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Corporate Hijack of Food

As a follow-up to my post ‘Organics and Poverty‘ I would like to briefly review another piece of literature I found at Basudha farm. In Corporate Hijack of Food Dr. Vandana Shiva outlines many of the ways multinational corporations—specifically agribusinesses—have brought starvation to India. As mentioned previously, nutritious minor crops are generally replaced by cash crops when trans-national corporations manage export-oriented agriculture trading. The dramatic cost to the nation at stake, however, is that ag products must be imported to make up for this loss. This problem is further compounded when the imported foodstuff is subsidised by the exporting country thus lowering the selling price of the respective product and causing national farmers to sell at a loss. Rich countries can distort the real cost of food production through these subsidizing policies “but may push prices up if they acquire monopoly in world trade.” As a result, farmers have become deep in dept over selling “food grains at costs far below production costs” and have distressingly responded with suicide and the selling of body parts, such as kidneys.

Tragically, this happens even when the nation considered has bumper crops. But because most the food is exported, and because the buying price is increasingly out of reach of those who need it most, people end up starving. The situation becomes especially silly when surplus grain rots in godowns or is dumped into the ocean altogether under food procurement schemes and remains inaccessible to the hungry. The way this ends up happening is that farmers are encouraged by propoganda to produce more crops in order to feed more starving people, but they end up overproducing, sell at a cheap price below cost, and end up starving themselves in turn. Starvation deaths, however, are under reported and blamed on other causes (which are actually starvation caused).

This sort of management came to a head when governments, such as India, decentralized agriculture and corporate control took over. Just some of the immediate outcomes have been the controlling of (unfair) prices, including utilities such as water and electricity. Governments have also supported the intervention of multinational agribusiness by subsidising the construction of highways, railroads, airports and ports for increased export efficiency as well as silos and cold storage depots for storage. Agribusiness also pushes the triad chemical-water-seed combination that was sparked by the Green Revolution and drives up input costs for farmers. These growing inputs have a lot to do with the rise of contract farming. For instance, a farmer that is coordinating his (always male for India) planting season with an agribusiness must buy all of his seed, phosphates, fertilizers, and pesticides from the same company as well as use a predetermined inspectors to evaluate the crops. Furthermore, these corporations determine the selling price for the farmer forcing him to sell at a loss if instructed to do so. This is not an unquestionable scenario because grain trading companies can manipulate the price of ag commodities because they control storage, shipping, milling, extraction, processing and access to product information. Even more ridiculous, corporations have patented traditional methods of making food thus giving farmers no choice but to pay external processing fees. Assembly line food processing is advertised as being supposedly more hygienic and “untouched” by human hands, but depletes nutritional minerals, fiber, vitamins, proteins and fats, and adds questionable ingredients and preservatives.

The alternative that Vandana Shiva offers is a procurement process that should be done by public distribution centers rather than private ag corporations to ensure food security. This program would keep prices stable in the region and adequately distribute food to the poor in deficit regions. By arranging this locally/nationally rather than globally households would have higher nutrition, lower external inputs, more diverse crops, less transport costs, and all genuine surplus could be sold to grain banks at a fair price. This farmer-centered, rather than corporation-centered, scheme would make the household, village, region and nation more sustainable and self-sufficient. Furthermore, she suggests that the nation should maintain buffer stocks for emergencies, impose tariffs on ag imports to keep rich countries from selling at artificially low prices below the cost of production, and that food products should be labelled for food safety. “Common property resources like water and biodiversity” should also be owned and managed by local communities rather than controlled by corporations. This her vision for a sustainable and biodiverse future.