Author: Devinder Sharma

Well, only yesterday I wrote how the global food crisis is becoming an opportunity for business. I wasn’t wrong. Read this press release from the World Economic Forum at Davos: A coalition business, governments and farmers today launched a strategy to significantly increase food production while conserving environmental resources and spurring economic growth. The approach is already being implemented in two countries, Tanzania and Vietnam. Led by 17 global companies, the strategy sets ambitious targets for collective action to increase production by 20 per cent, decrease greenhouse gas emissions per tonne by 20 per cent, and reduce rural poverty by 20 per cent, each decade.

Entitled “Realizing a New Vision for Agriculture: A Roadmap for Stakeholders”, this is backed by 17 multinationals — including ADM, BASF, Bunge Limited, Cargill, Coca-Cola, DuPont, General Mills, Kraft Foods, Metro AG, Monsanto Company, Nestle, PepsiCo, SABMiller, Syngenta, Unilever, Wal-Mart, and Yara International.

The path to hell, as I have often said, is paved with good intentions. But lately I am amazed how cleverly the market forces use ‘good intentions’ to make profits. Whether it is World Trade Organisation (WT), Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), Kyoto Protocol, UN Climate Convention, G-20 consultations, we hear as if the world has suddenly become so benevolent towards the poor and hungry. All these international treaties and conventions, if you read the preamble, have the welfare of the poor and marginalised as the topmost priority. And yet, the poor are getting further marginalised.

Hunger and poverty are on an upswing. The gulf between the rich and the poor is further widening. The poor are increasingly getting driven to the wall. Fed up with this planet (or having destroyed the planet), the rich are planning to set up an exclusive colony on the moon.

Public anger that pours on the streets of Cairo, Tunis, and Madagascar becomes another business opportunity. Keeping my fingers crossed, I know the day is not far away when people will storm the streets in Pakistan, India, China, Brazil, South Africa and Russia. Will it be too late by then? Will the world not realise before then the disastrous implications of the market-based pathway? Will we go on repeating the same mistakes again and again?

It is not like a bull in a China shop. It is like a mad horse that has bolted. Why can’t we bolt the horse in the stable? Why have we become so weak?
No lessons were learnt from the unprecedented food crisis of 2008. Except for pumping in US $ 20 trillion as stimulus package, the economic meltdown of 2009 didn’t make us sit back and think. Once again, food prices are spiralling. Once again, the market bubble is waiting to burst. How long will this go on? How long, I ask?

Why can’t we start questioning the flawed system? Why can’t we build up a socio-economic system based on equity, justice and sustainability, which looks beyond economic growth and GDP? Why can’t we resurrect food and agriculture from the destructive controls of the industry? Is it because we are afraid to speak up against wrong? Is it because our mind is in perpetual fear?

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high, wrote Rabindranath Tagore in Gitanjali. He concluded by saying: Where the mind is led forward by thee into everwidening thoughts and action; Into the heaven of freedom, my father, let my country awake.


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