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The Politics of Food

Last Updated: 08/13/2013 4:44 pm
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You might have heard about the US-India nuclear agreement. But behind it is a more serious US-India agriculture agreement called, humbly, the Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture. The Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture has on its board, guess who? Name your three favorite companies in the food system:Monsanto, ADM, and Wal-Mart. Because it’s about integrating an industrial system from the seed to retail. What does the Monsanto miracle mean for India? It means genetically engineered cotton seeds. We have been effective so far in preventing any GM crop from coming into the food system, but every plant is food for some species.

The economics of it is what has become genocidal. Monsanto sells the seeds of [GM] cotton for 3,000 rupees a kilogram. It costs 3,500 rupees a kilogram. It just costs Monsanto 500 rupees to produce those seeds. The remaining 3,000—and for those of you who are wondering, it’s about 45, 47 rupees to a dollar—they collect as royalties.

Why do they collect it as royalties? Because now, with the World Trade Organization and with changes in US law, beginning with the 1980 decision in the case of General Electric and the application on a small microorganism, there has been this assumption that you can now treat life as an invention. Seeds, therefore, can be treated as the patented property of corporations. And if they are the patented property of corporations, you basically treat the farmer as someone who has borrowed your technology and has to pay a license fee and royalty for it, when all that the farmer has done is continued to do what is their duty, which is to grow seed out from the last crop.

The farmers are getting squeezed. Indebtedness is a surprise for your hard-working Indian farmer, who 10 years ago with that same hard work could send their children to college and school. Sixty percent of rural debt in India is for capital costs of purchase of external inputs, which is high-cost seed and high-cost chemicals, neither of which is needed. That unpayable debt is being imposed on a society where working with the land, which is something you could imagine yourself doing and generations doing, overnight has become unviable. I call it the negative economy. Suddenly the positive work of cooperating with the land has become a system of debt creation.

Nineteen-ninety-seven was the first farm suicide in the hybrid cotton areas. It has kept escalating. This year we hit the 140,000 mark. One hundred forty thousand farmers have committed suicide. Ninety percent of them committed suicide by drinking the same poisons that had got them into debt—pesticides. The women would say, “Spray peeliya,”—[they] drank the spray. So we are talking about a genocide that has no stoppage unless we change our food paradigm.

The industrialized food system
India currently is totally self-sufficient in wheat. We harvest wheat in March and April. We grow 72 to 73 million tons. But on March, 1, 2006, President Bush visited us. President Bush signed, as I mentioned, with our prime minister in July 2005 this agreement on agriculture. One of the commitments made related to his visit was we would start importing wheat we do not need to import. So the first thing was to liberalize imports. But the [American wheat from] Cargill and ConAgra and ADM was so bad that the Australians got the first bid. But the second time around they diluted the standards: higher pesticide residues, more weed contamination, more fungal disease.

We have now imported 5.5 million tons. We are importing wheat at 13,000 rupees a ton. Two-hundred-and-seventy dollars has become the international price. Domestically, Indian farmers were paid 6,000 rupees. And if they had been paid 8,000 rupees, everything would have been taken care of. But we are paying double to import. The price of wheat in the market has risen. Farmers are still getting a low price. The USDA is announcing India will need to import nine million tons. That’s more than a tenth of what we produce. You can see the vicious cycle start. The farmers won’t be able to sell next season. The markets will have collapsed. So the farmers will get less and less and less and the poor will pay more and more and more.

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