Monday, February 21, 2011

Will food come from Africa?


A farmer’s leader told me few days ago that the hand full of landed farmers should stop cultivation, so that food price will go up and farmers will get price. He is a vice president in a farmers association in Tamil Nadu. Sometimes back his president also told me the same thing. I told them in reply that if there is a gap between production and supply, then the government would import food grain from other countries. They asked me, how long the import would solve the food security. This is how a landlord mind is thinking. Probably they might not know that MNCs (Multi National Companies) already bought millions of acres of lands in Africa to produce food.
Farmers who have big land holdings in Tamil Nadu are planting different trees. They dream to become millionaires after 15 or 20 years by harvesting these trees. Some of the farmers are cultivating trees with tie up arrangement with paper mills. Such farmers are converting fertile agriculture lands in to tree cultivation.         
Turmeric gets good price in the market, it went up to Rs.18000/ per quintal last year. Thousands of farmers in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka cultivated turmeric. The price has come down to Rs.13, 000/ per quintal, but still it is a good price. Some of the farmers from the irrigation belt of Erode district have booked their brand new cars in the Maruthi Suzuki show room. By the time onion price was sky racketing two months back government banned export and allowed imports. But, now the purchase price of onion from farmers came down to Rs.4/ kg and the government stepped in after a lot of protest by farmers.
        Until 20 years ago , government and the country were talking about self-sufficiency in food production. India became a food-importing country after the GATT agreement (Uruguay round) was signed and WTO came into existence. We import pulses, edible oil, sugar, milk powder etc. in a big way every year. There is no talk or debate to produce these important food items locally. The cheap imports of food items have killed local production and forced farmers to shift their crops.
Farmers’ movements have not linked up the bad impacts to the policy. Thousands of farmers in Tamil Nadu came to streets recently with their cows and demanded reasonable price for the milk production. These farmers’ leaders never spoke a word against the cheap milk powder (30 thousand tones) and butter oil (15 thousand tones) that was imported at a rate, which was less than that of Indian dairy cooperatives.
Landlord farmers think that they will get good prices for their food production if they stop food production and converting their lands into tree plantations. Small and marginal farmers who still produce food grains do not get remunerative price due to the government policy. But, the government instead of improving the nation’s food production opened imports.
More than 80 Indian MNCs (Multi National Companies) have bought millions of hectares of lands in African countries to produce food, not for Africa but for India. Karuthuri Global, a Bangalore based company has leased out more than 300 thousand hectares of fertile lands in Ethiopia and started cultivation.
Farmer’s leaders need to update their knowledge and connect the issues of the ground reality to the larger policy frameworks of the neoliberal world.
Don’t we need to worry for food security? Will food come from Africa?