In India there has been much discussion in recent times of the dangers of increasing corporatization of farming and food sectors. This is welcome, as there needs to be increasing public awareness of this harmful and high risk trend.
In the course of this discussion the name of two billionaires has been increasingly taken to such an extent that has become a part of routine daily discussion . While this is understandable as the two business houses and the gentlemen associated them are regarded as the most favored ones in the entrenched crony capitalism, this has also led to a certain oversimplification of the discourse. In particular this distracts attention from the much wider, and in fact much more powerful range of forces that threatens to disrupt badly the food and farming system of India and many other countries of the global south.
What are these powerful forces and what are their aims and strategies? It is very important to understand this if a credible resistance is to be organized in time to protect food security, food sovereignty, agro-ecology and the sustainable livelihoods of rural communities based on this.
At the core of this highly selfish and disruptive effort are a number of giant multinational companies , having local subsidiaries and branches in many countries, not just competing with each other but also having surprising levels of collaborative actions to promote common and joint interests. One of the ways in which they keep trying to concentrate power is by mergers. Mergers also allow companies which acquire too much disrepute from unethical activities to hide their previous identity and find a new one. While earning very high profits from food and farming is of course a more commonly understood aim of these corporations, an even more prized but less discussed aim is to gain more and more dominance of the food and farming sector. For this increasing concentration and dominance particularly in the seeds sector is emphasized more by them , and within the seeds sector their emphasis is most on GM seeds, which facilitates dominance, as well as patenting and linking of particular specified agro-chemicals to their seeds. The ultimate aim of these big corporations is to concentrate control of food/farming sector from seeds to farming to processing to dining table in a few hands.
These giant companies do not just promote their interests on their own; in addition they obtain the even more influential help of ruling regimes in various countries, setting aside huge funds for legally permissible lobbying and political donations, as well as corrupt practices which have been documented and exposed in the past. The success of these efforts is evident from the fact that in many countries these companies can count on the help and collaboration of senior officials, scientists and politicians.
Thirdly, these companies have the explicit or implicit help and backing of several very influential international organizations which function to promote mainly big business friendly approach to various policy issues. These organizations can be economic or business organizations, or these can be presented also as philanthropic organizations. These organizations have acquired special skills in giving big business interests the cover of sustainability and public good ( and in fact generate very high paying, lucrative jobs and consultancies for the purpose of providing just this spin and deception). Some of these organizations, including supposedly philanthropic ones, have targeted food/farming and health sectors particularly as the two most critical sectors whose dominance by big business interests will pave the way for overall dominance .
Fourthly, there is an increasing effort by these big business interests to also infiltrate and or co-opt the United Nations system, agencies and officials as their agenda gets much more credibility and its deceptive power increases significantly if it is carried forward, even if in a somewhat diluted or covered-up form, by the United Nations system. Hence it is no longer surprising to find the interests of big business supported or advanced in various clever forms by some United Nations agencies and officials. An additional advantage of this is that many experts and consultants working with the UN also get somewhat supportive, and collaborators within governments find it easier to extend support. Of course some honest persons within the UN system continue to resist this.
In addition, big business has a big hold over the media as providers of huge advertisement revenue as well as other benefits. Of course not all media accept these benefits but the reality of overall media support for big business interests exists.
Last but not the least, the big companies try to buy the support of many NGOs, including those working at grassroots, by giving big projects and in fact they are also willing to fund some farmer organizations as well, directly or indirectly, to compromise them or to buy their support. Of course, several honest persons within the NGO sector also continue to resist this strongly.
This is the wider range of forces promoting a highly disruptive agenda for food and farming sector which will lead to the dominance of a few big multinational companies in this sector, while harming sustainable livelihoods of farmers and availability of safe and healthy food. This agenda should be resisted not just by farmers and their organizations but by all citizens who value sustainable availability of safe and healthy food based on sustainable livelihoods of farmers.
Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include Planet in Peril and Protecting Earth for Children.