Hunger, by design
By Vandana Shiva
Mar 03 2011
Why is every fourth Indian hungry? Why is every third woman in India
anaemic and malnourished? Why is every second child underweight and
stunted? Why has the hunger and malnutrition crisis deepened even as
India has nine per cent growth? Why is "Shining India" a "Starving
In my view, hunger is a structural part of the design of the
industrialised, globalised food system. Hunger is an intrinsic part of
the design of capital-intensive, chemical-intensive monocultures of
industrial agriculture, also called the "Green Revolution".
India's Green Revolution from 1940s to 1970s was neither green, nor
revolutionary. It merely created a market for corporations by
transforming war chemicals into agrichemicals and breeding crops to
respond to high chemical inputs. It increased production of a few
commodities - rice and wheat - at the cost of the production of
pulses, oilseeds, vegetables, fruits and millets. It focused on one
region, Punjab, and pushed the agriculture of other regions into
This is a design for scarcity.
Hunger is also designed into a non-sustainable production system in
which costs of inputs are higher than the price of outputs. The farmer
gets trapped into a negative economy with debt, and suicide is an
inevitable consequence. The 2,00,000 farmer suicides since 1997 are
part of the genocidal design of corporate-driven high-cost
There is now talk of a second Green Revolution in India. This one is
based on genetic engineering, which is being introduced into
agriculture largely to allow corporations to claim intellectual
property rights and patents on seeds. The floodgate of patenting seeds
was opened through the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights
(TRIPS) agreement of World Trade Organisation (WTO).
When seed is transformed from a source of life into "intellectual
property" which becomes a source of super profits through royalty
collections, both biodiversity and small farmers disappear. We have
seen this happen with Bt. Cotton.
The Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) of the WTO was designed to allow
Cargill and other agribusiness corporations access to world markets.
This was done by forcing countries to remove import restrictions and
using $400 billion to subsidise and dump artificial cheap food
commodities on the Third World. The case of dumping of soya and
destruction of India's domestic edible oil production and distribution
is an example of how the global reach of multinational corporations
creates hunger, driving down farm prices and destroying local
Indian farmers are losing $25 billion every year to falling prices.
While farm prices fall, food prices continue to rise, creating a
double burden of hunger for rural communities. This is why half of the
hungry people in India and the world are farmers.
Globalised forced trade in food, falsely called free trade, has
aggravated the hunger crisis by undermining food sovereignty and food
democracy. With the deadlock in the Doha round of WTO, forced trade is
being driven by bilateral agreements such as the US-India Knowledge
Initiative in Agriculture on the board of which sit corporations like
Monsanto, Cargill/ADM and Walmart.
Sadly, the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, is trying to use the
food crisis that his trade liberalisation policies have been creating
to hand over India's seed supply to Monsanto, food supply to Cargill
and other corporations and retail to Walmart, in line with the
US-India AoA signed with President Bush in 2005. Speaking at a
conference on food crisis and food inflation on February 4, 2011, Dr
Singh said, "India needs to shore up farm supply claims by bringing in
organised retail players" (read Walmart). Research shows that
globalised, industrialised retail is destroying farmers' livelihoods
and leading to wastage of 50 per cent food. This too is hunger by
Both the US and Indian governments are supporting US agri-business
corporations to expand markets and profits. Farmers' rights and
people's right to food are extinguished as corporate rights to
limitless profits design "the market". Instead of the right to food
being sacred, "the market" becomes sacred.
When the Supreme Court of India told the government to distribute the
food grain that was rotting in godowns, Dr Singh said that giving food
away free will kill the farmer's incentive to produce and adversely
affect prices and wages. When the National Advisory Committee (NAC),
headed by Sonia Gandhi, drafted a Food Security Act, the Prime
Minister-appointed Rangarajan Committee said that stepped-up
procurements could "distort" open market food prices. In other words,
corporate rights to profit through creation of hunger must be
protected even as people die.
Planning Commission vice-chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia invited Gulf
countries to farm in India and export food to their countries during a
visit to Muscat. A Bahrain firm, Nader and Ebrahim Group, recently
tied up with Pune-based Sanghar to grow bananas on 400 acres. Indian
laws do not allow foreigners to buy land. So the Planning Commission
chief is encouraging foreign corporations to partner with Indian
companies for contract farming.
Diverting land from food for local communities to cash crops for the
rich in US, Europe and the Gulf countries is not a solution for
hunger; this will aggravate the food crisis. This is not investment in
agriculture, it is land grab and food grab. To get rid of hunger we
need a paradigm shift in the design of our food systems.
We need to shift from monocultures to diversity, from chemical
intensive to ecological, biodiversity-intensive, from
capital-intensive to low-cost farming systems. We need to shift from
centralised, globalised food supply controlled by a handful of
corporations to decentralised, localised food systems that are
resilient in the context of climate vulnerability and price
volatility. Such system could feed India's population.
Industrial monocultures produce less food and nutrition per acre than
biodiverse ecological farms. Biodiversity organic farming, if adopted
nationally, could provide enough calories for 2.4 billion, enough
protein for 2.5 billion, enough carotene for 1.5 billion, and enough
folic acid for 1.7 billion pregnant women. We must end hunger by
building food democracy, by reclaiming our seed sovereignty, food
sovereignty and land sovereignty.
* Dr Vandana Shiva is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust