Uma garu talks about the efforts of Raithu Swaraj Vedika and appeals to the public to join in seeing that we never forget the farmers and their invaluable role in society.
Don’t sell out local food traditions with packaged food in the name of rehabilitation and development.
In the immediate rescue-and-relief scenario, packaged foods may play a role in ensuring that people do not go hungry in the aftermath of a disaster. However every packaged food company wants its product to be considered ‘normal’ and everyday food, not just for emergency. The food industry has managed to convert huge populations in Western and urban Indian areas to their ways, accepting packaged food as an ordinary everyday item. When these industries and the people they have converted are in charge of disaster aid, then there is a likelihood that the packaged foods and nutri-powders that are heavily marketed on front pages and prime time television will be considered not only as emergency relief material but a part of ongoing rehabilitation assistance packages.
As Naomi Klein reports in Disaster Capitalism: How to Make Money out of Misery, “‘Where has all the money gone?’ ask desperate people from Baghdad to New Orleans, from Kabul to tsunami-struck Sri Lanka.” The answer, she explains, is to those who already had money.
Klein and other journalists have reported on this after Hurricane Katrina, Sandy, and other disasters in the United States. I have seen this happen after the earthquake in Gujarat and the tsunami in Tamil Nadu. Lakhs of rupees are budgeted for something like a feeding center, but if spent on packaged food, those lakhs end up in the hands of Britannia, GlaxoSmithKline, Parle, and Nestle. What ends up in the people’s hands are biscuits and powders. What ends up in their lands is the packaging. The brands get recognition. The biscuits and powders boast nutrients on their labels but in reality offer little value compared to foods prepared locally from fresh ingredients. Though this may seem obvious, the relentless push of the food industry to make packaged food normal and indeed preferable to homemade food tends to extend its use beyond the period of relief, into the phase of rehabilitation and eventually into the normal diet.
Commenting on the inappropriate use of the emergency food “Plumpy Nut” made by Nutriset, World Health Organization officer Zita Weise-Prinzo says, “Donors like seeing a product. They like being able to say they have distributed so many tonnes of this magic pill or whatever and it was distributed to so many thousands or millions of children.” (Sophie Arie, “Hungry for Profit,” BMJ 2010;341:c5221, )
Local Food Sovereignty
When we recognize the local food that people have traditionally grown and eaten in an area, we can look for ways to rebuild the supply through diverse channels, sustainable agricultural practices, and thus build local food sovereignty rather than bringing food and food-like substances from remote locations through centralized routes.
We must also guard against the role agribusiness plays in pushing government policy in their favour, as Biju Negi of Beej Bachao Andolan has written today in “Deceptive Intervention for Millets.” He warns that government intervention will destroy traditional millet farming in the Himalayan region.
In the same state or district where a disaster has struck, there may be farmers who can supply food required for rehabilitation. If not immediately, then some time after, especially if building their capacity is part of the rehabilitation plan. It is important to link with and procure from these suppliers, sustaining local livelihoods as well as food traditions. This requires us, after the initial relief phase, to look beyond “feeding the disaster-affected” to approaching community rehabilitation in a holistic way, drawing on the strengths and resources of disaster-affected and non-disaster affected people.
When I met the Koya tribal people who had been displaced from Chhattisgarh by Salwa Judum, I saw that they carried with them their seeds of sama, korra and other varieties of millets and were growing them in whatever small space they could make in the forest, processing them at home and eating them.
From the government as well as the local NGO, however their relief package consisted of white rice, nutritionally inferior to millet. Even though in the very same Khammam district, there were farmers growing the very same grains that these people were used to eating. Why hadn’t the NGO bought those grains to use in the feeding centre? Throughout India farmers and social organizations are fighting an uphill battle to sustain local grains. Yet they are neither included in the public distribution system (PDS) of the government nor through the private suppliers who have the infrastructure to work with large donor agencies. In this case, the donor agency had stipulated that the food should be procured through specified routes that conformed to their supply and billing systems. This meant that rice coming from some other part of the state or even other states could be used in the program, but not the millets growing in the same district. After eating white rice, would the next generation remember how to recover their diverse food traditions?
Even if the NGO had found a way to include diverse and local grains in the relief package, they would have been more expensive since they aren’t part of the public distribution system and don’t receive the subsidies that white rice does. The question is, can the donor agency recognize the value of the local food traditions, biodiversity, local economy and community health that are part of that grain, above and beyond its weight in kilograms? This calls for strengthening local distribution routes as well as local capacity, and commitment to existing Acts such as the Forest Rights Act and to the policy of land to the tiller, which would guard against further insecurity and in fact would have helped people resist this displacement in the first place.
Global Economic Policy
Disaster capitalism goes beyond industrial food, Big Ag, Big Aid and Big Box, to the heart of economic policy. As United States secretary of state, Hilary Clinton declared openly that the pillars of American foreign policy were development, defense and diplomacy and these would be used to ensure America’s (meaning corporate America’s) access to global markets. Read, for example, Hilary Clinton, America’s Pacific Century.
Commenting on Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, economics professor and former World Bank economist Joseph Stiglitz writes about “the political machinations required to force unsavory economic policies on resisting countries (Stiglitz, “Bleakonomics,” New York Times, September 30, 2007). These policies include privatisation of natural resources including water and land (or as Luke Erikson puts it, “Land from the Tiller”), public utilities such as electricity, and even public services such as health, education, and transport. Though touted as the solution to poverty, these policies further deprive the poor, by defining development and progress in a way that discounts their own strengths and resources.
Consider the case of water. The Ministry of Water Resources’ draft water policy (2012), encourages the private sector and cuts agricultural and domestic subsidies, in line with World Bank recommendations. It states as a basic principle: “evolving an agricultural system which economizes on water use and maximizes value from water.” Unfortunately the history of water policy in India shows that maximizing value is not counted according to the numbers of people who have secured food and water, but rather the monetary value of that water and the goods it is used to produce. This serves the needs of the food (and beverage) industry.
The hundreds of dams that are part of the drive to privatize have also aggravated the present floods in Uttarakhand which in the past week have claimed thousands of lives and rendered more than one lakh people homeless. India Climate Justice has called for a halt to construction of dams in the Himalayas pending review, and has noted that the Comptroller and Auditor General warned that this series of dams and hydropower projects could be environmentally damaging. Himanshu Upadhyay has detailed the failure to heed these and other crucial CAG warnings in Uttarakhand: Ignoring the writing on the wall. Apart from potential to aggravate floods, the series of dams diverts water to power houses and away from traditional irrigation systems, serving small local farms.
In situations of chronic hunger, the food industry need not wait for any specific disaster to strike before bidding to introduce their products. Since the hunger is chronic, the contracts will be long-term. Consider this ominous title of a UNDP Report: The Roles and Opportunities for the Private Sector in Africa’s Agro-Food Industry. The author of the report is “UNDP Africa Facility for Inclusive Markets.” Its stated focus – namely, ”development and expansion of regional value chains in job creating sectors such as agribusiness…” – works against the goal of local food sovereignty towards privatization and globalization.
Industrially packaged food that enters as an emergency measure must not come to be regarded as the new normal. Those involved in supporting rehabilitation programs should take care to guard against the push of this industry to reach new consumers, particularly in vulnerable times, and thus move more people away from the local, diverse, whole and home- made food that is the foundation of health, livelihood,community and food security.
Note: India Together has published this as “Beware of disaster profiteering” on 2 July 2013 .
When Justice Daud went to the Narmada Valley in search of the truth …
Economic and Political Weekly (EPW) 25-31 August 2001. Also appeared under the title Satya Shodhak August 2001 in India Together.
Patiently climbing the Satpura hills under a blazing May sun, the gentleman had every right to be annoyed for having to cover for his incompetent learned colleagues of the judiciary. It was like summoning a brain surgeon to diagnose a cold, a pilot to steer a tricycle, vernier calipers to measure mountains. However you look at it, Justice Daud and his “satya shodhak” (truth-seeking or fact-finding) samiti were called in at a very very late stage, to hear very primary facts. What the villagers in Manibeli told them under the canopy made of leaves, extending from the ?jeevanshala’, was hardly so subtle or obscure as to require the services of a Truth Committee. Their bountiful natural resources and strong social fabric in their home villages, the unlivable conditions in the resettlement sites, the callous treatment by government officials, repression and violence by the police, formed part of a chronicle witnessed by and told to many over the years. It ought to have been heard and acknowledged long ago by the Supreme Court itself, or at least by the court-appointed Grievance Redressal Authorities in 1999 and 2000.
But the honourable court is deaf to anything but English, and the Grievance Redressal Authorities are blind to anything not in print. When Bija Jugalya Vasave of Chimalkhedi said, “I had gone to ascertain whether my name existed in the electoral roll. It said that I had died two years ago,” Justice Daud laughed out loud and dictated, “This is the state of the official records”. It was at that point, and not before, that the notorious defects of official records entered into the official knowledge as far as R and R for Sardar Sarovar project oustees was concerned. The villagers told Justice Daud before he left, “We felt good talking to you”.
Some consolation. As the tribal song goes, the dam builders just go on damming, damming, damming.
Earlier Justice Daud had a tour of the dam from one of the Sardar Sarovar engineers, Gajjar. With glee he showed off his prize toy. These are the canals, these are the turbines, this is where we will generate 200 megawatts … as soon as we can complete the construction! Off we all whizzed in the caravan over and under, around and through the dam site. “The water”, he explained, “as we say in our technical language, has x, y, and z mobility”. Hands flailing, and whole body bopping up and down, he illustrated the fabulous mobility of the water through the canals: “z is the vertical, x is the horizontal, and y is…y is…y is the other one”. Not to be outdone, More, Maharashtra chief engineer and joint secretary, irrigation piped in, “assuming the world has three dimensions”. The judge listened through the whole show-and-tell, right up to the display of large metal parts of the whole grand shebang, also to be used “as soon as we can complete the construction”. “If I may make a comment”, said the judge, “you seem to have taken the acquiescence of the people for granted. This must have been a huge capital expenditure!”
“We like to think of these canals as our Sabarmati”, gushed Gajjar. “Both can have a flow of 25,000 cusecs.” There the similarity ends. Civilisations have grown along the Sabarmati, whereas communities are broken by dams and canals. While all may freely go to the banks of Sabarmati, those living along a canal, whose land is now under it, have no right even to touch the waters. Gajjar’s words of consolation: “legally people do not have the right, but really, how can anyone stop them”? The engineer went on to express his surprise that only 1 m depth of flow was required to supply drinking water. But “such is human nature”, he conceded, “that once this demand is fulfilled, there will be demand for more”.
The temporary water pumping facility sends water to cities like Vadodara, Ahmedabad, Rajkot and Bhavnagar, while advertisement of the same has reached newspapers and magazines around the world. It cost Rs 35 crore to set up, plus recurring costs for the 80 diesel engines, plus advertising (Chicago Tribune ain’t cheap) plus supply costs borne by each city. The Ajva reservoir, Gajjar announced proudly, is already full. More cooed admiringly, “Ajva reservoir is full. That is very nice.” The Ajva reservoir supplies Vadodara. What about Kutch and Saurashtra? Check back next year, promises the ad. Assuming the world has three dimensions.
In Full Swing
Two months later, the glossy advertising campaign continues. Flouting the objections of the R and R subgroup of the Narmada Control Authority, government of Gujarat wrestled permission for the construction of 3 m humps atop the 90 m dam wall approval by appealing to attorney general Soli Sorabjee. The government advertisement publishes statistics on the construction of the concrete works: dam wall, canals, pumps and pipes. Rehabilitation? “In full swing”. No numbers are given.
The fact-finding committee or “committee to assist in the rehabilitation” headed by Justice Daud (retired), after hearing the tribal people in their original villages as well as visiting proposed and existing resettlement sites found that resettlement and rehabilitation was incomplete even up to the present height of Sardar Sarovar (90 m dam wall plus 3 m humps, with water already flowing over this 93 m structure as of today). Not only is the government unprepared to provide for all the oustees at the present height, they have not provided suitable agricultural land, irrigation facilities or civic amenities at the sites where previously ousted people have moved. Furthermore, government records on the project-affected families are so ridden with errors that a census needs to be taken of the affected villages.
Three government secretaries attach a note claiming the opposite, as if the committee’s work was some kind of a hallucination. Their solution to the problem of land unavailability is that tribals ?encroaching’ forest land “must be removed and the land must be allotted to SSPPAFs”. With this despotic step, the secretaries, a la Supreme Court majority judgment, wax sanguine about the “very fertile agricultural land” at resettlement colonies and the ?not congenial’ features of the tribal villages. Displacement, it seems, is just what the doctor ordered. So what is the glitch? The secretaries claim that the government officers are bullied by the activists “gherao them when they visit the sites and try to compel them to write letter mentioning that the government does not have enough land for rehabilitation of PAPs”.
Another problem that they mention is that the posts responsible for rehabilitation are vacant and must be filled. Watch ?I Will Report Honestly’, a 13-minute video clip of tribal villagers discussing land availability with government officers. There, the deputy collector of Nandurbar district tells the people seated before him that there is no land and that no one should move until the matter is resolved. Surely the gun-toting police at his side were not subjugated by unarmed villagers? The day after telling the truth before the people, deputy collector Vasave was transferred. The story is similar in other districts. Collector after collector has resigned or been transferred because the government of Maharashtra has not come clean on its rehabilitation of Sardar Sarovar project affected people. Tribals of neighbouring Madhya Pradesh face the same problems noted by the Daud Committee in Maharashtra. Chief minister Digvijay Singh declared that Madhya Pradesh did not have adequate land for rehabilitation and proposed lower heights for Sardar Sarovar, but this was never considered by the Supreme Court. Tribal villagers of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra are determined to face the waters and challenge the unjust and inhuman submergence of Sardar Sarovar. In daily satyagraha, they work their fields with waters at just a few metres distance, cultivating bajra and dal which may drown before it comes to harvest.
These crops, combined with the harvest of the forest and the river, provide enough nutrition for the tribal families for the entire year. In a nation plagued with growing pockets of undernourishment and even starvation while undistributed grains rot in storage facilities, the destruction of the self-sufficient communities of the Narmada Valley signals the determination of the policy-makers to keep it that way.