NO DOUBT, the drought is nature-made. It is due to the failure of monsoon in more than half of India that has made the country short by 10 million tones in rice and an equal quantity of sugar. But the nation could have avoided the man-made misery, the food crisis which is because of globalization.
Massive land grabbing, displacing farmers and abnormal growth of the landless have held to a situation where those who depend on the land have been further marginalized.
Our growth rate till last year was hitting nearly 10 percent or the pt two decades. But the number of the poor, roughly 70 percent of the population, has shown no appreciable dent. There is no paradox except that the extra earned money has gone to the pockets of the right. The growing luxury crops for exports have told upon the cultivation of rice and wheat. Rice has also been exported on a large scale when India needs every grain of it. The export was some kind of an obligation under globalization but it could have been avoided if some ministers and top bureaucrats in Andhra Pradesh had not fallen prey to the temptation of making money under the table. There is a lot of concern at the Centre, but not a word about an inquiry into the scandal.
What we have to realize is that the growth rate does not reduce poverty and hunger. It aggravates both. The Manmohan Singh Government has not yet woken up to the fact that the model of industrial agriculture and globalize trade on food are responsible for the creation of hunger. Farmers have inevitably depended on debt for help, not realizing that a debt trap is also a hunger trap. Many suicides have taken place and many more would.
The poor in India are worse off be because their food and livelihoods have been destroyed. The middle classes are even worse because they are eating inferior, not better. Junk food and processed food is forced on India through globalization. The country is now the epicenter of the malnutrition of the poor who do not get enough and the malnutrition of the rich, whose diets are being degraded with the Americanized food culture.
The uncontrollable rise in food prices is clearly an outcome of the economic policies which have been framed to fit into the neo-liberal paradigm. The Government has intervened at every step to create corporate monopolies in the food system-form steel to domestic production, trade to food process, to liberalized imports to export oriented agriculture and to corporate retail. Though the Government intervention has unleashed forces driving up food prices, it is now throwing up its hand and saying it can do nothing to control prices.
At the Global Agro-Industrial forum meeting on April 11 last year, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said a steep rise in food prices would make inflation control more difficult and might hurt macro-economic stability. He, however, ruled out the return to an era of blind control to check prices. “We cannot react to such a situation by returning to an era of blind controls and by depressing agriculture terms of trade,” said the Prime Minister. After having shaped an economy which is leading to high cost food for the poor, he has said he believes in running a ‘hands off economy.” This is putting the economy on autopilot for corporate control of food systems.
Imports are no longer affordable, and a model based on import dependency might be in the interest of the US Government which has always used food as a weapon. It is definitely not in the interest of India’s food sovereignty, nor in the interest of the 7- per cent of India’s population, already denied access to adequate food.
A decade and more of corporate globalization has divested agriculture worldwide with the promise of cheap food. Yet the very forces and process that have launched the globalization project are taking food beyond people’s reach. Prices of food are rising worldwide. More than 33 countries have witnessed for riots. India has had very high increases in prices of essential commodities. All kinds of reasons are being thrown around, including population growth. These are outrageous explanations because prices have doubled over the past year, but not the population.
When India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru found that after pumping in thousands of crores in the economy through the First Five year Plan, there was no improvement, he immediately appointed a top economic exert to find out where the money had gone. The report showed that the extra money was pocketed by the rich. Nehru was not surprised but felt hurt that Mahatma Gandhi’s advice to the industrialists and businessmen to act as trustees had made no difference. In fact, whatever Mahatma Gandhi preached on village economy and self-reliance has not been followed at all. He is not to bale but that ones running the Government are.
(Eminent Journalists, India’s former High Commissioner to the UK and Former Rajya Sabha Member)