Sunday, November 18, 2007

FARMING CONCRETE - India at 50/50

We, the people of India, always seem to be at the crossroads.

For a country that is thought to be developing fast, a lot of the time we are quite uncertain as to our direction, and even more confused about our ultimate destination. Instead we are very busy doing what Yogi Berra once advised : "When you come to a fork in the road, take it."

Everyone seems to silently assume that our goal in 'development' is to become a clone of 'developed' economies as much like the U.S. or Britain, or Japan, and to transform into this heavenly vision just as soon as possible.

Having traditionally been socialist in spirit but officially non-aligned, India has largely come out of 'the socialist trap', and now appears to be leaning towards a capitalist, 'free market' economy, somewhat to the delight of those who like possessing, and using, Capital. Or, so goes the assumption at present, but do we really wish to become 'more developed' in this limited and warped sense?

What are we turning ourselves into? What are we to become? We have indeed emerged, but to what? At present we Indians seems to me to be in the grip of a particularly thick fog. We are incapable of seeing our own noses, let alone tackling any bigger questions. And one of the biggest questions revolves around what we are going to do with agriculture.

Here is today's biggest fork in the Indian Road: 50% (yes, one half) of India's 1.1 billion population is now urban. The growing urbanisation of rural populations is driven by the death of small farming as a viable way to make a living. As making a livelihood out of farming becomes less attractive to families and (by design) much more attractive to corporates, the trend will be that smaller farms will be abandoned to be consolidated by larger, capital rich, corporates who will then complete the mechanisation of agriculture (in the name of efficiency) and try to completely eliminate rural labour.

What are we going to do to employ the up-coming flood of ex-farmers? The number of farmer suicides is growing (though we seem to hardly notice) by leaps and bounds every year. Do we just let them quietly continue to commit suicide? What a convenient solution...

The problem of course, is more general than just agriculture. In a comment on a previous post, Mahil had alluded to the increasing drive for specialisation in our developing world. As the machine, aided by intelligent computerised control, takes over both production and process, where will human-performed jobs come from? From a different angle, another tough question to answer now is : How will our nation's wealth eventually be distributed? Do justice, and fairness, and honesty, and openness have a say in our direction into the future?

Admittedly, our problems in India are not small ones. With a population of well over a billion people, somewhat scarce natural resources, limitations on arable land, and weather that always seems intent on either starving us with drought or starving us with deluges, it's perhaps not surprising that we seem fixated on wondering mostly about the when and the where of the next meal.

The pundits tell us that now, security is the name of the game. Do you own a house? Have you financially planned for your children's educations, and more worryingly, their marriages? have you got a couple of credit cards? Are you keeping up with the Krishnans?

The idea of planning, beyond the matter of the family's survival, is not something that includes our neighbors, our rural cousins and our nation at large.

Being shortsighted produces a situation that is rife for those who do have longer term agendas to quietly set their plans in train. Our politicians seem sometimes to be hand-in-glove and sometimes (rarely) simply dupes. Eventually, when the truth of massive sell offs does emerge, all will perhaps claim to have been too easily fooled! This is not in any sense a 'conspiracy theory'. I refuse to believe that folks that are so good at ingeniously lining their own pockets are as dumb as they wish us to believe on the questions of development and overall direction.

In theory, we have something called a 'planning commission'. The only problem is that this too is a 'socialist' leftover and as such this commission now does little of substance. The current head is someone who explicitly believes in deregulating everything. The resultant "Five Year Plans" have become manifestos of what to dismantle first, and of how fast the markets can be 'liberated'.

Our politicians are just as intent on survival (in the narrowest sense) as anyone else, but they are far-sighted enough to ensure that their monetary genealogies will survive for at least a few generations of their own profligate progenies.

In other words, motive and opportunity are known to be present in all developing economies. These are the ingredients of economic murder. Our economic c(r)ooks are particularly intent on making them coincident TODAY in India.

So, what are we going to do about it? Are we prepared to continue to be myopically concerned with our own little selves? Are you prepared to let your child's nation's future be quietly sold off to the highest

Thanks to for the lovely pics from Tibet


john doyle said...

I've been writing about Mexico on your last post, so here's something about agricultural labor in Mexico. A lot of the illegal Mexican workers in the US have traditionally done agricultural work. The US government subsidizes farmers for growing various crops, including corn. That means that the farmers can sell their crops at a loss, but still make money from the subsidies. As a result, US-grown corn can, and does, underprice Mexican-grown corn. Because of the N. American Free Trade Agreement, Mexico can't put a tariff on imports from the US in order to level the playing field. Consequently, a lot of Mexican farmers are being priced out of business, even though the American farmers of planting and harvesting their crops by using Mexican laborers. It doesn't seem fair, does it?

Unknown said...

Ktismatics, that is an excellent example of what is going on globally now under the guise of the idea of open markets, but in reality with the implementation of strategies for increasing corporate hegemonies.

We keep seeing this refrain: Small is out. Small is inefficient. Small is bad for economies...

It doesn't take much for Big to destabilise small.

So, harking back to your previous comment, if the trend continues (it may change somewhat with the new drive to convert corn into ethanol) the medium term result will be that Mexican farmers will have to quit, the farmer and farm labourers are on the street, Mexico's unemployment soars, the borders are closed except to let in cheap day labour, and political tensions in Mexico should rise to a fever pitch - and then what?

john doyle said...

I agree with your assessment. Then maybe Mexico will join the Venezuelan-led anti-US socialist alliance and nationalize all the multinational factories. If I was Mexican right now I'd seriously consider that option.

Unknown said...

I hadn't ever looked at Mexico's ties with the U.S. before this but after a brief look, it does seem that the border wall is really dumb. Mexico looks to be on a good wicket with its oil production and as long as the govet is sensible they should be able to do well. A potential source of trouble is the Mestizo-Indian mix, with the Indians being the poorest cousins and also the most dependent on agriculture for employment.

A total swing away from the U.S. could be difficult considering the depth of the dependencies especially for Mexican exports. A lot depends on Obrador and his folks but somehow I think the present govt probably backed by the U.S. State Dept. have seen to it that he is sidelined, at least for now. It's worth keeping an eye on.


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