In 1991, when I was 12 years old and in 8th class in my village high school, the Government of India led by the Congress Party launched new economic reform programmes. I vividly remember reading local newspapers, which carried news on the reduction of agricultural subsidies on seeds, fertilisers, electricity and irrigation. It also started dismantling the universal approach to food security and public distribution system in India. My father who was an active farmer then and used to be the district leader of BJP (Secretary of Kishan Morcha) but supported liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation policies of the Congress Government in New Delhi. He argued that these policies will bring economic boom and there will be trickle-down effect on all sectors of Indian economy. The agriculture sector and famers will benefit from such policies. This was also the silent understanding of BJP and RSS but made piecemeal opposition to the reforms led by the Congress Party. The national and mainstream media heralded the new economic reforms as the best policy option for a powerful and developed India. The theological promise of neoliberalism is like deceptive salvation in Hindu religion.
After three decades, my village is witnessing the declining of agriculture. The new economic reforms were slow poison for the agrarian economy. The new economic policies ruined agriculture in my village. The fertiliser corporations get subsidies. The industries get water and electricity subsidies but the farmers in my village nearly abandoned agriculture as a source of their livelihood. There are a very few farmers left in my village due to lack of availability of alternative livelihoods for them. As Modi government follows the footprints of the Congress Party in implementing more ruthless agricultural policy reforms, my father (my best friend) opposes these polices and he argues that corporatisation of agriculture will destroy agricultural economy and take away farmer’s livelihood in short run and farmer’s land in long run. Such a transformation of my father gives me hope and shows greater transformation waiting for India in political and economic terms. The democratic debate between the father and son continues as famers protest against an authoritarian regime led by Mr Narendra Modi.
Mr Narendra Modi led BJP government and his Hindutva henchmen are claiming that agricultural reforms are necessary to expand trade and investment in agriculture. The goal of the reform is to increase wholesale agricultural market for the growth of agricultural exports. The Modi government claims that farmers will get greater freedom within liberalised agricultural market and maximise their profit. It would result in higher standard of living and higher quality of life for Indian farmers. It is important to burst these myths propagated by Modi and his ignorant Hindutva capitalist cronies. These claims are blatant lies and agricultural reform policies are unsustainable. The Modi led agricultural reform policies would make farmers vulnerable to market forces. The deepening of capitalist market forces have ruined agriculture, agricultural communities, farmer’s lives and livelihoods. The market led industrial approach to agriculture drives farmers out of business and reinforces agrarian crisis which forces farmers to commit suicide.
The American farmers have become vulnerable to corporate exploitation and abuse because of similar reform policies. The liberalised agricultural policies have helped in the growth of very few corporations that controls American agriculture today. The deepening of market forces and growth of industrial agriculture led to the growth of four corporations that controls forty percent of agricultural market in USA. It destroyed the livelihood of small and medium farmers, rural communities and swallowed family farms in America. The corporations supressed the price of the farm produce and increased its selling price. Both American producers and consumers suffer heavily due to such agricultural transitions. It also destroyed small businesses affiliated with agriculture in US. The American farmers are fighting back and defeat corporate control over American agriculture.
The European Union (EU)’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has created a system in which the large farmers and landowners in UK, France and Germany are the beneficiaries of its subsidies whereas the small farmers are marginalised. It has created a wholesale agricultural market where prices of agricultural products are different in different parts of EU member countries. The price fluctuation within agricultural market is created by the market forces within EU and the small farmers face the crisis. The EU led CAP has huge negative impacts of developing countries in Africa. The subsidise overproduction of food, milk and poultry is destroying local production and local markets in Africa. The big farmers and agricultural corporations in Europe are the net beneficiaries of such agricultural policies driven by market forces. These policies ruined the rural communities and destroyed the livelihoods of small and medium farmers in Europe. Therefore, Land Workers’ Alliance is not only opposing the CAP but also demanding subsidies to small farmers and family farms in UK. It is also strongly demanding the British government to exempt agriculture from all free trade agreements. Many European countries have also realised that industrial agriculture led by corporations destroy the environment. So, there are many social and political movements against corporate takeover of agriculture in Europe today.
Many developed countries have witnessed to the landgrab by the big corporations and big farmers with the growth of corporatisation of agriculture. The Congress Party governments have started the policies of corporate land grab in the name of Special Economic Zones (SEZs). After agricultural policy reforms, the Modi led BJP government is planning to liberalise land laws further by which the corporates can take over land ownership from the small and medium farmers in India. The BJP government is preparing itself to provide vast stretches of land to the capitalist cronies and friends of Mr Narendra Modi. The corporate led industrial agriculture in India will create conditions of industrial feudalism and corporate landlordism in one hand and consumerist individualism on the other.
The corporatisation of agriculture destroys social fabric in agricultural and rural communities. The cooperative culture is converted into competitive culture that ruins rural communities with the growth of individualist consumerism. The market forces do not believe in diversification. The market forces promote economies of standardisation which is dangerous for the diversity within Indian agriculture. Therefore, the market led industrial agriculture dominated by corporations can never be an alternative for India and Indian farmers. The Government of India need to find ways to invest in agricultural cooperatives to empower farmers and generate employment in agriculture by diversifying it. India and Indian farmers need socially responsible, environmentally sustainable and economically rewarding agricultural policies and egalitarian land reforms to increase farmer’s income and expand market led agricultural economy, where agricultural producers can directly interact with their consumers. Such an agricultural market economy would be really open, free and fair.
Bhabani Shankar Nayak, University of Glasgow, UK