10:45 AM Aug 6, 1996


New Delhi Aug 5 (TWN/Mahesh Prasad) -- Agricultural experts from different parts of the world have called for a return of agriculture to the small family farm and for the dismantling of the system of intensive farming and the corporatisation of agriculture.

The experts from the USA, UK, Mexico, Ethiopia, Japan, Thailand, Russia and Malaysia, spoke of the failure of the Green Revolution and the threat to sustainable agriculture as a result of the activities of Transnational Corporations in agribusiness and food.

The meeting was organized jointly by the Research Foundation for Science and Technology and Natural Resource Policy of India, the Penang-based Third World Network, Navdanya (an Indian NGO for nature conservation and regeneration of indigenous farm and bio-diversity) and ActionAid-India.

"The United States and other industrialised countries of the North," Dr. Vandana Shiva of India's Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resource Policy told the meeting "are trying to change the meaning of food security from being a fundamental human right to one of participation in the global markets which excludes the large numbers of poor without adequate purchasing power."

"They are also trying to redefine food security to exclude food safety issues. Food security has always meant adequate, safe nutritious and culturally safe food. While this meaning was inscribed in the earlier draft plans of action, it has been removed in the current draft (of the World Food Summit)," she said. "The structure of governance being shaped is of governments without rights, but with exclusive responsibilities for food security, and of international organisations, like World Bank, IMF and WTO with absolute rights and no responsibilities.

"Since these organisations are controlled by the G7 group of countries, this structure has built into the North-South asymmetry of Southern governments with the largest number of poor and hungry people carrying responsibilities without rights for foods security and Northern governments pushing rights of their corporations without responsibilities for food security."

On the situation in India, Dr. Shiva said "Land reforms (which put a ceiling on land holdings) is being undone in state after state to allow corporate superfarms for..... luxury production for international markets. Massive displacement of farmers is taking place, which can rapidly turn into a socially and politically explosive situation."

Dr. Shiva added: "The pressure to introduce intellectual property rights in seeds and plant genetic resources has started to build up ... (under) the WTO agreement. In addition, the US is using unilateral threats of trade sanctions to pressurise India to introduce legislation to protect US corporations," Both the natural wealth and the labour of Indian people is being re-directed to generate growth for global corporations, she added.

According to A.V. Krebs, Director, Corporate Agribusiness Research Project, United States, transnational agribusiness was corrupting and destroying agriculture. "Family farms have been the mainstay of sustainable food production in all the countries of the world and will continue to play a vital role in the 21st Century... Any agricultural or food security policy must be based on the continuation of this vitally important institution."

Mr. Martin Khor of the Third World Network said globalisation in itself "need not necessarily be a major problem." But what is of concern "is the type and nature of the globalisation process that is taking place, and which tends to marginalise the week and the poor, and the impact it will have on the agricultural sector."

"Most developing countries," Khor said, "remained the weakest parts of the world market chain, expanding their agricultural commodity exports without fair returns as the terms of trade for commodities vis-a-vis their industrial imports declined continuously, while the world agricultural trade has remained in the hands of a few Northern-owned commodity trading firms."

Khor quoted the head of FAO's regional office for Asia and Pacific, Mr. Obaidulla Khan, as saying that "in Asia, the rice farming system using the Green Revolution was in a state of decline and new technological paradigm was needed to produce more." The Green Revolution model, relying on intensive use of inputs and resource use, and with high waste, is not sustainable due to rising costs and falling yields.

The apparent benefits of monoculture agriculture (where only a single crop is grown, as in Green Revolution methods) has been overestimated, while the productivity of traditionally grown varieties had been understated. In comparing the two systems, Khor said, "the usual method is to measure only the yields of the single crop (e.g. rice) and also only a single component of the crop (e.g. grain) thus neglecting to account for the value of other crops (such as other grains, legumes, fruits etc) and other resources (e.g. non-grain uses of crops such as straw for fodder and fertiliser, fish) in rice fields in the same farm area in traditional system."

With disillusionment setting in on Green Revolution, it would appear that aid for agricultural research, and possibly for projects, is now turning to the new biotechnologies, ignoring the warning of scientists about "the more specific risks" of some transgenic crops "could become noxious weeds, and others could become a conduit through which some new genes may move to wild plants, which themselves could then become weeds."

Referring to the consequences of the Uruguay Round, Khor said, even before its consequences could be understood and assimilated, the industrialised countries were threatening to prepare and launch a new Uruguay Round at the WTO Singapore Ministerial Meeting. The biggest issue was the Multilateral Investment Agreement (MIA), under which no country would have the right to screen foreign investors. These investors would have the right to enter and establish themselves with 100 per cent equity, total freedom to repatriate profits, buy up farmers land, set up plantations and fisheries and undertake livestock rearing.

Mr. Amitava Mukherjee of ActionAid-India said somehow food security agenda had not caught on in India. The ignorance of the government on food security was appalling. It was their endeavour, he said, to bring food security on the agenda of the government.

Ms Kristin Dawkins, Director of Research Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy of United States said the US government had led the world in promoting globalised monopolies through international trade agreements, assisted by such bullying tactics as the use of Section 301's unilateral leveraging of its vast markets. She said under encouragement from the US government food corporations controlled US agriculture.

In 1994-95, ten cents out of every food dollar spent in the United States went to Philip Morris and another 6 cents went to ConAgra. Four companies -- IBP, ConAgra, Cargill and Beef America -- sold 87% of all slaughtered beef. Two companies -- Kellogs and General Mills -- sold two thirds of all ready-to-eat breakfast cereals. Campbells sold 73% of all canned soups. Frito-Lay sold 85% of all corn chips and 40% of all potato chips. Craft, which is owned by General Foods, and in turned owned by Philip Morris, sold more than half of all sliced processed cheese.

But, North American "farmers get only four cents out of every consumer dollar spent on food; for the rest, about 20% went to the government, 21% to the retail store, 26% to processors and 29% to brokers, traders and shippers." The system, Dawkins said, was so iniquitous that "a farmer must produce and sell 104 pounds of corn to buy 25-ounce package of corn flakes, or 93 pounds of potatoes to order a 3-ounce dish of potato skins with melted cheese."

Referring to massive growth of food insecurity in Britain, Dr. Tim Lang, who awakened public opinion in the U.K. and the world on Mad Cow Disease, said there was mountains of food in his country, which people could not afford. Cases of food poisoning had been growing and had even doubled. The mad cow disease, he said, was the result of intensification of agriculture. The disease, which had led to the death of 165,000 cows was the result of the dairy farmer trying to maximise profits by seeking to milk the cows to the maximum extent possible. The big lesson for the public was that "you cannot squeeze nature to the maximum."

Dr. Lang said in UK, where five companies control 70% of the market, one fifth of the population is classified as not being able to afford a single meal. Poverty, he said, was a symbol of even rich countries. Arguing for protecting the interest of the consumers, he said, there was the need for food control. He urged the audience to learn from what was happening to his country from the intensification of agriculture. There is the need for sharing of experiences among countries. "We must stop intensification. We must re-inject food security in the system.

Mr. Philip Lymbery, also from U.K. said the repercussions of the Mad Cow Disease were going to be immense. It proved the pitfalls of factory farming. Since World War II, half a million farmers had disappeared following the corporatisation of agriculture in U.K. Displaying slides he showed how cattle were reared in inhuman conditions. In U.K. alone, he said 600 million broiler chicken were hatched. They were being closely packed beyond their physiological levels with the result that 75% of the chickens were dying of heart failure. In dairying, male calf was kept in inhuman conditions till it was six months old and ready for slaughter.

Mr. Victor Suares Carrera of Mexico said after 14 years of liberalisation in Mexico, which, like India, had been the centre of the origin of agriculture and from where corn expanded to the USA and the rest of the world, 9000 years of food security was in danger in the wake of globalisation. Today, he said, his country was ruled by the law of comparative advantage. "We have to buy more cheaply from US and Canada." Now, the government had amended the Mexican law so that the land of the farmer could be sold. This had been done on the demand of the agri-business.

Dr. Regassa Feyissa from Ethiopia said in Africa, it was the policy problem. Everything was imposed upon them and was done by others. Most of the agricultural system was imported, while local farmers were left as a cheap source of labour. The land was given to companies and seed grown in African farms was sold somewhere else as seed was cheaper in Africa than anywhere in Europe.

Dr. Feyissa said "diversity in agricultural crops is of a fundamental importance to economic development and also supports the productivity of agro-ecological systems." At present, he said "in many parts of the world, diversity within agricultural species and entire ecological and cultural requirements, accountable for the creation of diversity, is disappearing."

For the farmers of the developing countries, who practise traditional farming, Dr. Feyissa said "diversity in crops, both at intra- and inter-specific levels is crucially important... in many parts of Africa, where poor or erratic rainfall and very long and short growing seasons are dominant, and where chemical inputs are not used, it is the farmers' varieties, which provide small-holder with more reliable crop yields."

Dealing with the South-East Asian miracle, Dr. Kamal Malhotra (of Focus on Global South, Banghok) said the region housed one third of the under-nourished. South Korea, he said, the country had shifted from food self-sufficiency 40 years ago to dependence on US today. During the five-year period, from 1986 to 1991, agricultural imports in South Korea went up from US$1.8 billion to US$5 billion. In the Philippines acreage under rice was declining, while that under cut flowers was increasing.

In the growth debate, job creation figures were being touted, but job losses in the farm sector were not taken into account. Thailand was going the same way as Korea and Philippines. Mr. S.M. Mohd. Idris, President of the Third World Network, said food is seen as a source of profit and not for feeding people. Food safety had become precarious throughout the world and today the Western food corporations had become the greatest dangers to human health. According to UNICEF, one out of every five persons in the world today suffered from chronic hunger, although the world produced enough to feed all the people. There was urgent need to develop a system where organic farming acquired importance and extension system was geared to sustainable agriculture, he added.