By Rev Thomas John
A travesty played on the people to bring in Corporatisation of Agriculture and Retail Industry
The US-India Agricultural Knowledge Initiative is a sellout of the interests of the majority of Indian population who constitute the unorganised sector – the small and marginal farmers, agricultural labour, small scale retailers, street vendors, etc and also the wealth of bio-diversity unique to our ecological heritage and the food sovereignty and food security of our nation to American multinationals and the global capital, following the neo-liberal economic agenda. This deal has been struck between our Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh and the President of U.S.A, George Bush Jr. on July 18, 2005 in Washigton. The Joint Statement of the two leaders on the AKI acknowledges the background of the deal as follows:
“Recognising the long history of cooperation in agriculture and the success of India’s Green Revolution launched 40 years ago with U.S. assistance, the AKI builds on this tradition of collaboration and addresses new challenges and opportunities of modern-day agriculture. Through public-private partnerships, it will help to facilitate technology transfer, trade, and investment and bolster agricultural research, education, and extension. In pursuing these objectives, a critical component is cooperation on development of effective policy, regulatory, and institutional frameworks. These, in turn, will contribute to increased prosperity for farmers and agricultural growth.”
The deal cannot be accepted in good faith as it was prepared without transparency and in utmost secrecy without parliament and the Indian Cabinet having any knowledge or participation. The major stakeholders in agriculture in India, like farmer’s organisations, State governments, Standing Committees of Parliament, civil society organisations and eminent academics, were not consulted before this deal was struck.
This deal is described by AKI joint statement as the commencement of “the second green revolution” and extols the US contribution toward “the first green revolution”. Further on the board that was constituted to oversee the implementation of the deal had described it as paving the way for an “evergreen revolution.” “The Board believes that the Knowledge Initiative will support the envisioned ‘Evergreen Revolution’ based upon sustainable, need-based, demand-driven, market oriented agriculture towards increasing rural prosperity.”These statements are made without stating very clearly whose need and demand and which market that they are referring to, but it is very clear from a careful reading of related statements that their intention is corporatisation of agriculture and retail industry in India.(Dr. K. P. Prabhakaran, a senior fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, places the green revolution in perspective in his article in the Hindu Business Line, “The seeds of a costly Revolution.” “If the first Green Revolution was facilitated by the introduction of the land grant system of agricultural research and education, the second Green Revolution is being tailored to the needs of American corporate interests.”
“After the Second World War, many factories in the US, manufacturing war chemicals until then, were remodeled to produce chemical fertilisers, which needed to be commercially and profitably exploited by the US in a big way. Indian soils offered the best place to dump them. And India had no fertiliser manufacturing technology worth the name at that time. Thus began the so called green revolution, a combination of imported seeds (later crossed with native ones) and liberal use of imported chemical fertilisers. Similarly, rice seeds were imported from the international Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, controlled by the Ford Foundation. More than four decades later, this green revolution, which initially produced large quantities of wheat and rice, has reached a dead end, with failing yields of rice and wheat, and creating soil-related problems.”
What is causing concern is the fact that The Companies like Monsanto, Wall-Mart etc. is on the board of US-India Agricultural Knowledge Initiative Agreement to monitor agricultural research, education and dissemination and exchange of knowledge between US and India. In the name of collaborative research, Indian agricultural scientists and scientific establishments like ICAR, who are sustained by Indian tax payers’ money (public finance) will work for the American private monopolies in agricultural trade and retail industry like Monsanto and Wal-Mart and at their dictates. (Find out who are in U.S.–India Agricultural Knowledge Initiative: Board Members.) These multinational companies with horrible records of exploitation and unethical business practices world over will now decide the priorities of education, training, research and dissemination of knowledge between India and the US with our scholars and scientist acting as their ne-colonial agents.
Industry-driven agriculture will aggravate the existing agrarian crisis. The new technology that the multinationals, as well as the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR), plan to introduce, will keep a majority of farmers outside its ambit. In a country where land holdings are meager, the big challenge lies in making agriculture more sustainable for the small and marginal farmers. According to a 1995 World Bank study, the number of people migrating from rural areas to urban centers in India by the year 2010 would be twice the combined population of UK, France and Germany—that is, close to 200 million.
Another worrisome aspect of this deal is the nature of public-private partnership envisioned in the deal. Most of our bio-wealth is with public sector undertakings and private sector operations are only at the periphery. Much of our research is under taken by publically funded research institutions and scientists. Through the Agriculture Knowledge Initiative, American multinationals have been given access to our huge germplasm Bank of indigenous crop varieties and genetic resource material, which is almost incomparable, perhaps with few exceptions of the South American rainforests and some African countries and to patent them in their names. This always has the possibility of becoming a sort of what might be called “official bio-piracy”. This had happened with the active involvement of one of the advisors of the AKI, Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, during the period of so called “green revolution”. Our rice varities were ‘stolen’ from us and then, new high yielding varieties were given to us from the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, controlled by the Ford Foundation, paving the way for the first Green Revolution. Since, the patent regime was not in place in those days, these hybrid varieties still remained as public properties. Today with Genetic modification and very rigid IPR regime, companies like Monsanto are out to exploit our invaluable genetic wealth and then, make use of them for profitable commercial ventures. So, the “second Green Revolution” is for companies like Monsanto to make enormous profit.
A crucial area of collaboration is in the area of biotechnology. Research in transgenic plants, animals, and fisheries would form the bulk of the “collaborative” research efforts. The so-called training programs are intended to advance and promote genetic engineering and GMOs in India on behalf of the multinational. By Patenting and Branding Seeds, they will establish their monopoly over trade in agricultural inputs. This will also facilitate the entry of multi-national companies into agricultural production and marketing. An idea about the extent of this “collaboration “can be had from the fact that of the Rs. 400 crore set apart by India, Rs. 300 crore will be for research in transgenic materials and biotechnology. It is also important to note that the Government of India had set apart a substantial amount for the US led “genome project.”
National Bio-technology Regulator Bill-2008 proposed to be passed in the coming session of the parliament, again to bring through the back door, respectability and freedom to GM seeds and GM foods to find a market in India without looking into its consequences for bio-diversity and health of the people. It is important that we look into Genetic modification beyond productivity and profitability and address it consequence to bio-diveristy, environment and human and animal health. One implicit objective of this initiative is a transfer of the unwanted and risk-laden technology of genetic engineering of plant and animal species. The US sees India as an easy dumping ground for genetically modified food.
How safe is GM foods is a question that troubles us. Hundreds of sheep started dying in 2007 in two districts of Andhra Pradesh after grazing in Bt cotton fields. Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI), Izatnagar, U.P is one of the main institutes for testing samples to know the possible cause of death in sheep. The Institute, in its diagnostic report dated March 3, 2008, has confirmed that the facility for detection and estimation of BT toxin is presently not available with them. And by stating its inability to test for Bt toxin, the institute has confirmed the worst fears about how genetically modified crops are tested for bio-safety in the country.
It is very clear from the formulation of AKI that it is intended to promote corporate and contract farming and thereby forcing the farmers to work as laborers in their own farm. Private businesses enter agriculture with the specific objective of garnering more profits from the same piece of land. The private corporations, as experiences in other countries show, bank on intensified farming practices, drain the soil of nutrients, suck groundwater in a few years and leave the once-fertile lands almost barren after four or five years. They are then likely to hand back the barren and unproductive land to the farmers who leased it to them and move to another fertile piece of land. This is already happening in many parts of India. Contract farming accentuates the crisis of sustainability by destroying whatever remains of the land’s production capacity. The monoculture methods of contract corporate farming destroy biodiversity in the region, which further affects long-term sustainability. Contract farming is the modern version of ‘slash and burn’ agriculture.
Corporatisation of retail industry is another hidden agenda behind the AKI. As American experience has shown, the entry of retail chains in the agricultural sector has only resulted in a transfer of profits to a clutch of middlemen—retailers, processors, certification agencies, quality controllers and others. Farmers earn only 4% from whatever they sell. In 1990, farmers could earn as much as 70% from their sales. In Canada, the National Farmers Union has shown in a study how the combined profits of 70 retail and agribusiness firms have multiplied while the farmers’ loses have mounted. This is what is going to happen finally with retail chains entering into the agricultural market. Immediate gains to farmers will not be sustained as the retail chain achieves monopoly of the market.
Finally, it is sad to realise that our agricultural scientists and researchers should go to US institutions for capacity building and training. It is really disgusting that now the multinationals will teach lessons to our scientists on the type of technology India needs. Surely, these happenings are a slap on the face of the self-respect and self-reliance that governed our agriculture development strategy so far. Our public servants are allowed and encouraged to be co-opted sacrificing their scientific objectivity, patriotism, and self respect to play second fiddle to capitalist interests of multi-national companies who have no scruples other than making profit. This ‘knowledge initiative’ is, however, a boost for the cash-starved ICAR, the umbrella organisation for agricultural research and education in India. It will give plant scientists an opportunity to justify the huge public sector investment in the monolithic and gasping research institution. The ICAR has clearly shifted its goalpost – from subsistence to commercial farming.