Are India’s Farmers Victims of a Global Land Rush?

Rising food prices have sparked protests in India and elsewhere in the developing world. But, according to humanitarian group Oxfam, costs are increasing because of a new menace

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Altaf Qadri / AP

Members of India's rural communities, including the landless, poor farmers and the tribal community, sleep on a road at a halting point during "Jan Satyagraha," a march to New Delhi to highlight the problems of India's landless in Gwalior, India, on Oct. 3, 2012.

On Wednesday, tens of thousands of landless farmers lined up in Gwalior, a city in northern India, and started a very long walk. Under a flapping canopy of green-and-white flags, demonstrators from several Indian states vowed to spend the next three weeks marching over 320 km from this fort town to New Delhi. They are taking to the road to demand the right to land for shelter and growing food, something they say countless rural Indians have been losing to powerful private players.

The demonstration kicked off just as the U.N. is poised to announce new global food prices. Food prices have been on a steady upward trajectory for years, a worrying development in light of the deadly 2008 riots that broke out in over 30 countries and added tens of millions of people to the world’s list of chronically hungry. Less than three years later, high food prices again helped spark the unrest that unfolded into revolutions across North Africa and the Middle East in the winter of 2011. And again today, after a drought badly affected crops, corn and wheat are more expensive than they were when the Arab Spring got into full swing. Some analysts warn that it means more unrest is on the way.

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Indians too are feeling the crunch of higher food prices, though for slightly different reasons. India is not a major food importer and has plenty of its own grain stocks despite a less-than-stellar monsoon. (Why so many Indians are going hungry, then, is another question.) That has traditionally insulated domestic food prices from fluctuations in the global market, and yet food prices in the country too have been on the rise, partly as a result of more speculation tied to the global food market. According to recent World Bank figures published in the Hindu, India recorded the second highest spike in wheat prices after Sudan in the year ending in July 2012.

An Oxfam report released on Oct. 3 argues that these rising food prices are part of what’s forcing more and more farmers in developing nations off their land in a “global land rush.” According to Oxfam’s calculations, the amount of land bought around the world by private investors from 2000 to 2010 could produce enough food to feed 1 billion people, and yet it is having the opposite effect. After the food scare in 2008, investors rushed to pour money into land deals. “From mid-2008 to 2009, reported agricultural land deals by foreign investors in developing countries rocketed by around 200%,” the report reads. Much of what’s produced on that land, particularly in Africa, is destined for export. Meanwhile, the small farmers from whom it was acquired are no longer able to feed themselves.

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India is suffering a similar fate, according to Ekta Parishad, the group organizing the march. Because of an easing of restrictions over urban land ownership in the past 20 years, smaller cities around India have been growing at unprecedented rates, cannibalizing the land belonging to villages around them. Some 50,000 villages around India have disappeared from 1995 to 2010, says Ramesh Sharma, one of the group’s campaign coordinators. He says the rise of contract farming, when small farmers grow crops on their land for private companies, and corporate farming, when the government leases tracts of land to corporations on long-term contracts, have also led to the consolidation of land in industry’s hands. “It’s completely unproductive for the people who are dependent on the land,” says Sharma. “Whenever the government needs land, they simply go and grab land from the community … It creates a very big conflict for society.”

Oxfam has called on the World Bank to put a temporary freeze on “investments involving large-scale land acquisitions” in order to set an example for governments and the private sector to “ensure investments benefit the poor.” In India, Sharma and the tens of thousands of farmers he’s on the road with today have a long list of demands that they’re bringing to New Delhi. Chief among them is the creation of a bill that would constitutionally guarantee Indians the right to land to live and grow food on. The group is also calling for the government to act on a long-ruminated land policy that defines the rights of residents whose land is taken over for public use. The bill has been languishing in the legislature, facing fierce opposition from the business community that says it will impede business prospects. “We are not asking for a [handout],” says Sharma. “We want to grow food for ourselves.”

MORE: How the Changing Monsoon Is Changing India

17 comments
Vaengineer
Vaengineer

Why are we so intent on killing our species off in the name of 'growth'?

Prashanth D'Souza
Prashanth D'Souza

As long as we see more production as a solution to more consumption, we are going to see this ridiculous rush for land and it's resources. This is not just a problem with India, it is the problem with any country that is exporting food to other parts of the world. When we cannot live within our own limits, we end up spending and wasting much more than we consume. This is what is happening in urban centres everywhere - wasted food, wasted water, wasted fuel - in the name of business and keeping the wheels of the economy running. Where are we in a hurry to get to? Strict governmental rules and regulations are the need of the hour, but who's going to fight the companies and moneyed people who are already entrenched after buying the land "legally"?

JeanClellandMorin
JeanClellandMorin

There is something else I see, right here under my nose: The land is being raped by the mushrooming of homes and businesses for the ever mindless propagation of the human species. // Jean Clelland-Morin

Choking Kojak
Choking Kojak

1.3 billion in a country the size of the U.S. east of the Mississippi river...

10 thousand people line up and take a walk, it's not something that makes the headlines there.  It's just the morning rush-hour...

P V Ariel
P V Ariel

The fertile land in India  is destroyed  mercilessly to build up the business empires. This ultimately leads to destroying the greenery of India resulting into increase the speed of the present global warming.

This trend is increasing tremendously in India, We need to curtail at least the destroying of life giving trees. In short, human beings existence mainly depends on the natural resources especially the trees plays a key role in this. Let us save our trees.  pl. do have a look at this knol.  

Our Existence Depends on Natural Resources: An Alert to the General Public and the Tree Fellers "

Luis Nevarez Arrazate
Luis Nevarez Arrazate

There are so many, that´s the problem, and pooverty, idolatry, and corruption...

T Marq
T Marq

As the powerful grow and find new ways to destroy lands to build the aimless wonders of useless technological toys, all that will eventually be left will be mounds of landfills, and mountains of the starving.  

nyaya
nyaya

What successive govts of India have failed to understand is the there is a need to develop proper rural infrastructure and logistics for farmers. Hopefully this retail fdi which involves half of investment dollars to go into infrasturcture will help this situation. However realisitically it is a myth to say omeone with 2 acres of land has been surviving on the income from this land. Infact they only survive because of the subscidy income due to that land nothing more. So in the lang run farmers are better off and it is better for Indian rural development. Major problem in India is wastage of food whihc is as much as 60 percent. This needs to be fixed to reduce cost of food.

mgshutter
mgshutter

Nearly one farmer commits suicide in India each half an hour, due to lack of support from government in different farming practices. There have been more than 10 million suicides in last 10 years. 

Nero's Guest is a documentary by Rural Editor Hindu, describing the entire scenario. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

Prithvi Shiv
Prithvi Shiv

Land reforms are critical in India. The government needs to refocus its priorities from IT and manufacturing to agriculture which has always been our strength. Only in the past fifty years have we been emphasising industry over agriculture.

Given the state of infrastructure reforms, agriculture promises to provide better returns than sectors like IT and manufacturing in the coming decades. Also given the rising prices of essential commodities, food crops can only get more lucrative in the long term. The government needs to act and act now and empower the small farmer for they'll be the ones sustaining this sector, not the big landowners who will sit on these lands not doing much.

Bristol Eastwood
Bristol Eastwood

Read about the suicides committed by farmers going bankrupt due to Monsanto patent seeds

Peter Lwanda Oluoch
Peter Lwanda Oluoch

Too much kismwahili thats capitalism 4 them how m i involved?let them sort their priorities rite!just my thoughts