The real pandemic – Sunita Narain
Take swine flu — now renamed. We know it started in La Gloria, a little town in Mexico. We know a young boy suffering from fever in March became the first confirmed victim of the current outbreak, which, even as I write, has reached India. What is not said is this ill-fated town is right next to one of Mexico’s biggest hog factories, owned by the world’s largest pig processor, Smithfield Foods. What is also not said is that people in this town have repeatedly protested against the food giant for water pollution, terrible stench and waste dumping. (via Sunita Narain: The real pandemic).
This will jolt you upright
There were two things about this post which made me sit up.
One – The real story behind the ‘probable’ pandemic. This is something that most mainstream media writers do not tell. Take official Government press releases, (sometimes) change the language and call it news. Sometimes, they help in the cover up. If this story does not become well-known enough, Mexico and its poor will be blamed for the starting this pandemic – by the West.
Two – the fragile state of US agriculture, specifically, and the West in general.
About 46,000 ‘corporate’ farmers, account for nearly 50% of US farm output – and most of the US$20 billion in subsidy. The US Government prints vast amounts of currency notes or issues US Treasury Bonds, which are lapped up (earlier by the Middle East Oil Potentates, and the Chinese these days). This money is then handed over to these ‘American farmers’.
The US agricultural system
An interesting situation exists in the food sector – especially in the US. Giant food corporations, killed buying competition with high prices (to farmers), direct buying from farmers (at higher prices), monoclonal seeds that destroy bio-diversity. And the US consumers are not getting the lower food prices that are being promised in India.
Farmers became dependent on corporate supplies of seeds (at high prices) and corporate purchases by the same corporations (at low prices). Today, an ‘efficient’ and ‘hi-tech’ agricultural farm sector in the US needs more than US$ 20 billion (conservative estimates are US$12 billion) of subsidies to survive.
The US-EPA says, “By 1997, a mere 46,000 of the two million farms in this country (America), accounted for 50% of sales of agricultural products (USDA, 1997 Census of Agriculture data)” (bold letters supplied) – and gobble up most of this huge subsidy that lowers Third World agricultural prices. These lower agricultural prices devastate agriculture in Third World countries, creating man-made famines. These man-made famines, of course, gives the West a false sense of superiority.
A study in contrast
The Indian agricultural system, with nil subsidies, working with cost disadvantages, does not have giant buying corporations and monoclonal seed stock, is holding its own against subsidized agricultural systems of the West. And paid hacks of these Western corporations are trying to tell Indian consumers and policy makers that these giant corporations will cut food costs in India.
These giant corporations are aiming for entry into India – promising ‘efficiencies’ in buying (which will give consumers a better price), and higher prices for farmers (which will increase farm incomes). Of course, this will last as long as there is competition.
Once, these giant corporations, fueled by huge amounts of debt and equity, drive out competition, they will lower the boom on the consumers and the farmer – like in the USA.
Stuffed and starved
Raj Patel, in his book, Stuffed and Starved, demonstrates how global food corporations are behind global food habits, imbalance traditional diets, creating disease epidemics (like diabetes) – and how India needs to be careful before crafting industrial policies that encourage these global corporations to destroy Indian agriculture. A book review extracts some key points as follows,
What we think are our choices, says Patel, are really the choices of giant food production companies. Millions of farmers grow food, six billion people consume it. But in between them are a handful of corporations creating what Patel calls “an hourglass” model of food distribution. One Unilever controls more than 90% of the tea market. Six companies control 70% of the wheat trade. Meanwhile, farmers across the world are pitted against each other, trying to sell these gatekeeper companies their produce. And if you think the consumer comes out on top because of all this competition, think again.
The End of Bretton Woods
With the collapse of Bretton Woods, this will become increasingly difficult. Where will US agriculture be without subsidies – in a massively high costs zone. US food exports will shrivel and global agricultural prices will reach (at least) 200 year highs (my estimate). And that will be the golden hour for Indian agriculture. What is the only dark cloud in this scenario – GM seeds which the West is pushing down the reluctant Indian agriculturists’ throat. With significant help from the Indian Government.
- Bamboo is liberated, says Jairam Ramesh (hindu.com)
- Growth in India – the state of the trickle-down debate | Priti Patnaik (guardian.co.uk)
- Global food crisis: Smallholder agriculture can be good for the poor and for the planet | Elwyn Grainger-Jones (guardian.co.uk)
- The Truth About Flu Pandemics (everydayhealth.com)
- Global food crisis: Argentina in battle with multinational grain giants | Felicity Lawrence in Buenos Aires (guardian.co.uk)