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STARVING THE POOR TO FEED THE CORPORATIONS

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NEW DELHI, Jan 1 2003 (IPS) - There are two paradigms vying for the future of food and farming: one is based on non-sustainable production on large-scale industrial farms with costly hybrid/genetically modified (GM) seed and agrochemical inputs, the other on small farms, ecological /organic internal inputs/systems which are low cost and accessible to poor producers, writes Vandana Shiva, an author and international campaigner for women and the environment. In this article for IPS, the author writes a deceptive productivity calculus has then been used to sell the bogus claim that without industrial agriculture, pesticides, and genetically- modified organisms (GMOs), the world cannot be fed. Quite to the contrary, the solution to hunger and poverty is the promotion of ecological, organic, biodiverse small farms which use less energy and fewer natural resources, reduce the costs of inputs, and produce more nutritional output per unit acre. While the conditionalities imposed by global trade and financial institutions are preventing the government from supporting the poor\’s access to adequate and nutritious food, they are promoting the diversion of subsidies from people to corporations. If we are to build food security upwards and outwards from the household to the community to national and global levels, the principle for trade and distribution must be localisation, not globalisation.

There are two paradigms vying for the future of food and farming. One is based on non-sustainable production on large-scale industrial farms with costly hybrid/genetically modified (GM) seed and agrochemical inputs monopolised by a handful of biotech/agrochemical giants (Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow, Dupont, etc.) and globalised trade controlled by a handful of agribusiness corporations (Cargill, ADM, Pepsico, etc.)

The other model is based on small farms, ecological/organic internal inputs/systems which are low cost and accessible to poor producers.

The industrial, large-scale, globalised food system is non-sustainable and a source of economic inequality and food insecurity. It is being sold to the world through a basic misrepresentation of its actual operation.

The most common justifications for the spread of industrial techniques in agriculture are their ”high efficiency and productivity”, yet these systems in fact have low productivity levels when total resource use and total output are measured. Small biodiverse farms have much higher productivity in terms of resource use efficiency and higher production of biomass and nutrition per acre. The artificially constructed ”efficiency” of industrial farms is obtained by excluding the large resource inputs they require (focusing only on labour as an input) and considering only the ”yields” of single commodities while ignoring diverse outputs of biodiverse farms.

This deceptive productivity calculus has then been used to sell the bogus claim that without industrial agriculture, pesticides, and genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), the world cannot be fed. Quite to the contrary, the solution to hunger and poverty is the promotion of ecological, organic, biodiverse small farms which use less energy and fewer natural resources, reduce the costs of inputs, and produce more nutritional output per unit acre.

Hunger, however, is not just a result of a lack of food but a lack of access to food. As Nobel economist Amartya Sen has observed, hunger and famine result from a lack of entitlements to food, which are eroded when farm incomes decline, either because of rising production costs or falling agricultural prices, usually both.

The globalisation of agriculture through IMF/World Bank structural adjustment programmes or WTO trade liberalization rules is causing a reduction in farmers’ income in the Third World by raising the costs of inputs and lowering the prices of outputs. The shift from open-pollinated farm-saved seeds to non-renewable hybrids and GM seeds has led to high levels of crop failure, farm indebtedness, and suicides by farmers. Not only are the seeds expensive; they have to be bought every season along with costly pesticides and herbicides. And these costs are sure to rise as super weeds and super pests are created by GM seeds and the failure of ecological narcotics.

Moreover, the claims of yields by seed/biotech corporations are usually false and inflated. For example, in the maize/Round up package that Monsanto is promoting in the fragile desert state of Rajasthan, Monsanto publicity brochures claim a yield of 22-50 tons/hectare, whereas the Monsanto field staff cite 3 tons/ha, and data from farmers shows a yield of 1.7 tons/ha.

Similarly, while Monsanto is spreading global propaganda that Indian farmers are demanding its GM Bt. cotton seed, cotton farmers are suing the government and the corporation for USD 104 million damage because of the total failure of Bt. cotton in the state of Maharashtra. Bt. cotton has also failed in the Indian states of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.

Global commodity prices are distorted by another phenomenon: a combination of high export subsidies in the North which artificially reduce prices of export commodities; direct payments to farmers which allow corporations to drive procurement prices below sustenance level and production costs; decoupling the cost of production and commodity prices, which has made the Agriculture Agreement of WTO into an agreement on legalised dumping; and the forced removal of import restrictions (Quantitative Restrictions or QRs).

There is an attempt to reduce the debate on the distortion of domestic agriculture by imports to a debate on subsidies alone. This confuses the critical distinction between subsidies and support. Support is public expenditure on public goods and services such as resource conservation, ecosystem, protection, generation of livelihoods, protection of culture, and safeguarding of public health — a necessity for social systems to function sustainably.

Subsidies, in contrast, are a government expenditure undertaken to increase private benefit and profit and which distorts prices. By deliberately confusing support and subsidies, agribusiness, and global trade organisations are managing to dismantle social support for sustainable agriculture and fair prices for both farmers and poor consumers, destroying livelihood security, food security, and ecological security.

While the conditionalities imposed by global trade and financial institutions are preventing the government from supporting the poor’s access to adequate and nutritious food, they are promoting the diversion of subsidies from people to corporations.

While WTO trade rules force the elimination of domestic agricultural subsidies for Indian farmers, driving up the price of their goods, Western agricultural products are imported at prices kept artificially low by massive domestic subsidies in the North still permitted by the WTO. As people buy the cheaper imported substitutes, a surplus of unsold Indian products builds up, which is then exported at a cut rate. For example, while Indians pay USD 235 per tonne for imported rice, exporters are buying Indian rice for USD 117 per tonne — a subsidy of USD 1.25 billion. This is how globalisation is causing hunger and starvation in the Third World — starving the poor to feed the corporations.

If we are to build food security upwards and outwards from the household to the community to regional, national and global levels, the principle for trade and distribution must be localisation, not globalisation. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

 
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