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Biting the Hands that Feed Us

November 2007

Punjabis are poisoning themselves” declared the Economist not too long ago, quipping that the poster child of India’s green revolution is now “in the throes of a grey revolution.” We take heart that the Economist, a cheerleader for “free trade” and neoliberal economic policies, is raising questions about policies that have caused massive environmental degradation and serious public health consequences for India’s bread basket state. In fact, it is especially important to look critically at the Green Revolution as the Gates and Rockefeller Foundations prepare to launch a controversial new green revolution in Africa.

But the Economist‘sdeclaration, while grandiose, is misleading. The collusion of profit-seeking corporate agendas and ill-conceived government policies that drove the green revolution is what is poisoning Punjabis. While the Economist quickly resorts to its “free market” fallback of ending what it deems as populist subsidies to farmers, the problems are much more complex than what the magazine’s editorsmight consider to be electioneering sops.

As Indian researcher and activist Vandana Shiva has noted in The Violence of the Green Revolution: Ecological Degradation and Political Conflict in Punjab (see excerpt), the economic and ecological devastation that occurred in the state caused peasants and small producers to be the worst hit. This led to increased conflicts over water between Punjab and its neighboring states, and was directly linked to the more than 10 years of political violence that fueled a movement for autonomy and later secession that was brutally repressed. The major beneficiaries of that green revolution Shiva points out were agribusinesses and large landowning farmers.

In one morbid sense the Economist is correct that Punjabis are poisoning themselves. Many peasants and small farmers who are deeply in debt from loans taken out for expensive inputs that are part of the green revolution package are, in a sad twist of irony, drinking the very pesticides they buy to put an end to their misery! P. Sainath, an Indian journalist who regularly covers the countryside has observed that farmer suicide is a pandemic across the country including Punjab.

The solution to these problems is not a new green revolution grounded in an ever more tightly concentrated and corporate-controlled agricultural and food system but food sovereignty as envisioned by the Via Campesina, an international network of peasant and small producer organizations on 5 continents, which seeks agroecological production for local markets and counts among its members some of the major peasant organizations across India, including the Punjab state unit of the Bháratíya Kisán Union (Indian Peasants Union).

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