English

Privatisation in the Enemy of Sustainable Agriculture

Aug 31 2009

By Vandana Shiva (*)

NEW DELHI, Aug (IPS) The privatisation of the earth’s resources is a recipe for famine and desertification, violence against women, hunger, and, as happens in India, the suicide of farmers.

The state of natural resources is shaped and influenced by agricultural technologies and by how natural resources are owned.

Until recently water and biodiversity have been commons in India, overseen largely by women. This is the system that privatisation is threatening.

Caring for the soil over generations is part of a culture of holding the land in trust and recognising the earth as a mother that nourishes humanity. Good farming builds the soil. It builds humus, which is the heart of soil fertility. When land is transformed into a commodity, soil disappears -in the imagination and in reality.

An advertisement of Dubai-based construction and real estate company EMAAR-MDG on “Making a New India” read, “Where there is land, there will be houses, malls, golf clubs.” What is forgotten is that where there is land there is soil, there are crops, there are villages, and there are farmers, especially women farmers, as most farmers in India are women.

Just as soil gives way to concrete, so villages give way to concrete jungles, communities give way to corporations and consumers, and women as producers give way to women as the disposable sex.

The commodification of land goes hand in hand with the chemicalisation of agriculture. India spends about two billion dollars annually on fertiliser subsidies.

Living soil is being replaced with external inputs like synthetic fertilisers, which kill soil organisms and over time destroy the processes by which soil fertility is built.

Women are experts in internal input agriculture, an approach that works with the products of the land to create soil fertility. No external inputs are needed. Organic matter is recycled into compost, and leguminous crops fix nitrogen in the soil.

The other external input in agriculture is purchased seed. As seed becomes corporate property, corporations create non-renewable seeds so that farmers are forced to buy seed every year. The debt incurred by buying this and other external inputs -chemical pesticides and fertiliser- is a major reason for the epidemic of farmer suicides, which in turn leave behind indebted, landless widows. Agrochemicals pollute the land and our bodies, while corporate, non-renewable seeds destroy biodiversity and farmers’ freedom.

Common access to seed is being destroyed by laws that make it illegal for farmers to manage seeds as a commons and grant the state the power to approve and license varieties and force farmers to seek state approval through “compulsory” registration laws. The pretext is quality control, but the real result is the destruction of high-quality, reliable, open-pollinated varieties bred and developed by farmers. The criteria used for licensing and for the costs of licensing deny farmers their right to their own traditional seeds, forcing them into dependency on corporate supply each year.

The government of India tried to introduce such a law in the form of the Seed Act, 2004. However, we carried out a large scale “Bija (Seed) Satyagraha” -an act of non-violent non- cooperation- declaring that saving and sharing seeds was a duty, not a crime and that we would continue to save and share our seeds and biodiversity.

Although the links between the growing problem of farmer suicides and their growing dependence on costly purchased external inputs are clear, the Indian government’s only response has been to offer more consumer credit to purchase more external inputs.

Farmers need to be liberated from this bondage. Agriculture needs biodiversity, soil and water, not genetically-altered organisms, pesticides, and chemical fertilisers.

For every input corporations want to sell there is an internal input provided by women farmers and the land. Moreover, the evidence now clearly demonstrates that low external input ecological agriculture costs less and produces more. And it keeps food security in women’s hands.

The only reason corporations push external inputs is profit. As farmers get into debt and lose their land, land too becomes a corporate monopoly. Thus non-sustainability and corporate monopoly are mutually reinforcing -just as sustainability and the commons are.

In the case of biodiversity, the enclosure of the biological commons is taking place through patents. Patents on life are at the heart of Art. 27.3 (b) of the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights Agreement of the World Trade Organisation. One problem associated with patents on life is biopiracy, the pirating and patenting of indigenous knowledge and biodiversity, for example, patents on neem, basmati, wheat, and haldi. Since a patent is an exclusive right to use, produce, sell the patented product or process, patents on biodiversity and seeds in effect prevent the use of and access to seeds as a commons.

A permanent agriculture can only be based on the permanence of rights -the rights of the farmers, and the people, not private corporations. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

(*) Vandana Shiva is an author and international campaigner for women and the environment.

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