Impact of Globalization on Indian Agriculture
The government ushered in a new era of economic reforms based on these conditions. These reforms (broadly called Liberalization by the Indian media) can be broadly classified into three areas: Liberalization, privatization and globalization. However, reforms in the agricultural sector in particular came under severe criticism in the late 1990s, when 221 farmers in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh committed suicide.
Impact of Globalization on Indian Agriculture
Impact of Globalization on Indian Agriculture
The liberalisation of India’s economy was adopted by India in 1991. Facing a severe economic crisis, India approached the IMF for a loan, and the IMF granted what is called a ‘structural adjustment’ loan, which is a loan with certain conditions attached which relate to a structural change in the economy. The government ushered in a new era of economic reforms based on these conditions. These reforms (broadly called Liberalisation by the Indian media) can be broadly classified into three areas: Liberalisation, privatization and globalization. Essentially, the reforms sought to gradually phase out government control of the market (liberalisation), privatize public sector organizations (privatization), and reduce export subsidies and import barriers to enable free trade (globalization). There was a considerable amount of debate in India at the time of the introduction of the reforms, it being a dramatic departure from the protectionist, socialist nature of the Indian economy up until then. However, reforms in the agricultural sector in particular came under severe criticism in the late 1990s, when 221 farmers in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh committed suicide. (The damage done, 2005) The trend was noticed in several other states, and the figure today, according to a leading journalist and activist, P. Sainath1, stands at 100,000 across the country. (Sainath, 2006) Coupled with this was a sharp drop in agricultural growth from 4.69% in 1991 to 2.06% in 1997. (Agriculture Statistics at a Glance, 2006) This paper seeks to look into these and other similar negative trends in Indian agriculture today, and in analyzing the causes, will look at the extent to which liberalisation reforms have contributed to its current condition. It will look at supporting data from three Indian states which have been badly affected by the crisis: Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Kerala. Andhra Pradesh’s (AP’s) experience is particularly critical in this debate because it was headed by Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, who pursued liberalization with enthusiasm. Hence liberalization in AP has been faster than other states, and the extent of its impact has been wider and deeper.
The Crisis facing Indian Agriculture
The biggest problem Indian agriculture faces today and the number one cause of farmer suicides is debt. Forcing farmers into a debt trap are soaring input costs, the plummeting price of produce and a lack of proper credit facilities, which makes farmers turn to private moneylenders who charge exorbitant rates of interest. In order to repay these debts, farmers borrow again and get caught in a debt trap. I will examine each one these causes which led to the current crisis in Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Maharashtra, and analyse the role that liberalisation policies have played.
As was mentioned earlier, AP’s experience is particularly relevant in this analysis because of its leadership. Let me explain in detail. Chandrababu Naidu, Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh from 1995-2004, was an IT savvy neo-liberal, and believed that the way to lead Andhra Pradesh into the future was through technology and an IT revolution. His zeal led to the first ever state level (as opposed to national level) agreement with the World Bank, which entailed a loan of USD 830 million (AUD 1 billion) in exchange to a series of reforms in AP’s industry and government. Naidu envisaged corporate style agriculture in AP, and implemented World Bank liberalisation policies with great enthusiasm and gusto. He drew severe criticism from opponents, saying he was using AP as a laboratory for extreme neo-liberal experiments. Hence, AP’s experience with liberalization is critical.
The Debt Trap and the Role of Liberalisation
The biggest input for farmers is seeds. Before liberalisation, farmers across the country had access to seeds from state government institutions. For example, AP’s APSSDC3 produced its own seeds, was responsible for their quality and price, and had a statutory duty to ensure seeds were supplied to all regions in the state, no matter how remote. The seed market was well regulated, and this ensured quality in privately sold seeds too. (The damage done, 2005) With liberalization, India’s seed market was opened up to global agribusinesses like Monsanto, Cargill and Syn Genta. Also, following the deregulation guidelines of the IMF, 14 of the 24 units of the APSSDC’s seed processing units were closed down in 2003, with similar closures in other states. This hit farmers doubly hard: in an unregulated market, seed prices shot up, and fake seeds made an appearance in a big way. Seed cost per acre in 1991 was Rs. 70 (AUD 2) but in 2005, after the dismantling of APSSDC and other similar organizations, the price jumped to Rs. 1000 (AUD 28), a hike of 1428%, with the cost of genetically modified pest resistant seeds like Monsanto’s BT Cotton costing Rs. 3200 or more per acre, (AUD 91) a hike of 3555%. (Sainath, 2005) BT Cotton is cotton seed that is genetically modified to resist pests, the success of which is disputed: farmers in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra now claim that yields are far lower than promised by Monsanto, and there are fears that pests are developing resistance to the seeds. (Menon & Jayaraman, 2002) Expecting high yields, farmers invest heavily in such seeds. Also BT Cotton and other new seeds guarantee a much lower germination rate of 65% as opposed to a 90% rate of state certified seeds. Hence 35% of the farmer’s investment in seeds is a waste. (Sainath, 2004) Output is not commensurate with the heavy investment in the seeds, and farmers are pushed into debt. The abundant availability of spurious seeds is another problem which leads to crop failures. Either tempted by their lower price, or unable to discern the difference, farmers invest heavily in these seeds, and again, low output pushes them into debt. Earlier, farmers could save a part of the harvest and use the seeds for the next cultivation, but some genetically modified seeds, known as Terminator, prevent harvested seeds from germinating, hence forcing the farmers to invest in them every season.
Fertilizer and Pesticide:
One measure of the liberalisation policy which had an immediate adverse effect on farmers was the devaluation of the Indian Rupee in 1991 by 25% (an explicit condition of the IMF loan). Indian crops became very cheap and attractive in the global market, and led to an export drive. Farmers were encouraged to shift from growing a mixture of traditional crops to export oriented ‘cash crops’ like chilli, cotton and tobacco. (The damage done, 2005) These need far more inputs of pesticide, fertilizer and water than traditional crops. Liberalisation policies reduced pesticide subsidy (another explicit condition of the IMF agreement) by two thirds by 2000. Farmers in Maharashtra who spent Rs. 90 an acre (AUD 2.5) now spend between Rs. 1000 and 3000 (AUD 28.5 – 85) representing a hike of 1000% to 3333%. Fertilizer prices have increased 300% (Sainath, 2005) Electricity tariffs have also been increased: in Andhra Pradesh tariff was increased 5 times between 1998 and 2003. (Seeds of ruin, 2005) Pre-liberalisation, subsidised electricity was a success, allowing farmers to keep costs of production low. These costs increased dramatically when farmers turned to cultivation of cash crops, needing more water, hence more water pumps and higher consumption of electricity. Andhra Pradesh being traditionally drought prone worsened the situation. This caused huge, unsustainable losses for the Andhra Pradesh State Electricity Board, which increased tariffs. Also, the fact that only 39% of India’s cultivable land is irrigated makes cultivation of cash crops largely unviable, but export oriented liberalisation policies and seed companies looking for profits continue to push farmers in that direction.
The Debt Trap: Low price of Output
With a view to open India’s markets, the liberalization reforms also withdrew tariffs and duties on imports, which protect and encourage domestic industry. By 2001, India completely removed restrictions on imports of almost 1,500 items including food. (The damage done, 2005) As a result, cheap imports flooded the market, pushing prices of crops like cotton and pepper down. Import tariffs on cotton now stand between 0 – 10%, encouraging imports into the country. This excess supply of cotton in the market led cotton prices to crash more than 60% since 1995. As a result, most of the farmer suicides in Maharashtra were concentrated in the cotton belt till 2003 (after which paddy farmers followed the suicide trend). (Hardikar, 2006). Similarly, Kerala, which is world renowned for pepper, has suffered as a result of 0% duty on imports of pepper from SAARC5 countries. Pepper, which sold at Rs. 27,000 a quintal (AUD 771) in 1998, crashed to Rs. 5000 (AUD 142) in 2004, a decline of 81%. As a result, Indian exports of pepper fell 31% in 2003 from the previous year. (Sainath, 2005) Combined with this, drought and crop failure has hit the pepper farmers of Kerala hard, and have forced them into a debt trap. Close to 50% of suicides among Kerala’s farmers have been in pepper producing districts.