Nov 9, 2010

Obama's visit: Fate of Millions of Farmers Hangs in Balance

From: Economic Times, Nov 9, 2010

He came, he spoke, and he got 54,000 jobs. This was on Day One of his India visit. By the time he flies out of New Delhi on November 9, US President Barack Obama would have charmed his way through to force open Indian agriculture to American corporations . And therein hangs the fate of millions of small and marginal farmers.

Top on the agenda is the push to make Prime Minister Manmohan Singh allow the entry of multi-brand food retail. “Agriculture sector needs well functioning markets to drive growth, employment and economic prosperity in rural areas,” says a discussion paper drafted by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion sometimes ago. Nothing could be further away from truth, but then the G-20 has made it obligatory for member countries to open up for big retail.

Nowhere in the world has big retail helped farmers. In the US, despite the growth of big retail like Wal-Mart and Carrefour, farmers number has dwindled and come down to such a low level that America has stopped counting its farmers since the 2000 census. Meanwhile, hunger has broken a 14-year record, and poverty is on an upswing. In Europe, notwithstanding the presence of Tesco, one farmer quits agriculture every minute. For India too, multi-brand retail will be the beginning of the end for Indian farmers. No assessment has ever been made of the extent of job losses in the farm sector as a result.

If big retail in food is capable of raising farm incomes I see no reason why the US should be providing monumental subsidies to the tune of $307 billion for five years, beginning 2008. The same holds true for Europe where farmers survive because the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) bails them out with direct income support. In both Europe and America, nearly 80% farm subsidies go to the big corporations. Neither the World Trade Organisations (WTO) nor has the US Fed ever tried to rationalise these wasteful farm subsidies.

It is primarily because of such huge farm subsidies that global food prices slumps thereby pricing out the Indian farmers. An UNCTAD-India study had conclusively shown that if the Green Box subsidies were to be withdrawn, the US agriculture would collapse. The US is therefore trying to pierce open the developing country agriculture essentially to sustain its own economy.

President Obama has made this abundantly clear when he repeatedly talks of seeking more market access from India. Unfortunately, Manmohan Singh has never sought reciprocity. I wonder how many more human lives are required to be sacrificed before the most powerful person on earth takes notice, and revive global farming by encouraging low external-input sustainable agriculture.

1 comment:

Varatharaajan said...

Excellent analysis of the ground reality in India. Concrete evidence proving otherwise, real problem with our politicians is that they do not believe that India can progress without the support of the western countries especially the US and the EU. I do not think that our political bosses are really concerned with the genuine interest of our people rather than amazing large amount of wealth by hanky panky deals!!