World Bank’s Latest Passion

If statements and slogans could translate into action against poverty and hunger, the world would have emerged from the glaring inequalities long ago. Poverty could have been easily eclipsed from the face of the globe. Even the World Bank has very conveniently used the emotive appeal of fighting hunger to push in reality the commercial interests of the private corporations. Ever since it launched (along with its sister organisation, the IMF) the holy grail of structural adjustment and pushed for globalisation, it has helped corporates wield more power, it has helped the rich get richer while the rest of the world remains caught in an unending recession – the inevitable consequences of an inherently faulty economic thinking.

James Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank, however continues to paint a rosy picture. He is after all paid to do so, and so does his 93 per cent employees (as he states in an interview) who agree with the Bank’s approach.

Mr Naidu was in power for nine years, and was still swept away by a tidal wave of the angry farmers. The small and marginal farmers, in tandem with the landless labourers, who constitute nearly 80 per cent of Andhra’s 80 million people, gave their verdict: the industry-sponsored economic reforms are anti-poor. Blindly aping the World Bank model of agriculture (as suggested by McKinsey), Andhra had pumped in huge finances to push in an industry-driven agriculture that has not only exacerbated the crisis leading to an environmental catastrophe but also destroyed millions of rural livelihoods. Thanks to World Bank policies, the State has turned into a national capital of shame for farmers’ distress, visible more through the increasing rate of suicides in the rural areas.

Thousands of farmers were migrating every season looking for menial jobs in the urban centres. Mofussil newspapers in the heartland of the cyberstate – that’s how Mr Naidu wanted the state to be called – were full of advertisements inviting people to mortgage their gold and silver belongings. Livestock deaths and the plight of dalits and other landless and marginalised no longer adorned the headlines. Farmers were asked not to produce more rice (the staple food) as the State had no place to stock it. Farmer’s suicides had become so common that Mr Naidu had actually sent team of psychiatrists to convince them against taking their own lives.

At the global level too, the World Bank has strange ways of eradicating poverty. Considering that sustainable agriculture is the established link to poverty eradication, the World Bank/IMF under the Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAP) tied up credit with crop diversification.

The same prescription for farming has never been suggested for the rich and industrialised countries. Let us be very clear, one part of the world that needs to go in for immediate crop diversification is the industrial world. These are the countries that produce mounting surpluses of wheat, rice, corn, soybean, sugar beat, cotton, and that too under environmentally unsound conditions leading to an ecological catastrophe. These are the countries that inflict double the damage – first destroy the land by highly intensive crop practices, pollute ground water, contaminate the environment, and then receive massive subsidies to keep these unsustainable practices artificially viable.

Macro-economic policies that the World Bank preaches have a strong and persistent urban and industrial bias. These adverse terms of trade have had a devastating effect on the livelihood of small and marginal farmers and thereby the landless workers. The Bank however continues to come out with faulty analysis that reaffirms faith in agribusiness at the cost of several million small and marginal farmers. Pushing these farmers out of farming is a sure recipe of disaster, it is sure to add on to burgeoning poverty and hunger, and yet the mainline economists remain oblivious to the emerging socio-economic crisis and a political catastrophe that awaits.

(Devinder Sharma is a New Delhi-based food policy analyst. Responses can be emailed at: dsharma@ndf.vsnl.net.in)

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