(OPE-L) Vandana Shiva's "The Suicide Economy Of Corporate Globalisation"

From: Gerald A. Levy (Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM)
Date: Fri Feb 20 2004 - 08:09:10 EST

The Suicide Economy Of Corporate Globalisation
February 19, 2004
By Vandana Shiva

 The Indian peasantry, the largest body of surviving small farmers in
 the world, today faces a crisis of extinction.

 Two thirds of India makes its living from the land. The earth is the
 most generous employer in this country of a billion, that has
farmed this land for more than 5000 years.

 However, as farming is delinked from the earth, the soil, the
 biodiversity,  and the climate, and linked to global corporations
and global markets, and the generosity of the earth is replaced
by the greed of corporations,  the  viability of small farmers and
small farms is destroyed. Farmers suicides are the most tragic and
dramatic symptom of the crisis of survival faced by Indian peasants.

1997 witnessed the first emergence of farm suicides in India. A rapid
increase in indebtedness, was at the root of farmers taking their
 lives. Debt is a reflection of a negative economy, a loosing economy.
Two factors have transformed the positive economy of agriculture into
a negative economy for peasants - the rising costs of production and
the falling prices of farm commodities. Both these factors are rooted
in the policies of trade liberalization and corporate globalisation.

 In 1998, the World Bank's structural adjustment policies forced India
 to open up its seed sector to global corporations like Cargill,
 Monsanto, and Syngenta. The global corporations changed the input
economy overnight. Farm saved seeds were replaced by corporate
seeds which needed fertilizers and pesticides and could not be saved.

 As seed saving is prevented by patents as well as by the engineering
 of seeds with non-renewable traits, seed has to be bought for every
 planting season by poor peasants. A free resource available on farms
became a commodity which farmers were forced to buy every year.
This increases poverty and leads to indebtedness.

 As debts increase and become unpayable, farmers are compelled to sell
kidneys or even commit suicide. More than 25,000 peasants in India
have taken their lives since 1997 when the practice of seed saving was
transformed under globalisation pressures and multinational seed
corporations started to take control of the seed supply. Seed saving
 gives farmers life. Seed monopolies rob farmers of life.

 The shift from farm saved seed to corporate monopolies of the seed
 supply is also a shift from biodiversity to monocultures in agriculture.
The District of Warangal in Andhra Pradesh used to grow diverse
legumes, millets,  and oilseeds. Seed monopolies created crop
monocultures of cotton,  leading to disappearance of millions of
products of nature's evolution and  farmer's breeding.

 Monocultures and uniformity increase the risks of crop failure as
 diverse seeds adapted to diverse ecosystems are replaced by
rushed introduction of  unadapted and often untested seeds into
the market. When Monsanto first introduced Bt Cotton in India
in 2002, the farmers lost Rs. 1 billion due to crop failure. Instead
of 1,500 Kg / acre as promised by the company,   the harvest was
as low as 200 kg. Instead of increased incomes of Rs. 10,000 /
acre, farmers ran into losses of Rs. 6400 / acre.

 In the state of Bihar, when farm saved corn seed was displaced by
 Monsanto's  hybrid corn, the entire crop failed creating Rs. 4 billion
losses and  increased poverty for already desperately poor farmers.
Poor peasants of the South cannot survive seed monopolies.

 And the crisis of suicides shows how the survival of small farmers is
incompatible with the seed monopolies of global corporations.

The second pressure Indian farmers are facing is the dramatic fall in
 prices of farm produce as a result of free trade policies of the W.T.O.
The  WTO rules for trade in agriculture are essentially rules for dumping.
 They have allowed an increase in agribusiness subsidies while preventing
 countries from protecting their farmers from the dumping of artificially
cheap produce.

 High subsidies of $ 400 billion combined with forced removal of import
restrictions is a ready-made recipe for farmer suicides. Global
 prices have dropped from $ 216 / ton in 1995 to $ 133 / ton in 2001 for
wheat, $ 98.2 / ton in 1995 to $ 49.1 / ton in 2001 for cotton, $ 273 / ton
in 1995  to $ 178 / ton for soyabean.  This reduction to half the price is
not due to a doubling in productivity but due to an increase in subsidies
and an  increase in market monopolies controlled by a handful of
agribusiness corporations.

 Thus the U.S government pays $ 193 per ton to US Soya farmers, which
artificially lowers the rice of soya. Due to removal of Quantitative
Restrictions and lowering of tariffs, cheap soya has destroyed the
livelihoods of coconut growers, mustard farmers, producers of sesame,
groundnut and soya.

 Similarly, 25000 cotton producers in the U.S are given a subsidy of $
 4 billion annually. This has brought cotton prices down artificially,
 allowing  the U.S to capture world markets which were earlier accessible
to poor African countries such as Burkina, Faso, Benin, Mali. The
subsidy of  $ 230 per acre in the U.S is genocidal for the African farmers.
African  cotton farmers are loosing $ 250 million every year. That is why
small  African  countries walked out of the Cancun negotiations, leading to
the collapse of the W.T.O ministerial.

 The rigged prices of globally traded agriculture commodities are
 stealing incomes from poor peasants of the south. Analysis carried out
by the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology
shows that  due to falling farm prices, Indian peasants are loosing $ 26
billion or Rs. 1.2 trillion annually. This is a burden their poverty does
allow them to bear. Hence the epidemic of farmer suicides.

 India was among the countries that questioned the unfair rules of
 W.T.O in  agriculture and led the G-22 alliance along with with Brazil
and  China.  India with other southern countries addressed the need to
safeguard the  livelihoods of small farmers from the injustice of free
trade based on high subsidies and dumping. Yet at the domestic level,
official agencies in India  are in deep denial of any links between free
trade and farmers survival.

 An example of this denial is a Government of Karnataka report
 on "Farmers  suicide in Karnataka - A scientific analysis". The report
while claiming to  be "scientific", makes unscientific reductionist claims
that the farm  suicides have only psychological causes, not economic
ones, and  identifies alcoholism as the root cause of suicides. Therefore,
instead of  proposing  changes in agricultural policy, the report
recommends that farmers be  required to boost up their self respect
(swabhiman) and self-reliance (swavalambam).

 And ironically, its recommendations for farmer self-reliance are
 changes in  the Karnataka Land Reforms Act to allow larger land
holdings and  leasing. These are steps towards the further decimation
of small farmers who  have been protected by land "ceilings" (an upper
limit on land ownership) and policies that only allow peasants and
agriculturalists to own agricultural  land (part of the land to the tiller
policies of the Devraj Urs government).

 While the "expert committee" report identified "alcoholism" as the
 main cause for suicides, the figures of this "scientific" claim are
 inconsistent and do not reflect the survey. On page 10, the report
states in one  place that 68 percent of the suicide victims were
alcoholics. Five lines later it  states that 17 percent were "alcohol
and illicit drinkers".

 It also states that the majority of suicide victims were small and
 marginal farmers and the majority had high levels of indebtedness.
Yet debt is not identified as a factor leading to suicide. On page 32
of the report it is stated that of the 105 cases studied among the
3544 suicides which had occurred in five districts during 2000 - 2001,
93 had debts, 54 percent had borrowed from private sources and
money lenders.

 More than 90% of suicide victims were in debt. Yet a table on page 63
 has mysteriously reduced debt as a reason for suicide to 2.6%, and equally
mysteriously, "suicide victims having a bad habit" has emerged as the
primary cause of farmers suicides.

 The government is desperate to delink farm suicides from economic
processes linked to globalisation such as rise in indebtedness and
increased  frequency of crop failure due to higher ecologic vulnerability
arising from  climate change and drought and higher economic risks due
to introduction of untested, unadopted seeds.

 This is evident in recommendation no. "The government should
 launch  prosecution on the responsible persons involved in misleading the
 public and government by providing false information about farmers
suicide as crop failure or indebtedness" (page 113 of expert committee

 However, farmers suicides cannot be delinked from indebtedness and the
economic distress small farmers are facing. Indebtedness is not new.
 Farmers have always organised for freedom from debt.

 In the nineteenth century the so call "Deccan Riots" were farmers
 protests against the debt trap into which they had been pushed to
supply cheap cotton  to the textile mills in Britain. In the eighties they
formed peasant  organisations to fight for debt relief from public debt
linked to Green Revolution inputs.

 However, under globalisation, the farmer is loosing her / his social,
cultural, economic identity as a producer. A farmer is now a "consumer"
of costly seeds and costly chemicals sold by powerful global corporations
through powerful landlords and money lenders locally.

 This combination is leading to corporate feudalism, the most inhumane,
brutal and exploitative convergence of global corporate capitalism
and local feudalism, in the face of which the farmer as an individual victim
 feels helpless. The bureaucratic  and technocratic  systems of the state
coming to the rescue of the dominant economic interests by blaming the

 It is necessary to stop this war against small farmers. It is
necessary to re-write the rules of trade in agriculture. It is necessary to
change our paradigms of food production. Feeding humanity should
not depend on the extinction of farmers and extinction of species.
Another agriculture is possible and necessary - an agriculture that
protects farmers livelihoods, the earth and its biodiversity and public

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