Economic globalisation was heralded a decade ago as ?a rising tide that will raise all boats?. For the poor and vulnerable in the Third World it has been more like a tsunami, sweeping away the little security they had. In any case, the ?rising tide? metaphor is hardly positive in times of global warming and sea level rise.
While the impacts of economic globalisation are different in different societies, and on different sections of society, it is the vulnerable who are paying the highest price. In the case of Indian farmers, they are paying with their very lives.
However, it is the very transformation of society by the rule of greed that globalisation has unleashed which poses a pervasive threat to our very ability to be decent human beings, living at peace with diversity.
Globalisation and farmer suicide
Two aspects of the food and agrarian crisis in India are the epidemic of farmers suicides and increase in hunger. Malnutrition has increased among women and children. Results of the national family health survey show that anemia has gone up for women and children. Among the lowest 30 per cent households, per capita calorie intake has fallen from 1830 Kcal in 1989 to 1600 Kcal in 1998. In 1999-2000 almost 77 per cent of the rural population consumed less than the poverty line calorie requirement of 2400 calories.
Farmers suicides and increase in malnutrition are related processes?both are the result of ten years of rapid and unthinking trade liberalisation.
Globalisation has led to-
1. Increase in costs of production.
2. Falling prices of farm produce.
3. Rising costs of food as a result of dismantling of the PDS system and weakening of the Essential Commodities Act.
Thus the farmers earn less, and the poors pays more. Produce prices fall, consumer prices rise. These structural changes were part of the trade liberalisation package which consisted of the following elements.
* Liberalising fertilizers imports and deregulating domestic manufacturing and the distribution of fertilisers.
* Removing land ceiling regulation.
* Removing subsidies on irrigation, electricity and credit and creating conditions to facilitate the trading of canal irrigation water rights.
* Deregulating the wheat, rice, sugarcane, cotton and edible oil and oilseed industries.
* Dismantling the food security system.
* Removing controls on markets, traders, and processors, and subsidies to cooperatives.
* Abolishing the Essential Commodities Act.
* Abolishing the general ban on future trading.
* Abolishing inventory controls.
* Abolishing selective credit controls on inventory financing.
* Treating farmers cooperatives on an equal footing with the private sector.
The foregoing elements of SAP are not recipes for removing centralised control over agriculture but concentrating it now even further in the hands of Agribusiness TNCs such as Monsanto, Cargill, Pepsico etc. who are emerging as the new zamindars.
The structural impact of these changes are intrinsic to the package of trade liberalisation. Under the ?globalisation, privatisation and liberalisation? agenda of the World Bank, WTO and IMF trade is more unfair than free. Ultimately, it is the poorer sections in every society that are the end losers. Over the years, there has been an increasing asymmetry between world prices and domestic prices. Index numbers of wholesale prices and consumer prices in India for almost all commodities have increased by over two times between 1990-91 and 1997-98. Over the same period of tome, world commodity prices have been on the decline. With the removal of import restrictions, low commodity prices supported by high subsidies are destroying domestic production and livelihoods of the poor. While the incomes of the poor go down, their expenditure is rising due to rising consumer prices.
This growing gap between domestic consumer prices and international commodity prices refutes the claims of the free trade propagandists that the gains from unrestricted trade shall percolate down to consumers in the form of lower prices and high quality. Corporations gain by low commodity prices, peoples lose with rising costs of essential commodities. That the asymmetric response of domestic commodity prices to world prices is caused by the behaviour of international trading companies and is not the result of trade restrictions or bidding processing costs is shown by Morisset, 1999. This has cost the commodity exporting countries over US$100 billion a year by limiting the expansion of the final demand for these products in the major consumer markets.
Thus while consumers in India are paying more for their sustenance, at the macro level, the country is getting less for what it exports, particularly in the face of a sharply declining currency value. The non-fuel commodity price index declined by 45 per cent in constant prices between 1980 and 1998. At the same time, the manufacturers unit value index-I rose by 44 per cent over the same period of time. The adverse terms of trade is increasingly reflected in India'sworsening trade deficit, which rose from Rs. 10635 crore in 1990-91 to Rs. 34495 crore in 1998-99.
The polarisation in domestic consumer prices and world prices and the surge in imports with the removal of quantitative restrictions implies that consumers in India end up paying more than they would, had there been no trade.
The choices of both farmers and consumers decrease as global corporations increase their control over food and agriculture.
The case of wheat makes this polarisation evident. Farmers in India earned only Rs. 650-700/quintal. However, global prices increased for $170 to $270/tonne as a result of India importing 5.5 million tonnes, and domestic prices of wheat for consumers have increased to Rs. 1100/quintal. This increase is not due to scarcity but due to the growing corporate control over both the domestic market and international trade.
Grow more wheat, sustainably
The Government is trying to project the rising prices of wheat as the result of low production and low productivity. The lowering of estimates of wheat production from 73 metric tonnes to 68 metric tonnes was done at the behest of USDA and has been questioned by the Directorate of Wheat Research, which assesses 71-72 million tonnes production. Of course, if the policy of importing wheat continues, and if the policy of shifting from staple foods to vegetables and fruits for export continues to be given priority, there will in future also be a production crisis for foodgrains. Meantime, the Government has proposed a package to ?grow more wheat? as if lack of domestic wheat production was the reason for imports. However, the wheat package itself is a package for increasing corporate control over our food supply. The Rs. 24.8 billion package has the following components.
?Seed Replacement? means a farmer growing up their tried and tested open pollinated varieties for hybrids and corporate seed. It is in effect a corporate subsidy, not a subsidy to farmers.
Similarly, the zero till drill machine goes hand in hand with the spread of round-up, which is being subsidised through ?zero-till? and ?conservation tillage? systems.
Subsidies for micro-nutrients, gypsum, sprinkler sets and diesel are all corporate subsidies not subsidies to farmers. The ?growing more wheat? package is also misplaced because instead of strengthening the substainability of wheat production in wheat growing areas, it proposed promoting wheat in non-traditional areas such as Bihar and West Bengal which are rice growing regions.
?Low seed replacement rate? has been identified as the main cause for low productivity of wheat, alongwith imbalanced use of fertilizers and high costs of input and depleting soil health. However, the package offered will further increase costs of imputs and deplete soil health because it is based on chemical inputs, not organic inputs.
Further seed replacement is not a solution but a source of new problems. Seed replacement in the cotton belt has meant replacement of tried and tested varieties with untested Bt. Cotton which has failed farmers. Farmers varieties are the best quality wheats in India. And compared to 3.7 tonnes/hactare that farmers are getting using high yielding varieties and chemicals, Navdanya'sorganic farmers using native varieties are getting 6.2 tonnes/hactare in Uttar Pradesh. The potential of farmers varieties to contribute to increased food production is very high.
The Government package is increasing wheat production by about 7 million tonnes over the next three years with a subsidy of Rs. 24 billion. The plan is too pronged, one to expand the area of cultivation from 1 to 1.4 million hectare in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Maharasthra and Gujarat. Two, to increase productivity from 25 per cent to 40 per cent. Our organic methods have increased productivity by 200 per cent. If applied to wheat which grows over 26.5 million hectares, it is possible to lower costs of production and produce more than a million tonnes of wheat, using selections from the best of farmers varieties. Instead of seed replacement we need seed conservation and participatory breeding by farmers, instead of micro-nutrients and gypsum and sprinkler irrigation, no till drill machines, we need organic manure which supplies micro-nutrients and conserves moisture. Instead of subsidising corporations for non-renewable seeds and non-renewable inputs we need to support our small organic farmers to go organic.
The prionisation of culture
Culture is the core of society?the embodiment of values and norms, of meaning and interpretation. It is a positive, lived experience. And as positive identity, cultural diversity can co-exist in peace. However, the stresses and pressures of globalisation change positive identities into negative identities, much like the prions, the distorted proteins which were identified as causing the mad cow disease when cows were fed with carcasses of diseased cows. Much as a prion becomes a self infecting agent, the prionisad cultures become self infecting agents in society.
The spread of economic globalisation has gone hand in hand with the rise of exclusivist philosophies and ideologies as I have written in Earth Democracy. Underlying the exclusivist philosophies of the fundamentalist market ideology and religious ideology is the polarisation of identity. In Indian philosophy, we think in terms of so-hum: ?you are, therefore I am?. Fundamentalisms, however, function on the belief ?If you are, I am not,? or ?My existence requires your annihilation.? Samuel Huntington'sClash of Civilisations is based on this paradigm of mutual exclusion, hence mutual annihilation : ?For peoples seeking identity and reinventing ethnicity, enemies are essential.?
As Amy Chua discusses in her book World on Fire, the economic polarisation of globalisation is superimposed on existing class inequalities. These class inequalities frequently mirror ethnic patterns. Class conflicts, she argues, thus get camouflaged as ethnic conflicts.
As diverse cultures experience a threat to their values, norms, and practices by globalisation, there is a cultural backlash. When the cultural response does not simultaneously defend economic democracy and create living economies, it takes the form of negative identities and negative cultures.
Culture and economy are inseparable. The neoliberal ideology of development and globalisation wishes culture away, yet culture dominates and becomes the surrogate for concerns over livelihoods and economic security. Fundamentalist religion becomes, as Marx so aptly observed, an ?opiate of the masses.?
The concrete context of culture?the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the languages we speak, the faiths we hold?is the source of our human identity. However, economic globalisation has hijacked culture, reducing it to a consumerist monoculture of Mc-Donald'sand Coca-Cola on the one hand, and negative identities of hate on the other.
Peace and sustainability need society to move to a paradigm beyond economic globalisation.
(The author is a respected social activist and founder director of Navdanya and can be contacted at [email protected])