Op-ed

India is facing a food crisis, and globalisation is making it worse

Corporate globalisation is threatening the food rights of Indian people and the survival of its farmers.

India is the oldest living agrarian civilisation, with every fourth farmer of the world being from India. Neoliberal reforms focusing only on corporate profits have not just led to a deep existential crisis for farmers by threatening their lives and livelihoods. It has also led to a hunger emergency with every fourth Indian driven to hunger, and every second child suffering from severe malnutrition.

agrarian and hunger crisis
Agrarian and food crises are two aspects of the same crisis © Anindito Mukherjee/Getty Images

In the mid 1960’s the World Bank and the US government imposed the high-cost Green Revolution, based on industrial chemical inputs. By the 1990’s India had a 90 billion-dollar debt, with one third of the debt tied to loans for Green Revolution infrastructure. By 1991, the World Bank imposed a structural adjustment package to dismantle India’s food security and food sovereignty regulatory framework. The package imposed the following elements: Deregulation, which allows the corporate takeover of the food system; corporate control, which created polarisation of prices, and farmer dependence on corporations for inputs and markets, as well as consumer dependence on a handful of corporations.

Coupled with globalisation and trade liberalisation, this caused a deepening of the agrarian, hunger, and health crisis for both farmers and consumers. This structural adjustment package alongside the IMF, and WTO trade rules are now embodied in the Agriculture Agreement and TRIPs Agreement and is now part of the National Agriculture Policy, demonstrating corporate rule over our food and farming.

Today, farmers’ incomes fall even as the price of food increases, showing how the agrarian and the food crises are two aspects of the same crisis. Since food is the currency of life, the reduction of food to a commodity to be traded for profits, creates hunger, while simultaneously undermining farmers livelihoods and farmers rights. The neoliberal economic paradigm is an attempt for recolonisation and the re-establishment of a corporate rule through the old instruments of conquest, control, deregulation and wealth extraction, all in a new form.

What is needed to address the farmer’s crisis is not an external trade liberalisation that promotes corporate profits, but an internal shifting of agriculture that regenerates nature’s economy and the people’s economy, through liberating farmers from corporate control and liberating food agriculture in the direction of enhancing self-regenerative ecological processes. All of which would enhance ecological and livelihood security and shift the focus from growing monoculture commodities at high cost to growing biodiversity for health and resilience.

hunger crisis in India
Agriculture has to regenerate nature’s economy © amol sonar/Unsplash

The globalisation of corporate agriculture is aggravating all the problems linked with the centralised industrial system of food production and distribution. It is increasing chemical use, through conventional methods as well as through the evolution of genetic engineering. It is increasing transport and food miles, and fuelling food insecurity by exacerbating climate change.

It is promoting the mining of water and exhaustion of soil fertility by putting profitability above sustainability. It is giving primacy to trade while undermining domestic production. It is putting exports above the food entitlements of domestic consumers. Trade liberalisation and globalisation are threatening the food rights of Indian people and the survival of farmers and agriculture in many different ways.

Creating just, sustainable, healthy and accessible food systems has become more urgent than ever. The impact of policy changes in the agrarian sector followed by the World Bank Structural Adjustment period of 1991, followed by the trade liberalisation rules of WTO in 1995, has led to these new challenges. It is clear how the combination of the unsustainable Green Revolution practices as well as the undemocratic, unjust and unfair structures of the neoliberal corporate globalisation and deregulation has triggered multiple emergencies. As a result, nearly a billion people are structurally hungry in the dominant model of food and agriculture.
And this hunger is by design.

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