Monday, April 26, 2010



Feminism, which is known as gender studies in academia, is a very large area of study. What I refer to feminism here, is women’s struggle against male domination. There are various types of feminism - liberal, radical, socialist, etc. The basic difference between radical feminism and socialist feminism is that radical feminism says the fight is basically between woman versus man, while socialist feminism says capitalism is the common enemy and women’s liberation is intertwined with the struggles of working class against capitalists. Likewise, socialism is a loaded term and it indicates various streams. The concept of socialism predates Marx, people like Fourier, Saint-Simon, etc., propagated socialism, which meant to provide a humane social order. Engels rejected it as utopian and advocated scientific socialism. Today we have numerous strands of socialists and communists.

With the whole discourse on ‘climate change’, ‘peak oil’, ‘food crisis’ etc., ecology has become the core issue facing mankind. The seriousness of the matter can be seen in John Bellamy Foster’s “Ecology, Moment of Truth” where he says – it is impossible to exaggerate the environmental problem facing humanity. Nearly fifteen years ago one observed (John Bellamy Foster’s “The Vulnerable Planet” in 1994) that we have only four decades left in which to gain control over our major environmental problems if we are to avoid irreversible ecological decline. Today, with a quarter century still remaining in this projected timeline, it appears to have been too optimistic. Available evidence now strongly suggests that under a regime of business as usual we could be facing an irrevocable tipping point with respect to climate change within a mere decade. Other crises such as species extinction (percentage of bird, mammal, and fish species vulnerable or in immediate danger of extinction), air pollution, water pollution and shortages, rapid depletion of oceans’ bounties, desertification, soil degradation, the imminent peaking of world oil production, creation of new ecological and geopolitical tensions, and chronic world food crisis, all point to the fact that the planet, as we know it, and its ecosystems are stretched to the “breaking point”. The “moment of truth” for the earth and civilization has arrived.

Rulers across the world have responded to this crisis by seeking mere administrative and technological measures to the ecological crisis. Mainstream environmentalists seek to solve the ecological problems almost exclusively through three mechanical strategies: (1) technological solutions, (2) extending the market to all aspects of nature, and (3) creating what are intended as mere islands of preservation in a world of almost universal exploitation and destruction of natural habitats.

The ecological crisis is a complex mix of dangerous trends. Capitalist ideology characteristically views the components of the crisis piecemeal thereby obscuring its systemic nature. In contrast to the official thinking on ecology, a minority of critical human ecologists have come to understand the need to change our fundamental social relations. Human beings depend on functioning ecosystems to sustain themselves, and their actions affect those same ecosystems. As a result, there is a necessary “metabolic” interaction between humans and earth which influences both natural and social history. Increasingly, the state of nature is being defined by the operations of the capitalist system, as anthropogenic forces are altering the global environment on a scale that is unprecedented. The global climate is rapidly changing due to burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. None of the areas of the world’s oceans are unaffected by human influence, as the accumulation of carbon, fertilizer runoff and over-fishing undermine biodiversity and the natural services it provides.

The dominant economic forces are attempting to seize the moment by assuring us that capital, technology and the market can be employed so as to ward off any threats without a major transformation of society. For example, numerous technological solutions are proposed to remedy global climate crisis. The market will ensure that new avenues of capital accumulation are created in the very process of dealing with environmental challenges. Yet this line of thought ignores the root causes of the ecological crisis. The social metabolic order of capitalism is inherently antiecological, since it systematically subordinates nature in its pursuit of endless accumulation and production on an even larger scale.

It is here that a socialist response to global ecological crisis assumes importance. A socialist social order, that is a society of associated producers, can serve as a basis for potentially bringing social metabolism in line with the natural metabolism, in order to sustain the inalienable conditions for the existence and reproduction of the chain of human generation. Given that human society must always interact with nature, concerns regarding social metabolism are constant, regardless of the society. But a mode of production in which associated producers can regulate their exchange with nature in accordance with natural limits and know, while retaining the regenerative properties of natural processes and cycles, is fundamental to an environmentally sustainable social order.

The above clearly shows that to solve the world ecological crisis we should struggle for the creation of a socialist social order. This line of thought is known as ecosocialism.

Authors like Vandana Shiva and Maria Mies have come out with a powerful concept called ecofeminism, which entails that the forces who oppress women and degrade nature are the same; therefore there is a commonality in the struggle against patriarchy and ecological degradation.

After sixty years of independence, our society has reached a crisis stage where the entire country is sold to the corporate interests by our rulers; therefore it is imperative that feminists, socialists, communists and ecologists should unite together resisting the corporate interests and to struggle for an egalitarian, sustainable and democratic India.


Prafulla Samantra
Asit Das


Odisha is known for its different aspects in historical periods. It was known for its brave resistance and sacrifice confronting Asoka’s army and ultimately transforming him. Odisha's literary history, especially its folklores, depicts the glorious tales of its traders and sailing to far off lands like Java, Borneo, Sumatra, etc. It had a thriving trade. It is famous for its temple architecture, traditional culture, music and dance, which includes highly developed craftsmanship and cottage industries. Odisha had a lightly developed silk and cotton fabric industry whose highly skilled craftsmen were working on innumerable village looms. Oriya artisanship is globally famous, including excellent silver filigree jewellery. Odisha has a glorious anti-imperialist history fighting British colonialism.

Apart from countless Adivasi and peasant revolts, Odisha is proud of its heroes of the freedom movements like Bagha Jatin Laxman Naik and Baji Rout. Odisha has a proud history of anti-colonial resistance like Ranpur and Ganjam peasant revolts.

Odisha was also a test case of colonial plunder. Its rich mines, forests and lands were ruthlessly extracted to keep the mills of Manchester proliferating, while bleeding Odisha blue by sucking its mineral resources and systematically breaking the backbones of artisans. The peasantry was reeling under landlords created through permanent settlement and other colonial land laws. When Gandhi visited Odisha in 1921 he could see abject poverty and was personally shaken. He declared Odisha’s poverty was epitome of India’s Poverty.

The same state of arrangements almost continued after Independence. Since 1947 Odisha has been the tragic story of neo-colonial plunder. Its new rulers sold out the state's mineral resources at a throw-away price to different members of national/international big businesses. This ruthless extractive exploitation of Orissa’s natural resources has been accelerated after the onset of economic reforms in 1991. Since then there has been a record growth on MoUs in steel, alumina, aluminium, sponge iron, bauxite, mines, thermal projects, captive mines, etc.

Odisha, of late, has been in the headlines for starvation deaths and suicide by farmers. In February this year, Hindustan Times came out with a two-part news report of 50 people dying of hunger in Bolangir district - it is from this district that we frequently get news of farmers committing suicide. The suicide of farmers is being reported from all over the states including relatively prosperous coastal districts.

These widespread starvation deaths and farmers' suicides are a direct result of anti-farmer, Adivasi and Dalit policy of successive State Governments since liberalization.

However, the current Chief Minister, Mr. Naveen Patnaik, who is enjoying his third term, has gone out of his way to appease national and international big capitals. The entire mineral, forest, water, and fertile agricultural land are handed over to national and multinational corporations to ruthlessly loot the state and pauperize local populations. Today Odisha is the symbol of starvation deaths, farmers' suicides, large-scale labour migration, destitution and poverty. Its own rulers are throwing away the natural resources to the multinational sharks for their super profit. But Odisha also has become the beacon of hope for the struggling workers and peasants of this country in their heroic struggle against the predatory mining and industrialization of the state uprooting the toilers of the soil. Massive people’s resistance is going along the length and breadth of the state. Some prominent ones are Kalinga Nagar, Niyamgiri, anti-POSCO (Korean Steel Company), and anti-Vedanta University people's struggles.

A Social Profile of Odisha

Since Independence, different rulers in odisha have sold the mineral resources cheap, and have given very low priority to agriculture, which has resulted in a phenomenal drain of mineral wealth and absolute impoverishment of broad masses of Oriya people. Sixty years after Independence, the Social Indicators of Odisha are abysmally low, leading the country in chronic poverty and starvation deaths, massive labour migration, displacement, under-nutrition, high maternal and infant mortality rate, etc. Though Odisha is very rich in natural resources like land forest, and minerals, its indices in human development are very low, perhaps the lowest in India.

Odisha has 60% of bauxite reserve, 25% coal, 28% iron, 92% nickel, and 28% manganese reserve in India. It has rich forests, agricultural land and a long coastline with the most beautiful beaches in the world.

This natural endowment has not at all benefited the broad masses of Odisha, the farmers, urban and rural poor, Adivasis and large number of unemployed Oriya youth. It is one of the poorest states in India in a wide variety of socio-economic indicators. It has the lowest per capita income and very high below poverty level compared to all-India average. Odisha’s Human Development Index compared with other states is 27.
The Central Statistical Organisation (CSO) indicates Odisha’s per capita income according to the prices of the year 2003 was Rs.12,388.00 while the all-India average per capita income was Rs.23,359.00. The census for the year 2001 indicates that while the people below poverty level were 26.10%, in Odisha it is 47.15%. Suresh Tendulkar committee puts Odisha BPL – 57.2 and all-India – 37.2% BPL, the Saxena Committee puts Odisha – 84.47%, for all-India – 50%.

In the year 2008, the all-India maternal mortality rate was 254 per thousand, while in Odisha it was 303 per thousand.

Life expectancy for India in the year was 62.3 years for males and 63.9 for females, while for Odisha it is 57.6 for males and 57.8 for females. These figures were given in a reply by the Union Health Ministry in Rajya Sabha.

Odisha’s literacy rate is also lower than the national average. For all-India it is 64.84%, while for Odisha it is 63.08% according to the 2001 census. Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar account for the highest infant mortality rate; in Odisha, in the year 2003 according to UNICEF it was 57 per thousand births, which is one of highest in India. 65% of infant and neo-natal mortality rate in India, over 46% children under five years in Odisha are malnourished. Chronic poverty is rampant in a broad majority of Orissa’s population.

In the BPL survey in 2002, in 76,84,371 households in Odisha were found below the poverty level out of which 30,28,526 households were reported seasonal and casual labourers. 50% of them migrate for work. The poverty level is 85% in the southern region in Orissa. An overwhelming majority of the Adivasis, Dalits and large majority of rural labourers, small and marginal farmers, suffer from chronic poverty and malnutrition. Unemployment and under-employment are very high in Odisha i.e., 8%, while for India it was 6.80% in the year 2009.

The share of agriculture work force in the year 1999-2000 was 68.9%, while the national average was 57.4% during the 10th plan period. Daily unemployment rate in rural Odisha was 7%.

Inspite of the big noise created by the ruling BJD in Odisha, which boasts of attracting investment and boosting growth, the number people below poverty line and unemployment is increasing, the annual rate of growth in the year 1993-94 to 2003-04 was 1.75% compared to the all-India grant of 6.19%. The National Infrastructure Index was 107, while for Odisha it was 75. The State Domestic Product growth in the 1993 to 1994 was 4.28 in Odisha, while the national growth was 6.20%. The development policy pursued by successive government in Odisha after Independence produced massive poverty and displacement in Odisha. The National Advisory Council estimates 90 lakh people have been displaced from different development projects in Odisha.

Odisha leads in the country for labour migration - due to chronic poverty, and unemployment, millions migrate from Odisha to other states and metropolitan centres. Almost all of them work in the under-paid, exploitative unorganized sector. They mostly work as construction labourers, brick kiln workers, and in textile heavy engineering and diamond polishing sectors. Around 7 lakh Oriya labourers are employed in the diamond cutting and textile industries in Surat. But the worse labour migration happens from the poverty stricken districts of western and southern Odisha, a majority of them are Adivasis and Dalits. They work as brick kiln workers in various towns especially Hyderabad, under extremely bad working conditions. They work for 12 to 15 hours a day and earn an average of Rs. 50 a day. This has been documented by various studies on migrant Oriya brick kiln workers in and around Hyderabad. The labour migration system in western and southern Odisha is insidious, due to lack of gainful employment and chronic poverty. Labour contractors offer them Rs. 5,000/- to Rs. 10,000/- as advance - to lure them into various unskilled manual contract work in various places outside Orissa. Traditionally, migrant Oriya workers had a secure, organized sector in the jute industries around Kolkata, but after the jute industries work became in oblivion, that scenario has changed. Before the collapse of the textile industries, many Oriya migrant workers who had secure jobs in textile mills of Kanpur, Mumbai and Indore were unemployed, and driven to unorganized manual jobs, which had a severe impact on their families.

The most important reason for labour migration from Odisha, is due to high level of rural unemployment, which is a direct result of the under-developed agricultural sector and massive displacement caused by various development projects.

Though starvation deaths have been reported from west and southern Odisha, especially from the infamous KBK districts (Undivided Koraput-Bolangir-Kalahandi districts), the recent news item of Hindustan Times reporting 50 people dying of starvation, has made it into a central issue of Odisha. The case of Jhintu Bariha has come up in the Odisha High Court. Jhintu Bariha belongs to Chabiripali village of Khaprakhol block of Bolangir district.

The district administration tried to hide the fact but media coverage, High Court involvement and after a huge cry by mass movements, the Government of Odisha took Jhintu Bariha's case seriously. Jhintu Bariha's village is in the foothills of Gandhamardan hills - in this hamlet Chabiripali, the population is 370 out of which 80% are Adivasis. They depend on farming and forestry for their living. Jhintu Bariha's family comprises his parents, wife, two sons and a daughter. In the drought he lost his crops and by widespread deforestation by vested interests saw a sharp deterioration in Jhintu Bariha’s subsistence especially managing enough food for the household, thus resulting in starvation. On September 6, 2009 Jhintu Bariha’s daughter died, the next day his younger son died, and two days later his wife Vimla Bariha died. Within three days three members of Jhintu Bariha's family died due to starvation. Jhintu Bariha's name does not figure in the BPL list. This indicates deep seated corruption and manipulation in the making of the BPL list in rural Odisha, especially in tribal areas. Jhintu Bariha’s father has been allotted a BPL card, but since Jhintu has been separated he does not have a BPL card. Bolangir is in the K.B.K. district. In entire K.B.K. districts, all the A.P.L. and B.P.L. people get 25 Kgs. rice at Rs. 2 a Kilo; but Jhintu could not even get A.P.L. rice from the P.P.S. This shows widespread corruption and the impact on rural poor, the Adivasis and Dalits. The overwhelming majority in K.B.K. districts are Adivasis and Dalits. We will discuss the widespread failure of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS) later. Poverty, malnutrition, migration, starvation deaths and recently farmers' suicide have all become the hallmark of the western and southern districts of Odisha, including districts like Keonjhar, Kandhmal, Gajpati and Sundergarh, which are predominantly tribal. In these districts thousands die every year due to gastroenteritis, diarrhea, cholera, malaria and tuberculosis, under-nutrition, infant mortality and maternal mortality, anemia is among the highest in the country. The main cause is chronic poverty in these districts. A glaring example is the malaria and cholera deaths in Kashipur Block of Rayagada district, which comes in the K.B.K. region. Kashipur Block also has a high level bauxite deposit. A heroic resistance is continuing by the Adivasis against the displacement, which will be caused by bauxite mining by Utkal Alumina now owned by Birlas. Kashipur Block has 17 Village Panchayats and 704 villages. Its population is 1,01,541 out of which 60,402 are Adivasis, and 20,767 are Dalits. Over 85% of them are below poverty line. They practice rainfed agriculture, including growing grains like ragi on the hill slopes. Kashipur is known for its malaria and cholera deaths between August 2007 and November 2007. More than 400 people had died in Kashipur Block, Kucheipadar, Dangasil and Maikanch Panchayat, accounting for 300 deaths until mid- September 2007. In August 2001, 12 people had died of hunger and gastroenteritis, extremely low levels of poverty with no access to food grain as the chief cause of starvation and cholera deaths in Kashipur. Kashipur comes under the K.B.K. programme and IFAD grants. The main reason of poverty and starvation deaths is due to widespread deforestation, displacement and loss of land because of various development projects like big dams, mines, factories, townships, etc.

Most of the under-nutrition happens in the predominantly Adivasi areas of western and southern Orissa. Most of the Adivasis used to collect substantial amount of food from minor forests but with widespread deforestation, had to lose agricultural land and forests, and also because of different development projects due to mines. Total lack of basic services like health and education, with their land getting diminished due to displacement with no irrigation facilities, with water sources getting dried up due to deforestation, has further marginalized and pauperized the Adivasis and other rural poor in most of the Adivasi areas including the K.B.K. region.

Destructive development projects, mines and the timber mafia are responsible for large-scale deforestation in Odisha. In the year 2005 Survey of India estimated 48,000 acres of forestland, 31% of the geographical area out of this 28,000 is dense forest and 20,000 acres are degraded and due to various mine, dam and development projects and deforestation further degraded the land in Adivasi areas totally shattering their food security. Starvation deaths never happened in Adivasi areas when they had access to land, water and forest.
Starvation deaths became national headlines in the 1980s in Kalahandi. There was news of distress migration, starvation deaths and selling of women and children in Kalahandi.

In the mid 1980s, 30 people died due to starvation in Kalahandi. Rajiv Gandhi, the then Prime Minister, visited Kalahandi. Narasimha Rao visited Kalahandi in the early 1990s. K.B.K. (Kalahandi, Bolangir, Koraput) the then predominantly tribal undivided districts of western and southern part of Odisha. After the division of the K.B.K. districts, the new districts are Korput, Nabarangpur, Malkangiri, Rayagada, Kalahandi, Nuapara, Bolangir and Sonepur. K.B.K. came into national focus after the high profile visit of Rajiv Gandhi and Narasimha Rao. The K.B.K. project was launched and funded by the Central Government.

The K.B.K. districts accounted for 19.80% population and 30.60% of the geographical area. According to the census of 2001, 38.41% mere Adivasis including 4 tribes are classified as primitive tribes - they are Bonda, Diday, Langia Saura and Dongria Kondh. Its Dalit population is 16.25%. 44 Blocks of K.B.K. districts are in the tribal sub-plan area. After Rajiv Gandhi’s visit, Area Development Approach for Poverty Termination (ADAPT) programme was started in 15 Blocks of Kalahandi and Koraput in the year 1988. This programme was a complete failure.
Then in 1993 long term action plan was initiated with central assistance during the Prime Ministership of Narasimha Rao. This was done due to the failure of the earlier programmes and the acute marginalization and poverty caused by drought and deforestation. In 1998, a revived long term action plan (RLTAP) was started for nine years from 1998 to 2007. The total outlay was Rs. 6,251.06 crores. In the year 2000, the Government of Odisha launched Biju K.B.K. with State Government's funds. The total expenditure of the State Government and Central Government was Rs. 6,801 crores by the year 2012.

According to official statistics, 80% of K.B.K. residents are below poverty line. The K.B.K. plan had three main aims (1) Prevention of drought, (2) Removal of poverty, and (3) Increasing quality and life of livelihood. The main livelihood of K.B.K. districts are farming, forest based collection of forest produce, rearing animals, wage labourer and other hereditary professions. Farming is the main livelihood. Forests provide additional income and food. The K.B.K. districts have an average rainfall ranging from 1,285 mm to 1,667 mm; Rayagada being the lowest 1,285 mm. The actual irrigated area of K.B.K. is around 20% except Sonepur. Other districts have less than 20% irrigation. This irrigation system includes big dams, medium river dams, minor irrigation projects, lift irrigation, bore wells, open wells, etc. Odisha claimed in the year 2007 that in the next 5 years the irrigation potential of K.B.K. districts will be increased to 35%. The pertinent question is what about the rest 65% of the land. The most of the arable village lands are in the hands to 4 to 5% money lenders and landlords known as Gauntias in western Orissa. Those people employ labourers to till their land. The rest of the rural poor, mostly Adivasis and Dalits, are landless or have little land. Though there are abundant Government lands, no serious effort has been made by the State Government to distribute the Government land amongst landless and other rural poor. In these areas there are laws according to which tribal lands cannot be transferred to non-tribals, especially money lenders, liquor traders and landlords with active connivance of the bureaucracy, who are mostly from coastal districts and other non-tribal areas. There is widespread prevalence of various forms of slavery and bondage due to usury and land grabbing. Most of the Adivasis and Dalits in K.B.K. lead a sub-human existence. Development projects, mines and deforestations have marginalized them further. In K.B.K. plan there is no provision of providing land to the landless and small farmers. Many poor families have possession of land but until today the Government has not given permanent pattas for those lands. It is due to this reason that the farmers are reluctant to invest in those lands for improvement, hence the productivity is low. In K.B.K. districts no land settlement is done till date. The priority of the Government should be to allot permanent pattas to the farmers who are tilling forests and other lands since generations. Years of deforestation and lack of maintenance of land have resulted in rapid deforestation and drying up of water sources. So many lands are becoming unfit for cultivation. At the household level preventing soil erosion is quite expensive, almost impossible. The task of preventing soil erosion is linked with forest conservation and conservation of rain water. But K.B.K. plans have no provision for soil conservation. No provision has been made for rain water harvesting. Most poor people in K.B.K. and other Adivasi districts like Sundergarh, Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar depend on forests for different fruits, roots, leaves, berries, seeds and Mahua flowers. Wherever there are forests, the local people get 20 to 40% of their annual income.

Deforestation, soil erosion and lands lost to development projects have taken away this income and deprived them of food items from forests. Bringing the income down and pushing up the poverty line, lack of political will, selling of the natural resources for national and international big capital, lack of any pro-rural, pro-farmer commitment, hunger, starvation, displacement, and growing poverty levels show that K.B.K. plans were a super flop while the State Government is selling its mines, forestlands and water to multinational corporations forcing millions of Adivasis, Dalits and other rural poor out of their land, livelihood and habitats, makes the K.B.K. plan a big joke. If one looks at the financial outlays of K.B.K. plan during Narasimha Rao’s tenure, it started off with Rs. 4,600 crores. Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government. raised it to Rs. 5,500 crores. During June/July 2006 when the Government of India's Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs decided to lower the allocation, Naveen Patnaik to score a political point started Biju K.B.K. with a grant of Rs. 600 crores. All these Central and State Government plans were for providing livelihood, employment and irrigation and other amenities for 80 lakh people of 12,300 villages of 8 K.B.K. districts within 9 years.

Almost a decade after the launch of K.B.K. plan, widespread hunger, poverty, starvation deaths and distress migration show how the K.B.K. plan was a cropper and totally irrelevant to the needs of Adivasis, Dalits and other rural poor in the K.B.K. region. The main factor of poverty and destitution of K.B.K. districts are feudal exploitation, senseless industrialization, land alienation, deforestation, mining, big dams and massive displacement of the local population. Though government owns almost 75% of agriculture and forestland in K.B.K. districts, no effort has been made to distribute these among the rural poor in those districts. One of the most important factors has been land alienation of the Adivasis, through money lending, usury and other unscrupulous and exploitative measures by the landlords, money lenders and liquor mafia, most of whom are non-Adivasis. This ruthless appropriation of tribal lands happens inspite of a number of tribal land protection laws of the State Government.

For exploitative land alienation and land-hold people in the K.B.K. district, one can look at the example of Patraguda village in Bissam Cuttack Block of Rayagada district.

Patraguda is in Bissam Cuttack Block of Rayagada district. Adivasis in this village are 90.4% and the Dalits 5.03%, i.e., around 96%. The rest 4% are upper caste traders, landlords and money lenders. Out of a total of 217.41 acres of privately owned land of Patraguda, the Adivasis own only 7.40 acres of land and Dalits 0.4 acre. The rest above 85% of the land is owned only by 4% of upper caste landlords and money lenders.

After Independence, there have been fierce struggles by the Adivasis against the landlords snatching their land though ruthless feudal exploitation and money lending.

For the past two decades there have been heroic struggles by Adivasis in Malkangiri, and Raighar of Rayagada district in Muniguda Block, led by the different mass organizations of Adivasis and in Narayan Patna Block in Koraput led by Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh. K.B.K. region also witnessed massive deforestation, loss of agricultural land by big dams and industrial projects. People have built resistance to these destructive projects which will uproot them from their habitats and ruin their livelihood. In Kashipur Block the Prakrutik Sampad Suraksha Parishad is leading a one-and-half-decade-old struggle against Utkal Alumina. The Dongria Kondhs of Niyamgiri hills of Rayagada and Kalahandi districts are struggling against the bauxite mining project of Vedanta under the banner of Niyamgiri Suraksha Samity Manch. The farmers of Lower Suktel in Bolangir district are fighting against a big dam. The Adivasis of Deomali are fighting against the proposed bauxite mining in Koraput. Apart from K.B.K. plan, there are other official development agencies in poorer districts of Odisha like the Western Odisha Development Council of Government of Odisha established in the year 1999 which has been working for the past 10 years, its annual grant has been increased to Rs. 300 crores from Rs. 100 crores. The other projects are Odisha Scheduled Tribe Empowerment and Livelihood Project (OSTELP) and Western Odisha Rural Livelihood Project. Odisha Scheduled Tribe Empowerment and Livelihood Project (WORLP). OSTELP was started in the year 2004 October and will go on until 2014 for 10 years. Its financial allocation is Rs. 464 crores funded by DFID and IAD. OSTELP covers 7 districts like Koraput, Kalahandi, Malkangiri, Gajpati, Kandhamal, Rayagada and Nabarangpur. 30 Blocks are covered under the scheme which has 94.5% Adivasis and 67% of them are below poverty level. Western Odisha Rural Livelihood Programme (WORLP) has been functioning since the year 2000 in Bargarh, Bolangir, Kalahandi and Nuapada. These programmes have completely failed to provide a dignified livelihood and stop migration due to widespread corruption, apathy, lack of political will, usury, landlordism, and massive deforestation and displacement caused due to destructive anti-people industrialization and development projects for the super profits of national and international big businesses through a totally servile and corrupt political class.
Apart from K.B.K. districts, starvation deaths are also reported from Gajapati, Kandhamal and Sundergarh districts. K.B.K. and other districts like Keonjhar, Mayurbhanj, Sundergarh, Kandhmal and Gajpati are predominantly Adivasi areas where more than 80% are below poverty level. Central Schemes like National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) is a total failure here due to corruption and lack of political will. Most of the funds are siphoned off by contractors, traders, politicians and bureaucracy. Irregularities and pilferage are the rule rather than exception in the implementation of NREGS in Orissa. Totally going against the spirit of the employment guarantee act, contractors and machines are widely used in NREGS in Odisha. Even after four years of implementation of MGNREGS, The National Level Monitor report of March 2010 says that MNREGS in Odisha has totally failed to create awareness about their employment rights amongst the rural poor in Odisha. It says that people who work under the scheme are totally unaware of their rights. Though they are paid their wages very late they, do not demand compensation. Giving the example of Rayagada district, it says that not only the people but Panchayat and block level officials and elected representatives also do not know about this law. The report says that in Odisha the rural poor are not demanding work and those who are working do not work according to their own free will. According to National Level Monitors, there is over-writing in muster rolls. It says there is a need for proper record keepinging at the village level, and the present record keep is inadequate and faulty. The same is the case in Khandapara Block of Nayagarh district where there is no entry of work done in the job cards, there are no photos in the job card. The National Level Monitor report says that the money allocated for MNREGS in Odisha is diverted to other heads. The report says the Odisha government does not conduct social audit of MNREGS in Odisha. In Kashipur Block of Rayagada district no work has been provided, none of the job cards in Bhadrak district in Odisha has photographs of beneficiaries. According to the report though 80,252 families have been registered under the scheme, they have not been provided with job cards. Though funds have been provided for 1,24,653 mandays, no money has been disbursed for this. Delayed wages were shown in 58,191 muster rolls whose total amount is Rs.41,58,79,958.00. In the entire state only 23126 families have been provided work for 100 days, likewise 30,11,618 families have got work for less than 15 days. 4,63,087 muster rolls out of 4,76,096 muster rolls do not have the entry of the date of payment. 84,669 muster rolls do not have the description or the measurement of the work done. 14 Panchayats of 5 Blocks in three districts do not have any registration for work. 477 villages of 104 Blocks in 22 districts have not demanded any work. According to the Management Information System (MIS) of Odisha, only 2.81% of job cards have photographs and only 11.6% workers have an entry of job description in the job cards. 283 villages of 61 blocks in 12 districts have no record of ongoing work. The CAG report says 670 households in 16 Gram Panchayats of Narla Block in Kalahandi district were not registered for NREGS and BPL list.
NREGS is a total failure in Odisha, therefore, it has proved to be totally irrelevant for stopping migration and starvation deaths. Most of the starvation deaths happen due to lack of food caused by widespread deforestation, mining, low growth of agriculture, etc. In these conditions the Adivasis and other rural poor in western and southern Odisha consume non-food products like mango kernel, which does not supplement the nutritional intake, resulting in starvation death or death through cholera, malaria, etc. The main reason is acute poverty, landlessness and lack of access to natural resources. In July 2001 in the Panasguda village of Kashipur, 7 people were reported dead due to the consumption of poisonous mushrooms; in the same block 4 people died in Bilamala village, they had not access to food grains hence were eating only mango kernel. By August 25 such deaths had reached the figure of 19 in the same block. More than 46% children in Odisha are under- nourished, 88% women in western and southern Odisha are anemic. 60 years after independence the Adivasis are forced to eat mango kernel, bark of Salap tree, wild mushrooms, tamarind seeds, etc.

Farmers' Suicide and Agrarian Crisis in Odisha
Around 43 farmers have committed suicide in Odisha since 9 months. This indicates a severe agrarian crisis has gripped Odisha.
Though farmers' suicide has been reported throughout the state including coastal districts, most of the suicides happened in western and southern Orissa. These deaths are caused due to various factors, neoliberal policies, indebtedness, loss of access to land degradation, water sources, forest, distress sale, etc. Most of the farmers have committed suicide due to indebtedness when they could not pay back due to very low price of agricultural produce, high input costs, and total lack of access to water resources and forests. Exploitative and insecure land tenures are a big factor in agrarian distress and farmers' suicide.
Most of the farmers who commit suicide are marginal farmers and share croppers who committed suicide due to failure of crop and inability of to pay back the debt to the money lender.

Shri Banchanidhi Pradhan of Srichandanpur village of Sankhemundi Block of Ganjam district committed suicide by consuming poison. His age was 65, he died on 29th October 2009 at Berhampur Hospital. He is survived by three sons who work outside, his two daughters are married. He own 25 acres of land and cultivates on 5 acres additional land as a share cropper. He had borrowed money to buy seeds, fertilizers and pesticides which cost him Rs. 3,000 per acre. Since his crop failed, he could not pay back to the money lender. His total debt accumulated to Rs. 40,000, which he could not pay, hence he committed suicide.

Sunil Sutar of Gutuma village committed suicide in October 2009. He owned 2 acres of land and cultivated 2 acres more as a share cropper. Due to irregular rain his paddy crop failed. He had borrowed from State Bank of India and village S.H.G. He could not pay back the debt so he committed suicide. It is the same story everywhere.
In Bolangir alone, 5 farmers have committed suicide in a single month - October 2009.

The above suicide is the symptom of deep growing agrarian crisis during the neoliberal era where the natural resources of the state are handed over to multinational and national big business corporations.
Odisha has been registering a very low growth in agriculture below the national average.

The main factors are, overwhelming majority is small - marginal farmers and share croppers. A large chunk of the land, more than 60%, is rainfed and is in hilly and forest areas. Only few places in coastal districts, Bargarh and Sambalpur are irrigated. Deforestation has degraded the soil and dried up the water sources in the rainfed areas. Lack of effective land reforms, neoliberal policy of withdrawing subsidies and exposing agriculture to national and international market forces, total lack of irrigation, almost 60% of areas in Odisha are rainfed but due to lack of political will, small, medium and lift irrigation service in India has totally collapsed. The State Government, under the pressure of DFID and World Bank, has lowered the official expenditure on minor and lift irrigation. Due to the privatization of Odisha State Electricity Board the electricity price for agriculture has gone up. A very important factor in agrarian distress and land alienation in tribal areas is indebtedness, and rampant usurious money lending.
Due to the lack of secure land tenure most of the Adivasis, share croppers and marginal farmers borrow from the money lender in an exorbitant rate of interest. Under the globalization regime, when input cut goes up and the market price goes down, then farming households collapse. One of the biggest reasons of farmers' poverty in Odisha is distress sale, since the official remuneration prices are low and the system is ineffective in Odisha. Most of the small and marginal farmers in Odisha are exposed to the market sharks. The share croppers do not have any security in land tenure so they are unable to get credit from institutional sources hence they are forced to borrow money from the village money lender at an exorbitant rate. The share of share croppers in the agriculture sector in Odisha is quite high. Another reason of agrarian crisis in Odisha is lack of land reforms like distributing ceiling surplus land amongst landless and giving security of tenure to the share cropper. Semi-feudal exploitation is a common feature in agrarian relation in Odisha. It is the most important factor in Adivasi land alienation. In Odisha so far 1,42,616 people have got 1,59,384 acres of ceiling surplus land - out of them 51,934 are Adivasis who got 66,303 acres and 48,794 Dalits got 51,109 acres.

Likewise 4,62,537 Adivasis and 32,706 Dalits got pattas for homestead land, 3,84,364 acres are given to Adivasis and 1,75,577 acres to Dalits as lease. According to Section 23 of Odisha Land Reforms Act 33,242 people were allotted 36,496 acres of land out of which 22,970 are Adivasis and 20,827 are Dalits. According to official statistics 10 lakh acres have been distributed in Odisha. This does not include homesteads. This is quite inadequate given the scale of landlessness in Odisha and no one is sure whether the distributed land is in actual possession of the landless. Adivasis have been loosing land to money lenders, liquor traders and landlords since generations.

Mining and Displacement

Mining and displacement caused by mega projects like big dams and senseless industrialization is one of the most important factors in the present predicament of Odisha.
Mining is a very large factor in large-scale deforestation in Odisha. From 1980 to 2005 the Government of Odisha has given permission for mining in 15,386 hectares of forestland.

Odisha’s contribution is second in India regarding the income from mining sector in India. According to the Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM) in the year 2004-2005 out of the total minerals extracted, 10% was from Odisha, the market price of which was Rs. 5,820 crores at that time. Metals comprise the main component in the mineral extraction in Odisha.

There have been a lot of charges in the mining sector in Odisha. If one takes into account the market price of 1997-98, it has increased three times. In 1997-98 the price of total minerals extracted in Odisha was Rs. 2,237 crores. From 1997-98 to 2001-02 it grew by 6%, but from year 2002-03 it grew at a phenomenal rate by 27%.

According to income from minerals, Odisha's main two mineral resources are coal and iron ore. In the year 2004-05 the income from coal was 46%, and 35% from iron or other main minerals - one chromite 12%, and the other bauxite 2%. Due to stiff resistance in bauxite mining areas like Kashipur, Niyamgiri and Gandhmardhan, exploitation of bauxite is not high in Odisha until Nalco bauxite mining and alumina complex was established in early 1980s. In Panchpatmalli in Koraput district, the local Adivasis are resisting bauxite mining by Hindalco and others.

According to IBM, Odisha had also extracted minor minerals worth 45 crore US dollars in the year 2004-05.

By the year 2004-05 mineral extraction was in done in 99,952 hectares. In the year 2005, 605 leases were granted in Odisha for mining, out of which around 45% was not functional. Odisha Mining Corporation controls around 20% of mines. Most of the districts, except Jajpur and Angul, are predominantly tribal, they have been evicted from their traditional habitats through predatory mining. Mining is one of the major reasons for the pauperization of Adivasis; but they are putting up stiff resistance to mining in Niyamgiri, Deomali, Khandadhar, Kashipur and Keonjhar. Indoctrinate mining has caused widespread deforestation, soil erosion and degradation, and drying up of water sources. Mining in Odisha is a stark indicator of extractive exploitation of Odisha, mines are the open veins where Odisha bleeds blue. It was ruthless in colonial period - still ruthless now.

The mining trade is extremely exploitative in Odisha, where successive rulers of Odisha have given mines to national and international big capital at a throw away price. After the economic reforms in 1991, the process has accelerated and reached its most shameless height since Naveen Patnaik is ruling the state. The Government of Odisha gets a pittance from the profit made by mining. The plunder, corruption and political deals are one of the major causes of Odisha's poverty and displacement, the case in point of how generators of Odisha were cheated are the trading practices of iron ore and bauxite.

For both these minerals, the Government of Odisha gets royalty from Rs. 20 to 25 a tonne, while the international price is about Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 5,000 per tonne.
Khandadhar iron ore mines, which will displace about 30 villages, are being given as captive mines to POSCO who will make super profit only from mining, apart from its steel plant at Jagatsinghpur. POSCO is facing stiff resistance from both these places.


A conservative estimate puts the number of displaced people from Independence to the end of the millennium at about 1 crore. It is overwhelming! It is one-fourth of the present population of Odisha. Almost 80% of the people displaced are Adivasis and Dalits. Most of the displacement took place in the areas of Adivasi districts of west and south Odisha, including districts like Sundergarh, Keonjhar and Mayurbhanj, which are predominantly Adivasi districts, where most of the large dams, mines and factories are located. Infact, the Adivasis are the biggest losers in the anti-people development policies by Central and State Government.

The following Table shows the amount of land and village lost due to mega projects.
Projects Acquired Land
in Hectares Total Displaced
1. Irrigation large dams 20,493 900
Medium dams 14,403 118
Large dams proposed 12,160 92
2. Industries 48,358 177
3. Mines 10,947 N.A
4. Sanctuaries and wild life parks 81,155 771
Total 1,91,679 2,170

Source – Kundan Kumar “Dispossessed and displaced: A brief paper on tribal issues in Orissa." epgorissa.orgApril 2007.
The large dam at Hirakud on Mahanadi River was the first mega development project in post-independent Odisha, which submerged more than 1.53 lakhs of fertile agricultural land and displaced around 350 villages in the then districts of Sambalpur. Nobody knows their fate now.
The undivided district of Koraput is the tragic story of tribal displacement and destitution in India.

The proud Adivasis of Koraput, who were once the lords of the forests, now work as casual and manual labourers in different industrial centres and their wives work as maid servants. First they were displaced in the Kolab and Machkund dams, and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited at Sunabeda in the 1960s and again in Nalco Alumina Refinery and mines at Damanjodi and Indravati Dam in the 1980s and 1990s.

Rourkela Steel Plant displaced hundreds of Adivasi villages in Sundergarh district in the early decades after independence; Rengali Dam displaced more than 250 villages in then undivided Sambalpur and Dhekanal districts. It was supposed to be a multipurpose dam, after spending thousands of crores and displacing lakhs of farmers it could irrigate only 10% of the proposed command area.

After Biju Patnaik became the Chief Minister of Odisha in the early 1990s, thousands of acres of Adivasi land were acquired for setting up the steel hub at Kalinga Nagar. Vedanta Aluminium Limited has displaced scores of villages in Lanjigarh Block to set up the alumina refinery polluting and poisoning the entire area which has an adverse impact on local agriculture.

Thousands of acres of fertile land all over the state were acquired for thermal power stations and other projects.

People of Baliapal fought against the national missile testing range in the 1980s and successfully stopped it, thus preventing the displacement of hundreds of prosperous villages.

People of Gopalpur in Ganjam district under the banner of Gana Sangram Samity fought a heroic battle against TATAs in 1990 and successfully stalled it, though TATAs still have 3,500 acres in their possession.

In the early 1990s the fishermen of Chilka fought against the privatization of Chilka Lake for industrial shrimp cultivation.

After economic liberalization, the successive governments of Odisha, especially after Naveen Patnaik became the Chief Minister, have signed hundreds of MoUs with national and international corporate houses.

43 MoUs have been signed for steel plants alone, which will require 4,013 million tones of iron ore for a total installed capacity to produce 58.04 million tonnes of steel.

Decades of destructive development projects have totally pauperized and dispossessed the rural poor in Odisha, overwhelmingly the Adivasis and Dalits. It has deprived them of land, water and forests. Without any sources of gainful employment in their own villages, they migrate to other states to work as contract and casual labourers. The loss of agricultural land and drying up of water sources has endangered the food security of the rural poor.

But the people of Odisha have seen through this suicidal development trajectory and predatory industrialization. All over the state they are up in arms against displacement and imperialist globalization.

The Donghria Kondhs are resisting bauxite mining by Vedanta in Niyamgiri hills. The farmers of Dhinkia, Gobindpur, Patna and Nuagaon are fighting against proposed steel plant by POSCO in Jagatsinghpur district under the banner of POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samity. In Kalinga Nagar, the Adivasis under the banner of Visthapan Virodhi Janmanch have put up a heroic resistance against the TATA's proposed steel plant. The adivasis under the banner of Vishthapan Viredhi Janmanch have put up a heroic against the TATA's proposed steel plant.

The Adivasis of Kashipur are fighting against bauxite mining and alumina refinery for the past 15 years under the banner of Prakrutik Sampad Suraksha Samity. There is a struggle going on against bauxite mines in Deomali in Koraput district, and also against displacement caused by a big dam at lower Sukhtel in Bolangir district. The Adivasis in Narayan Patna Block in Koraput district are fighting against bondage and alienation of their land. They are fighting to get back their lands from money lenders, landlords and liquor mafia.

The farmers of Puri are fighting against Vedanta International University, which needs 8,000 acres of agricultural land.

They are fighting under the banner of Vedanta Viswavidyalaya Sangharsh Samity. Since past two year the farmers of western Odisha under the banner of Paschim Odisha Krishak Samanway Samity, are agitating against the diversion of Hirakud dam waters for industrial purposes.

To appease their masters in national and international corporate sector, the Government of Odisha has unleashed brutal repression on the mass movements, including illegal detention of activists. Odisha is famous for firing bullets on peaceful mass movements who are fighting for their land and livelihood. The police fired on the peaceful crowd in Maikanch, in Kashipur Block of Rayagada district and killed 3 people who were protesting against Utkal Alumina in Kashipur. It has detained scores of activists of Kashipur struggle for months on false criminal charges. Shukru Majhi was murdered in Lanjgarh where the fight was going on against Vedanta Aluminum. Shocking the whole state, the police shot dead 14 Adivasis at Kalinga Nagar on January 2, 2006. People had gathered to protest against forcible conservation of the boundary wall by TATAs in the year 2008. Amin Banra, an activist of Visthapan Virodhi Janmanch, was killed in cold blood by goons of TATAs in Kalinga Nagar.

The Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh of Narayan Patna is fighting for restoration of land appropriated from the Adivasis by local money lenders, landlords and liquor mafia.

Since the past six months inhuman combing operations are going on in Narayan Patna where the cobra, central paramilitary forces and state armed police go on demolishing Adivasi homes, sexually assaulting Adivasi women, destroying their household belongings and brutally beating up the male members.

On 20th November 2009 the police cold bloodedly killed two Adivasi activists when they had gone to Narayan Patna police station to protest against the combing operations and sexual abuse of women. Two activists of Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh were shot dead in front of others when they were arguing with police about their atrocities.

The advisor of Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh Gananath Patra was arrested two months ago on false criminal charges. Abhayasahoo and hundreds of other POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samity arrested thousands of villagers of anti-POSCO struggle on false criminal charges. In Jagatsinghpur and Kalinga Nagar they cannot move out of the village even for medical treatment and other household work for fear of getting arrested.

Since the past three months a reign of terror has been unleashed in Kalinga Nagar. The people there have been peacefully agitating against the construction of an approach road. Instead of negotiating with the people, the state government has reacted with brutal force. There has been a virtual blockade in Kalinga Nagar for the past few months. 29 platoons of armed police, 2 platoons of NSG, 70 police officers and 7 magistrates were deployed in Kalinga Nagar a week before the police brutally fired on peacefully agitating men, women and children. On 28th March 2010 the District Collector of Jajpur told the people of Kalinga Nagar that the district administration is willing for a negotiated settlement of the issues raised by them. However, shockingly on 30th morning the police forces entered the village of Baligotha and started to fire indiscriminately on unarmed men, women and children. More than 30 villagers were injured; 7 of them are still battling for life. This explains how brutal force is used in Odisha to evict people from their habitat and handover mineral rich areas including fertile agricultural land to national and international big businesses. For the past few years hundreds of people have been arrested in Kalinga Nagar, Jagatsinghpur and Narayan Patna on false criminal charges. This anti-people white terror is perpetrated on the peasants, workers, Adivasis and Dalits of Odisha to handover thousands of acres of fertile land, water and forests to the profit-hungry corporations displacing millions from their homes and habitat.

What we are witnessing in Odisha and other places in India is a blood sucking predatory and primitive accumulation through violent dispossession under the neoliberal regime. To facilitate this colossal corporate land-grab, the Government of India has launched Operation Green Hunt to handover the rich mines, forests, water resources and agricultural land to national and international corporate houses. Operation Green Hunt seeks to open up mineral resources for appropriation and plunder. As per the Ministry of Mines, the states that fall under the proposed area of Operation Green Hunt, Andhra Pradesh Chhatisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Bengal, account for 59% of the country’s mineral production. In the period 2006-2009 environmental clearance was given to 120 projects to either expand existing or to open new mines in Jharkhand and Odisha. These mineral rich areas are home to the poorest of the poor - mostly Adivasis and Dalits. The state has launched a brutal repression to suppress all the democratic movements which oppose handing over their land, water and forests to profit-hungry corporations. But the peasants, workers and Adivasis of Odisha have refused to buckle under state pressure; they have put up stiff resistance to corporate plunder and forcible eviction all over the state. Niyamgiri, Jagatsinghpur and Kalinga Nagar have become advanced outposts of anti-imperialist resistance, which inspires all the progressive and democratic forces fighting neoliberalism in India.



As I am writing this paper (8 November, 2009), within the span of a week five farmers have committed suicide in western Orissa. India had a cruel drought and devastating flood this year. One need not say that one of the most severe food problems and agrarian crisis is the dominating socio-economic phenomenon in India and third world with the onset of economic reforms under globalization since the early 1990s. According to official statistics, more than 1.8 lakh farmers have committed suicide in India, both under the NDA and UPA regimes. For the past two years we are witness to widespread food riots all over the third world. In India we are seeing unprecedented rise in the price of food grains and vegetables. With dal vanishing from the poor and lower middle-class households, we now face a qualitative change in our most fundamental economic relationship - the delivery of food. This situation has arisen from an extended process rooted in the sharp growth in inequality that has accompanied the extension of capitalist social relations in the period of economic reform. The condition of the majority of the population has been steadily weakening over the last decades, becoming ever more undernourished. At the same time, the governmental tools available to respond to a food crisis have been under continuous attack, and are no longer able to fulfill their role. According to the UNICEF report “The State of the World Children 2009” India has the highest rate of child malnutrition in the world. On an average, children in rural areas are twice as likely to be underweight compared to children in urban areas. The rate of child malnutrition is higher than that of Sub-Saharan Africa. This is the base line from which we can begin to asses the consequences of the failed monsoon.

The crisis has been building up for some time. Grain output has been stagnating for over a decade. For the five years from 2002-07, the average annual growth rate in agriculture has been a meager 2.2 percent, hardly more than India’s 1.5 percent annual population growth. Per capita availability of food grains in terms of kilograms per year was 162.5 in 2006, below the level of 1972 figure of 171.1. However, the availability of food grains does not give the real picture of the food question; access to food is the main criteria. The decline in per capita availability marks a yet more severe decline for the disadvantaged sections - the inevitable result of the neoliberal dogma of rationing scarce goods by ability to pay, that is by firmly entrenching market relations. The vast extent of the numbers living in extreme poverty is a known fact to everyone, but it simply does not appear in business press. Every politician and policy maker talks of poverty reduction. But if we follow international criteria, more than 50 percent of Indians are extremely poor. Arguably, the most significant achievement since independence was the extension of food security to this immense sector of the population through the public distribution system, assuring the minimum level of supply. The PDS achieved, at least to a considerable extent, the rationing of scarce but necessary goods without making the means of payment the decisive consideration. But only the shadow now remains.

Food prices have been steadily rising in the five years since 2004. In these years, between 2004 and 2008, when India had some good monsoons and record production of food grains was claimed, the price of rice went up by over 46 percent, that of wheat by over 62%, atta (wheat flour) 55%, salt 42%, and so on. By March 2008 the average increase in the price of such items was already well over 40 percent. Then these prices rose again till a little before the 2009 polls and have risen dramatically in the past six months. Inflation based on year-on-year variation in consumer price indices has increased since June 2008. Various measures of consumer price inflation remained high in the range of 8.6-11.5% during May/June 2009, and 8.0-97% in March 2009, as compared with 7.3-8.8% in June 2008. For the most disadvantaged who have fallen out of the wreckage of the PDS system, and we are talking of crores, the last years of price rise for foods have meant a steady gradual increase in hunger and malnutrition.

And now comes the bad monsoon of 2009. We are officially told that half the country is suffering from drought. The question at issue is not unpredictable weather in one month or another, it is the consequences of what the ecologists have told us is certain—that facing us today are the results of global climate change and irresponsible market driven practices in the absence of planning. Not only this year, but even in the years ahead, there will be crises arising from water shortage. A study published in Nature in August this year recounts that a satellite survey shows that ground water reserves in northern India have dropped sharply between 2002 and 2008. This depletion, primarily due to irrigation, is accelerating over time. And even in the absence of consensus on a casual linkage between global warming and bad monsoons, there is consensus on the increased prevalence of extreme weather variation, i.e., that the previously rare event (such as a failed monsoon) will be more frequent. Once again, the future has arrived.

Food Crisis Today - In 2006-08, food shortages became a global reality, with the prices of commodities spiralling beyond the reach of vast numbers of people. International agencies were caught flat-footed, with the world food program warning that its rapidly diminishing food stocks might not be able to deal with the emergency. Owing to surging prices of rice, wheat and vegetable oils, the food import bills of least developed countries (LDCs) climbed up by 37 percent from 2007 to 2008 - from 17.9 million US dollars to 24.6 million dollars, after having risen by 30 percent in 2006. By the end of 2008, the United Nations reported “the annual food import basket in LDCs lost more than three times that of 2000, not because of the increased volume of food imports, but as the result of rising food prices (United Nations, World Economic Situation and Prospects 2009). These tumultuous developments added 75 million people to the ranks of the hungry and drove an estimated 125 million people in developing countries into extreme poverty. (FAO briefing paper 'Hungry on Rise', United Nations, September 17, 2009.)

Alarmed by massive demand, countries like China and Argentina resorted to imposing taxes or quotas on their rice and wheat exports to avert local shortages. Rice exports were simply banned in Cambodia, Egypt, India, Indonesia and Vietnam. South-South solidarity, fragile in the best of times crumbled, becoming part of the collateral damage of the crisis.

For some countries, the food crisis was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. Some thirty countries experienced violent popular actions against rising prices in 2007 and 2008, among them Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Egypt, Guinea, Indonesia, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Mozambique, Senegal, Somalia, Uzbekistan and Yemen. Across the continents, people came out in thousands against uncontrolled rise in the staple goods which their countries had to import owing to insufficient production. Scores of people died in these demonstrations of popular anger.

The international press and academics proclaimed the end of the era of cheap food, and they traced the cause to a variety of reasons: the failure of the poor countries to develop their agricultural sectors, strain on the international food supply created by dietary changes in China and India’s expanding middle-classes who are eating more meat, speculation in commodity futures, the conversion of farmland into urban real estate, climate change and the diversion of corn and sugarcane from food production to the production of agrofuels to replace oil.

The United Nations World Economic Situation and Prospects spoke about the crisis being the product of a perfect storm or an explosive conjunction of different developments; and speculative movements that brought about the global financial crisis that broke out in the summer of 2007 were implicated in the food crisis. According to the United Nations, the impact on food prices of speculation by financial investors in commodities and commodities futures markets has been considerable, it could be argued, said the report.

“That increased global liquidity and financial innovations has also led to increased speculation in commodity markets and, in addition, the United States dollar appreciated as part of the process of de-leveraging of financial institutions in major economics.

However, radical economists claim that speculation in agro-commodity futures was the key factor in the extraordinary rise in the prices of food commodities in 2007 and 2008. With the real estate bubble bursting in 2007 and trading in mortgage-based securities and other derivatives collapsing, hedge funds and other speculative agents, they asserted, moved into speculation in commodity futures, causing a sharp increase in inside trading and contracts unaccompanied by little or no increase in production of agricultural commodities. It was this move into commodity futures for quick profits followed by a move out after the commodities bubble burst that triggered the rise in the FAO food price index by 71 percent during only fifteen months between the end of 2006 and March 2008 and its falling back after July 2008 to the level 2006 (Peter Wahl “Food Speculation: The Main Factor of the Price Bubble in 2008”, Berlin: WEED, 2009).


The causes for the extraordinary rise in food prices in 2008, doubling over 2007 prices, brought together long-term trends at work for decades, with a number of more recent realities. The most important long-term trends leading to the current situation are:

1. Increased diversion of corn grain and soybeans to produce meat as the world’s per capita meat consumption doubled in about forty years. As much as 95 percent of calories are lost in the conversion of grain and soybeans to meat.

2. Decreased food production associated with poor countries adopting the neoliberal paradigm of letting the free market govern food production and distribution.

3. Widespread “depeasantisation” partially caused by neoliberal reforms and IMF mandated “Structural adjustment” as conditions forced peasant farmers to migrate from the land into urban slums, where one-sixth of humanity now lives.

4. Increasing concentration of corporate ownership and control over all aspects of food production - from seeds, pesticides and fertilizers, to the grain elevators, processing facilities and grocery stores.
One of more recent causes for the crisis is the diversion of large amounts of corn, soy, and palm oil into producing agrofuels, the term adopted by critics worldwide for industrial-scale biofuels based on agricultural crops as feedstocks. Agrofuel production looked very appealing as the United States and the European Union sought to break the influence of oil producing countries to promote “Greener” fuels. In 2008, some 30 percent of the entire corn crop in the US was used to produce ethanol to blend with gasoline to fuel cars.

Estimates of how much ethanol production contributed to the rise in food prices varied from less than 5 percent, according to the US department of agriculture, to upwards 80 percent as estimated by the World Bank.

The year 2008 also brought major crop failures, from Bangladesh to the grain exporting regions of Australia, where wheat and rice crops were devastated by drought. Scientists agree that such widespread disruption in food production will only increase with the increasing destabilization of the earth’s climate. In addition, speculation at the local level (usually called hoarding) and unprecedented financial speculation in world commodity markets - an increasingly popular way to gamble as global stock markets plummeted - forced prices to much higher levels after several years in which consumption exceeded supply, crop failures in a few countries, and new large-scale diversions of food into fuel production – combined with the longer term trends - a perfect storm was created in which many people suffered greatly and continue to suffer.

The food prices in summer 2008 were considerably higher than just a few years ago. Food supplies, although ample to feed everyone if distributed equally, are still in relatively short supply. Today, approximately a billion people, close to one-sixth of humanity, suffer from continual and severe hunger. There are many more, possibly another two billion people, who live in perpetual food insecurity, missing some meals, and often not knowing where their next meal will come from. This means that close to half of entire mankind are either perpetually hungry and malnourished, or suffering from varying degrees of food insecurity. The present world food crisis has been the culmination of the following trends:

1. Disruption of nutrient cycles with the spread of capitalist agriculture and the more recent move towards large-scale, factory style animal production facilities.

2. Ecological damage caused by chemical and fossil fuel-intensive agricultural practices.

3. Great extent of consolidation (both horizontal and vertical integration) in the input and processing sectors of the agrifood system.

4. Farmers increasingly working as labourers for agribusiness, often under contract to large integrated meat producing corporations.

5. Role of genetically modified (GM) seeds in consolidating corporate control over the input sector and from practices overall.

6. Difficulties presented to the third world by the various provisions of the World Trade Organization.

7. Mass migration of peasants from the countryside of the third world (depeasantization) and into urban slums where there are few jobs available.
8. Extent of hunger amidst plenty in the developed countries, with many anti-hunger organizations focusing on the most immediate emergencies, thus leaving the deeper issue of poverty unaddressed.

9. Neglecting the importance of land reforms and the benefits of reducing or eliminating reliance on commercial fertilizers and pesticides.

Farming - the process of growing food and fibre crops and raising food animals, is imbedded in a larger system, often referred to as agrifood system. This system includes all the upstream inputs into farming (seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, tractors, fuel, implements, etc.) as well as the downstream sectors (purchasing farmers' products, processing, transporting, wholesaling, and finally retailing at markets and restaurants). While everyone eats food, the share of the population that is directly involved in its production declined sharply in the developed countries during the 20th century. A century ago, a third of the US population, some 32 million people, lived on farms. At the beginning of the Great Depression, there were some 6.8 million farms in the entire US. By the early 1960s this number was reduced by half - today there are only 1.3 million farms that earn more than 1,000 US dollars per year. There are more prisoners (2.3 million) than farmers in the US today. At the same time, hundreds of millions of people are still engaged in farming in the countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America – it is estimated that there are about 1 billion farmers out of a total world population of over 6 billion people.
Biotech Crops

For the last two decades corporations have aggressively promoted the idea that the genetic engineering of crops and seeds is the key to improving world agriculture. It is clear, however, that crops that have been genetically modified usually by introduction of genes from other species, have so far produced no reliable increase in yields over equivalent non-GM crops. Since the first commercial production of GM crops in the 1990s, opposition to this technology has united small-scale farmers, environmentalists and public health advocates from India to South Africa, as well as western Europe and the US. While over 300 million acres worldwide are currently planted in GM crops, according to industry sources, this represents only 2.6 percent of the cultivated land, and is highly concentrated in North and South America. While GM acreage in China and India is expanding, most of the world croplands are still GM free.

Nearly all of the commercially grown GM crops are of two general types: either they are engineered to withstand large doses of chemical herbicides (for example, Monsanto’s well-known "Roundup Ready" varieties), or they produce one or more pesticidal proteins, derived from BT bacteria. Recently released varieties combine both traits, a technology known as “gene stacking”. Twenty years of claims that genetic engineering will “feed the world” by making crops more resilient and healthier have time and again proved false. Instead, companies like Monsanto focus their research and development on traits that increase farmers' dependence on proprietary chemicals, while making farming more logistically convenient, hence easier to carry out over larger acreages in increasingly mechanized farms.
While comprehensive analyses of the health and environmental effects of GM crops remain relatively sparse, scientists continue to reveal new information demonstrating that the technology is inherently disruptive of cellular metabolism and gene expression. Independent research is largely stifled by proprietary control over GM traits by companies that have every interest in suppressing systematic studies of the technology’s consequences, and independent plant breeding research at the state land-grants universities in the US is being supplanted by in-house corporate research. Corporate influence is exacerbated by an increasingly cozy relationship between these institutions and agribusiness corporations. For example, the President of South Dakota State University, David Chicoine joined Monsanto’s Board of Directors, and is stated to receive significantly more income in 2009 than the 300,000 US dollar salary he received from his university. Seed corporations have thoroughly corrupted the land-grants university mission - directly through research grants and payments to consulting scientists, and indirectly by prohibiting most independent research on GM seeds.

Political Economy of the Present Food and Agrarian Crisis -

The Globalization of Agribusiness and Developing World Food Systems
The issue of the global concentration of agribusiness is crucial to the future of the food systems of developing (and poor, non-developing) countries. These countries have been a target of corporate investments from the outset of the industrial food system. This process has been uneven - at different times corporate investment has focused on one or another part of the food system. Today, this uneven and often uncoordinated foray of metropolitan corporate capital is still subjugating the agriculture and domestic food markets of many developing countries, particularly smaller, peripheral ones undergoing rapid urbanisation, to the needs of global agribusiness. For some of the larger developing countries, however, national capitalists are the principal force behind the emerging urban food system. In addition, the state has been playing a key role in the consolidation of the urban food system in certain emerging economies.

Foreign participation in the food industry was once typically concentrated in the more sophisticated food segments geared to the emerging urban middle-class and exports primarily to wealthy countries. Because of lack of patent protection, there was little foreign private capital investment in the genetic inputs industry. Thus, the nascent private seed industry, especially maize, was restricted to the non-GMO (genetically modified organism) hybrid markets; foreign direct investment was also largely absent until recently from the retail sector.

A profound shift occurred in the 1980s and 1990s in the pattern and extent of the transnational corporate penetration of the agrifood systems of developing countries. From mid-1970s, per capita food consumption of basic staples in the developed world was reaching saturation, and overall growth suffered from the effects of the end of the baby boom.

This led to a rapid process of concentration and development of oligopolies (where a few companies control a large portion of the market) as the key condition of continued growth.

This slowdown in growth in food purchases in the developed countries was partially offset by a number of new initiatives. The introduction of an increasingly number of unprocessed specific varieties (instead of selling undifferentiated commodities), led to truly unbelievable proliferation of processed food products, and a segmentation of markets. A new wave of investment promoted “non traditional exports” — particularly seafoods, fruits and vegetables, either off season or exotic - from developing countries to metropolitan markets. There was also renewed attention to the potential of the domestic markets of developing countries where higher demographic growth rates and rapid urbanisation were creating an ideal condition for food corporations to offset the slowdown in growth in markets of developed countries. In earlier periods, Latin American countries were the main focus of investments directed to domestic markets within the periphery. The attention was being redirected to Asia, where many developing countries were sustaining high growth rates.

During the 1980s, biotechnology, heavily dependent on patents, was 'revolutionizing' the genetic and agrochemical input sectors. Concerted lobbying by these and the pharmaceutical sectors led to the developing countries' acceptance of patents on food and as a pre-condition for joining the WTO. The seed, fertilizer, and chemical input sectors, particularly of those developing countries with an increasingly large-scale and export-oriented agriculture, as in the Southern Cone countries of South America, were subjected to new waves of market pressure from foreign-based transnational corporations.

But the input sectors were not the only areas for investment. There was a rapid growth of transnational involvement in the retail food sector of the South, which had been mainly owned and organized on a domestic basis. Some European corporations, particularly Carrefour, had entered developing country markets as early as the 1970s. However, it was only in the 1990s that a more generalized foreign corporate penetration of the retail sector got underway, first in highly urbanized Latin America and then in key Asian countries. European retail led the way here, but was then accompanied by the US Wal-Mart colossus. Urbanization in developing countries also brought with it a shift in lifestyles and food habits favoring the rise of convenience foods, which, in turn, stimulated the expansion and large-scale entrance of foreign corporations into the fast-food sector.

The changing global dynamics of demand and the acceptance of the "free market" liberal approach by developing countries led to an increasing presence of multinationals in all phases of agrifood systems. This now includes direct foreign investment in land and water resources, stimulated both by the moves to grow crops for agrofuel feedstocks and thereby concerns with food security in an increasingly uncertain environment for world commodity trade.

Significant concentration of control of food and agriculture had already occurred in most advanced capitalist countries. In the US, concentration ratios for the top four or five firms have been calculated for the major upstream inputs (materials, resources, energy, fertilizers, etc.) and downstream outputs (farm products, processing, and sales markets). The main segments have ratios averaging well over the 40 percent level—considered the threshold for a market oligopoly—and often in the 70-80 percent range. More recently, researchers have identified very high levels of concentration in the retail sectors of Europe and the US. The major agricultural commodities that make up world trade are also subject to high levels of concentration—grains and oils, coffee, cocoa, and bananas. In addition, a substantial proportion of trade is now organized and coordinated by leading firms. This is particularly the case for the so-called non-traditional exports (seafoods, fruits, vegetables and flowers), very often under the direct control of large-scale retailers. As much as a third of overall trade can be accounted for by purchases between the subsidiaries of the same firm, where prices are determined by fiscal (including tax) considerations.
In smaller market segments, there are even higher levels of concentration involving oligopolies and even monopolies. And, although global food cartels have formed, often in oligopolistic markets, formal collusion is not necessary. Leading firms can adjust their respective behavior, creating an informal control over the market. The issue of market concentration, however, is not limited to individual markets. The major firms grow both horizontally (in like sectors) and vertically (integrating both downstream suppliers and upstream markets for a given industry)—leading to concentration and economic power that extends to broad sections of the agrifood system. It is this activity across market segments that transforms market concentration into a greater position of strategic economic power. Vertical and/or horizontal integration is now being complemented by strategic alliances with firms in complementary areas. This development is particularly noticeable in the agricultural inputs and primary processing/trade sectors.

Global corporate investment in the food industry was initially overwhelmingly within the leading industrialized blocs. While some firms established an international presence as early as the latter half of the 19th century, a more across-the-board incursion of foreign direct investment began in the 1980s. Leading agrifood transnationals are now increasingly geared to a global food commodity market.

The New Position of Emerging Countries in the Global Agrifood Economy
As mentioned earlier, two broad tendencies transformed North/South relations since the 1970s. In addition to being a source for traditional tropical exports, developing countries became increasingly important in the supply of the components of what has been called the "nutritional transition"—the shift to a high animal protein diet (including seafoods) and the increasing consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. This has provided opportunities for the expansion of domestic food companies in a few countries. Brazil and Argentina, together with Thailand, became major suppliers of animal feed and meat. Particularly in the white meat sector (poultry and pigs), this gave rise to domestic agribusiness firms—Sadia and Perdigao in Brazil, and the Charoen Pokphand Group in Thailand. More recently, there has been a similar surge of domestic firms in the red meat sector, with the Brazilian firm JBS/Fnboi becoming the world's largest firm in that sector. The Charoen Pokphand Group similarly embarked on regional foreign direct investment.
Foreign investment and increasing coordination have also transformed devel¬oping countries into major suppliers of seafoods, with a key driver being the explosion of shrimp-based restaurant chains in developed countries. This has involved new transnationals, such as the animal (and fish) feed company Nutreco, the entry into this sector of leading firms from the agricultural inputs and genetics sectors, such as Monsanto, and the emergence of domestic play¬ers.

Fresh fruits and vegetables have been piloted mainly by firms for which this previously unorganized market segment has become a key to establishing consumer loyalty. Early forays into the domestic markets of developing countries often had the character of enclave-type activities, with few or no linkages to their economies. Alternatively, they were aimed at a specific niche. Now, under the aegis of retail, the transnational objective has become corporate takeover of the domestic food systems of developing countries as a whole. In addition, this penetration now includes the large developing countries, often with strong states, with already consolidated agrifood companies, and with very distinct traditions and food habits. It also occurs in a context in which developing countries have become competitive suppliers in a number of markets, providing opportunities for the transformation of their leading domestic players into global actors.

The neoliberal consensus, often referred to as the Washington Consensus, maintains that the "free market" can and will take care of everything that governments in the third world once did to support agriculture and food consumption by the poor, and that government spending for these programs can be drastically reduced. What a splendid fable was spun, based on no evidence whatsoever—a fantasy as make-believe as the fairy tales told to children. This left poor countries in an especially vulnerable condition when prices for basic foods—wheat, corn, soybeans, food oils, and rice—rose in the world market.
The Washington Consensus, an ideology developed by the advanced capitalist countries, especially the US, promotes the concepts of "free markets" and "free trade." The dogma holds that if restrictions on markets are eliminated, both within a country and between countries, market forces will work their magic and efficiently allocate resources. This is the rehashing of an argument that goes back some two hundred years. It is the ideology of the strong and its imposition on a world scale has had devastating effects on agriculture and basic food supplies for the poor.
Governments of the South have been mistaken to follow the prescriptions of the IMF and World Bank (WB) and the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Of course, in many cases, they had few alternatives to accepting the conditions imposed by these institutions, including reducing tariffs for food imports, eliminating government support for farmers (e.g., subsidies to purchase expensive imported fertilizers), breeding and distributing new crop varieties adapted to local conditions, and purchasing and storing food in government warehouses. In addition, the economic advisors of many governments in the South had their training in the US or Britain at institutions that preached the near-miraculous efficient allocation of resources and self-regulation of markets, viewing all public regulation as ill-advised and inappropriate meddling. The remarkable documentary “Life and Debt” demonstrates the destruction of Jamaican agriculture under the IMF-enforced opening of markets. The film makes it clear that there was no possibility for Jamaican farmers to compete with imports of nearly every type of agricultural product—from onions to potatoes to carrots to milk to chicken.

The ideology of comparative advantage—that everything will work out for the best if each country produces products for which they have a "comparative advantage" and imports the products for which they do not—is absolute rubbish. There are definite winners and losers in such a system, with the winners' power to implement their desires trumping all other considerations. The notion of "level playing field" of "free trade," Joan Robinson has explained as follows: "When Ricardo set out the case against protection, he was supporting British economic interests. Free trade ruined Portuguese industry. Free trade for others is in the interest of the strongest competitor in world markets, and a sufficiently strong competitor has no need for protection at home."

The poorer countries of the world have long insisted on a "level playing field" in which all countries within the WTO abide by the same rules. They are pursuing a better deal on agriculture than they got from the WTO regarding property rights and trade in manufactured goods. This pursuit has also been in reaction to the hypocrisy of the already developed countries that help their local farmers and agribusinesses—using both direct and indirect subsidies—while demanding that Southern governments stop supporting farmers.

A natural response from the poor countries has been to request that the developed countries stop subsidizing their agriculture and, thus, help level the playing field. Direct subsidies, often based on production quantity or acreage of specific crops, allow farmers in the US, Europe, and Japan to sell below their costs of production. But there are also many alternative ways to help production and exports of crops other than direct subsidies for production—for example, "green" payments to farmers for using more ecologically sound practices and subsidized crop or income insurance. Even crops that are not directly subsidized by government programs may thereby gain easier access into foreign markets. In the seemingly failed Doha Round of WTO negotiations, the developing countries have insisted on the right to maintain tariffs on imported foods if needed to protect local production. The US and European Union, however, want to eliminate tariffs, while retaining their own crop subsidy programs.

The consolidation, both vertically and horizontally, of the agrifood system outside of actual farming (inputs, purchasing, exporting, processing, and retailing) has continued in the US and Europe. For examples of how far horizontal consolidation has gone, in 2007 the four largest beef packers in the US controlled about 84 percent of the market and close to 50 percent of all supermarket food was sold by five corporations, with Wal-Mart by far the largest. In addition, sectors of the agrifood system in the wealthy countries have made significant inroads into the economies of Eastern Europe and the South. A report for the Grocery Manufacturers Association in the US put it clearly: “The case for global expansion is quite simple. As domestic markets are saturated, global expansion is one way to achieve sustainable, double-digit growth.” Assuming that your goal is to maximize profits, it is hard to argue with that logic. Seed companies and chemical companies such as Monsanto (which comprises both) have aggressively entered new markets and have developed strong footholds in a number of countries, especially Brazil. Transnational processing and export companies as well as supermarkets have also entered the poor countries.

Perhaps the fastest pace of consolidation is in the seed sector, where three companies, Monsanto, DuPont, and the Swiss conglomerate, Syngenta—all heavily invested in GM technologies—now control 47 percent of the global market in proprietary seeds, and almost 40 percent of the total commercial seed market. This is the latest manifestation of a pattern first documented in the late 1990s, when Monsanto and other GM companies began investing tens of billions of dollars in acquiring key national and international seed companies. These three companies, along with Bayer, Dow, and others, are also central players in the global agrochemicals market. The top six pesticide firms control three-quarters of this sector, and the top ten represent an overwhelming 89 percent share. While food and beverage manufacturing is still a more dispersed undertaking, ten companies, starting with Nestle, Kraft, Coca-Cola, and Pepsi, now control 26 percent of this sector, and the top hundred companies control three-quarters of all the world's packaged foods. In the retail sector, one hundred companies control about 35 percent of grocery sales, of which 40 percent is controlled by the top ten, including Wal-Mart, Kroger, the French company Carrefour, and the British Tesco. Corporate consolidations and alliances with other corporations have proceeded to the point where there are discernable chains linking almost all parts of the agrifood industry.
Corporations that pioneered factory-scale animal production in the US, displacing many independent hog, cattle, and poultry farmers, are now also producing abroad. They achieve low costs of production by: (a) having very large facilities; (b) controlling and providing all the feed and veterinary medicines; (c) mandating that the people raising the animals (the "farmers") be essentially laborers under contracts favorable to the corporation, following strict procedures and protocol; (d) passing on responsibility for manure and other waste; and (e) locating contracted factory farms near their own processing facilities. Smithfield, a Virginia-based Fortune 500 corporation, has used its power and connections to expand into Eastern Europe. In the space of a few years, about 90 percent of Romania's and 56 percent of Poland's hog farmers were put out of business because of competition from Smithfield—creating social as well as environmental havoc. In addition, frozen pork products are exported to West Africa—Liberia, Equatorial Guinea, and the Ivory Coast— where local producers are also put out of business. Smithfield receives export incentive funds from Poland and sells its pork at about half the price of local producers in the Ivory Coast.

Another aspect in the penetration of agricultural products from food-exporting countries of the North has been successful long-term efforts to change the diets of the people of the South. The transformation of third world people's diets toward non-traditional foods was encouraged by both governments—for example, the United States P.L. 480 program which shipped "charity" wheat to countries that had never grown the crop, partially to get them used to the new food—and by corporations desiring to sell more of their products abroad. A United Nations World Health Organization report has described the effects of the push of the transnational food corporations into the third world on the consumption habits and health of people.
The poor condition of farm workers is one of the many tragedies of our agrifood system — from exposure to pesticides, to lack of sanitary facilities, and clean water, to low pay, to air pollution, etc. Whether in the sugarcane fields of Brazil, the new commercial estates of Africa, the oil palm plantations of Malaysia, or the tomato fields of Florida, farm workers have very little organized power and are treated poorly. This includes the workers in the meat and poultry processing facilities that work under unsanitary and harsh conditions. These abysmal working conditions for farm labor, in addition to the difficult conditions for small farmers, have helped to fuel the mass migrations to city slums.
The migration out of the countryside and into the slums in the cities of the global South — where there are few jobs — is continuing. The rural to urban migrations in Latin America, Africa, and Asia are a result of harsh conditions in the countryside. People are pushed off the land at an accelerating pace as farmers and the general population become more integrated into world markets and find themselves at the mercy of market forces. When they move to the slums, people join the "informal economy" and struggle for existence. As a reporter from Lagos, Nigeria ended his story, "The really disturbing thing about Lagos' pickers and vendors is that their lives have essentially nothing to do with ours. They scavenge an existence beyond the margins of macroeconomics. They are, in the harsh terms of globalization, superfluous."

A Wall Street Journal article described the situation in India: "Across India, poor migrants keep streaming into cities like Lucknow, many of which are woefully mismanaged and ill-equipped to handle the influx. India has at least 41 cities with more than one million people, up from 23 two decades ago. A half dozen others will soon join the megacity list. Urban experts say the risk is now rising that some of these cities could face the same fate as Mumbai and Calcutta, which became synonymous with poverty and decay in the 1970s and 1980s."
Corporate control through a food regime based in market liberalization is a proximate cause of the globalization of a system in which food price increases are encouraged and rapidly transmitted around the world. But its roots lie in the industrial agricultural model, and its heavy fossil-fuel dependence. As a recent Chatham House report claims, producing one tonne of maize in the US requires 160 litres of oil, compared with just 4.8 litres in Mexico where farmers rely on more traditional methods. In 2005, expenditure on energy accounted for as much as 16% of total US agricultural production costs, one-third for fuel, including electricity, and two-thirds indirectly for the production of fertilizer and chemicals." The latter is, of course, responsible for the crisis of "peak soil," as inorganic fertilizers and monocropping (originating in the colonial plantation system) have intensified the "metabolic rift," interrupting the natural carbon and nutrient cycles and degrading soils. This means that while there is still arable land available globally, soils in use exhibit forms of exhaustion and erosion that suggest the world faces steadily declining yields under the present regime of dependency on petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides.
The twin crises of peak oil and peak soil legitimize a global agrofuels project, to supplement (mainly) Northern fuel needs with cheaper (mainly Southern) forms of ethanol and biodiesel, but without substantially affecting the total greenhouse gas emissions. Ironically, industrial agriculture's dependence on fossil fuels has contributed to the search for alternative, renewable sources of energy, such as biofuels. But biofuels compound the problem, not only by barely offsetting emissions, but also by putting pressure on cropland. A corporate bloc that a decade ago claimed to "feed the world" with new agricultural biotechnologies now follows an agro-industrial path dependence in substituting fuel crops for food crops. Popular perceptions of the underlying cause of food inflation lay considerable blame on the biofuels revolution, with one author noting that the unsustainable agriculture and agrofuels policies of the US and the European Union have led to "huge food trade deficits of both countries," being "at the heart of the current explosion of agricultural commodity prices." Here, the argument is that food stocks in the global North were run down by ballooning food trade deficits, in addition to highly subsidized agrofuel policies, especially for US corn-ethanol, identified by international institutions as the chief culprit in the explosion of world food prices:

US corn-ethanol explains one-third of the rise in the world corn price according to the FAO, and 70% according to the IMF. The World Bank estimates that the 'US' policy is responsible for 65% of the surge in agricultural prices, and for the former USDA Chief economist, it explains 60% of the price rise. The World Bank states that: "Prices for those crops used as bio-fuels have risen more rapidly than other food prices in the past two years, with grain prices going up by 144%, oilseeds by 157% and other food prices only up by 11%." The US, as a result of its corn-ethanol production, is clearly responsible for the explosion of agricultural prices. The second largest world corn exporter, Brazil, produces ethanol from sugarcane and hence has not influenced world market prices for corn. In addition to the US corn ethanol program, the US biodiesel [soybeans] also contributes to soaring prices.
The market fetishism evident in industrial agriculture's transformation of almost all agricultural products into undifferentiated commodities (certainly with substantial subsidies for energy crops as well as other types of subsidies) compounds the legacy of agricultural liberalization. This legacy has produced a regime that has steadily dismantled protections for domestic agriculture in global South, while allowing the global North to continue to subsidize its corporate farm sectors. Additional subsidies for agrofuels have reverberated throughout the global food market in the form of price inflation. At the same time, liberalization and structural adjustment policies have deepened the crisis and created shortage of some commodities from the global South, now including agrofuel exports encouraged by the European Emissions Trading Scheme. Whether in the form of calories or energy crops, the global South continues to fuel corn-style consumption patterns. At the same time, many countries such as Mexico and Jamaica have greatly lessened their production of basic foods for consumption.
One significant corrective to this neocolonial pattern is the intervention by the food sovereignty movement, which emerged in the 1990s to challenge the privatization of food security, arguing that "hunger is not a problem of means, but of rights." In other words, states as well as communities, especially of producers, should have the right to develop their policy instruments, including protections, so that inhabitants can be provisioned adequately and nutritionally with the food they need, and in culturally and ecologically appropriate ways. This means an end or drastic curtailment of food systems—and the power of corporations controlling them—oriented to production for those (anywhere) with the purchasing power to command the food they want. We stand on the brink of an era in which the industrial food system faces increasing problems and decreased support, and in which the food sovereignty vision has an opportunity to be progressively realized. The food crisis of 2007-08 serves as a reminder of the long-standing patterns of inequality in the global food regime, and of its social and ecological unsustainability.

Climate Crisis and the Question of Sustainable Agriculture
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2007 Nobel Peace Prize wining report documented an unprecedented convergence of findings from hundreds of studies of the earth’s changing climate, including tens of thousands of distinct data sets in numerous independent fields of inquiry. Not only did the report demonstrate that the evidence for the role of human activity in altering the earth’s climate is “unequivocal”, but it also confirmed that the ecological and human consequences of those alternations are already being felt in literally thousands of different ways. Perhaps most disturbing are the near and medium-term consequences for global agriculture. People living in the tropics and sub-tropics, where most of the world’s remaining subsistence farmers are located, are already experiencing a world of increasingly uncertain rainfall, persistent droughts, coastal flooding, loss of wetlands and fisheries, and increasingly scarce fresh water supplies. The IPCC predicts that severally increased flooding will most immediately affect residents of the major river deltas of Asia and Africa. Furthermore, one-sixth of the world's population, including a large number in South East Asia, that depends on water from glacial run-off, may see a brief increase in the size and volume of their freshwater lakes as glaciers melt, but eventually the loss of the glaciers will become a life-threatening reality for those people as well.
The data points strongly towards a worldwide decrease in crop productivity if global temperatures rise more than 50F (2.70C) – well within the range of current predictions - although crop yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by half as soon as 2020. In Africa alone, between 75 million and 250 million people will be exposed to increased water stress. Prolonged and severe mega droughts are projected to occur in places as diverse as West Africa, North China and California, while a ten-year drought is occurring in Australia with drastic effects on its agriculture. In addition, the rise in temperature may already be adversely affecting some crops - with higher temperatures increasing night time respiration by rice (and perhaps other crops), resulting in the loss of metabolic energy produced by photosynthesis during the previous day. The IPCC report affirms that those populations with “high exposure, high sensitivity and/or low adaptive capacity” will bear the greatest burdens; those who contribute the least to the problem of global warming will continue of face the severest consequences.
And finally, as the sea level rises in response to melting ice sheets in Iceland and Antartica, coastal croplands and homes, villages of literally millions of peoples will be inundated. And even before this happens, coastal aquifers needed for drinking water and irrigation will be contaminated by saltwater intrusion.
Numerous studies in the past several years have demonstrated that high yields of crops can be grown by using ecologically sound methods, including but not limited to, organic farming. Instead of relying on methods of industrial agriculture that use large quantities of energy derived from fossil fuels - for example, to produce fertilizers and pesticides and for traction - agroecological approaches rely more on building healthy soils and greater diversity in crops and animals while relying on few inputs from off the farm.

Most climate change models predict that damages will disproportionally affect the regions populated by small farmers, particularly rain-fed agriculturalists in the third world. However, existing models at best provide a broad-brush approximation of expected effects and hide the enormous variability in internal adoption strategies. Many rural communities and traditional farming households, despite weather fluctuations, seem able to cope with climate extremes. In fact, many farmers cope up with and even prepare for climate change, minimizing crop failure through increased use of drought tolerant local varieties, water harvesting, extensive planting, mixed cropping, agroforestry, wild plant gathering and series of other traditional farming system techniques.

In traditional agroecosystems, the prevalence of complex and diversified cropping system is of key importance to the stability of peasant farming systems, allowing crops to reach acceptable productivity levels in the midst of environmentally stressful conditions. In general, traditional agroecosystems are less vulnerable to catastrophic loss because they grow a wide variety of crops to reach acceptable productivity levels in the midst of environmentally stressful conditions in various spatial and temporal arrangements. Researchers have found that polycultures of sorghum/peanut and millet/peanut exhibited greater yield stability and less productivity declines during a drought than in the case of monocultures.
One way of expressing such experimental results is in terms of “over-yielding - occurring” when two or more crops grown together yield more than when grown alone.
One hectare of a mixture of sorghum and peanuts yield more than half hectare of only sorghum plus a half hectare of only peanuts. All the intercrops over-yielded consistently at fine level of moisture availability, ranging from 297 to 584 mm of water applied over the cropping season. Quite interestingly, the rate of over-yielding actually increased with water stress, such that the relative differences in productivity between monocultures and polycultures become more accentuated as stress increased. Many farmers grow crops in agroforestry designs, and tree shade covers protect crop plants against extremes in microclimate and soil moisture fluctuation. Farmers influence microclimate by retaining and planting trees, which reduce temperature, wind velocity, evaporation, and direct exposure to sunlight and intercept hail and rain. In coffee agrosystems in Chiapas (Mexico), temperature, humidity and solar radiation fluctuations were found to increase significantly as shade cover decreased, indicating that shade cover was directly related to the mitigation of variability in microclimate and soil moisture for the coffee crop.

Despite the evidence of resiliency and productivity advantage of small-scale and traditional farming systems, many scientists, development specialists, and organizations argue that the performance of subsistence agriculture is unsatisfactory, and that agrochemical and transgenic intensification of production is essential for the transition from subsistence to commercial production. Although such intensification approaches have met with much failure, research indicates that the traditional crop and animal combination can often be adapted to increase productivity. This is the case when ecological principles are used in the redesign of small farms, enhancing the habitat so that it promotes healthy plant growth, stresses pests, and encourages beneficial organisms while using labour and local resources more efficiently.

Several reviews have amply documented that small farmers can produce much of the urban communities in the midst of climate change and burgeoning energy costs. (See N. Uphoff and M.A. Altieri - Alternatives to Conventional Modern Agriculture for Meeting World Food Needs in the Next Century – Ithaca: Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development, 1999.)

The evidence is conclusive: new agroecological approaches and technologies spearheaded by farmers and some local governments around the world are already making sufficient contribution to food security at the household, national and regional level. A variety of agroecological and participatory approaches in many countries show very positive outcomes even under adverse environmental conditions. Potentials include: raising cereal yields from 50 to 200 percent, increasing stability of production through diversification, improving diets and income, and contributing to national food security and conservation of the natural resource base and biodiversity. This evidence has been reinforced by a recent report of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, stating that organic agriculture could boost African food security. Based on an analysis of 114 cases in Africa, the report revealed that a conversion of farms to organic or near-organic production methods increased agricultural productivity by 116 percent. Moreover, a shift towards organic production system has enduring impact, as it builds up levels of natural, human, social, financial and physical capital in farming communities. Traditional and local knowledge systems enhance agricultural and soil quality and biodiversity as well as nutrients, pest and water management and the capacity to respond to environmental stresses such as climate.

Whether the potential and spread of agroecological innovations is realized or not depends on several factors, such as major changes in policies, institutions and research and development approaches. Proposed agroecological strategies need to target the poor deliberately, and not only aim at increasing production and conserving natural resources. But they must also create employment and provide access to local inputs and local markets. Any serious attempt at developing sustainable agricultural technologies must bring to bear local knowledge and skills on the research process. The agroecological process requires participation and enhancement of the farmers’ ecological literacy about their farms and resources laying the foundation for empowerment and continuous innovations by rural communities.

Equitable market opportunities must also be developed, emphasizing local commercialization and distribution schemes, fair prices, and other mechanisms that link farmers more directly and with greater solidarity to the rest of the population. The ultimate challenge is to increase investment and research in agroecology and scale-up projects that have already proven successful to thousands of farmers. This will generate a meaningful impact on the income, food security, and environmental well-being of all populations, especially small farmers who have been adversely impacted by conventional modern agricultural policy, technology, and the penetration of multinational agribusiness deep into the third world. (For details see P.M. Rosset, R. Patel and M. Courville - Promised Land - Oakland: Food First Books, 2006; P. Richards - Indigenous Agricultural Revolution – Boulder: Westview Press 1985; and E. Holt-Gimenez - Campesino a Campesino – Oakland: Food First Books, 2006).

Transcending Capitalist Agriculture and the Grip of Imperial Agribusiness – Towards Sustainable Agriculture
Global imperialist forces are challenging the ability of third world countries to feed themselves. A number of countries have organized their economies around a competitive export oriented agricultural sector, based mainly on monocultures. It may be argued that agricultural exports of crops such as soybeans from Brazil make significant contribution to the national economies by bringing in hard currency that can be used to purchase other goods from abroad. However, this type of industrial agriculture also brings a variety of economic, environmental and social problems, including negative impacts on public health, ecosystem integrity, food quality, and in many cases, disruption of traditional rural livelihoods, while accelerating indebtedness among farmers.

The growing push towards industrial agriculture and globalization - with an emphasis on export crops, lately transgenic crops, and with rapid expansion of biofuel crops (sugarcane, maize, soybean, oil palm, eucalyptus, etc.) is increasingly reshaping the world’s agriculture and food supply, with potentially severe economic, social, and ecological impacts and risks. Such reshaping is occurring in the midst of a changing climate expected to have large and far reaching effects on crop productivity predominantly in tropical zones of the developing world. Hazards include increased flooding in low-lying areas, greater frequency and severity of droughts in semi-arid areas, and excessive heat conditions, all of which can limit agricultural productivity.

Globally the Green Revolution, while enhancing crop production, proved to be unsustainable as it damaged the environment, caused dramatic loss of biodiversity and associated traditional knowledge, favored wealthier farmers, and left many poor farmers deeper in debt. The countries of the third world have had disastrous consequences due to the dependence on fertilizers and high yielding seeds by increasing their dependency on foreign inputs and patent-protected plant varieties which poor farmers cannot afford (for example, fertilizer costs went up approximately 270% in the year 2007-08 and the growing phenomenon of dependency on foreign aid).

For centuries, the agricultures of developing countries were built upon the local resources of land, water, etc., as well as local varieties and indigenous knowledge. This has nurtured biologically and genetically diverse small-holder farms with a robustness and built-in resilience that has helped them to adjust to rapidly changing climates, pests and diseases. The persistence of millions of agricultural hectares under ancient, traditional management in the form of raised fields, terraces, polycultures with a number of crops growing in the same field, agroforestry systems, etc., indicate successful indigenous agricultural strategy and constitutes a tribute to the creativity of traditional farmers. These microcosms of traditional agriculture offer promising models for other areas because they promote biodiversity, thrive without agrochemicals, and sustain year-round yields. In the new models of agriculture, humanity will need to include forms of farming that are more ecological, biodiverse, local, sustainable and socially just. They will be rooted in the ecological rationale of traditional small-scale agriculture, representing long-established examples of successful community-based local agriculture. Such systems have fed much of the world for centuries and continue to feed people in many parts of the world. Thousands of small traditional farms still exist in most rural areas of the third world. The productivity and sustainability of such agroecosystems can be optimized with sustainable agroecological approaches and thus they can form the basis of food sovereignty, defined as the right of each nation or region to maintain and develop their capacity to produce basic food crops with the corresponding productive and cultural diversity. The emerging concept of food sovereignty emphasizes farmers’ access to land, seeds, and water, while focusing on local autonomy, local markets, local production, consumption cycles, energy and technological sovereignty, and farmer-to-farmer network.
The large influence of transnational corporations in promoting sales of agrochemicals cannot be ignored as a barrier to sustainable farming. Most MNCs have taken advantage of existing policies that promote the enhanced participation of the private sector in technology development and delivery, putting themselves in a powerful position to scale-up promotion and marketing of pesticides. Given such a scenario, it is clear that the future of agriculture will be determined by power relations, and there is no reason why farmers and the public in general, if sufficiently empowered, could not influence the direction of agriculture towards the goals of sustainability.

The nature of modern agricultural structure and contemporary policies have strongly influenced the context of agricultural technology and production, which in turn has led to numerous environmental problems. Given the realities of capitalism, resource conserving practices are discouraged and in many cases such practices are not profitable for farmers. As the large-scale landscape homogenization with transgenic crops proceeds, environmental impacts will probably be substantial and it is expected that such massive deployment will exacerbate the ecological problems already associated with monoculture agriculture. Unquestioned expansion of this technology into developing countries is also undesirable. There is strength in the agricultural diversity of many of these countries, and it should not be inhibited or reduced by extensive monoculture, especially when consequences of doing so result in serious social and environmental problems.

The expectation that a set of policy changes could bring a renaissance of diversified or small-scale farms may be unrealistic, because it negates the existence of economies of scale in agriculture and ignores the political power of agribusiness corporations and current trends set forth by globalization. A more radical transformation of agriculture is needed, one guided by the notion that ecological change in agriculture cannot be promoted without comparable changes in the social, political, cultural, and economic arenas that also constrain agriculture. Change towards a more socially just, economically viable, and environmentally sound agriculture will be the result of social movements in the rural sector in alliance with urban working classes.

The development of sustainable agriculture will require significant structural changes, in addition to technological innovation, farmer-to-farmer networks, and farmer-to-consumer solidarity. The required change is impossible without social movements that create political will among decision-makers to dismantle and transform the institutions and regulations that presently hold back sustainable agricultural development.