Gaunt faces, swollen bellies, haunted eyes, barren land. The photographs bring famine to our living rooms. We respond with compassion and aid, but those horrifying glimpses are part of a larger story that calls for major rethinking of humanity’s relationship to land and food.
With more than 15% of the world’s population on only 2.4% of the land mass, India may be the canary in the hunger mineshaft. How successfully the country deals with issues of food production and distribution and how willing it is to address inequities will either be a role model for the world or another nail in the coffin of globalization.
The Green Revolution is a good place to start looking at India’s response to hunger and why it counts for the world. Though famine and drought have been regular visitors to India over the centuries, the Green Revolution solidified the place of a new kind of agriculture whose impact is global.
A technological fix for hunger problems
By Independence Day, August 15, 1947, the British colonial power that had dominated India since 1619 had limped to an end. Hunger was endemic, and famines were a recurring tragedy. They had worsened under British rule, and in the 18th and 19th centuries, some 44 million people died as a direct result.
In the industrial world, technological advances in agriculture had led to food surpluses and an end to the specter of starvation. At the same time, India’s food situation was becoming increasingly precarious because of droughts through the mid-1960s.
The Rockefeller and Ford foundations came to the rescue with funding to transfer western technological advances to ailing developing countries. The Green Revolution was born, with the stated intention of eradicating hunger.
The first two food crops to be promoted in India were new hybrid varieties of rice and wheat. These supposedly hunger-eliminating grains imposed a new kind of hunger and a new kind of colonialism. The new hunger was for high-cost, high-tech solutions: agricultural machinery, chemicals and high-yield seeds. As farmers became indebted to multinational corporations, they needed ever-greater production to keep paying down what they borrowed. The yoke of debt became a new kind of colonialism. The new masters were agribusiness corporations.
Top photo from IRRI Images via Flickr
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