Corporate Concentration in Agriculture and Food
Corporate Concentration in Agriculture and Food is a dossier of seven papers that presents the impact large corporations and agribusinesses have on the agricultural sector in India. The papers were originally presented in Bengaluru, June 2019, at a symposium organised by the Alternative Law Forum (ALF) and Focus on the Global South (FOCUS). (ALF provides legal services to marginalised groups and FOCUS is a research and policy think-tank with headquarters in Thailand.) The dossier was published by these two organisations in collaboration with the New Delhi-based Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung South Asia.
The 84-page publication documents the way agribusinesses create monopolies in agrichemical, commercial seed and other markets; absorb much of the agricultural credit available; influence government regulations; and threaten small and medium farmers, who form the majority of agricultural households in India. The publication, through some of its papers, calls for alternative agriculture development strategies to sustain India’s small farmers, ensure social security and prevent ecological damage.
The seven papers are summarised below:
1. Concentration in Global Seed & Agro-Chemical Industry: Implications for Indian Agriculture
This is a paper by Dinesh Abrol, science and technology policy expert and former chief scientist, Council of Scientific & Industrial Research. It notes that the mega-mergers of the ‘big six’ agrichemical and seed corporations – the Monsanto-Bayer, ChemChina-Syngenta and Dow-DuPont mergers – will facilitate the corporate monopolisation of close to 70 per cent of the global agricultural input industry. The mega-mergers will establish a new “structure pillar” that will provide “a material basis to the relations of agro-imperialism” in the global south. The resultant patterns of resource use, says the author, will harm labour, ecology and the economy.
The corporate concentration in Indian agriculture, aided by the deregulation of the farm sector and a weak law on monopoly, has led to a drain of foreign exchange and increased dependence on these companies’ products. The mega-mergers will majorly affect input prices; limit independent seed producers and the preservation of local seed varieties; harm soil and water systems; reduce consumer choice; and increase indebtedness and livelihood losses among farmers. Moreover, it will give agribusinesses an unprecedented amount of control over research and agricultural biotechnology, protected by cross-licensing agreements and patents.
2. Corporatisation of the Livestock Sector: Through the Lens of Milk and Meat
Dr. Sagari R. Ramdas is a veterinary scientist with the Food Sovereignty Alliance, a network of Adivasi, Dalit, pastoralist, and small and marginal farmer movements in India. In this paper, she examines milk and meat production in India to study the corporatisation of the livestock sector.
The paper states that India’s ‘dairy boom’ threatens the livelihoods of small and marginal farmers, who own about 70 per cent of livestock in the country. Each time there is a slump in the global dairy market, prices plummet for small and marginal producers, affecting their livelihoods and pushing them out of the sector. Bigger enterprises, including cooperatives, can withstand these shocks. While the government continues to present favourable milk production data, other international and financial sources indicate that “a gradual structural shift in milk production from small and marginal farmers to medium and large farmers is underway.”
Poultry farming is similarly being monopolised by ‘integrators’ who account for 60 to 70 per cent of poultry operations in India. The paper reports that the breed of all Indian poultry can genetically be traced back to three multi-national corporations. The resultant narrow genetic pool leaves the local producer exposed to market and climate fluctuations. At the same time, cattle trade in India has been severely affected by communal politics, varying cow slaughter laws across states, and increased vigilantism. This has put 22 million people – mostly Dalits and Muslims – at risk, with little impact on big enterprises engaged in exports.
3. The Value of Land
Preeti Sampat, assistant professor at Ambedkar University, Delhi, traces “the modern commodification of land” to colonial times when the underlying logic of land acquisition agreements and legislations was to improve agricultural productivity. Since then, Prof. Sampat notes, the failure of redistributive land reforms and removal of the right to property as a fundamental right has cemented the State’s control over land. Rather than agricultural produce, infrastructure projects by private developers have come to determine land value. However, the land for these large-scale projects is mainly acquired from Adivasi and small farmers who do not “pose a significant political threat to the ruling establishment,” states Prof. Sampat. Real estate developers and large landowners benefit from this ‘rentier’ economy whereas small farmers lose their land under forced acquisitions, and are left with little legal recourse.
4. Corporate Complicity: Israeli Interventions in Indian Agriculture
In this paper, Apoorva Gautam, coordinator for the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) National Committee for South Asia, examines the way Israel’s colonisation of Palestine is ‘greenwashed’ through its investments in Indian agriculture. The paper discusses government policies that have allowed Israel-based agribusinesses like Netafim to set up projects in India without involving local governments. It refers to ‘solutions’ like drip irrigation and chemical inputs which often hurt farmers more than help them, proving exploitative and unsustainable in the long run. The Indian government’s subsidies and endorsements to Israel’s agribusinesses and agencies legitimise Israeli oppression and settler colonisation, states Gautam.
5. On How Corporations, IFIs and Large Funders Undermine Progressive Farming Agendas
Independent researcher Bhargavi S. Rao discusses the methodology used by International Financial Institutions (IFIs), philanthropies, and other agencies, in extending funding to non-profit projects in agriculture. The paper states that organisations and programmes are chosen based on criteria such as returns on investment, scalability, tangible impact, and the ability to adjust to corporate agendas and requirements. Focused on quantification, these projects are usually designed for universal application rather than local ground realities. This keeps smaller non-profits that are doing impactful work in their local communities from obtaining funding. It also overlooks critical requirements for building robust farm communities: water security, seed diversity, traditional livelihoods, forest-based livelihoods and advocacy for social security laws.
6. Effective ‘Interventions’ to Tackle Agrarian Crisis in India
In this paper, Dr. T. N. Prakash Kammardi, economist and former chairman of the Karnataka Agriculture Prices Commission, notes that agrarian crisis has led to increased urban migration, the use of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes and higher farm suicide rates. At the same time, he notes, “economic liberalisation coupled with the abandoning of the Five-Year Planning process has diluted the very spirit of government interventions in agriculture in India.” The paper delineates the main areas in Indian agriculture that require interventions: effective enforcement of minimum support prices for farm produce, community water management, seed conservation, welfare schemes for famers including pensions and healthcare, comprehensive land management programmes, and a National Commission on Farmers Income and Welfare to support farmers.
7. How Trade Agreements Enable Corporate Concentration in Agriculture and Food
Benny Kuruvilla, head of the India office of Focus on the Global South, discusses World Trade Organisation and other free trade agreements that benefit big corporations with the ability to occupy negotiating positions in trade talks to secure their own interests. He argues that these agreements do not give small and medium farmers in Africa, Asia and Latin America, direct access to foreign markets, which remain monopolised by major global agribusinesses. The reduction of trade tariffs harm local small-scale food producers who cannot match the reduced prices of imported goods. Further, these agreements force farmers to comply with transnational industrial standards, and limit the power of governments to support rural credit facilities and farm communities. The author points to the role of big businesses in constructing the global trade architecture and emphasises the need to “work against free trade and towards a more just and fair trade regime.”
Focus by Yasmin Rosammal Daniel.
Dinesh Abrol, Dr. Sagari R. Ramdas, Preeti Sampat, Apoorva Gautam, Bhargavi S. Rao, Dr. T. N. Prakash Kammardi and Benny Kuruvilla
Focus on the Global South, New Delhi; Alternative Law Forum, Bengaluru; Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung South Asia, New Delhi