As the farmers’ movement has set the alarm bells ringing regarding the need to check growing corporate control of agriculture, farmers and activists are now more conscious regarding drawing attention to adverse impacts of the clearly emerging trend of increasing corporatization of agriculture. Despite this, the trend of government policy appears to be clearly in favor of increasing corporate control.
Two reports published in newspapers of Himachal Pradesh on July 19 draw attention to both these trends in important ways. Firstly, there are reports about farmers’ organizations protesting against the terrible loss caused to them by growing tomato seeds of a big company known as Rockstar seeds. Secondly, there are reports of a policy decision to link big retail giants more closely to apple orchards for marketing preference.
Coming to the first aspect, there have been a series of recent reports which mention the acute distress of farmers in Solan and nearby areas as their tomato crop planted with much publicized Rockstar seeds has yielded such poor quality tomatoes that there are no buyers for them. Hence all costs and labor of farmers have been wasted. Efforts to sort out issues relating to compensation to be paid to farmers and discussions relating to this have also been reported but apparently satisfactory solutions had not emerged till July 18 as at a district level conference of Kisan Sabha held in Solan on this this issue figured prominently once again. It was pointed that nearly a million tomato plants in Solan and nearby areas alone have been largely wasted. Apart from compensation ,demands for regulating seeds and pesticides industries in much better ways were raised and in addition it was demanded that the government should provide cold storage facilities and set up processing facilities on its own for crops requiring quick sale or processing.
However the government appears to be more in a mood to according a bigger role to private companies, as was also revealed in a much discussed, front page report in Dainik Bhaskar of the same day July 19 ( Badi Companiyan seedhe baagvaanon se kharidegi seb ). This report stated that several giant retail companies have been issued the necessary NOC for purchasing apples directly from orchards and these companies will soon open their collection centers. Citing other measures as well, those involved in the decision were quoted as stating that this is being done to reduce the dependence on arhatis or traditional traders. In addition this report added that if orchard owners complain against an arhati then strict action will be taken against the arhati and his license may be cancelled.
This reveals another interesting trend. As is well-known, Himachal Pradesh has a BJP government, and earlier the BJP was known to be very close to traditional traders who constituted perhaps its most important social base. But in the phase of expansion of big retail companies in the retail sector, particularly in the context of food and farm produce, domestic big business houses as well as multinational companies, the BJP clearly appears to be siding with the big business interests and not with traditional traders. Although some Sangh Parivar organizations like the Swadeshi Jagran Manch continue to assert that they oppose big multinational companies and domestic big business houses in retail sector, the policy trend of BJP governments is certainly more towards big business, including multinational companies. In such a situation it is not surprising that even when there is fresh evidence of serious harm done by big agribusiness, the authorities go ahead and take a big decision favoring big agribusiness.
Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include Man Over Machine and When the Two Streams Met.