This past September the Indian government passed a Food Security Bill that will bolster India’s agricultural economy, support it’s farmers, and provide food at reasonable prices to many of India’s citizens who are undernourished. Although the Food Security Bill is essential for the survival of both farmers and the poor, the US has set its aim on destroying the bill in the upcoming meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Bali.

In the United States and in the European Union, large farms produce more grains than can possibly be sold in their respective countries. The US and EU governments provide subsidies that artificially increase the prices that their farmers receive for their crops. This practice also produces an enormous surplus supply of grain each year. Though surplus grain could be sold at a lower price to poor and needy Americans through the food stamp program (if it could be included in the farm bill), the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO) have been rigged to force India into allowing the import of grains whose price is far below the grain produced by Indian farmers.

Indian farmers can produce enough grain to feed the country and then some, but dumping surplus grain from the US in India will drive most farmers out of farming. It might even make it necessary for India to open its markets to GMO food. (GMO food is currently illegal, but US grain producers want to change that.) This means not only that many successful skilled small farmers and their families will become urban slum dwellers without regular employment, and that their cultural traditions will be lost, but also that the country will be deprived of their agricultural knowledge and skills–including (see below) SRI/SCI.

The recent Indian Food Security Act aims to make cheap food available to needy people–India has the largest number of malnourished people of any country on the planet– and at the same time to establish adequate floor prices for food grains so that small family farmers can make a living.Though the US today provides around five and a half times more subsidies to its large farmers (rarely to medium or small family farmers) than India would need  to carry out its program, the US and the EU oppose India’s plan on the grounds that it would “create a massive new loophole for potentially unlimited trade-distorting subsidies”. But in fact, the greatest distortion of trade results from a waiver obtained by the rich countries from the rules of the GATT (predecessor of the WTO) in the 1950s, which allows them to give huge subsidies to farmers, even to some who do not produce anything. This was only a few years after India’s independence from colonial rule, and before many Asian and African colonies achieved independence.

The Indian plan is essential to keep over 600,000 farming households functioning–but the US government does not care about Indian farmers. Instead, it would like to have the Indian market to itself so that it can dump surplus food grains in India.

The Indian government’s response has been equivocal.  Because there is an election coming up in the spring of 2014, India seems to be negotiating for a short grace period during which it could pay farmers an adequate price for their produce, after which they would give in to the WTO.

It is time for them to stand up to the WTO, even if it means the failure of the upcoming Bali round of talks.  The world cannot survive, if sustainable local farming is to be replaced on such a scale by GMO crops demanding high quantities of petro-chemicals and poisons. “The Doha Round negotiations have been stalled for more than a decade now.  The West would like developing countries to remove import barriers, while India, Brazil and China want the United States and the EU to reduce the massive subsidies they provide to rich farmers. Neither side has conceded ground on its claims. But at the Bali Ministerial Conference this December, the U.S. will attempt to use a trump card to have its way with India and other emerging markets.”  On the pretext of “allowing” India’s food security law to exist alongside its commitments to the WTO, the U.S. is working on  wresting an in-principle agreement from New Delhi, to get India to agree to greater market access for western companies.  Yet the fact is that India now grows enough rice and wheat to feed its own population. It remains exceedingly important for India to protect its food system and its farmers.  (See earlier blogs on SRI/SCI, a striking alternative to chemical agriculture.)

For more information, please see the following links:

The WTO and Food Stocks by Devinder Sharma
A Pound of Flesh to Feed the Poor by Arun Mohan Sukumar