Stolen Harvest Part 1




SOUTH END PRESS           2000



Over the past two decades every issue I have been engaged in as an ecological activist and organic intellectual has revealed that what the industrial economy calls “growth” is really a form of theft from nature and people.

It is true that cutting down forests or converting natural forests into monocultures of pine and eucalyptus for industrial raw material generates revenues and growth. But this growth is based on robbing the forest of its biodiversity and its capacity to conserve water. This growth is based on robbing forest communities of their sources of food, fodder, fuel, fiber, medicine, and security from floods and drought.

While most environmentalists can recognize that converting a natural forest into a monoculture is an impoverishment, many do not extend this insight to industrial agriculture. A corporate myth has been created, shared by most mainstream environmentalists and development organizations, that industrial agriculture is necessary to grow more food and reduce hunger. Many also assume that intensive, industrial agriculture saves resources and, therefore, saves species. But in agriculture as much as in forestry, the growth illusion hides theft from nature and the poor, masking the creation of scarcity as growth.

These thefts have only stepped up since the advent of the globalized economy. The completion of the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1994 and the establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO) have institutionalized and legalized corporate growth based on harvests stolen from nature and people. The WTOs Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights Agreement criminalizes seed-saving and seed-sharing. The Agreement on Agriculture legalizes the dumping of genetically engineered foods on countries and criminalizes actions to protect the biological and cultural diversity on which diverse food systems are based.

  • The anti-globalization movement that started in response to GATT has grown tremendously, and I have been honored to have been part of it.
  • Globally we have seen the citizens movements against genetic engineering and corporate control over agriculture move concerns about genetic engineering from the fringe to the center stage of trade and economics.
  • Whether at the St. Louis meeting on biodevastation or the Swiss or Austrian referenda on genetic engineering or the launch of the campaign for a Five Year Freeze on genetically engineered commerce in the United Kingdom, I have worked with some of the most courageous and creative people of our times who have taken on giant corporations and changed their fortunes.
  • Corporations that have made governments their puppets and that have created instruments and institutions like the WTO for their own protection are now being held accountable to ordinary people.


A brief history of the fight to save the stolen harvest

In 1987, the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation organized a meeting on biotechnology called “Laws of Life.” This watershed event identified the emerging issues of genetic engineering and patenting. The meeting made it clear that the giant chemical companies wee repositioning themselves as “life sciences” companies, whose goal was to control agriculture through patents, genetic engineering, and mergers. At that meeting, I decided I would dedicate the next decade of my life to finding ways to prevent monopolies on life and living resources, both through resistance and by building creative alternatives.

  • The first step I took was to start Navdanya, a movement for saving seed, to protect biodiversity, and to keep seed and agriculture free of monopoly control.
  • Navdanya’s commitment to saving seed means we cannot cooperate with patent laws, which make seed-saving a crime.
  • In 1994, the coastal communities of India invited me to support their struggle against industrial shrimp farming, which was spreading like a cancer along India’s 7,000-kilometer coastline.
  • We joined forces with others to challenge the shrimp-farming industry in a case that was heard before the Supreme Court of India in 1996.
  • While the court ruled in our favor, commercial interests continue to attempt to subvert its judgment.
  • In August 1998, I witnessed the destruction of India’s edible-oil economy by the imposition of soybean oil, a pattern being played in every sector of agriculture and the food economy.
  • On august 9, 1998, we started the “Monsanto, Quit India” campaign against corporate hijacking of our seed and food.
  • This movement against genetically engineered crops and food is now a global citizen’s movement, involving farmers and consumers, activists and scientists.
  • This book tells the stories of global corporations’ destruction of food and agriculture systems as well as resistance to the destruction by people’s movements.
  • It is not inevitable that corporations will control our lives and rule the world. We have a real possibility to shape our futures.
  • We have an ecological and social duty to ensure that the food that nourishes us is not a stolen harvest.

In this duty, we have the opportunity to work for the freedom and liberation of all species and all people. Something as simple and basic as food has become the site for these manifold and diverse liberations in which every one of us has an opportunity to participate – no matter who we are, no matter where we are.

Chapter 1: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply

More than 3.5 million people starved to death in the Bengal famine of 1943. 20 million were directly affected. Food grains were appropriated forcefully from the peasants under a colonial system of rent collection. Export of food grains continued in spite of the fact that people were going hungry.

  • More than one-fifth of India’s national output was appropriated for war supplies. The starving Bengal peasants gave up over two-thirds of the food they produced, leading to their debt to double.
  • Dispossessed peasants moved to Calcutta. Thousands of female destitutes were turned into prostitutes. Parents started to sell their children.
  • After the famine, the peasants also started to organize around the central demand of keeping a two-thirds share of the crops.
  • Peasants refused to let their harvest be stolen by the landlords and the revenue collectors of the British Empire.
  • The police arrested some peasants who resisted the theft of their harvest. They were charged with “stealing paddy.”
  • A half-century after the Bengal famine, a new and clever system has been put in place, which is once again making the theft of the harvest a right and the keeping of the harvest a crime.
  • Hidden behind complex free-trade treaties are innovative ways to steal nature’s harvest, the harvest of the seed, and the harvest of nutrition.


The corporate hijacking of food and agriculture

I focus on India to tell the story of how corporate control of food and globalization of agriculture are robbing millions of their livelihoods and their right to food both because I am an Indian and because Indian agriculture is being especially targeted by global corporations. Since 75% of the Indian population derives its livelihood from agriculture, and every fourth farmer in the world is an Indian, the impact of globalization on Indian agriculture is of global significance.

  • This phenomenon of the stolen harvest is not unique to India. It is being experienced in every society, as small farms and small farmers are pushed to extinction, as monocultures replace biodiverse crops, as farming is transformed from the production of nourishing and diverse foods into the creating of markets for genetically engineered seeds, herbicides, and pesticides.
  • The myth of “free trade” and the global economy becomes a means for the rich to rob the poor of their right to food and even their right to life.
  • The vast majority of the world’s people – 70% – earn their livelihoods by producing food. The majority of these farmers are women.
  • In contrast, in the industrialized countries, only 2% of the population are farmers.


Food security is in the seed

For centuries Third World farmers have evolved crops and given us the diversity of plants that provide us nutrition. Indian farmers evolved 200,000 varieties of rice through their innovation and breeding. They bred varieties such as Basmati.

  • This innovation by farmers has not stopped. Farmers involved in our movement, Navdanya, dedicated to conserving native seed diversity, are still breeding new varieties.
  • Seed is the first link in the food chain. Seed is the ultimate symbol of food security.
  • Free exchange of seed among farmers has been the basis of maintaining biodiversity as well as food security. It also involves exchanges of ideas and knowledge, of culture and heritage.

But the new intellectual-property-rights regimes, which are being universalized through the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights Agreement of the World Trade Organization (WTO), allow corporations to usurp the knowledge of the seed and monopolize it by claiming it as their private property. Over time, this results in corporate monopolies over the seed itself.

Corporations like Ricetec of the United States are claiming patents on Basmati rice. Soybean, which evolved in East Asia, has been patented by Calgene, which is now owned by Monsanto. Calgene also owns patents on mustard, a crop of Indian origin. Centuries of collective innovation by farmers and peasants are being hijacked as corporations claim intellectual-property rights on these and other seeds and plants.

“Free trade” or “Forced trade”

Today, 10 corporations control 32% of the commercial-seed market, valued at $23 billion, and 100% of the market for genetically engineered, or transgenic, seeds. These corporations also control the global agrochemical and pesticide market. Just 5 corporations control the global trade in grain. In late 1998, Cargill, the largest of these five companies, bought Continental, the second largest, making it the single biggest factor in the grain trade. Monoliths such as Cargill and Monsanto were both actively involved in shaping international trade agreements, in particular the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs, which led to the establishment of the WTO.

This monopolistic control over agricultural production, along with structural adjustment policies that brutally favor exports, results in floods of exports of foods from the United States and Europe to the Third World. As a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the proportion of Mexico’s food supply that is imported has increased from 20% in 1992 to 43% in 1996. After 18 months of NAFTA, 2.2 million Mexicans have lost their jobs, and 40 million have fallen into extreme poverty. One out of two peasants is not getting enough to eat.

  • In the Philippines, sugar imports have destroyed the economy.
  • In Kerala, India, the prosperous rubber plantations were rendered unviable due to rubber imports.
  • In Kenya, maize imports brought prices crashing for local farmers who could not even recover their costs of production.

The new hybrid seeds, being vulnerable to pests, required more pesticides. Extremely poor farmers bought both seeds and chemicals on credit from the same company. When the crops failed due to heavy pest incidence or large-scale seed failure, many peasants committed suicide by consuming the same pesticides that had gotten them into debt in the first place. In the district of Warangal, nearly 400 cotton farmers committed suicide due to crop failure in 1997, and dozens more committed suicide in 1998.

  • The United States has taken India to the WTO dispute panel to contest is restrictions on food imports.


Creating hunger with monocultures

Leave a Comment