Transcript: Sainath on Mass Media v. Mass Reality: Part 4 of 5

A lecture at University of Texas, Austin by P. Sainath, sponsored by the University of Texas School of Journalism, the South Asia Institute, AID-Austin and the Society of Professional Journalists UT.

Part 1 || Part 2 || Part 3 || Part 4 || Part 5

We are also buying land – vast tracts of land in Brazil, in Kenya and in Ethiopia. These are the three places. China has bought them in about 20 other countries. They are way ahead of us in that absolute race to the bottom.

It’s very, very curious that India that we are going to buy farmland in Ethiopia to grow food in India considering – and this is part of the economics of our time – we shifted millions and millions of farmers in the last twenty years from the cultivation of food crop to the cultivation of cash crop.

Millions of subsistence level farmers, small farmers, medium farmers, guys with 5-9 acres, being shifted from growing food crop like paddy, like rice, like wheat to growing vanilla for you, because you are the vanilla nation. 70% of the world’s consumption of vanilla is right here. 70% of the coffee India produces – the Robusta – you know there are two families of coffee – robusta and arabica. So we produce mostly robusta. 70% of our robusta is consumed in Europe. Not in India.

So the farmers are getting into very high risk zones because they don’t have an internal market. They are being shifted to very high risk crops. If you move from producing paddy to producing vanilla as many people did in 2003, so I’m giving you the 2003 figure, your cost of cultivation goes up 16 times. The bank loans you pay go up accordingly and the banks will not give you that amount of loan, so you go to the moneylenders.

We shifted millions and what is the result of that? How many of you have looked at the Indian budget – the latest Indian budget online? Economics Survey online? I’ll save you the time so that you don’t have to dig through it. There’s a table. Table 1.17 under the tables section, page A17 to 22.

What does it show you? It shows you that the average per capita availability of foodgrain 2005 to 2009 is less than it was from 1955 to 1959. 436 grams for the last five years, 444 grams in 1955 to 1959. That’s about 3 million tons in real terms.

In 1991 we reached a peak of production when we had 510 grams per Indian. That’s when we started what they call the reforms. From 510 grams we have come to 436 grams in 20 years. That means an average Indian family has access to about a hundred kilograms of grain less than they did ten years ago.

That’s how serious the food crisis is. We are still encouraging crops for export in the name of an economics that says grow cash crops make hard currency dollars, and do better.

So that’s what’s happening.

By the way, the food and hunger issues have grown massively in a country called the United States. According to the USDA – that is the United States Department of Agriculture – it brings out a report on food security in the United States 2009. If you look at that report, it shows you some very spectacular things.

2009 marks the highest number of people ever in food and security in the United States since they started doing the surveys in 1995. It marks the highest. One of every seven American households had difficulty providing food to all their members in 2009 according to the US Department of Agriculture study. One third of these families had very low food security. What does that mean? It means, members in 6.2 million households had reduced food intake or had completely disrupted eating patterns due to lack of money to buy food.

Over 36% of all female headed households in the United States – that is, with children – female headed households with children – means more than one household in every three female headed households with children in the United States were declared food insecure by the USDA’s report.

Black and Hispanic households were more than twice as likely to be food insecure than white non-Hispanic households.

5.6 million households – an increase of 18% over the previous year were going to soup kitchens. And it isn’t just the United States. I came to the United States via Brussels.

What is Brussels? Heart of Europe. Heart of NATO. One of the most prosperous nations in Europe. Top 20 of the Human Development list. You know what the figures out there are? One in every three women enthrepreneurs in entire Belgium is below the poverty line of the European Union and below the poverty line of Belgium as well.

The Flanders daily had this splendid news item on this subject. Inequality has grown faster in the last fifteen years than at any time in the preceding fifty, anywhere in the world.

In the United States, 2009 brought the number of people below the poverty line to 43.6 million.

In this country, the crisis has about one in every four children is below the poverty line and 22% – over one in five of every American below the age of 18 is hungry is hungry or is at risk of being hungry.

You know, one of the most interesting examples of inequality cited about the US is if you compare it to say – Argentina – in the 1940s Argentina was one of the most unequal countries in the world. 1% of Argentina’s population controlled 20% of incomes. Today, that’s down to 15%, but United States 2007 – 1% of the population controlled 24% of the National Income. That is, the United States in 2007 is more unequal than Argentina in the mid-1940s.

Yet, in the same country, despite the crisis, despite your recession, would anyone like to give me a number on what the top ten hedge fund managers are earning per hour? [inaudible audience response] 900 thousand bucks.

And then come to the champion of grooming unequality on our continent – that’s us. As I said, my favorite list is Forbes, right? It shows us that we have now 55 dollar billionaires. There are a few inconveniences in it in that we are ranked fourth. Above us, the usual irritating faces of China and Russia.

The Chinese I will dismiss briefly, because their average net worth of their billionaires is a piffling 2 billion dollars. Ours is four and a half. It used to be 6.5 until those twits on Wall Street blew it for everybody in 2008.

As for the Russians, there is our obvious moral superiority with the Russians, because the Russians after ten years send all their billionaires to prison. We send ours to Parliament. Where now we have about 11 of them.

That’s a civilized democracy. We send them to Parliament.

The corporate giveaway in the current Indian budget is 18-19 billion dollars in direct income tax and if you add other corporate concessions under excise and customs, it crosses over a hundred billion US dollars. According to UNDP, that’s the amount you require every year to solve all the basic problems of the human race.

But the same Indian budget cuts 4,500 million rupees from food security. Last year the same amount, nearly 10,000 million rupees had disappeared in 24 months from food subsidies in a country which has the largest number of hungry people in the world.

Now lastly, and I’m going to close on this note, what did it do? These policies – I said food crisis and farm crisis. I brought you to the farmland. All over the world, the policies of giant corporations getting massive subsidies. In the United States 7 in every 10 dollars going in farm subsidies goes to Fortune 500 companies.

There are very few farmers in the United States. The family farms left in the United States are less than 700,000 that’s a 2006 figure and they were going bankrupt at the rate of one sixty a week according to the associated press.

By the way, it means, that you have three times the number of people in prisons than you do in farms. Count it. Fedral, state, penitentiaries and parole. If you include the parole. The people in the criminal justice system, under restraint are three times the number of people you have on the farms of this country.

In India, the gigantic subsidies of the United States and EU have destroyed millions of farmers in Western Africa in the cotton producing countries because all these people had been shifted, remember? To cash crop. In India and elsewhere.

So this system of economics, the system of subsidies, basically, the system of running the world by corporations has really caused damage. In India, from the last 15 years, from 1995 have seen the death by suicide of over 200,000 farmers. If you include two years of 95-96 it comes to nearly a quarter of a million.

And suppose we divide these figures into two halves, in the second half, the number of deaths is much, much higher. Very much higher. It means, its getting worse, not getting better.

A quarter of a million human beings, is the largest recorded wave of suicides in human history. That may have been bigger, but they are not recorded. These are recorded by the government of India. They have huge exclusions of large numbers of people and they still come up to 2,16,500 people if we take the period from ’97 to 2009.

All these data are avaliable to you online, they are the data of what is called the National Crime Records Bureau.

The Crime Records Bureau keeps data on suicides. In India, suicide is a crime. If you commit it, we’ll teach you never to do it again. And if we take the 95-96 figures, which are incomplete, because many states did not report, and if we take 2010 an average figure, way below the average of the last six years, then you cross a quarter of a million.

That’s how the figures work. It means, that in the last six years, the rate of suicide is one farmer taking his or her live every 30-31 minutes. That’s the scale of human distress. That’s the scale of…

Oh ya, but it creates unique buying opportunities. You can buy farmland in India now. Unfortunately our legislation does not allow corporations to hold vast tracts of agricultural land, but don’t worry, that will change. They are lobbying for it.

Now the same country that has 55 dollar billionaires – that’s Forbes – let’s take the Government of India’s report. We don’t want to always be with Forbes. The Government of India’s constituted three committees between 2007 and 2010. For my.. since I was a member of one of those committees.

The first committee was National Committee for enterprises in the UnOrganized sector. First page of the report. The report is online. You can reach it in moments. It’s called NCEUS Report on livelihoods and poverty headed by… now you might ask, why should a government have several reports and committees on the same subject.

On farm suicides, there are 13 commissions of inquiry in the state of Maharashtra alone. Indian governments have a very specific way of functioning on enquiry commissions. They will set up multiple enquiry commissions until one of them gives the government the report it wants to hear.

So the first committee they set up under the very safe tutelage of Prof. Arjun Sengupta, veteran of the World Bank, IMF, Planning Commission. With those sort of credentials they thought he would say all was wonderful, India is shining. Arjun Sengupta ended up putting on the first page of his report “836 million Indians live on less than 50 cents a day.” 20 rupees or less.

Incidentally if you live on less than 20 rupees in India, you don’t qualify as poor. To qualify as poor, you have to live on less than 11 rupees a day, because that’s the poverty line in India. So 836 million people, less than 20 rupees a day. So they were disgusted with this report, which also said 88% of all tribals, 88% of all dalits, and 85% of all Muslims fall into this category of ultra poor.

So they set up a second commission. The N C Saxena, BPL expert group. I was one of the experts. And it was wonderful, it was scintillating. Some of the expert discussions we had were riveting. 17…

[contd in Part 5]

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