Agrarian Crisis in India: Result of Imperialist Onslaught

Paper submitted By ALL INDIA KISAN MAZDOOR SABHA (AKMS), Andhrapradesh  in the  two day workshop conducted at Barnala (Punjab)

Dear friends,

We feel honoured for the invitation extended to us from Inquilab Kendra – Punjab and Janashakthi – Karnataka to attend this two-day workshop in Barnala city, Punjab being held on 16th and 17th of January 2016. Actually this is high time to organize such gatherings to exchange our views on different burning issues plaguing our country. Especially at the time of prevailing confusion atmosphere over the developments being witnessed for over two decades, it has been necessitated to organize this type of workshops frequently on different issues. We extent our revolutionary greeting for taking this initiation to our friends of Inquilabi Kendra and Janashakthi.


There is no denying that the Indian agriculture is in deep crisis today. Farmers’ suicides are on the rise all over the country. The suicides acquired severe proportions in certain pockets of India. Especially Punjab, Telangana, Maharashtra, West Bengal and Chhattisgarh have witnessed steep rise in farmers’ suicides in recent times. In fact, it has become a continuous phenomenon of India and is unabated for at least two and half decades. It should be noted that farmers of India started committing suicides at exorbitant levels since the introduction of New Economic Policies as part of Structural Adjustment Programme dictated by the World Bank (WB), the International Monitory Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organisation(WTO).

Your invitation points out that Punjab is the worst affected by Green revolution. Ironically the same state is showcased as a text book case for success of Green revolution in India. Punjab was/is proudly presented as the granary of India by the Indian ruling classes. This itself presents to us the inherent contradiction between the interests of the Indian ruling classes and the actual experience of the vast farming community in India. The ruling classes tout that they revolutionised the Indian agriculture whereas farming masses have been in despair for decades. The contradiction is because the interests of the farming masses are diametrically opposed to those of ruling classes. Unless this basic contradiction is properly acknowledged, we may not find the root cause of the deeply rooted agrarian crisis in India.

Though the suicides are on the rise the governments, central as well as states, have been in denial mode. Instead of acknowledging the distress among farmers the governments tend to downplay the severity by inventing new causes that suits their political interests. Whenever a government acknowledges the self-inflicted deaths of farmers, they try to reduce the numbers. To our shocking, the states like West Bengal and Chhattisgarh are even inclined to deny that the people committing suicides are actually farmers. Sometimes suicides are attributed to reasons unrelated to farming and at some other times the farmers committing suicides are pushed over to other sectors such as construction sector or family reasons. Ironically, the rulers are so conveniently placed that even the farming related causes can be placed under family related causes. So, there will be no increase in number of farming related suicides or even decline when they are actually rising.

Two thirds of India are subsisting by making it’s living from the land. The farming masses that has farmed this land for more than 5000 years is now on the verge of collapse. As a result of neo-liberal policies of LPG -Liberalisation, Privatisation, Globalisation- introduced in 1992 by Indian ruling classes and forced upon by Bretton Woods twins, farming in India is delinked from the soil, the biodiversity, the climate and linked to global corporations and global markets. While the land has been so generous towards Indian masses for five millennia, now it has been replaced by Multi-National Corporations. The Indian farmers, instead of getting support from the governments, are facing loot and plunder of their land and resources in favour of global corporations.

So, there is no wonder that farmers’ suicides on a massive scale occurred in the aftermath of beginning of implementing new economic policies or structural adjustment programme. Rapid increase in indebtedness was at the root of farmers taking their own lives. As one can agree, a family’s debt is reflection of negative economy of that family. Farming households increasingly faced two damning factors of negative economy which used to be proud owners of positive household economies. One is rising cost of inputs/production; the other one is falling prices of farm produce/commodities. Both these factors are obvious result of trade liberalisation policies enshrined in structural adjustment programme or new economic policies. Consequently, so far over 3 lakh farmers, including one Gajendra Singh who killed himself at Aam Admi Party rally in New Delhi, have taken their own lives since inception of LPG policies, according to one of the most outspoken researchers and policy advisors on Indian agriculture, Dr Vandana Shiva.

The World Bank’s SAP forced India to open up its seed sector to global corporations like Cargill, Monsanto, Syngenta etc., in 1998. These corporations changed the input economy of Indian agriculture overnight. Indian farmers are traditionally accustomed to save required amount of seeds from their produce. They used to be part of vast network of seed saving farmers. The farmers used to get plenty of benefits through this network, one of such benefits being preserving and developing the best varieties of seeds at meagre costs or at no costs.

After the arrival of global corporations, this network has been totally destroyed as the seed saving is prohibited by WTO-induced patent rights system. Now the global seed companies control more than 90 percent of the Indian seed market. Seeds produced by the multi-national seed companies work only for a single crop and further utilisation of saved seeds is suppressed through genetic modifications. This is forcing the farmers to continuously depend on the seeds produced by MNCs. The poor peasants are forced to buy the seeds from MNCs for every planting season.

Nowadays these MNCs are resorting to deceive farmers by offering dozens of seed varieties thereby creating a myth of availability of plenty of varieties to them. The fact is that these varieties in no way are different from their originals except in some nominal straits such as colour, size etc. Thus, a free seed resource available to crores of farmers is converted into a commodity to help MNCs earn profits over profits. And the former is left to his own fate surrounded by oppressive and exploitative system.

Dependence on high priced seeds of MNCs increased poverty among farmers. The increase in poverty leads invariably to indebtedness. This in turn is compelling farmers to sell their kidneys to come out of debt-trap. Ultimately, as a last resort they are inviting death. While seed saving gave formers life, the monopolisation of seed supply by handful of multi-national corporations robbed life off farmers.

In this context, it would be wise to mention one important observation made by Dr Vandana Shiva in 2007 which reads:

The shift from farm saved seed to corporate monopolies of the seed supply is also a shift from biodiversity to monocultures in agriculture. The District of Warangal in Andhra Pradesh used to grow diverse legumes, millets, oilseeds. Seed monopolies created crop monocultures of cotton, leading to disappearance of millions of nature’s evolution and farmers breeding. Monocultures and uniformity increase the risks of crop failure as diverse seeds adapted to diverse ecosystems are replaced by rushed introduction of unadapted and often untested seeds into the market.

When Monsanto first introduced Bt Cotton in India in 2002, the farmers lost Rs. 1 billion due to crop failure. Instead of 1500 Kg/acre as promised by the company, the harvest was as low as 200 kg. Instead of increased incomes of Rs. 10,000/acre, farmers ran into losses of Rs. 6,400/acre. In the state of Bihar, when farm saved corn seed was displaced by Monsanto’s hybrid corn, the entire crop failed creating Rs. 4 billion losses and hence increased poverty for desperately poor farmers. Poor peasants of the South cannot survive seed monopolies. And the crisis of suicides shows how the survival of small farmers is incompatible with seed monopolies of global corporations.

Thus, seed monopoly destroys the interests of vast number of marginal and small farmers. According to National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) – 70th round an estimated 35% of the agricultural households hold less than 1 acre of land, and another 35% hold between 1 and 2.5 acres. In other words, 70% of the households hold less than one hectare of land. About 30% hold more than 2.5 acres (or 1 hectare), of which about 4% only hold more than 10 acres. These figures visualise that 70% of the agriculture households are severely affected by monopolisation of seed sector and hence by indebtedness. One need not look at only costs of the seeds. Because GMO seeds are accompanied with high costs of all other inputs such as pesticides, fertilizers etc. Though the MNCs claim that their GMO seeds are genetically modified to prevent/reduce the use of pesticides, various studies prove that GMO seeds actually increased input costs and reduced production as well, as quoted from Dr Vandana Shiva above.

To speak in absolute figures, 2011 census revealed that nearly 60% of households are engaged in farm sector; which means that nearly 72 crore people (or 1.5 crore households) are directly dependent on farming sector. All of these households are vulnerable to Wall Street induced market shocks and profit oriented MNCs.

Among marginal agricultural households SCs, STs and OBCs are more vulnerable. 2011 census shows that 70.5% of SC agriculture households hold less than one-hectare land while 45% of STs and 42.8% of OBCs hold that much land. This is the story of only land owning households in various social groups. One needs only to imagine the plight of crores of landless poor majority of whom earn their livelihood from agriculture sector as labourers. Agriculture being the primary sector in India, any change in that sector is prone to have multiplier effect on other sectors. It is amply clear from the wide coverage the arrival of monsoon in India gets from international media houses. The arrival of South-West monsoon with good rainfall is a happy news to the western MNCs as well. Because, to them good monsoon in India means the supply of agricultural raw material at cheaper costs. Good harvest in India is attractive to global financial corporations also, because it offers a good amount of financial resources to tap with in the form of returns on more debt disbursement.

The second factor that contributes to negative economy of a farming household is the steep fall in prices of farm produce as a result of liberalised trade policies the Indian government has introduced with the pressure from imperialist nations and their multi-national conglomerates. The policies prescribed by WTO for developing countries like India are aimed at making them dumping yards for the products of MNCs. The western imperialist governments allow large amounts of subsidies to their agribusiness companies thereby artificially decreasing the prices of their products. At the same time WTO strictures prevent developing nations from protecting their farmers by giving subsidies to their farmers.

According to one estimate, 400 to 500 billion dollars of subsidies are given away to the western MNCs. These subsidies, combined with forced removal of import restrictions in third world countries create sufficient conditions for the farmers to commit suicide in these countries. For example, global prices for wheat have declined from $216/ton in 1995 to $158/ton in December 2015 and from $98.2/ton in 1995 to $69.2/ton in 2015 for cotton. These declines are not due to market driven but due to increase in subsidies paid to agribusiness corporations. Increase in monopolisation also force the prices to climb down thereby making it impossible for Indian agro-products to compete in global markets.

To have a glimpse at heavy subsidies paid to the U.S. farm sector: As per Environmental Working Group based in the U.S., between 1995 to 2005 federal government paid about $250 billion in farm subsidies which comes out to be $25 billion/year. The Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 provided whopping $299 billion for farm subsidies for a 5-year period i.e. $59.8 billion/year, more than double to previous period. Thus, it is no wonder that the U.S. agribusiness companies provide much competitive prices in global markets thereby forcing India to import the U.S. agricultural goods, much to the detrimental to the interests of Indian farmers. Due to removal of Quantitative Restrictions under WTO rules (with acceptance of Indian ruling classes), we are forced to accept the dumping of cheaper goods by the U.S. agribusiness companies. The same is the case for other polar powers such as Japan and the E.U.

According to analysis carried out by the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, due to falling prices, Indian peasants are losing $26 billion or nearly Rs. 1.7 trillion annually. Naturally, poverty stricken Indian farmers are unable to bare such a heavy burden and hence the epidemic of farmers suicides.

There is a strange case to be noted down. India is one of the countries that questioned the high subsidies paid to the U.S. farmers or agribusiness companies and unfair rules of WTO in agriculture. It has led G-22 group in Doha round at Cancun and G-33 at Nairobi. Still, at domestic level the Indian rulers are continuously in denial mode when agitators and farmers support groups question the link between WTO trade rules and survival of marginal and small farmers.

It is clear that the governments, the centre and the states, are desperate to delink farmers’ suicides from their indebtedness. They are inventing psychological, behavioural (drinking habits) and familial causes for farmers’ suicides to buttress their political interests. The ‘expert committee’ constituted by the Karnataka state govt. some years back, found such reasons though the contents of its report point towards the indebtedness of farmers. This shows the readiness of Indian ruling classes to promote their own interests at international fora while denying to safeguard the farmers’ interests in opposition to their collusion with foreign players.

The collusion between developed countries, their MNCs and the Indian rulers became clear when Indian negotiators at recently concluded WTO ministerial – Nairobi returned with very few, if any, of their demands met. There was no concrete agreement on a special safeguards mechanism to protect domestic farmers against sudden import surges as demanded by our ruling classes through Doha round. There was not even a short deadline for a permanent solution on public stockholding for much touted food security act.

With no deal on public stockholding of grains, the food security act passed in parliament by the then Congress govt., with the help of the then opposition BJP became lifeless. The so-called principled stand taken by India on sticking to the Doha agenda has disappeared quietly. There was no clear-cut reaffirmation of the Doha Development Agenda making it open for negotiations, the inclusion of new issues of interest to developed countries on competition policy and government procurement. Which means the developed countries quietly created ample space to introduce new issues of their interest to the Doha round without providing any space for negotiations on old issues of interest to developing nations. The country that lead G-33 group on WTO could not negotiate for preserving a single most demand of its interest. While the imperialist countries could blackmail developing countries like India through bilateral and plurilateral trade agreements such as Trans-Pacific Partnership, the developing countries are forced to search for relief in concluded WTO ministerial conference at Nairobi.

This is not to uphold Doha Development Agenda or the so-called principled position of India at Doha round. This is to show that the Indian ruling classes are not in a position to bargain for their own imagined share to themselves from their masters. Such spineless rulers and their class cannot and will not stand for the interests of Indian farming masses.

In these conditions, the Indian farmer is losing his social, cultural and economic identity as a ‘producer.’ Instead, he has become a ‘consumer’ of costly seeds and chemicals sold by powerful global agribusiness corporations. The marketing of seeds and chemicals of foreign MNCs are dealt in India by powerful local landlords and moneylenders. The Indian big bourgeoisie who aspire for junior share of imperialist loot, are inseparable part of feudal forces. The combination of this triad -imperialist capital, big bourgeoisie, big land lords- is the main driving force behind the suicide of farmers en masse through unrelenting onslaught on meagre livelihoods and resources of small and marginal farmers and landless poor. This situation is exacerbated with the introduction of new economic policies forced upon us by the WB and IMF; carried out by suicidal WTO trade agreements.

The British colonial rulers preserved the feudal structure of Indian society and helped develop industries in India to serve their interests. These industrialists helped themselves become powerful lobbyists on behalf of Indian rich class but never lost their allegiance towards their colonial masters. When vast Indian masses launched anti-British national movements these lobbyists came forward to lead them under the guise of nationalist leaders. A wave after wave of national struggle necessitated the departure of the British rule. It is a well-known fact that the so-called nationalist congress party is the product of divisive politics of the British colonial rulers aimed at accommodating certain sections among Indian ruling classes to keep their interests unhindered after their departure.

So once the colonial and semi-feudal India has transformed into a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society with the departure of direct British rule. The Indian big industrialist class along with big landlord class began to serve various imperialist countries according to the suitability of their interests. They have been able to change their master partners to suite their interests but they never ceased to be servants of one or other imperialist masters. Though they served Soviet Social-imperialists during cold-war era, they also preserved trade and finance contacts with other imperialist nations particularly the U.S, Japan and the leading individual constituents of the E.U. Whenever Indian ruling classes open up their voices to exert their comprador interests so as to extract maximum possible share from imperialist plunder, it appeared as if they are independent off external influence of imperialist capital and corporations. But in practice, rising of their voices never materialised into actual economic or political independence for, they have lost relevance as an independent class right from its birth. Because imperialists cannot and shall not accommodate independent capital from another nation as it is obvious that such capital competes for a proper place in world trade. More over such an independent class doesn’t allow foreign capital into their country and tends to preserve their national character. The comprador capital does not possess these straits which are essential features to be called as national bourgeoisie

What about changes that are occurring in India particularly in agricultural sector? This question has attracted much debate particularly among revolutionary left circles in recent times. This question was dealt with in the classical work of Tarimela Nagireddy titled “India under mortgage” although with a minor attention. He observed that during prolonged periods of absence of revolutionary mass actions the regressive societies are prone to be decomposed from within. Unless there is intervention by revolutionary forces this decomposition goes on to deepen socially, culturally and economically.

So whatever development that seems to be happening within the regressive societies has to be seen as part of changes in superstructure but not in the base structure. Such a development serves the purpose of exploiting classes without touching base structure. One must note that ‘development’ itself is a misleading concept. Because it is not universally applicable concept. Development for exploiter classes is degeneration for exploited. Progress for exploiters is regression for exploited. The observation made by Tarimela Nagireddy has to be seen in this context.

Some sections of revolutionary groups are coming up with their own inventions regarding the changes occurring in contemporary Indian socio-economic system. They contend that the capital mode of production has entered in Indian agriculture sector. They argue, as a result of this, there occurred a systemic change in Indian Society. In their view the Indian society is no longer semi-colonial and semi-feudal. It has been so transformed that it can now be considered as a capitalist country. Hence, in their view, the protracted armed struggle with agrarian revolution as its axis has lost its relevance as a result of systemic change.

Strangely they do not provide proper explanation for how these changes occurred and what forces worked for the demise of semi-feudal semi-colonial society. Revolution itself means a sudden change with the intervention of certain socio-economic classes. Naturally, there should be some theoretical and developmental explanation for the systemic changes said to be occurred.

Our view is that no doubt, there are some changes that suggest adoption of capitalistic production techniques. For example, means of production that are only seen in capitalist societies entered into Indian agrarian scene such as tractors and various types of mechanised extraction of harvest in certain pockets. There has been phenomenal increase in use of fertilizers and pesticides. Feudal oppression is adopting different forms in order to prolong its existence.

These are all the changes adopted only from the top, i.e. exploiting classes. The exploited and oppressed classes have no role in these changes except some sections of rich farmers. Capitalistic techniques are adopted from the above so as to increase the share of semi-feudal and semi-colonial loot and plunder of vast toiling masses across the nation but not to negate and replace the semi-feudal and semi-colonial exploitation. If at all there is a capitalistic mode of production it invariably competes with imperialist forces for existence even in its home country and abroad. But recently concluded WTO ministerial conference at Nairobi proved the opposite. The Indian ruling classes could not even retain their own ground and returned with empty hands lost face. They were shouted down even by their BRICS partner, Brazil. Their voices were ignored, silenced and suppressed. Whereas the imperialist countries brought home bright prospects of increased share in global agribusiness amid triumphant celebrations.

Hence the so called changes are limited to superstructure. They are quantitative in nature that too aimed at intensification of semi-colonial and semi-feudal exploitation. They are neither aimed at nor capacitated in revolutionarily transforming the existing society. The vast masses employed in agriculture sector continues to be subjected to semi-feudal oppression and semi-colonial plunder. Unless this root cause is eliminated Indian agricultural producers will have no respite and continue to be oppressed and exploited resulting in despair and poverty.

Those who desire and committed to work for the well being of Indian farming community have no other option except to strive in this direction. But, one need not wait till sustained armed struggle comes into being. There is a big task of preparing vast masses for the ultimate task. Actually the masses are prepared well but they were not approached with dedicated and viable alternative of class politics due to which they are turning towards identity politics and incomplete puritan politics such as AAP.

The task is clear. The masses are ready. The only thing required is steel spirited organization.





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