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India Agriculture Falls Under Sway of Corporations

by Ranjit Dev Raj

Seagrams making alcohol from grain used in Indian diet
(IPS) NEW DELHI -- India is bartering away, in the name of free trade, 50 years of meticulous planning, research and implementation in agriculture which gives this country its enviable self-sufficiency, food security analysts warn.

Food security through self-sufficiency was in fact central to Indian agricultural policy after Independence and its achievements through the "green revolution" are widely acknowledged as remarkable by any standards.

But as the green revolution falters, Indian agriculture, still the mainstay of the economy, has come under fresh assault by liberalization, says leading food and trade policy analyst Devinder Sharma.

"The problems raised by intensive agriculture have been aggravated by the effects of liberalization," Sharma argues in a newly released book sponsored by the UK Food Group, a coalition of leading non-government organizations (NGOs).

"At a time when hunger is on the increase and cereals and meat produced on India's most fertile lands are being used not to feed its people, but to make pet food and whiskey for foreign markets," Sharma points out.

Under liberalization the government has allowed the trans-national corporation (TNC), Seagram to manufacture alcohol from coarse grain on which millions of poor Indians depend for their meager protein intake.

According to a United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) document, released last October, the per capita availability of protein for the average Indian has dropped to only half of what it was in 1951.

Analysis in the UNFPA document titled "Population, Food Production and Nutrition in India" showed that the rate of increase in production of other foodgrains has also slowed down and could become worse in the future.

"If per capita production has to be maintained, demand needs to be reduced and supply increased which means that the growth in population has to decline so that deceleration in the supply of foodgrains is matched by decelerating growth in demand from a more slowly growing population," the UNFPA document said.

But there are other trends to consider besides population growth. Farmers in India's "granary" of northern Punjab state have been induced to switch from growing wheat and rice to potatoes and tomatoes for the fast food industry.

$28 million pet food project
In neighboring Haryana, which rivals Punjab in agriculture, industrial houses are buying up wheat fields to invest in floriculture with funds from corporations in the Netherlands where pesticides and fertilizers now saturate ground water.

Under the plan, Dutch companies which control the global flower business, provide the planting material, infrastructure support and the marketing while conveniently translocating an environmental catastrophe.

Even more audaciously, Royal Canine of France has been allowed to set up a project worth $28 million to manufacture dog and cat food out of meat and cereals produced in a country whose people are grossly malnourished.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) classifies India as a low-income, food-deficient country with a third of its population "food insecure" and consuming less than basic energy requirements.

According to UNICEF, nearly 5,000 children die from malnutrition and related diseases every day in India while 80 percent of pregnant women are anaemic.

The UNFPA document observes that the problem of hunger and starvation has persisted not so much because of non-availability of foodgrains but because of their uneven distribution at macro (regional) and micro (family) levels.

"Increasing affluence in some sections of population has been and is likely to change dietary patterns. It is likely that the demand for grain-fed livestock products will rise. It is also estimated that rich people consume roughly four times as much grain as poor people," the UNFPA document said.

According to Sharma, as a result of liberalization even more fundamental changes are happening to Indian agriculture and cutting at the very roots of its past strengths -- research.

Recently, 15 hectares of prime farm land within the sprawling campus of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) in the heart of Delhi was allotted to the Israeli government for research.

The U.S. beverage giant Pepsi has been allowed to set up a research center for fruit and vegetable breeding in Punjab while Unilever and Monsanto have established biotechnology laboratories at Bangalore in South India.

An exodus of agricultural scientists has already begun from the large public sector institutes such as IARI and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) for lucrative jobs at the laboratories run by the TNCs.

"It is only a matter of time before a giant like Monsanto takes over as the country's main agricultural research and development agency and sets a national agenda based on profits rather the country's needs," Sharma said.

Worst of all is the steady withdrawal of subsidies for the impoverished Indian farmer under pressure from the World Trade Organization (WTO) while OECD countries continue give their farmers heavy subsidies.

It is estimated that annual agriculture support adds up to $33,000 per farm in Japan and $30,000 for farms in the European Union and the United States.

"At that rate the annual subsidy that a cow receives in the European Union would work out to more than the annual income of a farming family in India," Sharma said.

The FAO estimates that the top five users of export subsidies for wheat together controlled 95 percent of trade in the grain. Given such huge market distortions it would be impossible for Indian farmers to compete as they are now required to do.

In October the government abolished duty on imported pulses -- another important source of protein in Indian diets -- on the plea that imports would bring down prices but ignored arguments that there would now be even less incentive to grow more pulses.

According to Usha Tuteja, a researcher at the Institute for Agriculture Economics at Delhi University what happened was that the price of pulses in the international market rose in anticipation of heavy demand from India.

Last December, India began a massive phase-out of quantitative restrictions it has maintained for decades on the import of a range of food items including staples such as wheat and rice.

"Increased agricultural imports will certainly mean the loss of several million livelihoods and in India where more than 400 million people survive on a daily income of less than a dollar the socio-economic impact can be catastrophic," Sharma said.

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Albion Monitor February 13, 2000 (

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