DIMENSIONS OF WORLD AGRICULTURAL CRISIS AND THE TASK OF OVERCOMING IT
(AIKKS PAPER IN KATHMANDU WORLD PEASANTS' CONFERENCE NO. 2)
OVER a century, world capitalist agriculture has transformed from ‘industrial’ to ‘corporate’ in consonance with the laws of motion of finance capital. In conformity with this, corporatization of agriculture and depeasantization and proletarianization of vast majority of the peasantry are the two major inseparable trends visible in global agriculture today. Intensification of corporate land grab and unprecedented expropriation of the peasantry from land and massive displacement of rural population from their habitats resulting in horrific levels of migration in search of livelihood and sustenance leading to worldwide refugee crises and swelling urban slums are all integral part of the crisis confronting agriculture now. Coupled with these, neoliberal pricing and market policies pertaining to agricultural inputs as well as outputs that serve the interests of corporate farms, agribusiness MNCs and commodity speculators also contribute to the forced withdrawal of peasants from agriculture. As a corollary of corporatization of agriculture as manifested in large scale dependence on imports of food, fertilizers and animal feeds for the breeding of animals in mechanized or “factory farms”, cultivation of bio-fuels and ever-intensifying use of genetically modified seeds, mono-crop agriculture , all resulting in loss of biodiversity, etc., have acted as major factors behind the ecological catastrophe and environmental crisis along with food insecurity for the vast majority of the common people. According to FAO, three quarters of the global genetic diversity of crops (along with animal breeds) have been lost by the turn of the 21st century.
The ubiquitous global drive to corporate farms together with new trade agreements especially based on Market Access and Plant Breeding provisions (including intellectual property rights pertaining to plants, animals, and micro-organisms) of WTO have compelled peasants to abandon agriculture altogether. For instance, the North American Free Trade Agreement –NAFTA (repercussions from the forthcoming Tans-Pacific Partnership—TPF—which encompasses a geographical area comprising 48 percent of global GDP will be more disastrous) — has forced subsistence farmers in Latin America and the Caribbean to withdraw from agriculture and join the ranks of urban slum dwellers or ‘informal working class “ as they cannot compete with massive imports of cheap grains and other agricultural products from corporate farms in the US. This is in addition to the IMF- World Bank mandated “structural adjustments” and imposition of neoliberal policies in which protective tariffs on food and agricultural raw materials were lowered or eliminated in many countries.
In several Afro-Asian Latin American countries “contract farming” has become the dominant trend where farmers are fast transforming as appendages to agribusiness companies and commodity speculators (so called futures traders) at terms dictated by the latter. Coupled with this, unprecedented land concentration with big corporate farms has rendered the tillers of the soil landless leading to a rapid growth in the number of agricultural workers relative to that of the ‘peasantry’ almost everywhere. Thus, the economic, social and ecological problems created by corporatization of agriculture have become part of the central political question in both imperialist and neocolonial countries albeit with their own specificities.
As other spheres of the economy, it is common logic that capitalism subjugates agriculture also to the narrow perspective of profit accumulation. According to Marx, “the dependence of the cultivation of particular agricultural products upon the fluctuations of market-prices, and the continual changes in this cultivation with these price fluctuations—the whole spirit of capitalist production, which is directed toward the immediate gain of money—are in contradiction to agriculture, which has to minister to the entire range of permanent necessities of life required by the chain of successive generations.” However, the dislocations and distortions created by corporate agriculture today are more complex than the situation under industrial capitalism and even incomparable with any other previous epochs in history. For instance, while subsistence farmers and real tillers of the soil including agricultural workers everywhere are ready to incorporate environmental and social goals into cultivation, corporate farms and agribusinesses are opposed to it.
Though several governments under compulsion have passed laws mandating access to food, clean water and sanitation facilities to agricultural workers and rural people, they cannot be implemented due to the power of the corporate agricultural lobby and relative lack of power of the peasantry and rural proletariat. At a global level, enough food is currently produced to feed everyone in the world and it is possible that hunger could be abolished. However, pro-corporate policies that allocate plenty of money to subsidize financial speculators, provide corporate tax breaks, and divert money for military expenditures will not allow adequate spending for food subsidy that can feed everyone. To be specific, environmental degradation, growth of urban slums and food insecurity are the outcome of corporate agriculture today.
De-Peasantization and Proletarianization
Within a span of a century, concentration of land among the corporate monopoly farms has shown steady growth. Thus, total number of farms in USA that stood at 5.9 million in 1945 declined to 2.1 million in 2000 even as average farm size has grown from 19.5 to 441 acres and percent of rural population dwindled from 36 to 21 during the same period. The same period also witnessed a steep fall in the proportion of agricultural work force from73 percent to 7 percent of the total workers in US (www.agriculture.org). However, by the year 2010, the number farmers in United States has further declined to 1.3 million compared to 2.3 million prisoners in American jails. According to the latest Global Report of FAO, the average farm size in the entire North America comes to 300 hectares. The same is 166 hectares and 67 hectares in Latin America and Western Europe respectively. While the total number of small farms in the world defined as those with less than 2 hectares is estimated at 404 million, Asia is having their largest concentration with 87 percent. Africa, Americas, and Europe respectively are home to 8, 4 and 1 percent of the small farms in the world (www.fao.org). Among the Asian countries, India still has an agricultural population of almost 50 percent where the per capita availability of agricultural land is just 0.29 hectare.
In fact, the trend towards increasing land concentration in Asia and Latin America and to lesser extent in Africa during the postwar period has been inseparably linked up with the transplantation of what is called industrial agriculture to them under the camouflage of Green Revolution backed by imperialist-sponsored research and development investments. Concentrating on favourable agricultural areas and sometimes supported by massive infrastructural investments in irrigation, transport and storage, industrial monocultures of rice, maize and wheat, as well as cotton and oilseed cash-crops replaced traditional agro-food systems. Introduction of high-yielding varieties combined with artificial fertilizer, pesticides and machinery increased agricultural output dramatically, yet not necessarily food security in those regions. The adverse impact on soil, water and natural resources and the consequent environmental, social and cultural consequences of Green Revolution have been far-reaching.
However, the most conspicuous transformation brought about by the super-imposed Green revolution has been the nurturing and building up of an agricultural bourgeois class as a social base and a firm ally of state power in neocolonial countries. Since the adoption of new agricultural technology necessitated substantial investments which were beyond the reach of vast majority of small and marginal peasants, at the instance of World Bank, USAID, Ford-Rockefeller philanthropies and other funding agencies, comprador regimes had to resort to a series of super-imposed land legislations that brought about changes in feudal or pre-capitalist land relations not based on the principle of ‘land to the tiller’ but with the purpose of creating a bourgeois landlord class or ‘kulaks’ who can imbibe both the ideology and technology of green revolution. The logical outcome of the imposition of this American agricultural model in neocolonial countries has been what is called depeasantization or proletarianization of the peasantry.
Of course, India is a classic case of this transformation. The first Green Revolution implemented by US imperialism in Indian agriculture along with other neocolonial countries since the sixties acting as a conduit for the penetration of imperialist capital and transforming it as an appendage of agribusiness MNCs has also led to the strengthening of land concentration in a new agricultural bourgeoisie and corporate farms on the one hand, and accentuation of landlessness of the peasantry on the other. It has also led to the complete loss of Indian peasants’ self-reliance on domestic seeds, fertilizers and pesticides, transfer of the Indian gene pool of food crops to the seed banks controlled by MNCs, and above all the irreversible soil degradation and natural resource depletion having long lasting ecological problems. In the twenty-first century, the so called second Green Revolution in continuation of the first has added a new dimension to India’s agrarian crisis. With the inclusion of agriculture along with intellectual property rights into the WTO regime, led by agri-business MNCs who have completely monopolized the agriculture technologies, India is now witnessing an unprecedented corporatization of agriculture.
Along with the ongoing corporate land grab in the name of various neocolonial projects such as SEZs, tourism zones, townships, etc., agri-business companies in the name of corporate agriculture are also concentrating vast land areas leading to further landlessness and destitution of the peasantry. Even existing land ceiling acts are repealed to facilitate this corporatization resulting in large scale displacement of the peasantry. Corporate and contract farming of export-oriented cash crops are replacing vast areas of foods crop agriculture in different parts of the country.
Together with the worsening land question, corporate control over agricultural inputs and output markets through various price and exim policies of the comprador regime is also mounting. In continuation of the green revolution that facilitated the monopolization of the entire input-output market for agriculture by MNCs and agri-business companies, WTO dictated agricultural policies including anti-peasant credit and price policies coupled with the curtailment of state support programs like subsidies and public procurements have led to mass suicides of peasants throughout the country.
On account of these new developments in agriculture, the marginal and poor peasants who cannot maintain their meager holdings are compelled to sell them off to corporate farms, rural elite and the rich and are migrating to the urban slums to join the ranks of unorganized and ‘informal’ workers, the fastest growing segment of world proletariat today. Homelessness, joblessness and mushrooming of slums have become the hallmark of so called development today. As a result of the massive displacement of the peasantry and extreme pauperization of the country-side, currently India is facing one of the fastest growing internal migrations ever recorded in history.
Corporatization of agriculture and the consequent surge in corporate farms coupled with the growth of “factory farms” for animal breeding have forced the vast majority of displaced land less poor peasants everywhere, to migrate to urban slums as “informal working class” or enroll themselves as agricultural workers in corporate farms. And the problems confronted by farm and processor labour are immense and quite unprecedented. Of course, grain production all over the world is more or less mechanized now. But there is a limit to mechanization of several farm operations. This is especially the case with the production of fruits and vegetables as well as animal farms. Farm workers who apply pesticides and harvest crops, especially fruits and vegetables that form one of the largest agribusiness components today are abysmally facing inhuman conditions. Their wages are low and their housing is generally nil or substandard. State laws on treatment of farm workers wherever exist are commonly ignored. Workers, many of whom are like bonded labourers, are often undocumented. They rarely complain since they are in a subservient position, quite reminiscent of the feudal periods. Workers in slaughterhouses (euphemistically called animal-processing facilities) have high rates of injuries, and are often treated as animals. More often, slaughterhouse workers are immigrants or informal workers who are recruited to subvert unions and reduce wages. Undocumented immigrants live in fear, reluctant to report violations of the labour code. Ironically, many animal rights groups which are so concerned over the inhumane treatment of farm animals (which is true) safely ignore the gruesome conditions of human workers in modern factory farms.
For instance, a recent report in Los Angeles Times has exposed slavery-like conditions prevailing in several corporate factory farms situated in northwestern Mexico which supply a major part of the food requirements to US during the winter season. Displaced people brought in from southern part of Mexico work under harsh conditions, including near-slavery. Many farm workers who are mainly immigrants are trapped for months in rat-infested camps, often without beds and sometimes without functioning toilets or a reliable water supply. It is usual on the part of bosses in charge of camps illegally withholding wages to prevent workers from leaving during peak harvest periods. Workers often go deep in debt paying inflated prices for necessities at company stores. Some are reduced to scavenging for food when their credit is cut off. It is common for workers to head home penniless at the end of a harvest. Those who seek to escape from their miserable living conditions are dealt with guards, barbed-wire fences, and threats of violence and even death from camp supervisors.
In the modern corporate farming system, the fate of peasants who have no other option except to cling to agriculture is not basically different from that of workers. The farmers have no say in the decision-making with regard to cultivation/breeding as everything is dictated by the corporate agribusiness firm. Based on their market survey, the agribusiness firms enter into contract with farmers who must adhere to the corporate specifications. Such “contract farmers” will be supplied with seeds in the case of cultivation and in the case of chicken farming, for instance, with baby chicks, feed, veterinary medicines like antibiotics, etc. The farmers own nothing but the barns and the manure, and are paid based on how many birds are produced and their rate of weight gain. The farmer is in reality a bonded labourer for the corporate firm. Under pressure from corporate agribusiness, in 2005 the US passed the Agricultural Appropriations Bill that took away even nominal protections that existed for contract farmers. With the emergence of large scale domestic and export-oriented plants for processing (slaughtering) animals controlled by integrated corporations, medium and small independent farmers have no way to process large numbers of animals. They are also driven to penury and destitution.
Loss of Biodiversity and Mounting Ecological Crisis
Profit-oriented mono-crop cultivation and commercialization of agriculture have inflicted immense damage to global biodiversity. Biodiversity is lost as native plant species are eradicated in order to grow the crops desired by agribusiness companies for sale in the market. The loss of habitat for diverse species means that there is also a loss of natural control mechanisms. There is also loss of biological diversity in soils as a single or a few crops are grown consequent to which soil organic matter is depleted. Another type of biodiversity loss is that of the genetic diversity of the crops themselves arising from the application of genetic engineering to plant breeding. According to an estimate of FAO in 2004, about three quarters of the genetic diversity of agricultural crops have been lost over the last century. And of 6,300 animal breeds, 1,350 have become endangered. Seeds from commercial companies have penetrated much of the world’s agriculture, displacing native varieties even in the areas of the species’ origin where the highest genetic diversity is normally found.
For instance, in India, there were about 3000 rice varieties prior to the so called Green Revolution. Today there are around ten only. This has been the direct fall-out of the super-imposed monoculture and crop homogeneity enforced by corporate finance capital. As private agribusiness companies focus on few varieties that are themselves genetically uniform, this creates a lack of genetic diversity within the crop making it more susceptible to pest/insect infestations leading to heavy reliance on chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Along with the social repercussions arising from the shift away from small landholdings to large commercial farms, the environmental and ecological issues arising from new practices such as bio-fuel cultivation aimed at producing ethanol-fuel by corporate agriculture have made cultivation itself unsustainable. Surveying the new developments in agriculture at a global level, a study conducted by the Institute for Food and Development Policy in 2000 noted the complex agrarian scenario thus: “First, where farmland is bought and sold like any other commodity and society allows the unlimited accumulation of farmland by a few, super farms replace family farms and all of society suffers. Second, where the main producers of food—small farmers and farm workers—lack bargaining power relative to suppliers of farm inputs and food markers, producers get a shrinking share of the rewards from farming. Third, where dominant technology destroys the very basis for future production by degrading the soil and generating pest and weed problems, it becomes increasingly difficult and costly to sustain yields.”(www.foodfirst.org)
Growing Food Insecurity
Despite agriculture’s long trajectory from subsistence to industrial and finally to corporate farming constantly increasing agricultural production, the number of hungry people the world over has steeply increased over time and reached an historic peak of about one billion victims as of now. The solemn commitment of the World Food Summit in 1996 to halve the number of the then 830 million undernourished to 415 million by 2015 and its continued reiterations during the past ten years have all become mere rhetoric. While one-seventh of the world population suffers from acute hunger, five million children are dying from hunger every year. And this is the worst global assault on human rights and dignity by corporate capitalism today. Hunger has become the underlying problem beneath displacement, migration, social instability and the unprecedented refugee crisis. World hunger is also linked with environmental degradation and natural resource depletion in many regions of the world.
From a global perspective, sufficient food is there to feed all and lack of food output is not the cause of hunger. While world population has doubled over the past 40 years, agricultural production including food has increased about two-and- a-half times. Of course, nobody can deny the fact that adequate levels of food production are a prerequisite to ensure the right to food. According to well-meaning agricultural experts and economists, world output of food today is more than sufficient to provide all people of the world with enough healthy food and will also be able to nurture a population of 9 billion, predicted to inhabit this planet in 40 years time. Paradoxically, most hungry people today actually live in countries that are exporters of food and agricultural products. It is deplorable indeed that India, a country which inhabits more than half of world’s extreme hungry is one of the exporters of grain and vegetable oil to the US. Today, rather than its availability, the food question is directly related with both international and national policies dictated by global agribusiness and market forces who through unfair trade practices, concentration of market power and outright speculation create artificial scarcities of food and essential items of livelihood. For instance, the Commodity Futures Modernization Act (2000) of the US that came into being at the behest of corporate speculators including pension funds, hedge funds and investment banks has allowed them to speculate in food and commodity futures without any limit or regulation. While the prices of industrial raw materials like copper, iron, rubber and oil are collapsing, food prices are galloping. The value of speculative trading in food and other necessaries of life through what is called “index trading” has reached around $ 9 trillion at the end of 2007.
According to a US Congressional Report, on the eve of the ‘sub-prime crisis’ in mid-2008, 42 percent of all soybean trade and 64 percent of wheat trade in America have been owned by what are called “index traders”. The obvious outcome of this commodity speculation, which yields super profit to financiers at the expense of both producers and consumers, is sky-rocketing prices of food and other essential items. A striking trend in recent years is the flocking together of leading financial companies to indulge in futures trading in commodity exchanges in the context of the huge reverses they are facing in currency and financial markets. With the institutionalization of futures trading in commodities in the neoliberal period, the erstwhile International Commodity Agreements that came into being for avoiding fluctuations in the prices of primary commodities exported by neocolonial countries during the decades of international Keynesianism have practically become redundant.
Not only agribusiness companies but even leading global financial corporations like JP Morgan, Chase Manhattan, HSBC, etc., have specialized wings for futures trading in food grains. Cargill, the biggest world trader in food products has trebled its profits in 2009 immediately after the sub-prime crisis solely due to rise in food prices. It has been reported that a portion of the recent “bailout” that transferred trillions of dollars of public money to financial monopolies in America, Europe and elsewhere is being driven to speculation in food grains. Comprador regimes in neocolonial countries are also pursuing the same policies. In India, for instance, while the credit needs of tens of millions of real peasantry are seldom met, taking advantage of the deregulation in banking and finance, banks are channeling huge amounts to food grain speculators who are operating as per the 2005 Forward Trading regulation of the Indian government, modeled after the aforesaid 2000 American Act. Reliance, the leading comprador Indian corporate financial player has already invested Rs. 250000 million in food grain speculation. The consequent rise in food prices has made it beyond the reach of common people. According to FAO, global food price index at 2002-04 prices has doubled during 1990-2011 and the trend is still continuing. The recent political upheavals in North Africa and West Africa, including Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Mozambique, Jordan and Yemen and so on are directly linked with the speculation-induced rise in food prices.
The problem of hunger and lack of food for the poor are also linked with other trends. For instance, only less than half of the total global cereal production is presently being used as food. Much of the increased output of cereal is diverted to ‘other uses’ comprising fuel, energy production, animal fodder as well as other industrial uses. According to an FAO study, a 5 percent increase in cereal production in today’s conditions will result in only 0.1 percent increase in food availability per capita. Hoarding, black marketing and futures’ trade in food and diversion of it to other means reduce the actual availability of food in accordance with people’s requirements.
Recent explosion of food prices has been attributed to, among other factors, an increased demand for bio-fuels. It has a direct impact on climate too. Worldwide diversion of prime agricultural land for bio-fuel or agro-fuel production by the US and EU and emulated by other countries with a view to breaking the influence of oil producers and promote so called “greener” fuels (which are not at all “green”) is a threat to sustainable agriculture. In 2008 some 30 percent of the entire corn crop in the United States was used to produce ethanol to blend with gasoline to fuel cars. Estimates of how much ethanol production contributed to the rise in food prices varied from less than 5 percent (as reported by U.S. Department of Agriculture) to upwards of 80 percent (as estimated by the World Bank). For, corporate agriculture today accounts for more than 25 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions though the plants and soil it is based upon have the potential to reduce rather than increase global warming.
Price volatility of agricultural products arising from corporatization and commercialization has an immediate bearing on the prevalence of hunger as it encourages the conversion of land for cash-crop production, competing with food production. The poorest food-importing countries as well as the marginalized and downtrodden sections are the worst sufferers. Without a reversal of these pro-corporate policies, any strategy to fight hunger and poverty will be meaningless.
Market Dynamics and Agriculture
According to conventional capitalist market logic when prices are high producers seek to maximize production to capture the higher prices and maximize total income, and when prices go down production will be curtailed with the expectation that reduced supply will boost up prices. This usual response applicable to other economic activities is not the case with agriculture. Firstly, because of the seasonal as well as climatic and geographical character of agriculture, a time lag needed either to increase or decrease production according to market logic is much longer in agriculture than in other spheres of economic activity. Certainly, as with other businesses, high prices will tempt peasants to produce more.
But when prices are low, the conventional practice of decreasing production will be at variance with agriculture. When prices are low, farmers need to maximize production in order to reduce the per-unit cost of production, with the goal of covering variable costs and as much of the fixed costs as possible. Because farmers have high fixed costs relative to other businesses they face challenges quite different from those faced by non-agricultural avenues. However, the efforts on the part of peasants to increase production and cover costs and reduce losses inevitably lead to a further reduction price. Thus a decision which may appear to be rational for the particular farmer may end up being irrational for the farming community altogether.
It is this vulnerability of the peasantry that is being exploited by corporate finance capital led by agribusiness companies and commodity speculators. Agricultural policies of the neoliberal state dictated by financial corporations are intended to accentuate this inherent vulnerability of the agriculture. World’s agribusiness MNCs such as Cargill, Monsanto, Pepsi, Archer-Daniels-Midland, Du Pont, Nestle, Kraft, Coca-Cola, etc. who are the largest purchasers, sellers and processors of grains and agricultural products the world over can expand their profits manifold by manipulating state policies and influencing agricultural output prices, often compelling peasant to resort to “distress sales.”
While corporate monopolies on account of their global reach and clout in national governments and international institutions are “price makers”(due to their control over market), peasants in general are “price takers” as exemplified in their abject dependence on market fluctuations. Today, the entire WTO provisions pertaining to agriculture such as “market access”, “tariff and non-tariff barriers”, subsidy regulations, input-output prices, export-import policies and intellectual property rights including plant and animal breeders’ rights are all driving global peasantry to destitution and pauperization of hitherto unknown levels.
Disregard of Environmental, Social and Equity Goals
In brief, global corporate agriculture driven by profit accumulation is far removed from the basic needs people. Rather than serving the social and environmental goals of society, its exclusive focus is on maximization of productivity and output of individual commodities. In the process, it props up mono-cultural practices that heavily rely on chemicals and fossil fuels at a level often comparable with that in industry. For large farms, the investment needed for installation of huge equipment and big machines is very high. Though the manufacture and use of machinery takes lots of energy, approximately one-third of all the energy used to grow corn, for example, is used to make and apply the nitrogen fertilizer as it takes a lot of energy to convert nitrogen gas in the atmosphere into forms like ammonium and nitrate that can be absorbed by plants. Peasants’ control over land and its use, local and regional knowledge and social and cultural values which are essential for the sustenance of agriculture whose main purpose should be provision of food and livelihood are totally disregarded.
Commodification of food itself on a global level is a major challenge at present. While humankind has never before produced as much food, feed and other agricultural produce on this planet, the number of unfed and underfed people has also never been as high as today, nor has been the number of obese individuals, often living right next to those undernourished. It is not an exaggeration to say that in terms calorific value, the waste of prepared food alone is more than what is required to remove world people’s hunger. The development paradigm encompassing the entire policies, R&D, etc. pertaining to food postulating that continuous increase in both production and productivity of food is the key to fight hunger has been met with several flaws. Rather than ensuring food security, corporate production, processing and marketing of food along with the concomitant policies is destroying the very basis of food security itself. More precisely, global market-driven corporate agriculture has little concern regarding the social, environmental and equity goals of agriculture.
1) In the background of the brief sketch above, the grave challenges that strike at the very root of the sustenance of humanity call for a fundamental restructuring of entire global agriculture today, the basic ingredients of which among other things are:- (!) Neoliberal policies and corporatization of agriculture leading to depeasantization should be stopped forthwith. Urgent steps should be initiated towards changes in land relations by which the real peasants, the tillers of the soil, wield control over land in an appropriate collective or cooperative form as necessitated by concrete conditions. Corporate farms and urban elite holding of agricultural land should be abolished. According to a study by FAO, in India, redistribution of only five percent of farm land in favour of the tillers of the soil coupled with improved access to water could reduce rural poverty levels by 30 percent. A six-country study by the ILO, which estimated that if land were equally distributed among all agricultural families including the landless and the new holdings achieved yields equal to the present holdings of the same size and used similar level of inputs, food output could potentially rise by anything from 10 percent (Pakistan) and 28 percent (Colombia and rice growing Malaysian regions) to 80 percent in Brazil.
2) While ensuring peasants’ and women’s (not only women are the pioneers of agriculture but still provide the larger part of agricultural labour, food processing, health and nutrition services in many societies) access to and control over land who prefer to work with less expensive methods and use local resources more than purchased industrial inputs, adequate and unhindered distribution of farming resources, production inputs, and services as necessitated by local conditions is indispensable.
3) The first and foremost priority of agriculture is production of the required food for humankind starting from local residents. All other uses of agricultural land must be compatible with and adapted to “food first” as the fundamental human right for which all governments and international institutions should be held accountable.
4) Mono-crop cultivation should be replaced with multi-crop and diversified agriculture. Monocultures are propagated in the name of productivity and economies of scale, but bourgeois economic and industrial concepts have no little relevance in agriculture. While mono-crop may result in higher yield of a particular crop, it is prone to pest, insect and weeds infestation on the one hand, and decline in fertility and soil nutrients on the other requiring more capital investments in agriculture. From a scientific perspective, both wild and domesticated diversity of plants and animals, as well as the cultural and traditional diversity of agricultural practices and solutions evolved over time according concrete conditions is the safeguard against ecological catastrophe and crop failures. Disproportionately large scale diversion of corn grain and soybeans to factory farms as animal feeds and increasing share of meat and decreasing share of grains total food availability are inauspicious trends associated with the growth of agribusiness.
5) WTO provisions pertaining to agriculture including the role of genetically modified seeds in consolidating corporate control over the input sector and neoliberal farm practices such as contract farming should be repealed. Though agribusiness corporations have aggressively promoted the idea that the genetic engineering of crops and seeds is the key to improving world agriculture, so far GM cultivation has no reliable and documented results on increase in yields over equivalent non-GM crops. Claims that genetic engineering will “feed the world” by making crops more resilient and healthier have time and again proved false. Meanwhile, though independent research on GM crops is largely stifled by proprietary control over it by agribusiness MNCs who have every interest in suppressing systematic studies of the technology’s consequences, scientists continue to reveal new information demonstrating that the technology is inherently disruptive of cellular metabolism and gene expression.
6) Redrafting of agricultural policies in such a way as to enhance the multiple social, cultural and ecological functions of agriculture along with food security is an urgent task. Agricultural finance and R&D research must be redirected towards achieving these goals. Corporate farming models that promote unsustainable, input-intensive and export-oriented agriculture are to be reversed.
7) Waste of food and other agricultural products at every step of production, processing and distribution should be avoided. Starting with minimizing post harvest losses at farm and storage facilities, to reducing losses in production and processing, waste of food in supermarkets and on catering and household level has an enormous potential to improve eco-efficiency and availability of food worldwide.
8) It is common knowledge that agriculture today just like any other economic enterprises is energy intensive and based on large-scale use of fossil fuels such as diesel. Minimization of fossil fuel dependency should be one of the conditions for making agriculture people-oriented. Certainly, unavoidable situations may be there where improved efficiency and productivity will require machinery in relation to irrigation, preservation and storage of agricultural products. However, as a general rule reducing fossil-fuel-based imported inputs is essential for reducing overall global warming and to free agriculture from external price shocks.
10) Postwar farming experience at a global level proves that the chemical war against pests will never be won. Efforts to control pests and microorganisms by means of toxic chemicals has resulted in poisoned rivers and air, contaminated soils, and globally dispersed proliferation of acute and chronic toxins in all biotic systems. Loss of biological checks and balances and disruption of natural ecosystems have led to threatening pest levels. In this context encouragement should be given to such practices as “organic farming” combining with biological and agro-ecological methods, based scientific understanding biological process including both traditional and modern knowhow.
These and other tasks are not easy to fulfill. Only a broad democratic agrarian movement of the peasantry led by the most advanced ideology and politics with an internationalist perspective and capable of allying with all progressive sections of society can shoulder this responsibility. What is needed is a thorough overhauling of the existing institutions and policies pertaining to not agriculture alone but to all aspects of the polity, society, economy, culture and so on. Obviously, it can never be an isolated task, but is integrated with the fundamental transformation of the existing ruling system and capture of political power by the people based on a revolutionary alternative to today’s mainstream development paradigm.
In preparing this Note, the following sources among others are used
1. Asian Agricultural Conference: A Compilation of the Papers Presented and Summary of Discussions, Convening Committee, New Delhi, 201
2. Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. 1
3. Peter Rosset, Lessons from the Green Revolution”, Institute for Food and Development Policy, April, 2000
4. S D Sawant and C V Achutan, “Agricultural Growth Across Crops and Regions”, EPW, March 25, 1995
5. P J James, Imperialism in the Neocolonial Phase (Second Edition), Massline Publication, Kerala, 2015