resources Institute, that trend has reversed; 2018 “was the second-highest on record for tree cover loss, down just slightly from 2016. The tropics lost an area of forest the size of Vietnam in just the last two years.” If this unimaginable level of carnage continues unabated it is feared that in less than 40 years there will be none left.

The consequences of a world bereft of rainforests are too horrific to contemplate, but one thing is clear: it would then be too late to do anything meaningful about climate change and the environmental calamity more broadly. Currently, deforestation and forest degradation rank as the second highest cause of man-made greenhouse gas emissions, producing around 15% of the total. As the children of the world have been rightly demanding, radical action is needed now, not in twenty-five or thirty years’ time, but now.

The causes of deforestation

There are various causes of deforestation; while logging is an issue, particularly in Indonesia where 80 percent of timber exports are illegal, the major cause is animal agriculture. Huge tracts of land are cleared to graze cattle, grow feed for animals and for biofuels. Animal agriculture is a principle cause of greenhouse gas emissions – producing, the UNFAO say, 14.5% of the anthropogenic GHG emissions that are driving climate change. It also uses approximately 70% of all agricultural land, and is the primary cause of biodiversity loss, animal extinction and water pollution. If deforestation and climate change are to be tackled, reducing consumption of animal produce needs to be a priority. This is something we can all do; it just requires commitment and a sense of social/environmental responsibility.

A recent study into the impact of farming on the planet concluded that “a vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication [when a body of water becomes overly enriched with minerals and nutrients which induce excessive growth of algae], land use and water use…it is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car,” it states, “as these only cut greenhouse gas emissions.”

The research, which is the most comprehensive to date, found that “beef cattle raised on deforested land result in 12 times more greenhouse gases and uses 50 times more land than those grazing rich natural pasture,” and states that producing 100g of beef “results in up to 105kg of greenhouse gases, while tofu produces less than 3.5kg.” Without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by 75% (an area equivalent to the US, China, the European Union and Australia combined), the study states, and we could still feed everyone.

In response to this summer’s fires in the Amazon a coalition of environmental groups came together, which included Friends of the Earth, Action Network, Rainforest and Amazon Watch. They called for a Global Day of Action for the Amazon and issued a damning statement to those responsible for the destruction.

Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro is, they made clear, primarily to blame for the fires and the increase in deforestation since he took office, due to his “regressive, and racist policies and his explicit encouragement to ‘open the Amazon for business’.” But, it is multinational companies that have created the “conditions for profiteering at the expense of the lungs of the earth – and these same companies are poised to profit further as today’s fires open up the door for tomorrow’s plantations and ranches.” Behind deforestation is big business and the multinational banks.

Global commodity traders are the “key drivers of deforestation in the Amazon”; companies like Cargill, a US based agriculture corporation, or JBS, an American food processing company, or Marfrig Global Foods, a Brazilian beef producer, and, according to their website, “one of the world leaders in the production of hamburgers, with processing capacity of 232.000 tons per year”.

The products these companies make are sold by large-scale retailers all over the world: E. Lecrerc has over 500 shops in France and 112 outside the country; Stop & Shop (the name says it all), a US supermarket chain with 415 outlets; Costco, another American conglomerate, and US mega corporation, Walmart, which has 11,389 stores. Behind these corporations sit the money men. The key players are BlackRock (an American investment management corporation); US investment bank, JPMorgan Chase; Santander (Spanish Bank); BNP Paribas (French Bank); HSBC (UK-based bank) and others. “These financiers not only enable the destruction of our forests – they profit from it.”

The driving force

Behind the banks and corporate traders is the Neo-Liberal socio-economic model; these powerful organizations operate within, and are determined to uphold, the confines of its doctrine, they are driven by the values and motives inherent in the Ideology of Money, and demonstrate no concern for the natural world, or human well-being.

Together with the consumer society that it relentlessly promotes and depends on, Neo-Liberalism, sits at the polluting heart of deforestation and the wider interconnected environmental catastrophe. Under its profit-bound ethos, everything is regarded as a commodity, everyone seen as a consumer. Competition and division are inherent, selfishness and greed, the antithesis to what is needed, are fostered.

Within the present construct and modes of living it is hard to see how the necessary action to curb deforestation could be initiated. In an attempt to halt the carnage in 2008 the UN set up Redd (reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation). A mechanism through which developing countries are encouraged to improve forest management and developed nations can contribute to a fund to facilitate and support such schemes. It may contribute to encouraging conservation and places a degree of responsibility, albeit voluntarily accepted, on rich nations, but it will not stop deforestation.

A completely new approach to so-called development as part of far reaching systemic change is urgently needed, together with a shift in public attitudes: away from self-centered activity, competition, and the aggrandizement of the individual and/or the nation state. Humanity is one, individual but united. This essential fact needs to be recognized and acted upon. Not as a vague philosophical or psychological catchphrase, but as a principle of truth from which a new socio-economic model can be created; one that serves the needs of all through sharing, encourages simplicity of living, harmlessness and social/environmental responsibility.

India’s Tryst with Destiny

Today, we are in the grip of a globalised system of capitalism which drives narcissism, domination, ego, anthropocentrism, speciesism and plunder. A system that is using up oil, water and other resources much faster than they can ever be regenerated. We have poisoned the rivers and oceans, destroyed natural habitats, driven wildlife species to (the edge of) extinction and have altered the chemical composition of the atmosphere with seemingly devastating effects.

With its never-ending quest for profit, capitalism thrives on the exploitation of peoples and the environment. It strides the world hand in glove with militarism, with the outcome being endless destabilisations, conflicts and wars over finite resources and the capture of new markets.

This is sold to the masses as part of an ongoing quest to achieve human well-being, measured in terms of endless GDP growth, itself based on an ideology that associates such growth with corporate profit, boosted by stock buy-backs, financial speculation, massive arms deals,  colonialism masquerading as philanthropymanipulated and rigged markets, corrupt and secretive trade deals, outsourced jobs and a resource-grabbing militarism.

That such a parasitical system could ever bring about a ‘happy’ human condition for the majority is unfathomable.

Over the last 70 years, material living standards in the West have improved, but how that wealth was obtained and how it is then distributed is what really matters. Take the case of the UK.

While much of manufacturing has been outsourced to cheap labour economies, welfare, unions and livelihoods have been attacked. Massive levels of tax evasion/avoidance persist and neoliberal policies have resulted in privatisation, deregulation and the spiralling of national and personal debt. Moreover, the cost of living has increased as public assets have been sold off to profiteering cartels and taxpayers’ money has been turned into corporate welfare for a corrupt banking cartel.

Meanwhile, the richest 1,000 families in the UK saw their net worth more than double shortly after the 2008 financial crisis, the worst recession since the Great Depression, while the rest of the population is confronted with ‘austerity’, poverty, cutbacks, reliance on food banks and job insecurity.

But let’s not forget where much of the UK’s wealth came from in the first place: some $45 trillion was sucked from India alone according to renowned economist Utsa Patnaik.  Britain developed by under-developing India. And now the West and its (modern-day East India) corporations are in the process of ‘developing’ India by again helping themselves to the country’s public wealth and natural assets (outlined further on).

Under this system, it is clear whose happiness and well-being matters most and whose does not matter at all. According to researcher and analyst Andrew Gavin Marshall, it is the major international banking houses which control the global central banking system:

From there, these dynastic banking families created an international network of think tanks, which socialised the ruling elites of each nation and the international community as a whole, into a cohesive transnational elite class. The foundations they established helped shape civil society both nationally and internationally, playing a major part in the funding – and thus coordinating and co-opting – of major social-political movements.

Additional insight is set out by David Rothkopf in his 2008 book Superclass: The Global Power Elite and the World They Are Making:

The superclass constitutes approximately 0.0001 percent of the world’s population. They are the Davos-attending, Gulfstream/private jet-flying, money-incrusted, megacorporation-interlocked, policy-building elites of the world, people at the absolute peak of the global power pyramid … They are from the highest levels of finance capital, transnational corporations, the government, the military… and other shadow elites.

These are the people setting the agendas at the Trilateral Commission, Bilderberg Group, G-7, G-20, NATO, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization. They decide which wars are to be fought and why and formulate global economic policy.

Tryst with destiny

In 1947, on the steps of the Red Fort in Delhi, Jawaharlal Nehru spoke optimistically about India’s tryst with destiny. Free from the shackles of British colonialism, for many the future seemed bright.

But some 72 years on, we now see a headlong rush to urbanise (under World Bank directives – India is the biggest debtor nation in the history of that institution) and India’s cities are increasingly defined by their traffic-jammed flyovers cutting through fume choked neighbourhoods that are denied access to drinking water and a decent infrastructure. Privatisation and crony capitalism are the order of the day.

Away from the cities, the influence of transnational agricapital and state-corporate grabs for land are leading to violent upheaval, conflict and ecological destruction. The links between the Monsanto-Syngenta-Walmart-backed Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture and the associated US sanctioning and backing of the opening up of India’s nuclear sector to foreign interests show who really benefits from this.

Under the guise of ‘globalisation’, Western powers are on an unrelenting drive to plunder what they regard as ‘untapped markets’ in other areas of the globe. Foreign agricapital has been moving in on Indian food and agriculture for some time. But it first needs to eradicate the peasantry and displace the current model of production before bringing India’s food and agriculture sector under its control.

Other sectors have not been immune to this bogus notion of development. Millions of people have been displaced to facilitate the needs of resource extraction industries, Special Economic Zones, nuclear plants and other large-scale projects. And the full military backing of the state has been on hand to forcibly evict people.

To help open the nation to foreign capital, proponents of economic neoliberalism are fond of stating that ‘regulatory blockages’ must be removed. If particular ‘blockages’ stemming from legitimate protest, rights to land and dissent cannot be dealt with by peaceful means, other methods are used. And when increasing mass surveillance or widespread ideological attempts to discredit and smear does not secure compliance or dilute the power of protest, brute force is on hand.

The country’s spurt of high GDP growth was partly fuelled on the back of cheap food and the subsequent impoverishment of farmers. The gap between their income and the rest of the population has widened enormously to the point where rural India consumes less calories per head of population than it did 40 years ago. Meanwhile, unlike farmers, corporations receive massive handouts and interest-free loans but have failed to spur job creation.

Millions of small-scale and marginal farmers are suffering economic distress as the sector is deliberately made financially non-viable for them. Veteran rural reporter P Sainath says what this has resulted in is not so much an agrarian crisis but a crisis of civilisation proportions, given that the bulk of the population still lives in the countryside and relies on agriculture or related activities for an income.

Independent cultivators are being bankrupted, land is to be amalgamated to facilitate large-scale industrial cultivation and remaining farmers will be absorbed into corporate supply chains and squeezed as they work on contracts, the terms of which will be dictated by large agribusiness and chain retailers.

US agribusiness corporations are spearheading this process, the very companies that fuel and thrive on a five-year US taxpayer-funded farm bill subsidy of around $500 billion. Their industrial model in the US is based on the overproduction of certain commodities often sold at prices below the cost of production and dumped on the rest of the world, thereby undermining farmers’ livelihoods and agriculture in other countries, not least India.

It is a model that can only survive thanks to taxpayer handouts and only function by externalising its massive health, environmental and social costs. And it’s a model that only leads to the destruction of rural communities and jobs, degraded soil, less diverse and nutrient-deficient diets, polluted water, water shortages and spiralling rates of ill health.

We hear certain politicians celebrate the fact India has jumped so many places in the ‘ease of doing business’ table. This term along with ‘foreign direct investment’, making India ‘business friendly’ and ‘enabling the business of agriculture’ embody little more than the tenets of US neoliberal fundamentalism wrapped in benign-sounding words.

Of course, as Gavin Andrew Marshall notes, US foundations have played a major part in shaping policies and co-opting civil society and major social-political movements across the world, including in India. As Chester Bowles, former US ambassador to India, says:

Someday someone must give the American people a full report of the Ford Foundation in India. The several million dollars in total Ford expenditures in the country do not tell 1/10 of the story.

Taking inflation into account, that figure would now be much greater. Maybe people residing in India should be given a full report of Ford’s activities too as well as the overall extent of US ‘intervention’ in the country.

A couple of years ago, economist Norbert Haring (in his piece “A well-kept open secret: Washington is behind India’s brutal experiment of abolishing most cash) outlined the influence of USAID and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in furthering the incorporation of India into the US’s financial (and intelligence architecture). But this is the type of thing just the tip of a very large iceberg that’s been going on for many decades.

After the recent general election, India seems destined to continue to capitulate to a programme that suits the needs of foreign capital for another five years. However, the focus is often on what India should or should not do. It’s not as if alternatives to current policies do not exist, but as Jason Hickel wrote in The Guardian back in 2017, it really is time that the richer countries led the way by ‘de-developing’ and reorienting their societies to become less consumption based. A laudable aim given the overexploitation of the planet’s resources, the foreign policy implications (conflict and war) and the path to environmental suicide we are on. However, we must first push back against those forces and which resist this.

On 15 August, India commemorates independence from British rule. Many individuals and groups are involved in an ongoing struggle in India to achieve genuine independence from exploitation and human and environmental degradation. It’s a struggle for freedom and a tryst with destiny that’s being fought throughout the world by many, from farmers and indigenous peoples to city dwellers, against the same system and the same forces of brutality and deceit.

Bavarians Vote to Stop Extinction

The world is in the throes of an extinction crisis unlike any throughout paleoclimate history, aka: the Sixth Mass Extinction, keeping in mind that the normal “background rate” for extinction is 1-to-5 species gone per year. But, what if it’s five (5) every 24 hours?

Answer: It’s a lot more than that.

The current worldwide extinction rate is more than 1,000xs the normal background rate, or, in the simplest of terms, instead of 1-to-5 species extinct per year, it’s alarmingly somewhere between 25-to-250 (maybe more) species of plant, insect, bird, and mammal extinct every 24 hours.

In fact, crucial resources for sustaining life have already been severely weakened, as demonstrated in studies of mass loss of arthropods, and other key elements of biodiversity happening all over the planet from Australia to pristine European nature preserves to uninhabited tropical rainforests, as the Anthropocene (the current geological age during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment) haphazardly destroys and poisons life-sourcing ecosystems.

For example, ecosystems are negatively impacted far and wide by chemicals to such an extreme that chemical toxins are now found in Mt. Everest’s snow at 29,000 feet as well as in deep-water squid at 3,800 feet, proving that what’s ordinarily considered “hard to believe” is, in fact, “almost beyond comprehension.”

Meanwhile, the world has started taking notice, and it’s Germany where the Age of Enlightenment has fortunately been resurrected by enlightened skeptics, known as “liberals” back in the 18th century, challenging current societal values and exposing false truths.

This quasi-enlightenment surge is happening in Bavaria, Germany’s most conservative of 16 federal states, led by the Christian Social Union (“CSU”) ever since 1946, as this powerful bastion of political conservatism responds to grassroots citizen campaigns and a recently passed referendum to “Protect Nature,” primarily via major changes in industrial farming.

As one conservationist remarked upon passage of the referendum: “The times when it was enough for politicians to pay lip service to biodiversity are over.”1

Henceforth, Bavarians will implement a sweeping set of conservation measures, including: (1) Setting aside 13% of state land in special ecological zones, inclusive of ecosystem infrastructure of hedgerows, meadows, and wetlands  (2) Organic agriculture must be practiced in 1/3 of Bavarian farmland, as well as cutting out fertilizers on all state-owned farms to reduce nitrogen pollution (3) Protection of wetlands, waterways, and threatened insect populations by eliminating insecticides as much as possible.

Already, three more German states are considering biodiversity referendums, as well as inquiries from Sweden and Australian.  Another proposal would designate large portions of EU agricultural subsidies diverted for protection of biodiversity.

The motivation behind Bavarian citizens reacting so strongly in the face of opposition by the ruling political establishment was awareness that native landscapes had turned monotonous, overly developed, and strikingly “empty of life.”

Another motivating catalyst was the landmark 2017 Krefeld Insect Study conducted by German researchers, as well as citizen scientists, that clearly delineated a mouth-dropping 75% loss in biomass of flying insects in a large number of nature reserves over a period of 25 years.

Krefeld Entomological Society, est. 1905 in Germany, trapped insect samples in 63 nature preserves. They consistently found massive declines of up to 80% in every kind of habitat sampled.

For example, data for hoverflies, a pollinator often mistaken for a bee, registered 17,291 trapped in a reserve in 1989. Twenty-five years later at the same location, it was 2,737 or a whopping loss of 84%! That number is well beyond classification for an extinction event. Thereafter, the only question going forward is whether species comeback is possible.

Today’s Sixth Extinction is so prevalent that scientists prefer to designate species loss as “functional extinctions,” which means functionally extinct animals and plants are still present but no longer prevalent enough to affect an ecosystem; e.g., a shortage of insect pollinators in the Maoxian Valley in China forced farmers to hire human workers at $19 per worker/per day to replace bees. Each worker pollinated 5-to-10 apple trees by hand per day.

Scientists from Bavaria’s leading research institutions are hopeful that their referendum will trigger a massive worldwide reduction in the use of insecticides and herbicides in agriculture, which should, in turn, boost insect populations.

According to the renowned Harvard entomologist E.O. Wilson, without insects and other land-based arthropods, humanity would last all of a few months.

It’s been nearly six decades since Rachel Carson wrote:

The more I learned about the use of pesticides, the more appalled I became. I realized that here was the material for a book (Silent Spring). What I discovered was that everything which meant most to me as a naturalist was being threatened.

Well, finally, Bavarians discovered that fact 60 years later (whew!)

  1. Christian Schwägerl, “In Conservative Bavaria, Citizens Force Bold Action on Protecting Nature”, Yale Environment 360, April 25, 2019.

A Positive Vision For What The Green New Deal Could Be

We interviewed Dahr Jamail about his new book, “The End of Ice,” for our podcast, Clearing the FOG, this week. It will be available Monday. Jamail describes the grim reality of human-caused climate distortion. The bottom line is: It is here. It is accelerating. We need to take swift action to attempt to mitigate it and adapt to it as best we can.

The Green New Deal was introduced this week by Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Markey. It is best described by Jason Grumet, head of a conservative Washington, DC think tank, as “a mirror that allows anyone to see their own interest.” It is a resolution that Members of Congress can support because it doesn’t challenge their corporate donors while it gives the illusion of addressing the climate crisis.

The Green New Deal has received mixed responses from the climate justice movement. Some see it as a positive because the idea was introduced in Congress, while others raise serious concerns that its contents leave too much wiggle room for things to stay the same. What becomes of the Green New Deal is up to us to determine.

This photograph taken on December 4, 2009 shows a glacier in the Everest region some 140 km (87 miles) northeast of Kathmandu. The Himalayan glaciers provide water for more than a billion people in Asia, but experts say they are melting at an alarming rate, threatening to bring drought to large swathes of the continent within decades. (Photo/Prakash Mathema/AFP/Getty Images)

The Climate Crisis is Here

Dahr Jamail stated that while the amount of climate devastation he described in his book is severe, new reports since his book show the climate crisis continues to worsen. In January, scientists reported that Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica has a giant hole under it, two-thirds the size of Manhattan, and is melting faster than they thought. It alone could raise sea level globally by two feet.

Another new study finds that ice in the Himalayan Mountains is melting faster than the global average and could practically disappear in this century. They write that if we continue with the same level of carbon emissions, global temperatures will rise by 4.2º to 6.5ºCelsius by the end of the century, far higher than the goal of keeping global warming below 1.5ºC and far more disastrous.

It’s not as if our lawmakers are unaware of the crisis. US intelligence analysts cited the climate crisis as a significant threat to global stability in their recent Worldwide Threat Assessment because of loss of resources like water and resultant migration. They also alerted Congress members that some US military bases are at risk because of rising seas and storms.

The most recent United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which is considered a conservative document, calls for immediate action to attempt to keep the increase in temperature below 1.5ºC to give the best chance of human adaptation. The current levels of fires, storms, drought and more are the result of a 1ºC temperature rise, and they will worsen exponentially as the temperature goes up. The IPCC states, “limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require ‘rapid and far-reaching’ transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities.”

Climate activists visited 50 congressional offices December 10 demanding support for a Green New Deal. (Rachael Warriner)

The Door is Open for a Green New Deal

The Green New Deal, which could create such a transition, is an idea that has finally broken through into the mainstream public dialogue. Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez has been working on it since she won her seat last November. She started with the idea of having a Green New Deal committee, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected that and created a Select Committee on the Climate Crisis headed by Congresswoman Kathy Castor instead. The committee has little power. It can neither subpoena witnesses to testify in hearings nor draft legislation.

In his analysis of the blue wave, which he calls a “corporate wave,” Nick Brana of Movement for a People’s Party describes the committee as “a public relations stunt for the fossil fuel industry.” He says, “It is worse than nothing to have a committee that pretends to be doing something while ensuring that nothing gets done to address climate change and other urgent environmental crises.”

This week, Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey introduced “H. Res. 109 – Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal.” It is a resolution, not a bill, that provides a framework for the Democrat’s Green New Deal. It is remarkably vague. It does not even contain keywords such as “oil,” “gas,” “coal,” “nuclear,” or “fossil fuels.”

Several groups have criticized the resolution. The Indigenous Environmental Network listed a number of concerns, from the use of terms that would permit market mechanisms for managing carbon, which would allow fossil fuel companies to keep extracting oil and gas, to not specifying what is meant by clean and renewable energy to failing to recognize the sovereignty of Indigenous Nations, and more. Food and Water Watch cited significant omissions in the resolution, writing that it needs to “halt the expansion of fossil fuels immediately, ensure that the transition to 100% renewable energy happens by 2035 at the latest, [and] exclude dirty energy sources like nuclear power…”

Whitney Webb explains that the Green New Deal leaves a lot for corporations to like and views it as an effort timed to benefit the Democrats in the 2020 elections, rather than a serious attempt to address the climate crisis. She compares it to the Green Party’s version of the Green New Deal, which calls for an immediate halt to investment in fossil fuels, 100% renewable energy by 2030, defined as wind, solar, tidal and geothermal, the creation of a Renewable Energy Administration tasked with supporting the development of cooperatively-owned energy and reducing the military by 50% to help finance the transition.

Community-owned solar panels (From the Institute for Local Self Reliance)

A Vision for a Green New Deal

Even if it is primarily an election season ploy for Democrats, to the millions of people who worry about the climate crisis and are pushing for solutions, the Green New Deal is an opportunity to define the transformations we need. That’s how Kali Akuno of Cooperation Jackson views it. He calls on “the Left to intervene” to make sure the Green New Deal doesn’t support the “market-based capitalist extractive system.” Akuno states that an ideal Green New Deal would prioritize reparations through financial compensation and decolonization.

Susan Scherarth and Sean Sweeney write that market mechanisms must be replaced with the concept of energy democracy, “public and social ownership of energy, to serve both social and ecological needs…” They view energy as a public good and a human right, not a commodity. Other writers argue that the Green New Deal must include a new agency that supports the development of energy cooperatives, much like the Green Party’s Renewable Energy Administration proposal. The Backbone Campaign takes that even farther with Solutionary Rail, a plan to create electric rail that moves people, freight and locally-produced renewable energy around the country. We interviewed Bill Moyer and Steve Chrismer about it on Clearing the FOG in 2016.

Current industrial farming techniques contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. Elizabeth Henderson writes that sustainable agriculture must be part of the Green New Deal and outlines what that looks like. It includes support for agricultural cooperatives and family farms, unions for farm workers, regenerative farming and a just transition to end factory farms and the use of toxic chemicals.

Financing the Green New Deal is another opportunity to have an impact on transforming the economy. Ellen Brown describes how using a network of public banks to finance the transition to the new energy economy would not only avoid using tax dollars but would also generate a return to the government. We have long argued that instead of the profits from the transition going to Wall Street, they could be used to finance a universal basic income, which would reduce or eliminate poverty.

These are just some of the ideas that could be used to fill in the gaps of the Green New Deal and ensure it is both transformational in a way that ends wealth inequality and effectively addresses the climate crisis. Adam Simpson interviewed Johanna Bozuwa of the Democracy Collaborative, Anthony Torres of the Sierra Club and Evan Weber of the Sunrise Movement about their ideas for creating a new economy through the Green New Deal. We need to keep the public debate going on these issues to generate a common vision of what the Green New Deal could be.

From SeeWhatGrows.org.

What Next?

There are many ways that we can make a transformative Green New Deal a reality even with a Congress that is bought by the polluting industries who profit by destroying the planet and hope to profit from attempting to fix it. The Sunrise Movement, a youth-led movement focused on the Green New Deal, is organizing people to impact Congress with their current week of action. They led protests in Congress over the past few months.

To win, there will have to be a movement outside of Congress that builds a national consensus for what the Green New Deal must be. If you are a member of an activist or community group of any kind, you can generate discussion and action about it.

On top of that, we need to continue the current work to shut down new fossil fuel and nuclear infrastructure, create democratized renewable energy programs and push for policies at the local level that put in place the changes we need to transportation, housing, food and farming, and the economy. There is something for everyone to do in their community.

Through all of this, we need to prioritize the voices and wisdom of those who are the most impacted by our current dirty energy and unfair economy and respect the sovereignty of Indigenous Nations to control what happens on their land.

The Green New Deal as a concept has arrived. Where it goes from here is up to us.

Approaching Development: GMO Propaganda and Neoliberalism vs Localisation and Agroecology

What people communicate is a matter of choice. But what can be more revealing are the issues they choose to avoid. There are certain prominent pro-GMO activists who describe themselves as ‘science communicators’. They hit out at those who question their views or who have valid criticisms of GM technology and then play the role of persecuted victim, believing that, as the self-appointed arbiters of righteousness, they are beyond reproach, although given their duplicity nothing could be further from the truth.

Instead of being open to questioning, they attempt to close down debate to push a flawed technology they have a vested (financial-career) interest in, while all the time appealing to their self-perceived authority, usually based on holding a PhD in molecular biology or a related discipline.

They relentlessly promote GM and industrial agriculture and unjustifiably cast critics as zealots who are in cahoots with Greenpeace or some other group they have a built-in dislike of. And they cynically raise or lower the bar of ‘credibility’ by ad hominem and misrepresentation so that studies, writers and scientists who agree with them are commended while those who don’t become subjected to smear campaigns.

Often with ties to neoliberal think tanks, pro-GMO lobbyists call for more deregulation and criticise elected governments or regulatory bodies which try to protect the public interest, especially where genetic engineering and associated chemical inputs (for instance, glyphosate) are concerned. The same people push the bogus idea that only GM agriculture can feed the world, while seeking to discredit and marginalise alternative models like agroecology and ignoring the structural violence and injustices brought about by global agricapital interests (from whom they receive funding) which help determine Codex, World Bank, IMF and WTO policies. By remaining silent or demonstrating wilful ignorance about the dynamics and injustices of the political economy of food and agriculture, they tacitly approve of its consequences.

They also frame the GMO debate as pro-science/pro-GMO vs anti-science/anti-GMO: an industry-promoted false dichotomy that has sought to close down any wider discussion that may lead the focus to fall on transnational agribusiness interests and their role in determining an exploitative global food regime and how GM fits in with this.

This is how ideologues act; not how open discourse and science is carried out or ‘communicated’.

Broadening the debate

A participant in any meaningful discussion about GM would soon appreciate that ethical, political, environmental and sociological considerations should determine the efficacy and relevance of this technology in conjunction with scientific considerations. Unfortunately, pro-GMO advocates want to depoliticise food and agriculture and focus on the ‘science’ of GM, yield-output reductionist notions of ‘productivity’ and little else, defining the ‘problem’ of food and agriculture solely as a narrow technocratic issue.

But to understand the global food regime, we must move beyond technology. Food and agriculture have become wedded to structures of power that have created food surplus and food deficit areas and which have restructured indigenous agriculture across the world and tied it to an international system of trade based on export-oriented mono-cropping, commodity production for a manipulated and volatile international market and indebtedness to global financial institutions.

More specifically, there are the deleterious impacts of the nexus between sovereign debt repayment and the ‘structural adjustment’ of regional agriculture; spiralling input costs for farmers who become dependent on proprietary seeds and technologies; ecocide, genocide and the destruction of food self-sufficiency; the fuelling of barbaric, industrial-scale death via animal-based (meat) agriculture and the colonisation of land to facilitate it; US/EU subsidies which mean farmers in developing countries cannot achieve prices to cover their costs of production; and degraded soils, polluted oceans and rising rates of illness, etc.

If any one country epitomises much of what is wrong with the global food regime, it is Argentina, where in an October 26th 2018 article (‘Soy destruction in Argentina leads straight to our dinner plates’) The Guardian newspaper’s analysis of (GM) soy cultivation highlighted many of the issues set out above.

Whether the impacts of the global food regime result from World Bank/IMF directives and geopolitical lending strategies, neoliberal plunder ‘ease-of-doing-business’ ideology,  undemocratic corporate-written trade deals or WTO rules, we are seeing the negative impacts on indigenous systems of food and agriculture across the world, not least in India, where a million farmers intend to march to Delhi and the national parliament between 28 and 30 November.

India’s manufactured ongoing agrarian crisis is adversely affecting the bulk of the country’s 840 million rural dwellers. And all for what? To run down and displace the existing system of peasant-farmer-based production with a discredited, ecologically unsustainable (GMO) model run along neoliberal ‘free’ market lines by global agribusiness, a model which is only profitable because it passes on its massive health, environmental and social costs to the public.

Neoliberal dogma

Tim Worstall of the Adam Smith Institute in London says of India’s agrarian crisis that Indian farmers should be left to go bust because they are uncompetitive and relatively unproductive. But even where farmers in India produce world record yields, they are still heavily indebted. So why can’t they compete?

Putting the huge external costs of the model of industrial agriculture which Worstall compares Indian agriculture to aside (which he conveniently ignores), the issue is clear: a heavily subsidised US/EU agriculture depresses prices for Indian farmers both at home and on the international market.

Policy analyst Devinder Sharma says that 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 a subsidy worth more than an Indian farmer’s daily income. He suggests: let the US and EU do away with subsidies, relieving taxpayers of such a costly burden and let Indian farmers compete properly; then see that it is the Indian farmer who produces the cheapest food; and then imagine US consumers benefitting from this cheap food.

That is the ‘free’ market which could exist. A fair one not distorted by subsidies. Not the type of market that currently exists and which is ‘free’ only within the ideological parameters set by Worstall and others who promote it.

Proponents of the ‘free’ market and GMOs are big on ‘choice’: letting ‘the market’, the consumer or the farmer decide, without anyone imposing their agenda. This is little more than rhetoric which fails to stand up to scrutiny, given the strategically embedded influence of agricapital over policy makers. If anything encapsulates the nonsense and hypocrisy surrounding this notion of choice are reports about Monsanto and its cynical manipulation of agriculture in Punjab.

According to an article in Delhi’s Sunday Guardian in late 2017 (‘Monsanto’s profits, not Diwali, creating smoke in Delhi’), India’s surplus food grain supply is an uncomfortable fact for the pro-GMO lobby. The piece notes that in 2012 the then Punjab Chief Minister asked Monsanto to set up a research centre for creating maize and, due to fears over water shortages, announced plans to reduce the area under rice cultivation to around 45% to grow maize. Fear-mongering about rice cultivation was reaching fever pitch, stoked by an advertisement campaign from a group of scientists who appealed ‘Reduce the area under rice, save water, save Punjab’.

Conveniently, Monsanto (now Bayer) offers its GM maize as a solution that will increase the level of subsoil water, although that corporation’s inputs and Green Revolution practices led to problems in Punjab and elsewhere in the first place. For instance, fertilisers and pesticides have accumulated in the ground water (causing massive health issues) and their use has also led to poor water retention in soil, leading farmers to pump excessive amounts of ground water.

Punjab’s plan to reduce the area under rice cultivation (a staple food for large sections of the Indian population) with what will most likely be GM animal feed is part of a cynical tactic. Of course, any resulting gap between supply of and demand for food in India will be conveniently filled via global agribusiness and an influx of GMO produce from abroad or by growing it in India (have no doubt, the push is on for that too).

It is reminiscent of unscrupulous attempts to undermine India’s edible oils sector in the late 1990s and current attempts to break traditional cotton cultivation pathways in India to help usher in herbicide-tolerant seeds (which have now ‘miraculously’ appeared on the market – illegally). The ability of hugely powerful corporations to flex their financial muscle and exert their considerable political clout to manufacture ‘choice’ and manipulate policies is the reality of neoliberal capitalism.

Those pro-GMO ‘science communicators’ are silent on such matters and, as with their fellow neoliberal ideologues, have nothing of any substance to say on these types of ‘market-distorting’ power relations, which make a mockery of their ‘free’ choice and ‘free’ market creed.

Indeed, a recent report in The Guardian indicates that neoliberal ‘austerity’ in the UK has had little to do with economics, having failed in its objective of reducing the national debt, and much to do with social engineering. But this is the ideological basis of modern neoliberal capitalism: dogma masquerading as economics to help justify the engineering of the world in the image of undemocratic, unaccountable corporations.

Agroecology and food sovereignty

The industrial agriculture that Worstall compares Indian farmers’ productivity with is outperformed by smallholder-based agriculture in terms of, for example, diversity of food output, nutrition per acre and efficient water use. Imagine what could be achieved on a level playing field whereby smallholder farming receives the type of funding and political commitment currently given to industrial agriculture.

In fact, we do not have to imagine; in places where agroecology has been scaled up, we are beginning to see the benefits. The principles of agroecology include self-reliance, localisation and food sovereignty. This type of agriculture does not rely on top-down corporate ‘science’, corporate owned or controlled seeds or proprietary inputs. It is potentially more climate resilient, labour intensive (job creating), more profitable for farmers and can contribute to soil quality and nutrient-enhanced/diverse diets. Moreover, it could help reinvigorate rural India and its villages.

When the British controlled India, they set about breaking the self-reliance of the Indian village. In a 2009 article by Bhavdeep Kang (‘Can the Indian farmer withstand predatory international giants?’), it is stated:

The British Raj initiated the destruction of the village communities, famously described by Lord Metcalfe as ‘little republics, having nearly everything they can want within themselves.’ India’s ability to endure, he wrote, derived from these village communities: ‘They seem to last where nothing else lasts. Dynasty after dynasty tumbles down but the village community remains the same. It is in a high degree conducive to their happiness, and to the enjoyment of a great portion of freedom and independence.

Metcalfe said this in 1830. However, since independence from the British, India’s rulers have further established ‘village India’s’ dependency on central government. And now a potential death knell for rural India is underway as India’s ruling elite, exhibiting a severe bout of ‘Stockholm syndrome’, sells out the nation to not only Western agribusiness but also to US finance and intelligence interests.

Whether it concerns India or elsewhere, to see the advantages of agroecology, there are those economists, political leaders and ‘science communicators’ who must remove the self-imposed blinkers. This would involve shifting their priorities away from promoting career-building technologies and facilitating neoliberal capitalism towards working for justice, equality, peace and genuine grass-root food sovereignty.

To do that, though, such figures would first have to begin to bite the hand that feeds them.

India’s Farmers Plan Mass March to the Nation’s Parliament as Agrarian Crisis Reaches “Civilization Proportions”

With over 800 million people, rural India is arguably the most interesting and complex place on the planet. And yet it is also one of the most neglected in terms of both investment and media coverage. Veteran journalist and founder of the People’s Archive of Rural India P. Sainath argues that the majority of Indians do not count to the nation’s media, which renders up to 75 percent of the population ‘extinct’.

According to the Centre for Media Studies in Delhi, the five-year average of agriculture reporting in an Indian national daily newspaper equals 0.61 percent of news coverage, while village-level stories account for 0.17 percent. For much of the media, whether print or TV, celebrity, IT, movements on the stock exchange and the daily concerns of elite and urban middle class dwellers are what count.

Unlike the corporate media, the digital journalism platform the People’s Archive of Rural India has not only documented the complexity and beauty of rural India but also its hardships and the all too often heartbreaking personal stories that describe the impacts of government policies which have devastated lives, livelihoods and communities.

Rural India is plagued by farmer suicides, child malnourishment, growing unemployment, increased informalisation, indebtedness and an overall collapse of agriculture. Those involved in farming and related activities are being driven to migrate to cities to become cycle rickshaw drivers, domestic servants, daily wage labourers and suchlike.

Hundreds of thousands of 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 (GM) cash crops and economic liberalisation. According to this report,  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.

The core problems affecting agriculture centre upon the running down of the sector for decades, the impact of deregulated markets and profiteering corporations (Monsanto and its Bt cotton seeds being just one case in point), increasing debt and lack of proper credit facilities, the withdrawal of government support, spiralling input costs and the effects of cheap, subsidised imports which depress farmers’ incomes.

The root causes of India’s agrarian crisis have been well documented, not least by policy analyst Devinder Sharma, who says:

“India is on fast track to bring agriculture under corporate control. Amending the existing laws on land acquisition, water resources, seed, fertilizer, pesticides and food processing, the government is in an overdrive to usher in contract farming and encourage organized retail. This is exactly as per the advice of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund as well as the international financial institutes.”

From the geopolitical lending strategies of institutions like the World Bank to the opening up of food and agriculture to foreign corporations via WTO rules and the US-India Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture, there is an ongoing strategy to displace the existing system of smallholder cultivation and village-based food production with one suited to the interests of global seed, pesticide, food processing and retail corporations like Monsanto-Bayer, Cargill and Walmart.

In outlining the nature of the agrarian crisis, P. Sainath encapsulates the drive towards corporate farming in five words: “Predatory commercialization of the countryside.” He uses another five words for the outcome (referring to the mass migration from rural India): “The biggest displacement in history.”

By deliberately making agriculture economically non-viable for smallholder farmers (who form the backbone of food production in the country) the aim is to lay the groundwork to fully incorporate India into a fundamentally flawed and wholly exploitative global food regime that is undermining the country’s food security and food sovereignty as well as its health, soils, water supply and rural communities.

Rural India is in crisis. And with hundreds of millions destined to be forced to migrate to cities if current policies persist, the suffering will continue because the urban centres are not generating anything near the required levels of employment to soak up those whose livelihoods are being eradicated in the countryside. Jobless ‘growth’ haunts India, which is not helped by a global trend towards increasing automation and the impacts of artificial intelligence.

There are growing calls for liberating farmers from debt and guaranteeing prices/levels of profit above the costs of production. And it is not as though these actions are not possible. It is a question of priorities: the total farm debt is equal to the loans provided to just five large corporations in India.

Where have those loans gone? A good case has been put forward for arguing that the 2016 ‘demonetisation’ policy was in effect a bail-out for the banks and the corporates, which farmers and other ordinary folk paid the price for. It was a symptom of a country whose GDP growth has been based on a debt-inflated economy (the backbone of neoliberalism across the world). While farmers commit suicide and are heavily indebted, a handful of billionaires get access to cheap money with no pressure to pay it back and with little or no ‘added value’ for society as a whole.

The trigger point of the Mandasur farmer’s uprising in Central India in 2016, in which six farmers were shot dead was the demonetisation action. It meant that farmers faced a severe crash-crunch on top of all the other misery they faced. This was the last straw. That incident epitomised the fact that agriculture has been starved of investment while corporations have secured handouts. Farmers have been sacrificed on the altar of neoliberal dogma: food has been kept cheap, thereby boosting the disposable income and consumer spending of the urban middle classes, helping to provide the illusion of GDP ‘growth’ (corporate profit).

But both urban and rural Indians are increasingly coming together to help place farmers’ demands on the national political (and media) agenda. For instance, a volunteer group called Nation for Farmers, comprising people from all walks of life, is in the process of helping to mobilise citizens in support of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Co-ordination Committee’s (AIKSCC) march to parliament that is planned for the end of November.

The AIKSCC is an umbrella group of over 200 farmers’ organisations, which is calling for a march to Delhi by farmers, agricultural labourers and other distressed rural Indians from all over the country. The aim is to mobilise up to one million people. A similar march took place early in 2018 from Nashik to Mumbai. This time, however, the aim is to place the issues on the agenda of the nation’s parliament.

On behalf of the AIKSCC, two bills – The Farmers’ Freedom from Indebtedness Bill (2018) and The Farmers’ Right to Guaranteed Remunerative Minimum Support Prices for Agricultural Commodities Bill (2018) – have already been placed before parliament and are awaiting discussion. While the AIKSCC has focused on ensuring proper minimum support prices for farmers, there is now also the demand for a special 21-day joint session of parliament where the AIKSCC’s concerns can be heard.

To this end, the organisers of the march have written to the President of India Ram Nath Kovind. In their letter, they say that the agrarian crisis has now reached “civilizational proportions”.

They argue:

… successive governments have witnessed the destruction of the countryside and the unchecked destitution of farmers and yet little has been done to alleviate their misery. They have witnessed the deepening misery of the dispossessed, including the death by suicide of well over 300,000 farmers these past 20 years.

The letter makes clear to the president that the AIKSCC is fighting to save the livelihoods of tens of millions of rural Indians and has organised a ‘Kisan Mukti March’ to Delhi for three days from 28 to 30 November. The president is urged to pay heed to the demand for a special, 21-day joint session of parliament, dedicated entirely to discussing the agrarian crisis and related issues.

The letter states:

We request your intervention as the President of the Republic of India and the Constitutional head to ensure that a crisis of this scale that renders 70 percent of Indian citizens vulnerable is addressed by a joint session of the Parliament of this country… Surely the precariousness of the lives of millions of citizens merits the undivided attention of Parliament and thereby its commitment to find enduring solutions.

A special parliamentary session is called for because – after numerous protests, petitions, pleadings by distressed farmers, labourers, forest communities, fisher folk and the foot soldiers of India’s literacy and health care programmes – have failed to garner the attention of successive governments to the agrarian crisis.

The aim is that any special session on the crisis will be rooted in the testimonies of its victims, who need to be heard from both outside and inside the parliament. The session would enable them to address their fellow citizens and representatives from the floor of the parliament and explain the impact of devastating farming policies, the lack of rural credit and fair prices, and the unbearable violence of privatising water, healthcare and education.

We can only hope that the media and its well-paid journalists might be galvanised into action too!

Visit the website where you can read the letter to the president in full, sign the petition, publicise the issues and get involved. 

India’s Farmers Plan Mass March to the Nation’s Parliament as Agrarian Crisis Reaches “Civilization Proportions”

With over 800 million people, rural India is arguably the most interesting and complex place on the planet. And yet it is also one of the most neglected in terms of both investment and media coverage. Veteran journalist and founder of the People’s Archive of Rural India P. Sainath argues that the majority of Indians do not count to the nation’s media, which renders up to 75 percent of the population ‘extinct’.

According to the Centre for Media Studies in Delhi, the five-year average of agriculture reporting in an Indian national daily newspaper equals 0.61 percent of news coverage, while village-level stories account for 0.17 percent. For much of the media, whether print or TV, celebrity, IT, movements on the stock exchange and the daily concerns of elite and urban middle class dwellers are what count.

Unlike the corporate media, the digital journalism platform the People’s Archive of Rural India has not only documented the complexity and beauty of rural India but also its hardships and the all too often heartbreaking personal stories that describe the impacts of government policies which have devastated lives, livelihoods and communities.

Rural India is plagued by farmer suicides, child malnourishment, growing unemployment, increased informalisation, indebtedness and an overall collapse of agriculture. Those involved in farming and related activities are being driven to migrate to cities to become cycle rickshaw drivers, domestic servants, daily wage labourers and suchlike.

Hundreds of thousands of 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 (GM) cash crops and economic liberalisation. According to this report,  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.

The core problems affecting agriculture centre upon the running down of the sector for decades, the impact of deregulated markets and profiteering corporations (Monsanto and its Bt cotton seeds being just one case in point), increasing debt and lack of proper credit facilities, the withdrawal of government support, spiralling input costs and the effects of cheap, subsidised imports which depress farmers’ incomes.

The root causes of India’s agrarian crisis have been well documented, not least by policy analyst Devinder Sharma, who says:

“India is on fast track to bring agriculture under corporate control. Amending the existing laws on land acquisition, water resources, seed, fertilizer, pesticides and food processing, the government is in an overdrive to usher in contract farming and encourage organized retail. This is exactly as per the advice of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund as well as the international financial institutes.”

From the geopolitical lending strategies of institutions like the World Bank to the opening up of food and agriculture to foreign corporations via WTO rules and the US-India Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture, there is an ongoing strategy to displace the existing system of smallholder cultivation and village-based food production with one suited to the interests of global seed, pesticide, food processing and retail corporations like Monsanto-Bayer, Cargill and Walmart.

In outlining the nature of the agrarian crisis, P. Sainath encapsulates the drive towards corporate farming in five words: “Predatory commercialization of the countryside.” He uses another five words for the outcome (referring to the mass migration from rural India): “The biggest displacement in history.”

By deliberately making agriculture economically non-viable for smallholder farmers (who form the backbone of food production in the country) the aim is to lay the groundwork to fully incorporate India into a fundamentally flawed and wholly exploitative global food regime that is undermining the country’s food security and food sovereignty as well as its health, soils, water supply and rural communities.

Rural India is in crisis. And with hundreds of millions destined to be forced to migrate to cities if current policies persist, the suffering will continue because the urban centres are not generating anything near the required levels of employment to soak up those whose livelihoods are being eradicated in the countryside. Jobless ‘growth’ haunts India, which is not helped by a global trend towards increasing automation and the impacts of artificial intelligence.

There are growing calls for liberating farmers from debt and guaranteeing prices/levels of profit above the costs of production. And it is not as though these actions are not possible. It is a question of priorities: the total farm debt is equal to the loans provided to just five large corporations in India.

Where have those loans gone? A good case has been put forward for arguing that the 2016 ‘demonetisation’ policy was in effect a bail-out for the banks and the corporates, which farmers and other ordinary folk paid the price for. It was a symptom of a country whose GDP growth has been based on a debt-inflated economy (the backbone of neoliberalism across the world). While farmers commit suicide and are heavily indebted, a handful of billionaires get access to cheap money with no pressure to pay it back and with little or no ‘added value’ for society as a whole.

The trigger point of the Mandasur farmer’s uprising in Central India in 2016, in which six farmers were shot dead was the demonetisation action. It meant that farmers faced a severe crash-crunch on top of all the other misery they faced. This was the last straw. That incident epitomised the fact that agriculture has been starved of investment while corporations have secured handouts. Farmers have been sacrificed on the altar of neoliberal dogma: food has been kept cheap, thereby boosting the disposable income and consumer spending of the urban middle classes, helping to provide the illusion of GDP ‘growth’ (corporate profit).

But both urban and rural Indians are increasingly coming together to help place farmers’ demands on the national political (and media) agenda. For instance, a volunteer group called Nation for Farmers, comprising people from all walks of life, is in the process of helping to mobilise citizens in support of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Co-ordination Committee’s (AIKSCC) march to parliament that is planned for the end of November.

The AIKSCC is an umbrella group of over 200 farmers’ organisations, which is calling for a march to Delhi by farmers, agricultural labourers and other distressed rural Indians from all over the country. The aim is to mobilise up to one million people. A similar march took place early in 2018 from Nashik to Mumbai. This time, however, the aim is to place the issues on the agenda of the nation’s parliament.

On behalf of the AIKSCC, two bills – The Farmers’ Freedom from Indebtedness Bill (2018) and The Farmers’ Right to Guaranteed Remunerative Minimum Support Prices for Agricultural Commodities Bill (2018) – have already been placed before parliament and are awaiting discussion. While the AIKSCC has focused on ensuring proper minimum support prices for farmers, there is now also the demand for a special 21-day joint session of parliament where the AIKSCC’s concerns can be heard.

To this end, the organisers of the march have written to the President of India Ram Nath Kovind. In their letter, they say that the agrarian crisis has now reached “civilizational proportions”.

They argue:

… successive governments have witnessed the destruction of the countryside and the unchecked destitution of farmers and yet little has been done to alleviate their misery. They have witnessed the deepening misery of the dispossessed, including the death by suicide of well over 300,000 farmers these past 20 years.

The letter makes clear to the president that the AIKSCC is fighting to save the livelihoods of tens of millions of rural Indians and has organised a ‘Kisan Mukti March’ to Delhi for three days from 28 to 30 November. The president is urged to pay heed to the demand for a special, 21-day joint session of parliament, dedicated entirely to discussing the agrarian crisis and related issues.

The letter states:

We request your intervention as the President of the Republic of India and the Constitutional head to ensure that a crisis of this scale that renders 70 percent of Indian citizens vulnerable is addressed by a joint session of the Parliament of this country… Surely the precariousness of the lives of millions of citizens merits the undivided attention of Parliament and thereby its commitment to find enduring solutions.

A special parliamentary session is called for because – after numerous protests, petitions, pleadings by distressed farmers, labourers, forest communities, fisher folk and the foot soldiers of India’s literacy and health care programmes – have failed to garner the attention of successive governments to the agrarian crisis.

The aim is that any special session on the crisis will be rooted in the testimonies of its victims, who need to be heard from both outside and inside the parliament. The session would enable them to address their fellow citizens and representatives from the floor of the parliament and explain the impact of devastating farming policies, the lack of rural credit and fair prices, and the unbearable violence of privatising water, healthcare and education.

We can only hope that the media and its well-paid journalists might be galvanised into action too!

Visit the website where you can read the letter to the president in full, sign the petition, publicise the issues and get involved.