Lee Kyung Hae at the TWO conference 2013, before he took his life for the cause.
The Sacrifice of Lee Kyung Hae, the Korean farmer who took is life in from of the WTO conference in Cancun 2013, stands over an already painful list of tragedies and shamelessly denied responsibilities.
Thousands of farmers like him have made the extreme sacrifice in those years, and the silence of the public media screams the pain of each singular life story, as all over the world modernity unveils it’s contradictions over the lives of innocent people, their lifestyles and their ancient knowledges.
In India, the current crisis of traditional farming is a strikingly painful chapter of a ‘sanctified modernity’. All it’s contradictions are epitomized as the biggest centres progress on the shining path of a western modeled capitalism and the rest of the country remains just apparently into a pristine lifestyle, an ancient era, one where life is governed by nature and humans not only adjusts to its rhythm but they cherish it.
As the country embarks towards an annual growth of population of the 1,3 % percent, large corporations and blinded institutions, professedly undermine Mother India’s capacity to feed her children.
In the last 10 years, in the larger agricultural nation in the world, farmers from Punjab, Bihar, Maharashtra have denounced with the extreme sacrifice of taking their own lives, the unbearable pain of being deprived their means if livelihood, their ancient wisdom, and their pride. Entire families ripped apart because blinded government policies that seek to feed the corporate greed instead of their own people.
As the seeds they grow become barren, as the needs for fertilizers and water of the same seeds captures them in the vicious circle of debt, and history repeats itself and brings about the feudal era, the earth’s biodiversity is sacrificed day by day.
Monsanto and other corporations, pursue through patenting and the rule of profit a daily genocide, the deliberate attack over thousands of vegetable, animal and bacterial species day by day, in order to guarantee the supremacy of only one species, and the most dangerous, for its rationality has made her the imposed master over nature: US.
The abandonment of the world small scale farmers unveils the insane pride of the modern man. The man that arrogates itself the divine duty of creation and reproduction that has always been Nature’s duty and privilege. She has been providing for us for millenniums, juggling all creatures and species into the delicate equilibrium of the circle of life.
In the prophetic ‘World without us’ (2007), Alan Weisman has hypothesized that nature would be able to regain her dominion on earth in few years after humankind disappearance..
On reverse: How are we going to supply for ourselves as the world population verges towards the edge of wretchedness, once we have deprived Nature of her creative power?
The world Without us..
History repeats itself, yes, but true also that nothing happens in the spam of a single generation.. there’s a long chain of economy, power and politics that has lead to today’s mass suicides.
The way development works at the level of discourse and the power relations it establishes between local and global flows of knowledge, power and harm is what I aim at uncovering. I will assess the way development works by reshaping local relations of production, and often ends up in perpetuating or even worsen them both economically and environmentally.
I will concentrate on post independence India to assess the consequences and the economic tragedy of the Green Revolution that laid the standards for the way agricultural labour had to be conceived and carried out, and on the terrible aftermath of the 1984 environmental tragedy of Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh) that still heavily affects the right to health and life of local people today.
These two cases embody the dark side of development, those unpredictable consequences of benign intentions, that often bear higher human and social costs than economic benefits. As such they are just two among many stories of “maldevelopment” (Shiva, 1993) that are sadly not at all exceptional, but often the price ought to be paid for progress, paradoxically natural consequences of the presence of capitalism itself.
Wheat Fields in South Kerala
The Suicidal Nature of Development.
Under the rule of rationality initiated by the Enlightenment, the project of modernity has for long laid the standards for how should a nation exist in the world, and how this model, that presupposed the existence of two widely distant systems, should be repeated from the ‘core to the periphery’. This notion is based on the belief that one part of humanity has had some sort of superiority on all others, conferred by a vantage of climate, history and race (see Wolf 1982, Blaut 1993, Jahoda 1999,). The development paradigm today embodies a great deal of this axiom (see Escobar 1997, Leach & Mearns 1996, Esteva 1992) and works by producing an homogenised model of repeatable progress, a disrupting series of technocratic “abnormalities” (Escobar, 1997: 90) to be cured. Ivan Illich defines development as the means by which “the rich of the world try to share their dubious blessings by foisting their pre-packaged solutions onto the Third World” (Illich, 1997:95)
Although the benevolent rhetoric of ‘doing no harm’ represents an inviting palliative of development policies, many instances show how harm is, instead, intrinsic to the very neo-liberal system that development seeks to promote (see Shiva 1993,2002, Escobar 1995, Leach & Mearns 1996, West 2006). The ‘do no harm’ approach to development (see Anderson 2000) evolved since the 1990’s, seeks to bridge the gap between the general vagueness of aid policies and the reality of its delivery under emergency situations of conflict and environmental disaster. In particular it deals with the variety of speculative opportunities that human tragedies engender in their aftermath. My aim in this paper will be unveiling how the blind modernism of industrial planning produces those states of emergency instead.
Within this epistemology the causes of hunger, diseases, and environmental destruction are related to the ‘scarcity’ of knowledge and technology and to ill-conceived economic systems, the solutions to which are relegated in the hands of few states and more importantly few supra-national bureaucracies of debt and aid, sustained by the ‘privilege of science’ (see Adams, 1995). In the market place of the IMF the lives of 925 millions of undernourished people (FAO Report 2008) are sacrificed in the name of food speculation while the demographic growth seems unstoppable.
Green Revolution: The Chain of Debt and the Harvest of Scarcity.
As Marshall Sahlins argued in 1972 “scarcity is the judgement decreed by our economy, so also the axiom of our Economics” (Sahlins, 1972:4). The fight against ‘scarcity’ embodies the essence and the intimate fears of consumer society and drives the wide range of economic moralities.
Seeds today embody a specific discursive formation on regards to technology, labour and nature. In the era of genetics, the seed has been deprived of its reproductive properties, and absorbed into the chain of production and patenting of international corporations. Improved seeds as such are a new powerful tool of domination of people and nature, while exemplifying a story of development-induced scarcity (Yapa 1996:70).
Since the “World bank’s obsession for population growth is long-standing, one of the main focus of development strategies from the 1960’s in Asia and Africa, concerned the imposition of birth control and yield enhancing techno-policies.
In the Third World where within the normalizing narrative of ‘development’, poverty had turned from problem to stigma, the response to the ‘problem of scarcity’ (Esteva, 1992, Katz 1995, Yapa 1996) was a Rockefeller-Ford funded project aiming at the radical restructuring of presumably ill-conceived production systems (see De Castro 1952), known as the Green Revolution, exported first to Mexico, then to India and other tropical areas.
Its ideological standpoint “offers technology as a substitute to both nature and politics” (Shiva, 1993:25); it seek to maximize profit through the use of genetically modified high yielding seeds, aimed at the production of ‘exchange-value’ (in the Marxist sense) usually for export, with high demand of water, chemical pesticides and fertilizers.
The Green Revolution involves a rationalization of nature through the creation of high consuming irrigation systems, and large mono-crop plantations, which homogenize productivity and amplify the economic risk of small-scale farmers and the loss of genetic diversity (Shiva 1993, Kothari & Harcourt 2004).
In post-Independence India (like all over the world), the impatience for becoming a modern nation met with the increasing food shortage and population increase, and the need to attract foreign funding justified the continuing presence of foreign administrators of mysterious sciences and technologies. Shiva shows how “American experts spread ecologically destructive and unsustainable agricultural practices worldwide” (1993:34) and how the social relations around agricultural labor, became intermingled in the chain of state intervention and international interests and consequently to the fluctuations of the market. By the end of 1960’s Punjabi farmers abandoned their traditional techniques to adopt the promising American mode, which initially brought about an impressive economic growth and improved India’s own agricultural self-sufficiency, but on the long term it’s chemical addictions have impoverished the soil and the hydro-natural resources while enhancing desertification processes.
This continuous thirst in an already water-poor country has obliged farmers into a vicious circle of contracting debts to sustain production and their new affluent life styles, while intensive farming methods destroy the soil. Larger land holdings started decimating small crops, regional and class disparities increased since wealthier farmers had more access to credit and land, while small farmer had to face the competitive prices of large plantations. At the same time, increasing mechanization rapidly reduces the labour demand and people start moving to the cities in search for opportunities. Thousands of farmers from Karnataka to Punjab have committed public suicide by drinking the pesticides, metaphorically symbolizing the suicide of the national policies that reward small scale farmers for the very practices that destroy their environment and trap them into debt. In an article from 2004 Shiva argues that the suicide crisis show that the “poor of the South cannot survive seeds monopoly” (Shiva 2004). This is a clear example of how an agricultural project based on western technological knowledge, based on poor assessment of local natural and socio-economic resources, can turn against the people whose livelihood is seeking to improve.
Short term solutions to long term structural problems are a common trend of neo-liberalism and often foster socially and environmentally disruptive mechanisms. In India the failure to consider land and income distribution issues of the existing social relations of productions on which the Green revolution was imposed, led to a widening of income inequalities between regions and classes (Pearse 1980, Shiva 1993, Yapa 1996). Moreover the purchase of input technology (seeds, fertilizers and machinery) necessary epithets of profit, stimulated by state incentives that usually converged in the hands of powerful social groups, “soon acquired a landlord bias” (Yapa, 1996:76) as small farmers became increasingly chained in the endless circle of debt for the production of scarcity.
‘Channa’ Harvest Time in TIlonia, Rajasthan
If poverty is assumed to be the main cause of hunger, then how do we respond to the unequal distribution and access to resources and food that is inherent to the capitalist system and its shameless production of waste, that development seeks to foster?
The proof that sometimes development produces scarcity calls for a basic rethinking of the very word poverty . Until the pockets of Western institutions are filled at the expenses of the third world labourers, through a vicious circle of a system that works by undermining their very re-productive power, there will be no interests in the battle against poverty, that still proves to be less valuable than its deliberate construction.
to be continued….