Why the corporatisation of agriculture is against India's interests

By Vandana Shiva

Establishing corporate rule in Indian agriculture

ON 29 January 1996, at an address at the Indian Institute of Agricultural Research, the United States Secretary of Agriculture, Mr Daniel Glickman, directly addressed the issue of the protection of seed transnationals (TNCs). He said, 'I hope your new legislation will provide a responsible and reasonable protection to private seed companies, which will encourage them to provide the best seeds available for your farmers. There would be very few inventions of anything, particularly in agriculture, without patent protection because it is the fundamental fact of nature that people will not go through the expense of development of new ideas just for the altruistic benefit of the human race.'

The US intellectual property rights (IPR) orthodoxy is based on the fallacious idea that people will not innovate or generate knowledge unless they can derive private profits. Greed is not a 'fundamental fact of human nature' but a dominant tendency in societies that reward it. In the area of seeds and plant genetic resources, innovation in both 'formal' and 'informal' systems has so far been guided by the larger human good.

Besides using a fallacious argument about human nature, Mr Glickman also stressed the inevitability of farmers' dependence on MNCs for seeds due to trade liberalisation and its impact on agriculture.

According to him, 'As income increases throughout Indian society, food needs will change _ higher vegetable oil consumption, a shift from rice to wheat in urban areas and some shifting from grain to poultry and livestock products. Also, the needs of the new food processing industries will change the types of crops demanded. Therefore, farmers must have access to new crop varieties in order to meet changing consumer preferences.'

Recipe for food insecurity

In other words, what the US government is persuading to provide incentives for the promotion of the Indian government to do is introduce unhealthy fat and meat-rich diets through the expansion of US agribusiness, agroprocessing and fast-food industries.

The proposal is to replace the small peasant and farmer-based agricultural economy of India with agribusiness-controlled industrial agriculture. This shift is associated with a transformation of farmers as breeders and reproducers of their own seed supply to farmers as consumers of proprietary seed from the seed industry. It is also a shift from a food economy based on millions of farmers as autonomous producers to a food system controlled by a handful of TNCs which control both inputs and output. This is a recipe for food insecurity, biodiversity erosion and uprooting of farmers from the land.

It is often stated that IPRs will not stop traditional farmers using native seeds. However, when it is recognised that IPRs are an essential part of a package of agribusiness-controlled agriculture in which farmers no longer grow native seeds but seeds supplied by the TNC seed industry, IPRs become a means of monopoly that wipe out farmers' right to save and exchange seed. This leads to TNC totalitarianism in agriculture. TNCs will decide what is grown by farmers, what they use as inputs, and when they will sell their produce, to whom and at what price. They will also decide what is eaten by consumers, at what price, with what content and how much information is made available to them about the nature of food commodities.

Mr Glickman also said that the US Food and Drug Agency (FDA) would open an office in India to inspect farm products being exported to the US. The policies and management of agriculture in India are thus being set by the US government, not by the Government of India, in total violation of national sovereignty. The US Ambassador is like the Resident in the days of the East India Company rule. The only difference is that now there are many East India Companies including TNCs like Pepsico and Cargill. The US government official agencies are acting on their behalf and are in turn coercing the Government agencies of India to also become instrument of TNC interests.

Under the new corporate rule, the agencies of the Government of India are, on the one hand, becoming subject to US and international policy set by the WTO. On the other hand, they are becoming active promoters of the US agribusiness and active destroyers of the livelihoods of small peasants. This policy of destruction is evident in the statement of Gokul Patnaik who heads the Agricultural and Processed Food Export Development Authority (APEDA) that by the year 2001 AD Indian agriculture would be fully corporatised. He also admitted that this would imply the destruction of small farmers. .................