2010s >> 2019 >> no-1378-june-2019

When Profit Is All

Urban-Rural Imbalance?

Current global facts and figures on the urban-rural divide reveal disturbing numbers of people in both urban and rural locations living in desperate situations. The capitalist agenda is to profit from whatever scheme is dreamed up and implemented without regard for the externalities which, in this case, are people. There are plans being implemented around the world to remove millions of individuals from millions of acres of productive farmland, to empty the land of people in favour of huge agribusiness projects which can reap significant profits for corporations from mono-crops using vastly reduced labour numbers and, therefore, costs.

The typical plan is to move those uprooted into, or more often to the edge of, ever-expanding towns and cities as cheap labour. The plan may work well for the owners, the companies and their shareholders, but what of the disenfranchised, the millions uprooted and forced into unknown environments where they have no useful skills, how well does it work for them? They are being forced there ostensibly to work in construction, manufacturing and the service sector but it has become obvious that there is a huge insufficiency of employment available for the massive numbers and consequently millions of those displaced live in abject poverty.

This is exactly what the World Bank had directed India to do in 1996. It wanted India to move 400 million people from rural to urban areas by 2015. These are ‘agricultural refugees’ swarming into the cities looking for menial jobs. It is primarily through this decision that over the years, in addition to more or less static farm incomes, public sector investments in agriculture were also kept low, hovering between 0.3 to 0.5 percent of GDP during the period 2011 to 2017. Total investments, both public and private, have also been declining steadily – from 3.1 percent of GDP in 2011-12 to 2.2 percent in 2016-17. Compare this with the tax concessions being given to industry, which is in the region of 5 percent of GDP. Agriculture, which employs 50 percent of the country’s population, has simply been starved of public sector investments in order to achieve the desired results.

The Indian Congress has now admitted that direct income support is urgently required to lift the poorest of the poor from abject poverty, these poorest being a large proportion of small and marginal farmers. The Economic Survey 2016 revealed the average income of farming families in 17 states of India, approximately half the country, is about £220 per annum, less than £20 per month (for perspective this is similar to the amount granted to defence service employees and also to officers of the Supreme Court as their laundry allowance). For some international comparison, average domestic support per farmer, country by country: US $60,586, Canada $16,562, Japan $10,149, EU $6,762, China $863, Brazil $345, India $227.

With regard to India as one example, a quote from a British colonial administrator, Lord Metcalfe, in 1830, is illustrative: ‘Dynasty after dynasty tumbles down but the village community remains the same. It is in a high degree conducive to their happiness, and to the enjoyment of a great portion of freedom and independence’. His idea was that to control India the British would need to undermine this independence of the rural majority – which they did. And following independence India’s subsequent leaders continued on this path of control and subservience through several generations to the present. The current Prime Minister Modi has announced that India is one of the most ‘business friendly’ countries in the world (India is now in compliance with World Bank directives on ‘Ease of Doing Business’ and ‘Enabling the Business of Agriculture’). When we see terms like these we are looking at capitalist-framed initiatives and minimal research shows that both of these directives promote environment-destroying policies, have little regard for local populations, and are based on global free market principles.

Many environmentalists from around the world will be aware of the horrifying numbers of farmers’ deaths in India from suicide, something in the region of 400,000 over the recent 20 years – 20,000 every year. The most significant reason being overwhelming debt. And, in fact, the government declined to publish the number of deaths for the last two years.

In addition to the numbers of farmers being displaced, in April of this year international environmental organisations appealed to India’s Supreme Court and UN organisations to prevent forced evictions of millions of Indian’s forest dwellers from their traditional, ancestral lands.

Health or Wealth?

Farming worldwide has, especially in the last four decades, become more and more of a burden for individual farmers around the globe, who are always under pressure for reasons out of their control. Studies on the harm done to the environment and the contamination of water, earth and consequently food – are these to be ignored too because profit comes first?

As new studies continue to point to a direct link between the widely-used glyphosate herbicide and various forms of cancer, the agribusiness lobby fights relentlessly to ignore or discredit evidence of damage to humans and other entities. Bayer AG, which now owns Monsanto, is currently facing something in the order of 11,000 cases in US courts brought by individuals claiming serious health effects from exposure to the chemical glyphosate found in the herbicide Roundup. Several recent cases have found in favour of the plaintiffs who have been awarded millions and even billions of dollars in compensation.

In a long-term animal study several years ago by a French team headed by Eric Seralini it was demonstrated that even ultra-low levels of glyphosate herbicides cause non-alcoholic liver disease. The levels rats were exposed to, per kg of body weight, were far lower than what is allowed in the US food supply. According to the Mayo Clinic currently, after four decades or more of pervasive use of glyphosate, 100 million – one in three Americans – now have liver disease. These diagnoses are in some individuals as young as 8 years old.

“The jury saw for themselves internal company documents demonstrating that, from day one, Monsanto has never had any interest in finding out whether Roundup is safe,” an attorney for the couple, R. Brent Wisner, said in a statement sent to CBS News. “Instead of investing in sound science, they invested millions in attacking science that threatened their business agenda.” Source: CBS News link 

While most attention is understandably drawn to the human effects of exposure to glyphosate, the most widely-used agriculture chemical in the world today, independent scientists are beginning to look at another alarming effect of the agrochemical– its effect on essential soil nutrients. In a study of the health of soils in the EU, the online journal Politico.eu found that the effects of spraying glyphosate on the major crops in European agriculture is having disastrous consequences on soil health.

Scientists at Austria’s University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna showed that casting activity of earthworms had nearly disappeared from the surface of farmland within three weeks of glyphosate application. Casting, being the process of worms pushing fertile soils to the surface as they burrow, is vital for healthy soil and plant nutrition. A study at Holland’s Wageningen University of topsoil samples from more than 300 soil sites across the EU found that 83 percent of the soils contained one or more pesticide residues. Evidence of soil experts is increasingly revealing clear links between the use of pesticides such as glyphosate and dramatic drops in soil fertility and the collapse of microbe systems essential to healthy soil. Worms are one of the most essential. It’s well-established that earthworms play a vital role in healthy soil nutrients. Soils lacking these are soils that deprive us of the essentials we need for healthy diets. This is a pandemic problem of soil depletion emerging globally over the past four decades, notably the same time frame that use of pesticides and herbicides has exploded worldwide. Earthworms are beneficial as they enhance soil nutrient cycling and enhance other beneficial soil micro-organisms, and the concentration of large quantities of nutrients easily assimilated by plants. In addition to its effects on earthworms it has also been established that glyphosate can kill specific fungi and bacteria that plants need to suck up nutrients.

While average yields of major grains such as rice, wheat and maize have more than doubled since 1960, the use of glyphosate-based herbicides has risen 15-20 fold. Glyphosate is the base chemical component for some 750 different brands of herbicide worldwide in addition to Monsanto-Bayer’s Roundup. Glyphosate residues have been found in tap water, orange juice, children’s urine, breast milk, snacks, beer, wine, cereals, eggs, oatmeal, wheat products, and most conventional foods tested. Since the Monsanto Roundup patent expired it is clear that regulatory bodies in the US, EU and China (which now produces more glyphosate than Monsanto) among others, are ignoring the various dangers which have been proved.

Capitalism’s Miseries

In January the Oakland Institute sounded the alarm on the latest attack by the World Bank on poor and indigenous people around the world. The World Bank’s Scheme to Privatize the Commons details how the Bank’s prescribed reforms, via a new land indicator in the Enabling the Business of Agriculture (EBA) project, promotes large-scale land acquisitions and the expansion of agribusinesses in the developing world. This new indicator is now a key element of the larger EBA project, which dictates pro-business reforms that governments should conduct in the agricultural sector. Initiated as a pilot in 38 countries in 2017, the land indicator is expected to be expanded to 80 countries in 2019. The project is funded by US and UK governments and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The EBA’s main recommendations to governments include formalising private property rights, easing the sale and lease of land for commercial use, systematising the sale of public land by auction to the highest bidder, and improving procedures for expropriation. Countries are scored on how well they implement the Bank’s policy advice. The scores then help determine the volume of aid money and foreign investment they receive.

Amidst flaws detailed in the report is the Bank’s prescription to developing countries’ governments, particularly in Africa, to transfer public lands with ‘potential economic value’ to private, commercial use, so that the land can be put to its supposed ‘best use’. Claiming that low-income countries do not manage public land in an effective manner, the Bank pushes for the privatization of public land as the way forward. This ignores the fact that millions of rural poor live and work on these lands, which are essential for their livelihoods while representing ancestral assets with deep social and cultural significance. It also ignores the basic fact that these small farmers have more than fulfilled the needs of the population for generations and it is the principles of capitalism that is being upset by them.

French think tank Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) has shown that agro-ecological farming alone has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Europe by 47 per cent and thereby keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees. Another important factor revealed shows that a transition from intensive farming to agro-ecological farming will bring down pesticides consumption by 380,000 tonnes per year in Europe alone. What could that figure be globally?

Most climate mitigation studies point to more crop intensification which means a hyper-intensive farming system leading to more toxic soils, more water mining resulting in more empty aquifers, and more contamination of the food chain. This methodology was behind the launch of the ‘New Vision for Agriculture’ at the World Economic Forum 2009 aiming at increasing food production by 20 percent, decreasing greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent, and reducing rural poverty by 20 percent every decade. The list of companies ready to initiate the ‘New Vision for Agriculture’ clearly shows that this ‘new vision’ is simply another version of the ‘old vision’ – capitalist necessity for profit. Included in the list are Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), BASF, Bunge Limited, Cargill, Coca-Cola, DuPont, General Mills, Kraft Foods, Metro AG, Monsanto, Nestlé, PepsiCo, SABMiller, Syngenta, Unilever, Wal-Mart, and Yara International.

Chemical or Ecological?

The UN-sponsored TEEB initiative – The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity – for agriculture and food, has in its latest study warned of a significant contribution to greenhouse gas emissions emanating from farming practices, from cutting down forests to make land available for cultivation to food waste dumped in landfills, accounting for between 47 to 51 percent of global gas emissions. Contrary to the ‘New Vision for Agriculture’ the IDDRI study mentioned above addresses these problems with the aim of eliminating them.

Returning to India new studies investigating the relationship between intensive agriculture and organic farming with regard to climate change and crop yield have revealed some interesting truths, contrary to many earlier claims by transnational corporations. A major initiative was launched when village elders in Punnukula village in Khamam district of Andhra Pradesh came together more than 15 years ago to stop the use of chemical pesticides. This local initiative led to the introduction of Non-Pesticides Management (NPM) under the Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture (CMSA) expanding to 3.6 million acres without the use of pesticides.

Following local enthusiasm and acceptance by the state, Andhra Pradesh launched Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) aiming to bring non-chemical agriculture to its nearly 6 million farmers by the end of the year 2024. Just one year after the introduction of Zero Budget Natural Farming a study by Azim Premji University showed that crop yields in fact had gone up from 11 to 79 percent – 11 percent in rice and the highest, 79 percent, in aubergine.

The challenges both facing and threatening the vast majority of the global population stem from the totally encompassing capitalist system. The questions to be asked are crucial for the well-being of the planet, from plankton to human. How shall we approach the challenges of global warming? Should populations be forced to move from their homes? Can we accept being poisoned by what we eat and drink? These and other issues all require answers. We have a single answer to them all – the solution is socialism.

JANET SURMAN