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By Colin Todhunter
Agriculture in India is at a crossroads. Indeed, given that over 60 per cent of the country's 1.3-billion-plus population still make a living from agriculture (directly or indirectly), what is at stake is the future of India. Unscrupulous interests are intent on destroying India's indigenous agri-food sector and recasting it in their own image. Farmers are rising up in protest.
To appreciate what is happening to agriculture and farmers in India, we must first understand how the development paradigm has been subverted. Development used to be about breaking with colonial exploitation and radically redefining power structures. Today, neoliberal dogma masquerades as economic theory and the subsequent deregulation of international capital ensures giant transnational conglomerates are able to ride roughshod over national sovereignty.
The deregulation of international capital flows has turned the planet into a free-for-all bonanza for the world's richest capitalists. Under the post-World-War Two Bretton Woods monetary regime, governments could to a large extent run their own macroeconomic policy without having to constantly seek market confidence or worry about capital flight. However, the deregulation of global capital movement has increased levels of dependency of nation states on capital markets and the elite interests who control them.GLOBALISATION
The dominant narrative calls this 'globalisation', a euphemism for a predatory neoliberal capitalism based on endless profit growth, crises of overproduction, overaccumulation and market saturation and a need to constantly seek out and exploit new, untapped (foreign) markets to maintain profitability.
In India, we can see the implications very clearly. Instead of pursuing a path of democratic development, India has chosen (or has been coerced) to submit to the regime of foreign finance, awaiting signals on how much it can spend, giving up any pretence of economic sovereignty and leaving the space open for private capital to move in on and capture markets.
India's agri-food sector has indeed been flung open, making it ripe for takeover. The country has borrowed more money from the World Bank than any other country in that institution's history. Back in the 1990s, the World Bank directed India to implement market reforms that would result in the displacement of 400 million people from the countryside. Moreover, the World Bank's 'Enabling the Business of Agriculture' directives entail opening up markets to Western agribusiness and their fertilisers, pesticides, weedicides and patented seeds and compel farmers to work to supply transnational corporate global supply chains.
The aim is to let powerful corporations take control under the guise of 'market reforms'. The very transnational corporations that receive massive taxpayer subsidies, manipulate markets, write trade agreements and institute a regime of intellectual property rights, thereby indicating that the 'free' market only exists in the warped delusions of those who churn out cliche's about 'price discovery' and the sanctity of 'the market'.
What could this mean for India? We only have to look at the business model that keeps these companies in profit in the US: an industrialised system that relies on massive taxpayer subsidies and has destroyed many small-scale farmers' livelihoods.
The fact that US agriculture now employs a tiny fraction of the population serves as a stark reminder for what is in store for Indian farmers. Agribusiness companies' taxpayer-subsidised business models are based on overproduction and dumping on the world market to depress prices and rob farmers elsewhere of the ability to cover the costs of production. The result is huge returns and depressed farmer incomes.
Indian agriculture is to be wholly commercialised with large-scale, mechanised (monocrop) enterprises replacing family-run farms that help sustain hundreds of millions of rural livelihoods while feeding the masses.
India's agrarian base is being uprooted, the very foundation of the country, its (food and non-food) cultural traditions, communities and rural economy. When agri-food corporations like Bayer (and previously Monsanto) or Reliance say they need to expand the use of GMOs under the guise of feeding a burgeoning population or to 'modernise' the sector, they are trying to justify their real objective: displacing independent cultivators, food processors and 'mom and pop' retailers and capturing the entire sector to boost their bottom line.
Indian agriculture has witnessed gross underinvestment over the years, whereby it is now wrongly depicted as a basket case and underperforming and ripe for a sell off to those very interests who had a stake in its underinvestment.
Today, we hear much talk of 'foreign direct investment' and making India 'business friendly', but behind the benign-sounding jargon lies the hard-nosed approach of modern-day capitalism that is no less brutal for Indian farmers than early industrial capitalism was for English peasants whose access to their productive means was stolen and who were then compelled to work in factories.
The intention is for India's displaced cultivators to be retrained to work as cheap labour in the West's offshored plants, even though nowhere near the numbers of jobs necessary are being created and that under the World Economic Forum's 'great reset' human labour is to be largely replaced by artificial intelligence-driven technology under the guise of a '4th Industrial Revolution'.
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