It is easy to have very wide agreement on the obvious fact that food and farming sector is one of the most important sectors, perhaps the most important sector, of human efforts and needs. But while the realization of this importance should lead to very caring and careful attitudes, the realization of the importance is actually being interpreted by very powerful forces in a very different way to try to increase their control and dominance over these systems, starting with seeds and leading all the way to the dining table. One very senior official of the USA went to the extent of infamously saying very bluntly—food is a weapon. This statement, incredibly enough, has been often quoted as a sign of strategic wisdom, emanating from the biggest food power.
Yes, it is extremely sad but equally true that the distance between what is clearly needed and what is actually happening in the food and farming sector worldwide is growing. In fact it is no longer a matter of just increasing distance, it is more true to say that what is needed in this crucial sector is seriously at conflict with what is happening more and more at policy level, backed by law.
Most ordinary people would agree on what they want from the food and farming system. First and foremost they want the food and farming system to provide them adequate food which is safe, healthy and nourishing, provides them adequate nutrition without endangering their health. Secondly, they want this food to reach them at a reasonable cost, without its price being manipulated and increased artificially by forces trying to earn unreasonably high profits, or creating artificial scarcities and scares to meet this selfish objective.
Thirdly, they would like to ensure the sustainability and reliability of this system, even in predicted times of more adverse weather and climate change. Essential conditions for this like soil health and water availability should be well protected. Next, they would like that the good quality supply of essential raw materials like cotton is also assured. Fifthly, hard working farmers and farm workers should get satisfactory income and secure, sustainable livelihoods.
Sixthly, they would like to protect environment and bio-diversity and health-nourishing conditions of villages where farming takes place. Last but not the least, they would like to protect the welfare of all animals, birds, in fact all life-forms who contribute to our food system, as much as is possible, and in particular that cruelty should be always avoided, and the possibilities of animal-spread diseases is minimized or eliminated to the extent possible.
To this list some of the more ecologically conscious citizens would like to add that they would like farming to contribute more and more to checking climate change.
It is of course possible to agree on and honor these wishes of ordinary people. In this list interests of consumers and farmers, present and future generations, providing adequate farm produce and protecting environment are in harmony with each other.
But serious problems arise when big business interests who do not share these aims , or else regard these aims to be much less important compared to their aims of very high profits and control, want to dominate the food and farming sector, and are able to actually strengthen their grip and power over the sector to a very considerable extent, all the time striving to increase this further, clamping down on the voice of farmers, consumers and environmentalists who have a different view, using powerful and corrupt lobbying methods to secure the collusion of officials, politicians and ‘experts’, also making longer-term investments to have them on their side.
This is the primary reason why official policy, and the laws enacted to promote this policy, are increasingly at conflict with what is actually needed and also desired by most people. And this is why farmers, consumers, environmentalists and all citizens need to get together to resolve this conflict so that policy can be in harmony with what is actually needed.
This is the wider context in which the ongoing farmers’ movement in India and various other such movements in various countries should be seen and supported.
The writer is a journalist and author. His recent books include Protecting Earth for Children and When the Two Streams Met ( Freedom Movement of India).