Philpott uses this example from Davis' book to draw a parallel to the neocolonialism of the biotechnology companies that sell Indian farmers expensive Bt cotton and other seeds. Only, because the Indian government, as part of economic liberalization, is pushing for an industrial agriculture system, there is no support to bail out farmers who wind up in debt and, after a failed monsoon or other disaster (natural or otherwise) have no crops to sell and no money to repay their debts.
Davis lays out in devastating detail (first chapter available for free here) how in the 1870s, high-living colonial administrators dismantled the old Indian system for handling droughts, replacing it with one in which the price of grain floated freely based on global supply and demand. Thus, when a drought struck a grain-producing region in India, the grain price surged. The only buyers who could then afford it happened to reside in merry olde England.
The subcontinent's railroad system, paid for by taxes imposed on the Indians, very efficiently carried grain being produced in the non-drought areas to ports for shipment to the mother country. Its cutting-edge telegraph infrastructure, also financed by colonial taxes, transmitted price hikes rapidly. Famine thus rippled throughout India, including in non-drought-stricken areas.
Tens of millions perished in a series of famines in late 19th century India; before, when drought struck a certain area, food would move in from luckier areas and famines were rare. Davis claims the English took advantage of these not-so-natural disasters to consolidate its grip on the subcontinent. It was all very efficient, really.
In other words, in the 1800s the British used their might to impose on India a system in which the British could squeeze every last rupee out of the Indian farmer. What's the difference today? Seems like old wine in new bottles. The British are gone, but the west has managed to convince India of the virtues of free markets and expensive advanced technological solutions to age-old problems like famine. And in the place of the British, the Indian government itself is imposing austerity on the Indian farmer. Meanwhile, the EU and U.S. refuse to lower their subsidies for domestic farmers and tariffs against imported agricultural goods (a pretty good summary of the failed Doha round of WTO negotiations can be found here). It's quite a racket. And who benefits?
Technorati tags: India economy, farmer suicides, agriculture