(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
November 14, 2010
OBAMA VISIT & INDIAN AGRICULTURE
Profits Surge for MNCs, Perils for Indian Farmers
A LOT has
been said about
the visit of Barack Obama, the
maintained continuity with the preceding Bush regime in the basic
thrust of US’s
Well in advance of the Obama visit, a meeting of the “US-India Agriculture Dialogue Steering Committee” took place. US under secretary of state for economic, energy and business affairs Robert D Hormats, US Department of Agriculture’s under secretary for farm and foreign agricultural services Jim Miller, deputy coordinator for development, Office of the Coordinator of Global Hunger and Food Security and US Department of State’s ambassador William Garvelink held the meeting along with an Indian delegation led by foreign secretary Nirupama Rao. The committee reportedly met to identify areas of cooperation for working groups on “strategic cooperation” in agriculture and food security, food processing, farm-to-market linkages and agricultural extension, crop and weather forecasting. The present set of negotiations are only aimed at operationalising the India-US MOU for cooperation in agriculture and food security which was signed, shrouded in secrecy well in advance of the Obama visit. It is only to take forward the vision that brought into existence the KIA.
five-year-old KIA had
come to an end on March 31, 2010, but is all set to get a three-year
as the agriculture ministry took up the issue with the
Of late, Dr
and Obama have been harping on an “Ever-Green Revolution.” It is not
that the US-India Business Council (USIBC) talks of “growing
the “noble objective” of an “Ever-Green Revolution” in its document titled Partners
in Prosperity: Business Leading the Way, published on the eve of
visit. This carries forward the KIA’s stated objectives and sets the
tone for “strategic
cooperation in agriculture” in the coming years. This document also
the need to encourage US companies to “showcase in
access to Indian agriculture provided by the Knowledge Initiative in
Agriculture has been systematically strengthened by the subversion of
agricultural research in
One clear intention of the Obama visit is to expand the stranglehold of US agribusinesses in our countryside. Already the states ruled by the Congress as well as the BJP and their allies are going full steam ahead by superimposing over the public extension services (which they so meticulously dismantled over the last two decades) a network of extension services to be provided by predatory agribusinesses. The farm gates in the state of Rajasthan have already been opened up to Monsanto, DuPont, Bayer, PEPSICO, Cargill, SAB Miller, Lupin and some Indian companies. An MOU has been signed with Reuters for “sending advisories to farmers” on mobile phones. This is something Obama referred to in glowing terms before emphasising that Indian agriculture was ‘growing’ and that the time is ripe for the “Ever-Green Revolution.” Monsanto has a major maize project called Project Golden Rays in Rajasthan and the Project Sunshine in Gujarat where the states buy the hybrids from the company and distribute them to farmers, the expenditure incurred being financed by the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana. The Congress as well as the BJP and their allies converge on this policy of rolling the red carpet to these agribusinesses. What the Obama visit envisaged is to spread their web across the country and retain control of Indian agriculture and the nature of technology transfer in agriculture.
In the name of reducing post-harvest losses, there is talk of improving India’s ‘farm-to-market global supply chain’ which hints at business sector intervention in food processing and storage other than retailing per se. This is another sector which the big American companies are eyeing and the Indian government has also been talking the same language for quite some time. What one cannot miss in this context is that Mike Duke, CEO of the world's largest retailer WalMart Stores Inc, had come to India well in advance of Obama’s visit, drumming up support among Indian policy makers for the opening up of the multi-brand retail sector for FDI. WalMart has been pressing for removing the restrictions upon foreign companies investing in multi-brand retailing. For the purpose, Duke met the commerce minister Anand Sharma and Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia.
EYE ON OUR
Organised retail accounts for only 6 per cent of the 450 billion dollars retail sector in India and at present the access to foreign firms in the sector is restricted. Most top retailers of the world see a lucrative market in India and have been asking us to ease the restrictions on foreign ownership in retail operations so that they could sell their agricultural and dairy products among other things. The above mentioned USIBC document also asked for opening up of multi-brand retail sector to ‘organised players.’ It claimed: “Study after study has shown, doing so would bring efficiency, infrastructure, technology, and knowhow to Indian farmers, food processors, food service providers, and other suppliers.” The USIBC also noted the “massive market opportunity” in Indian cities for retail operations. The Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) articulated similar concerns when in a discussion paper it stated emphatically that “The agriculture sector needs well functioning markets to drive growth, employment and economic prosperity in rural areas.” Opening up retail trade for FDI remains a top priority issue for the global retail giants. Millions of Indians depend on this sector as their small shops provide the main source of livelihood for them, catering to the demands of more than one billion people. Their livelihoods will be put into jeopardy by any such move.
The USIBC document specifically stated that the Joint Agriculture Dialogue should be backed with both “resources and solid deliverables,” and suggested the lowering of tariff and non-tariff barriers which are ''affecting trade in fresh fruits and vegetables, poultry, pistachios, dairy products, and horticultural products. We also seek reduced customs duties on items such as processing equipment, restaurant equipment, and related goods.” US MNCs and US Grain Council have been insisting on lifting trade barriers. The easing of controls on dairy products, for instance, will seriously compromise the livelihood of an estimated 90 million people, a majority of whom are women. Women are estimated as comprising 75 million of the employees in dairy sector and they will be out of job as they cannot compete with the heavily subsidised American dairy sector. Dairy sector is also of crucial importance to the small and marginal farmers as well as the landless poor, and a significant source of income for millions of families. The very existence of the vibrant network of cooperative milk federations and women’s groups will be under threat. This sector is already witnessing a crisis with the increasing costs of cattle-feed and fodder, and imports of cheaper skimmed milk powder and butter oil despite a glut in domestic production. The flooding of Indian markets with cheap dairy products from the US will further push the millions of farmers and agricultural labourers into indebtedness and perpetual poverty, forcing them to give up agriculture and dairying.
The agriculture ministry has said it has put on hold the imports of dairy products on the ground that these products may be made from the milk of the cattle fed with feed containing blood meal, internal organs of animals or a non-vegetarian diet containing beef. It said, “India would have to be sensitive to religious sentiments.” Ironically, thus, the decision was not on the ground that it will compromise the livelihoods of millions of our farmers. In the same breath, the agriculture minister stated that India has an “open mind” on the matter but the dairy products will be subject to protocol and verification. Thus, if scientific studies prove that it does not affect the milk, he gave enough indication that their import will be allowed. The directions of the negotiations are clearly in favour of taking forward the neo-liberal agenda of free trade. In the context of huge subsidies to American agriculture, such moves will help the US products swamp the Indian market. This will mean a surge in profits for US MNCs --- an increase in trade surplus for the US agriculture and perils for our peasantry. The US wants to revitalise its wilting economy on the strength of the Indian market, at the expense of Indian farmers and consumers.
The stress on the rather innocuous looking crop and weather forecasting, water utilisation, and the blackout of the substantive issues of negotiations, is a clever move by both the governments. Only time will tell how these moves provide precise information to the benefit of American food exporters and traders. The agriculture minister has recently gone on record that the talks with US Department of Agriculture were inconclusive but would continue. He, however, said they discussed the “general issues” like mango export and the high phytosanitary fee making it unviable for India. The USDA is basically interested in export of barley and pet food, especially for dogs. The minister also added that barley import may benefit beer makers like United Breweries. Are the people of India so naïve as to believe that barley, mango, beer and dog food was what occupied the major share of time in the discussions between him and the USDA? If we don’t miss the wood for the trees, the direction of negotiations clearly points to the takeover of Indian agriculture by MNCs and Indian business houses.