They are Vanishing

The Left’s appeal to Indian  Peasantry is negligible. To most peasants they are irrelevant today because they have not changed with the fast changing agrarian scenario. Their old strategy of addressing the peasant question only in light of feudal or semi-feudal relations is just out-dated. Then small farmers, owner farmers, who are still majority in Indian agriculture, are quickly losing their land because of advent of corporate farming or industrial farming. This is a general and complex problem affecting almost all segments of the peasantry in most developing countries. But the left is simply an on-looker, they don’t know how to address the problem. As a result peasants, small and medium, who need urgent organising for survival, remain unorganised.

Small farms are fast disappearing as land properties are taken over by institutional investors who are more eager to capitalise on global farmland for financial gains, thus putting food security at risk.

But a recent review carried out by the organisation GRAIN revealed that small farms produce most of the world's food and are more productively efficient than large farms. Facilitated by an appropriate policy framework, small farmers could easily feed the global population. However, small farmers are currently squeezed onto less than a quarter of the world's farmland. The world is fast losing farms and farmers through the concentration of land into the hands of the rich and powerful. The report concluded that if nothing is done to reverse this trend, the world will lose its capacity to feed itself. The political right is not going to reverse the trend while the political left is yet to recognise the danger.

One major reason why small farms are disappearing is the rapid growth of monoculture plantations. In the last 50 years, 140 million hectares—well more than all the farmland in China—have been taken over for soybean, oil palm, rape seed and sugar cane alone. By definition, peasant agriculture prioritises food production for local and national markets as well as for farmers' own families, whereas corporations take over scarce fertile land and prioritise commodities or export crops for profit and markets far away that cater for the needs of the affluent.

This process impoverishes local communities and brings about food insecurity. The concentration of fertile agricultural land in fewer and fewer hands is directly related to the increasing number of people going hungry everyday. While industrial farms have enormous power, influence and resources, GRAIN'S data review showed that small farms almost everywhere outperform big farms in terms of productivity.

The first years of the 21st century will be remembered for a global land rush of nearly unprecedented scale. An estimated 500 million acres, an area eight times the size of Britain, was reported bought or leased across the developing world between 2000 and 2011, often at the expense of local food security and land rights.
A new generation of institutional investors, including hedge funds, private equity, pension funds and university endowments, is eager to capitalise on global farmland as a new and highly desirable asset class. Financial returns, not food security, are what matter.

The corporate consolidation of agriculture is being felt just as strongly in Iowa and California as it is in the Philippines and Mozambique. Some of the most powerful players involved in these major land acquisitions include: UBS Agrivest, a subsidiary of the biggest bank in Switzerland; the Hancock Agricultural Investment Group (HAIG), a subsidiary of the biggest insurance company in Canada; and the Teacher Annuity Insurance Association College Retirement Equities Fund (TIAA-CREF), one of the largest pension funds in the world.

A September 2013 report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development stated that farming in rich and poor nations alike should shift from monoculture towards greater varieties of crops, reduced use of fertilisers and other inputs, greater support for small-scale farmers and more locally focused production and consumption of food. The report stated that monoculture and industrial farming methods are not providing sufficient affordable food where it is needed. The system actually causes food poverty, not addresses it, something which people like Vandana Shiva have been saying for some time.

Numerous high level reports from the UN and development agencies have argued in favour of small farmers and agro-ecology. However, the bedrock of food production and food security—the small farmer—faces marginalisation and economic distress. The trends in favour of 'asset-based', corporate-dictated agriculture do not bode well, especially for low-income (rural-based) countries. That type of system does not exist to address food security or support local economies. Based on speculation, the ring-fencing of commodities for markets and the control of subsidies, prices and inputs, it exists to satisfy shareholders and investors elsewhere.

Industrial farming has not yet taken firm roots in India. With the Modi government looking desperate to implement the policy of ‘‘minimum government and maximum governance’’, contact farming is going to play havoc in the coming days. In other words further marginalisation of the already marginalised in agriculture is a plain truth. The reason is simple : small farming is no larger viable. Nor is it economically profitable anymore because of rising production cost. And rising production cost is again due to ever rising prices of fertilisers, pesticides and other inputs. The hard reality is that they have changed the agrarian pattern over the years to such an extent that no agricultural activity is thinkable without using chemical fertilisers and pesticides. This has ruined the back-bone of Indian agriculture, albeit small farm, rather family based small farm is still the dominant feature of rural India, particularly in the so-called backward areas. And food security and sustainability can be maintained only by encouraging small farming.        [contributed]

Vol. 47, No. 17, Nov 2 - 8, 2014