Resolved: That the United States should substantially change its federal agricultural policy.
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|Source: Multinational Monitor, June 1996 v17 n6 p26(3).
Title: Seeds of discontent. (US seeks to replace India's farmer-based
Full Text COPYRIGHT 1996 Essential Information Inc.
"I hope your new legislation will provide a responsible and reasonable protection to private seed companies, which will encourage them to provide the best seeds available for your farmers," stated U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Daniel Glickman at a January 29, 1996 address at the Indian Institute of Agricultural Research. "There would be very few inventions of anything, particularly in agriculture, without patent protection because it is a fundamental fact of nature that people will not go through the expense of development of new ideas just for the altruistic benefit of the human race."
Glickman also stressed the inevitability of farmers' dependence on multinationals for seeds due to liberalization and its impact on agriculture. "As income increases throughout Indian society, food needs will change - higher vegetable oil consumption, a shift from rice to wheat in urban areas and some shifting from grain to poultry and livestock products," he prophesied. "Also, the needs of the new food processing industries will change according to new crop varieties in order to meet changing consumer preferences."
In a few brief phrases, Glickman thus captured the current U.S. intellectual property rights orthodoxy, and the U.S. strategic vision of opening up the agrarian sectors of countries with substantial newly emerging middle classes. As an historic matter, however, the idea that people do not innovate or generate knowledge unless they can derive private profits is wrong. Greed is not a "fundamental fact of human nature" but a dominant tendency in societies that reward it. In the areas of seeds and plant genetic resources, innovation of both the "formal" and "informal" system has so far been guided mostly by a concern for the larger human good.
But U.S. designs on Indian agriculture and the Indian food industry are based on principles other than human good. As Glickman's comments suggest when decoded, the U.S. government is coercing the Indian government to introduce unhealthy fat- and meat-rich diets through expansion of U.S. agribusiness, agroprocessing and fast-food industries. The proposal is to replace the small peasant and farmer-based agricultural economy of India with agribusiness-controlled industrial agriculture.
This shift is associated with a transformation of farmers as breeders and reproducers of their own seed supply to farmers as consumers of proprietary seed from the seed industry. It is also a shift from a food economy based on millions of farmers as autonomous producers to a food system controlled by a handful of multinationals that control both inputs and output. This is a recipe for food insecurity, biodiversity erosion and uprooting of farmers from the land.
U.S. and other defenders of stringent intellectual property right protection for seeds say patents will not stop traditional farmers from using native seeds. But as an essential part of a package of agribusiness-controlled agriculture in which farmers no longer grow native seeds but seeds supplied by the multinational corporate seed industry, intellectual property rights become a means of monopoly that wipe out farmers' rights to save and exchange seed. That is, once farmers switch to industry-provided seeds, they will lose their right to engage in traditional, economical practices of seed saving.
This leads farmers - and the country - down a very slippery slope ending in multinational totalitarianism in agriculture. Multinationals will decide what is grown by farmers, what they use as inputs and when they sell their produce, to whom and at what price. They will also decide what is eaten by consumers, at what price and with what content, and how much information is made available to them about the nature of food commodities.
In this emerging new world, the U.S. Ambassador is fast becoming like the Resident in the days of the East Indian Company rule. The only difference is that now there are many East India Companies, including multinationals like Pepsico and agribusiness giants such as Cargill, which are being allowed to set up fully owned trading houses for farm products and agricultural inputs in India. The U.S. government official agencies are acting on their behalf and are in turn coercing Indian government agencies to also become instruments of the multinationals' interests.
Under the new corporate rule, the agencies of the government of India are on the one hand becoming subject to U.S. and international policy set by the World Trade Organization. On the other hand, they are becoming active promoters of U.S. agribusiness and active destroyers of the livelihoods of small peasants. This deliberate destruction by policy is evident in the statement of Gokul Patnaik, the head of the Agricultural and Processed Food Export Development Authority (APEDA). By 2001, he stated, Indian agriculture would be fully corporatized - in the process explicitly admitting that this would imply the destruction of small farmers. Further evidence of Patnaik and APEDA's anti-farmer, pro-corporate orientation is provided by the fact that Gokul Patnaik is a member of the U.S.-India Commercial Alliance, a business group aimed at promoting the entry of U.S. corporations into the Indian market.
Confronting agricultural corporatization
Indian farmers have undertaken spectacular organizing efforts in an attempt to head off the colonization and corporatization of Indian agriculture. On March 7, 1996, 200,000 farmers from across the country, especially the northern states of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana, gathered at Kisan Ghat for a "desh bachao" (save the country) Mahapanchayat (the traditional meeting form of direct democracy based on consensus) and rally. The Panchayat had been called by Bjaratiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader Ch.Mahendra Singh Tikait to respond to the political and moral crisis facing farmers as a result of the new economic policy.
Addressing the rally were Ch. Tikait, Vineet Narayan, who filed a Supreme Court case that exposed corruption in politics and created an unprecedented transformation in Indian politics, Prof. M.D. Nanjundaswamy, president of the farmers association KRRS, Ch.Rishi Pal Ambavata, president of the Yuva BKU, Swami Dayandand, convenor of the national movement against meat exports, other leaders of the farmers' movements and myself.
At the Panchayat, leaders of the farmers' movement debated how to influence politics and elect representatives genuinely representing farmers' interests without losing the direct and participatory democratic fabric of the farmers' organization. The consensus-building process took five hours, after which there was a brief public rally at which the farmers' leaders and invited guests addressed the farmers who gathered at Kisan Ghat.
The Mahapanchayat decided that the BKU would continue to be the farmers' organization transcending party politics. However, given the political vacuum that has been created by the corruption scandals that have touched the leaders of most parties, the BKU decided to set up a political committee of nine representatives of farmers' organizations to oversee the political process and ensure that the candidates supported by farmers' organizations were concerned about peoples' survival and had a record of honesty and accountability. This is the first time the farmers' organizations have formed a unified front to bring accountability into electoral politics.
The Mahapanchayat also resolved that the farmers would not allow the alienation of their resources - land, water, animal wealth and seeds.
The farmers condemned the undoing of the land reform policies to enable multinational corporations and industrial houses to buy agricultural land for growing luxury crops for export. They announced that these transactions were illegal and that they would take steps to ensure agricultural land supported the livelihood of primary producers of staple foods - the landless and small farmers.
They committed themselves to fighting the World Bank policies of privatization of water resources and declared that water rights were common rights, not market rights. The utilization and distribution of water would be determined by the direct democratic decisions at the Panchayat and Gram Sabha levels, they stated.
The farmers condemned new export policies that encourage the slaughtering of farm animals for meat exports. They pledged to fight for a ban on these exports and on slaughterhouses. They also pledged to take steps at the farmers' level to prevent the total destruction of India's animal wealth, without which small-scale and sustainable peasant agriculture is impossible. In condemning the slaughter of farm animals for meat exports, the Mahapanchayat pledged that any farmer selling cattle to slaughterhouses would be subjected to a social boycott.
Expressing the sense of the gathering, Ch.Mahendra Singh Takait said in a moving speech to the rally, "Our cows and buffaloes give us milk like our mothers. Would we sell our mothers for slaughter when they become old? Our bullocks work with us in our fields for 15 years. Would we sell our fathers for slaughter when they are old? All that our old cattle require is a little space for sleeping, one cob of corn and one bucket of water. Give them at least that much for the service they have rendered through their lives."
Indian farmers have been resisting the privatization and monopolization of seed by the seed industry through new intellectual property rights regimes. The farmers committed themselves to continue their non-cooperation against any unjust law aimed at undermining farmers' rights. They also committed themselves to saving and utilizing farmers' seeds as the basis of a self-reliant and free system of agricultural production not enslaved by the laws and policies designed for the corporatization of agriculture.
In addition, they announced that the farmers' debt is illegitimate since it is linked to a disproportionate increase of input costs without a matching increase in the price of agricultural commodities, thus creating profits for the agribusiness industry at both ends of the production process - the selling of inputs and the buying of commodities. Farmers have always been blamed for higher food prices, but the majority of farmers are unable to make ends meet in an agricultural system in which costs of production are becoming higher than the prices of agricultural commodities. Food prices in India are rising due to the trade liberalization policies in agriculture where the market prices of food are being allowed to move up to international levels, thus taking food out of reach of the rural and urban poor.
The farmers did not make any political demands because they believe the political system is not responsive. Instead, they took a pledge to promote a moral society based on harmony between different castes and religions, free of corruption and exploitation, ensuring respect to all communities and all species. The BKU now has many women's leaders at the local levels. One of the BKU women's representatives in her speech at the rally stated that all the political parties are working toward disintegration and division of rural India along caste and religious lines. Only the farmers' organizations are working to hold the rural community together while removing inequalities between castes and religions, she said.
The BKU will need to be a strong moral and political force based on diverse, pluralistic and composite cultures in order to represent the survival interests of rural India Bharat - in the face of the assault from the multinational corporations and their partners in the urban elite as well as from the forces of communalized and caste-based politics.
Vandana Shiva is a writer, physicist and philosopher, and director of the New Delhi-based Research Foundation for Science Technology and Natural Resource Policy.