Begin typing your search...

True promotion of a pro-farmer food system is in checking lobbying by agri-business companies

The ambitious ‘Vision for Agriculture’ had industry majors leading the programme

True promotion of a pro-farmer food system is in checking lobbying by agri-business companies

True promotion of a pro-farmer food system is in checking lobbying by agri-business companies 

The Reporters’ Collective had shocked the nation with its investigative report that showed how a NRI businessman had lobbied with Niti Aayog to set up a task force to corporatize Indian agriculture

Sometimes you wonder that despite so much being talked about safe and healthy foods, unsustainable fertiliser use, soil degradation, increasing desertification and the need to move towards agro-ecological farming systems, there is hardly any change in the policies that call for an urgency.

Irrespective of the political hues, both at the national and the global level, the policy framework, more often than not, hinges on the strategy that agri-business giants spell out. Whether it is left, right or the centre, the political leadership is so well-entrenched with the same economic thought that it is often difficult to penetrate the skewed but dominant economic thinking with saner alternatives.

The ‘System Initiative on Shaping the Future of Food Security and Agriculture’ that the World Economic Forum (WEF) had initiated works towards strengthening food systems, linking global-level insight and collaboration to country-led action. It is stuffed with chief executives, ministers and heads of international organisation and others. So while we hear the chief executive of a multinational giant talk of a systems change to drive the efforts to the next level or the head of another agri-business giant tell us that digital technology will power Green Revolution in Africa, the underlying message remains the same.

Agri-business will frame the global agenda for food security, nutrition and agriculture. The new Vision for Agriculture launched a little earlier too had industry majors leading the programme.

So much so that even the international targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and thereby save the world from the catastrophic impact of climate change are being seen from the prism of agri-business. No wonder, at the recently concluded COP28 in Dubai, agri-business companies had doubled their participation from the last conference held a year earlier. Bayer, one of the world’s biggest agri-business giants, had more representatives participating than the entire delegation from Eretria. In fact, if we view it more carefully, lobbying by agri-business companies has grown in the recent past.

I remember a report in Down to Earth magazine sometimes in August-September 2019 (because I was speaking at another conference in the same building the same day) a closed door meeting was organised by the Indian seed industry with scientists, agriculture expert and a couple of ministers in New Delhi to push for hybrid paddy seeds sale. Considering that 94 per cent of the paddy area in the country was under open pollinated varieties, the market for hybrid seed was therefore large. And as the report had quoted industrial personnel saying something like this: ‘promoting hybrid seeds is promoting seed industry business’.

This is not an isolated event. Such meetings are routinely organised by various farm commercial groups besides direct lobbying with the concerned ministries. More recently, The Reporters’ Collective had shocked the nation with its investigative report that showed how a NRI businessman had lobbied with Niti Aayog to set up a task force to corporatize Indian agriculture. The big agri-business giants were part of this task force. This Task Force was set up in 2017 and incidentally chaired by the same bureaucrat, who also headed the committee on doubling farmer’s income.

In another interesting report, DeSmog News, a portal that is aimed at clearing the public relation clatter on climate, has in a detailed investigation revealed the “unholy alliance” between agri-business lobbyists and selected influential Members of European Parliament (MEPs). Between January 2000 and January 2003, over 400 meetings took place between the industry representatives and the MEPs. This comes to an average of two meetings per week, which is quite an aggressive lobbying effort by the industry. If you are wondering why the agri-business in Europe have been lobbying so hard, well, the targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 speak for it.

European Union aims to become carbon-neutral by 2050, and to achieve this the specific targets for 2030 includes cutting down on fertiliser by 20 per cent, reduce usage of hazardous pesticides usage by 50 per cent, reduce use of antimicrobials for livestock by 50 per cent, and eventually bring 25 per cent additional area under organic cultivation. This means a substantial hit to the commercial interests of the chemical farm input industries. All efforts are therefore to ensure how a fear psychosis of reduction in crop yields hitting food security is built up to ensure that external chemical inputs do not get the cut.

According to DeSmog, four of the largest pesticides companies - Bayer, BASF, Corteva and Syngenta along with fertiliser companies like Yara and OCP Group were the favoured giants whose representative had frequent meetings with the selected MEPs. The meetings the industry group had were eight times more than the meetings with non-government representatives.

The news portal quoted a transparency watchdog representative from the famed Corporate Europe Observatory saying the big farming lobby, the agro-chemical industry and the Conservative politicians work together in order to keep the untenable and unfair status quo in EU farming as long as possible.

Interestingly, while in the EU, agri-business is lobbying hard to ensure that the new green initiatives do not hit corporate interests, in India the same agribusiness companies, besides their Indian counterparts, are lobbying hard to push for more corporate control over agriculture.

I wonder when will Indian politicians and policy makers realise that the corporate interest they are promoting are the same ones that the rich developed countries increasingly want to move away from. That is why I maintain that Indian policy makers and mainline economists are at least 10 years behind the changes that we see happening at the international level.

The three contentious farm laws that were withdrawn after a year-long protest by farmers were in reality aimed at making it easier for corporate to expand their business activities in India. While the agri-business interests have helped build a narrative among the educated middle class that corporate control over agriculture will make farming more profitable with the elimination of the middle-men, in reality not many know that market reforms in agriculture have failed to prop up farm incomes anywhere in the world. Farm incomes have been steadily declining in the US, and also in the rest of the developed world.

India therefore needs to work towards a food system that is suitable to its own interests. We do not have to copy and paste from the western countries. Be alert, and keep a close watch over agribusiness lobbying efforts.

(The author is a noted food policy analyst and an expert on issues related to the agriculture sector. He writes on food, agriculture and hunger)

Devinder Sharma
Next Story
Share it