9:14 AM Feb 9, 1995


New Delhi 7 Feb (TWN) -- The Structural adjustment programmes of the World Bank and the IMF on the one hand and the Agriculture and TRIPs agreements of the World Trade Organisation have created new conditions of food insecurity for large numbers of Indians who already suffer severe deprivation and malnutrition.

This was one of the conclusions of a 'policy dialogue' involving several non-governmental environment and development experts here over the weekend. The discussions focused on 'Trade Liberalisation, Natural Resources and Food Security'

The discussions stressed that the Indian government's economic survey has itself recognised that 40% of the people are below the poverty line and that most poor people spend all their income on food.

Economic policy changes that increase poverty by destroying livelihoods and employment, and make the poor of India compete with the rich consumers including chicken, cows and cats of affluent Western societies can become a major source of threat to food security and a cause for large scale scarcity, starvation and famine.

Export and import liberalisation in the area of staple food grains is threatening to create a 'new class' who have lost their livelihoods and all means to participate effectively as producers and consumers in the food economy. Not only is this a denial of their fundamental right to food, it will also create major social displacement, dislocation and disintegration in the area of food and agriculture needs to be guided by equity and ecological imperatives, participants said.

Food security, they said, cannot be ensured by entrusting agriculture and food production and trade to global markets.

The complete commercialisation of all agriculture, in the context of the extant occupational distribution of the workforce will lead to large-scale displacement of farmers from agricultural production and endanger the adequacy of food supply and consumption patterns to ensure environmental protection, health safety and food entitlements.

Trade liberalisation will result in the creation of a class of `redundant' humans comprising mainly of displaced landless rural agro-related communities including artisans and fisherfolk who will be doubly hit by the loss of their traditional markets and linkages with the agro-sector as well as by loss of food entitlements. The food security of this new class of `dispensable' people with neither food entitlements nor purchasing power will be totally denied by an agri-business dominated agriculture.

The participants in the dialogue said there was need to accord special protection to these vulnerable communities, in areas where there is danger of takeover of local resources and increasing lack of purchasing power, by protecting the production and market systems that meet local needs and offer local solutions to the livelihood crisis.

There was also an urgent need to build up adequate national food reserves for meeting the needs of communities that will be affected by severe scarcity and famine as their livelihoods and food entitlements are destroyed by trade liberalisation.

Any sudden and total replacement of a centralised system of procurement and distribution of food by a global market-oriented system of production and trade would result in replacing one defective system by another more defective and dangerous system.

"If the State is to withdraw from this arena, food security can only be ensured by allowing local rather than global initiatives to take over," the participants said.

There was need for greater local self-sufficiency in regard to food production, in accordance with local consumption practices and priorities.

As an example, they cited the replacement of the production of the highly nutritive Ragi crop by commercial crops, and said this was a development fraught with grave dangers to the nutritional and health safety of the local population.

Participants said that institutions created to represent the will and the interest of the people have abdicated their social and political responsibilities. People's food security needed the reclaiming of institutions by democratic forces.

There should be democratic control, both locally and nationally, at the production as well as the consumption ends of the food system. Land water and biodiversity (including seeds and livestock), which are the vital resources that make food security possible, should stay under the democratic control of peasants and farmers.

The government's "New Economic Policy", they charged, would that threaten the lives and livelihood of millions of small peasants by dismantling their food and agriculture economy.

Export liberalisation was already resulting in rise in food prices and declining food accessibility for poorer people, while import liberalisation was threatening to wipe out millions of small producers by destroying domestic markets.

Trade liberalisation would increase the country's dependence on food imports, allowing the use of food as a weapon in trade-dominated foreign policy of powerful countries.

The myth of the benefits of trade liberalisation for Third World countries had been exploded by recent events in Mexico, the participants in the dialogue said.

On the first day of the entry into force of the NAFTA, Mexico experienced an armed uprising in the Chiapas as a response to the undoing of land reforms. Within one year of `free trade' the Mexican economy had been overtaken by a severe crisis. The IMF and US loans aimed at bailing out Mexico (or the foreign investors?) are linked to new indebtedness and new conditionalities. Mexico has had to give up sovereign control over its oil reserves as part of the loan agreements.

"It is not just the sovereignty and dignity of the Third World that is being sacrificed for free-trade regimes. It is the survival of the large majority of the world's population that is at stake."