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Agriculture and Biotechnology

Proponents of free trade argue that liberalization of agriculture will increase food production and improve the economic conditions of farmers around the world. Real life experience, however, is telling a vastly different story as the liberalization of agriculture unfolds. The entry of transnational corporations in the agricultural sector has created devastating conditions in India, leading many small and marginal farmers, for example, to commit suicide due to economic distress.

The entry of transnational corporations in the sector has moved the focus of agriculture from self sufficiency to making profits. On the one hand, reform policies have ended subsidies provided to Indian farmers, leaving them at the mercy of market forces. On the other hand, these policies have increased incentives for large agribusiness companies to farm. Such is the level of disbandment of farmers in India that, as Devinder Sharma, a well known food policy analyst writes:

"In Andhra Pradesh, the state which leads the country in ushering in progressive policies to improve agriculture, chief minister Chandrababu Naidu has launched the Vision 2020 programme that aims to reduce the number of farmers from the present 70 per cent to 40 per cent. While what happens to the remaining 30 per cent of the farming force is none of his concern, the State continues to record the highest suicide rate among the farming community in the country. Such is the government's apathy that instead of resurrecting the policies to help farmers tide over the crisis of livelihood security, chief minister has been talking of deputing psychiatrists to advise farmers not to commit suicide!"

The impacts of liberalization in India are especially important because over 70% of India's population, directly or indirectly, is engaged in the agriculture sector. Add to this the fact the India is home to nearly a third of the world's poor, and one can begin to realize the numbers of people that trade liberalization, especially of the agricultural sector, impacts.

In their pursuit of profits, transnational corporations are eager to push untested technologies and models regardless of the human, environmental and social damages they may cause. India is rapidly moving toward a cash crop economy, at the expense of self-sufficiency. Large multinationals like Monsanto are also pushing the Gene Revolution (biotechnology), as the successor to the Green Revolution, in spite of largely unanswered questions about the impacts of such a technology. There are grand yet unproved claims that biotechnology is the answer to feeding the hungry in the world. Not only are the unanswered questions problematic, biotechnology in agriculture itself is designed so that corporations gain full control over the agricultural system from local farmers.

Ironically, the hunger problem in India is not one of food production but rather food distribution and storage. If left to the free market, as the WTO would like us to do, there will really be no food at all for the poor since we will export all the cash crops and the imported food will be too expensive for the poor to afford!

What is required is food security and achieving food security will involve consciously planning for the needs of the farmers in India, not abandoning them as has been the case since 1991 when the Indian government began to liberalize the economy. It will also involve guaranteeing genuine land reforms for most Indians, especially in the light that land holding size has been steadily declining over the years.

This issue area looks at the problems surrounding liberalization and corporate agriculture in India, and the attempts to turn back the tides of corporate globalization.

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Updated: 11/29/2003

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