Economic Growth or Abnormal Swelling?

August 16, 2012 12:00 am Published by Leave your thoughts

With eight to nine per cent economic growth in recent years, India has apparently arrived. It’s not too clear where ‘destination India’ happens to be, but it is one that includes nuclear weapons, a space programme, luxury townships and a Formula 1 race track for rich men to drive expensive cars for the well-to-do to watch. Eye-catching stuff. What more could a country want?

How about policies that prioritise food sovereignty and water security for a burgeoning yet vulnerable population, delivered by a thriving agriculture sector?

Take the recent building of the Delhi to Agra Yamuna expressway, for instance. Will this project benefit the 70 per cent mainly rural folk who struggle to get by on less than two dollars a day, or is it just intended to benefit the rich and their planned townships and sports cities along the road? Huge tracts of fertile land have been gained cheaply and sold for massive profit. Last year, parts of the area were up for sale at 18 times the price that was paid to farmers for the land.

Farmers’ leaders claim the number of deaths over this land acquisition to be at least 70. Activists have reported that police action has included firing live bullets and rapes on peaceful and unarmed people demanding justice and their rights. But this is symptomatic of what is happening across the country.

In Jaitapur, Maharashtra, police opened fire on peaceful protesters demonstrating against the proposed Nuclear Power Park. In Orissa, state forces are to be deployed to assist in what many regard as the anti-constitutional land acquisition to protect the stake of India’s largest foreign direct investment project, the POSCO Steel project. The anti-POSCO movement, in its six years of peaceful protest, has faced state violence numerous times.

A 2009 report blamed the government and companies such as Tata and Essar for a corporate takeover in the hinterland of Chhattisgarh state, warning of “the biggest grab of tribal lands after Columbus.”

“This open declared war will go down as the biggest land grab ever, if it plays out as per the script,” the report stated.

Commissioned by the rural development ministry and chaired by the then-minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, the report also stated, “The drama (is) being scripted by Tata Steel and Essar Steel who wanted seven villages or thereabouts, each to mine the richest lode of iron ore available in India.”

Apart from unconstitutional land grabs, displacing people and selling off much needed fertile land, the government has placed part of agriculture in the hands of powerful western agribusiness. You don’t have to look far to read the many reports and research papers to know the effects – biopiracy, patenting and seed monopolies, pesticides and the use of toxins leading to superweeds and superbugs, the destruction of local rural economies, water run offs from depleted soil leading to climate change and severe water resource depletion and contamination.

Export-oriented policies that are part of agricultural globalisation have led to a shift in India from the production of food crops to commodities for exports. Where farmers traditionally grew paddy, pulses, millets, oilseeds and vegetable crops, they now grow cotton for export or wheat. India’s biodiversity is being uprooted. The subcontinent used to have 30,000 varieties of rice to cope with different climates. There are now 15.

One in four people in India is hungry and every second child is underweight and stunted. But environmentalist Vandana Shiva argues that hunger is a structural part of the design of the industrialised, globalised food system and of the design of capital-intensive, chemical-intensive monocultures of industrial agriculture. In her view, this type agriculture merely created a market for corporations to breed crops that respond to high chemical inputs. It has increased production of wheat and cotton at the cost of the production of other crops, some of which is now imported.

Shiva argues for a shift towards ecological, biodiversity-intensive, low-cost farming systems. Her organisation, Navdanya, is helping farmers across India implement a practical shift away from centralised, globalised food supply controlled by a handful of corporations towards decentralised, localised food systems that are resilient in the context of climate vulnerability and price volatility. She asserts such a system could feed India’s population.

Of course, apart from the Tatas and Essars, the biggest beneficiaries of what is currently happening are big agribusiness like the Monsanto, Syngenta and Cargill. The biggest losers are the many farmers who have been conned, forced into debt and have committed suicide en masse.

If the present path is continued, the mass of the population will find itself increasingly reliant on an insecure supply of food that is unnecessarily shifted around the planet, increasing water scarcities and expensive food that has less nutritional content and involves a greater threat to health. An article in the journal Hortscience in 2009 indicated falling nutritional values as a result of industrialised agriculture, and various studies point to the health risks from intensive, industrial methods as chemicals and the impact of genetic modifications become prevalent within the food chain.

According to officialdom, current construction projects comprise ‘necessary infrastructure’, and giving free rein to agribusiness serves ‘public purpose’. The reality is however that such trends form part of a skewed notion of ‘development’ dictated by elite interests in India and at the World Bank and by the corporations that pull the strings at the World Trade Organisation, who have all succeeded in getting their ‘free’ trade agendas accepted.

Where is the logic in giving the thieves the keys to your home? Why hand over the country to those who regard food and fertile land as resources to be looted for profit?

India may have had eight or nine per cent economic growth until this year, but this doesn’t give the true picture. Surely, like some of the plants now grown, it’s a case of ‘abnormal swelling’.


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This post was written by Colin Todhunter

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