Globalisation and Rural Poor

- J. Delphine Prema Dhanaseeli and *A.Joseph Thatheyus
Department of History, Jayaraj Annapackiam College for Women, Periyakulam - 625 001 Tamil Nadu, INDIA.

*Zoology Department, The American College, Madurai - 625 002, Tamil Nadu, INDIA

Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 13 (2003), 63-65.


India is known as an agrarian country, where almost 70% of the population depends on agriculture for livelihood. The rural population is so high in India so that only by uplifting the rural poor, the development of the country is possible. (Sundarraj and Kumar, 2001). Since independence, there has been a four fold increase in food grain production and the milk and egg production has increased by 2.5 and 3.0 times in the last two decades. India has moved away from chronic food deficit to a surplus. There is a phenomenal increase in life expectancy to 60.3 years. However, there has been a decline in the production of major crops and the per capita food grain availability has gone down by almost 10 kg per year. Its import of pulses and vegetable oils has been valued at Rs.1 billion per year and the production of milk and eggs has been on the increase from 1980-81 and they are available to the common man. There is also a decline in purchasing power leading to hunger, malnutrition and hence it is mandatory to strengthen the food and livelihood security in the country (Jayaraj, 2001). India was producing about 51 million MT of food grains per annum in 1950-51 and now it is 206 million MT. It has been achieved inspite of the decline in area under cultivation and irrigation water. The projection of demand for 2020 AD is about 61 million MT including 200 million MT for human consumption.


Globalisation, which has reduced the distances between countries by the provision of international trade and the relaxation of quantitative restrictions on commodities, has changed the whole world into a global village. The forces of globalisation benefit many people, but they hurt many too. Large quantities of information can be transmitted over vast distances at cheaper costs and a competition can be seen between companies producing toys to cars. It allows products, money and people to travel more easily between countries (Reddy, 2000).

A few conglomerates like ConAgro /Dupont, Cargill / Monsanto, and Novartis / ADM have vertical integration, horizontal concentration and global omnipresence in the global food chain comprising inputs encompassing distribution of farm chemicals, machinery, fertilizer and seed, farms, grain collection, grain milling, production and processing of beef, pork, turkey, chicken and sea food and super markets. "There is little room left in the global food system for independent farmers" (Halweil, 2000). Globalisation results in more transportation, monoculture, decline in the number of farms and small farmers.

Rural Poor

The asymmetries in nutrition, morbidity and access to health services serve as contributory factors for high child mortalities in rural India. They face several problems like long hours of work, drudgery and monotony in work, landlessness, low productivity and limited access to technology, restriction to low paid jobs, limited access to training, inadequate legislation and ineffective implementation, invisibility of work, lack of access to control over resources (Lalitha, 2001). India in this era experienced a mad rush to privatize common lands which crushes the landless poor. These lands enable labourers to graze their cattle, pick some fruits, use the water of this area, have a dry latrine space and met other needs (Sainath, 2001).

Rural Women

The profile of a rural woman is that of a poor ignorant, illiterate, superstitious and suppressed. Their access to information, assets and opportunities are low and they are unorganized and under represented. They constitute 75% of the total female population of India with agriculture as the major occupation. They can be trained in dairying, animal husbandry, horticulture, fisheries, bee-keeping etc. (Lalitha, 2001). In rural communities, women are responsible for reproduction of the work force, the production of daily subsistence for the household, and the maintenance of the complex ecosystems and particular varieties that support agriculture, livestock, fisheries and forest production. As they have a central role in ensuring household food security, they have a greater affinity to microenvironments and their bioresources. They are the repositories of rich indigenous knowledge about local biodiversity accumulated over centuries of use and adaptation and transmitted down generations. In Nagaland 'Swidden farming' is in practice involving women alone in farming activities like sowing, manuring, weeding, seed selection and storage. Biologically diverse farming systems encompassing agriculture with livestock and fish production together with the gathering of uncultivated foods from fields, wet lands and forests have enabled rural women in fragile and rainfed ecosystems to maintain household food security against multiple risks (Poyyamoli, 2001a). Rural women have an extensive knowledge of tubers, wild fruits, leafy vegetables and gums and the skill in identifying diverse medicinal plants. In Andhra Pradesh rural women are employed in revalidating and re-vitalising their food security as a more effective alternative to the government's PDS which often supplies poor quality grains (Poyyamoli, 2001a).

Sustainable development

The National Agricultural Policy (NAP) document is the beginning of a nationwide effort to protect and promote the interests of the Indian farmers in the liberalized global economy. According to the current trends, containing biotic pressure, controlling indiscriminate diversion of agricultural lands for non-agricultural purposes, conserving soils and enriching their fertility, using surface and ground water judiciously, conserving biodiversity and promoting agroforestry and using biotechnology judiciously will help to keep sustainable agriculture (Jayaraj, 2001).

According to Poyyamoli (2001a), sustainable development focuses on improving the quality of life for all the earth's citizens without increasing the use of natural resources beyond the capacity of environment to supply them indefinitely. Hence measures must be taken at all levels to preserve our ecosystems of rural India from the forces of globalisation. Over-exploitation of natural resources, and excessive chemicalisation of agriculture have led to poor sustainability of farm production (Jayaraj, 2001).

Problems of the rural poor

Indian rural ecosystems are unique and complex in several aspects like livehoods predominantly agriculture based, poorer infrastructural facilities, greater dependence on common property resources and non-chemical energy sources, lower literacy rates and higher school drop-outs, seasonal unemployment and higher emigration rates, higher poverty and birth rates, greater economic disparities, stagnating poverty line, and increasing debt burden, change of agricultural land-use to residential and industrial land uses in the recent past, agricultural labour scarcity, demanding changes in the cropping pattern and higher degrees of mechanization, male biased sex ratios and gender basted conflicts (Poyyamoli, 2001b).

There has been a set back in overall agricultural production over the last two years in spite of the normal monsoons. Food grain production declined by about 12.8 million MT in 2000-01 to 196 million MT (Jayaraj, 2001). The rural poor have deteriorated greatly due to the conversion of subsistence crop areas to cash cropping. Due to their limited control over the market or the resulting income, loss of control over production for subsistence and reduced agro-diversity has lowered their ability to cushion house hold food security against climatic and market induced shocks. Depletion of forest resources has also reduced their ability to supplement the household food requirements

Though India has picked up a surplus in food grains of over 45 million MT, there is a fall in both investment and wages of labourers in the agricultural sector. According to Sainath (2001), the surplus is based on sending hundreds of millions of human beings hungry to bed and hence we have a surplus of hunger and not of food. The conversion of agricultural lands into aqua farms in coastal region resulted in the decline of working days of landless farmers. The draughts cause half the damage and the other crimes like anti-poor policies, land governance and globalisation cause the rest half.

Food security

We see starvation deaths due to the policies of globalization despite the operation of food for work programmes, PDS, price regulation and anti-hoarding measures for ensuring people's food entitlements. Shiva (2001) argues that trade liberalization will result in displaced landless rural agro-related communities, including artisans and fisher folk who will be doubly hit by the loss of their traditional markets as well as by loss of food entitlements. According to her, there are clear connections between the policies of globalisation and starvation deaths and suicides in India. The government has allowed the food prices to increase to reduce its expenditure on food subsidies. Due to this more people eat less due to the removal of food subsidies.

The shift from staples to cash crops is the major reason for food insecurity. From 1960-61 to 1998-99 the area under nutritious grains has gone down from 45 million hectares to 29.5 million hectares, area under cotton has increased from 7.6 to 9.3 million hectares and area under sugarcane has increased from 2.4 to 4.1 million hectares. Since 1990-91, due to the new economic policies, the area under food grains and coarse grains have declined by -2 and -18 percent respectively while area under non-food cash crops such as cotton and sugar-cane have increased by 25 and 10 percent respectively (Shiva, 2001).

Livelihood security

As Indian society is agrarian, food security for most people is ensured through livelihood security. Globalisation results in the decline in the number of farms and small farmers. The small farmers are left with the option of 'get big or get out' (Halweil, 2000). Increasing costs of inputs like seeds, fertilizers and pesticides drain farmers' incomes and lock peasants into debt and poverty. Withdrawal of government procurement and non-implementation of the Minimum Support Price resulted in the decline of farm prices affecting rural incomes. (Shiva, 2001). Processing and packaging industries consume more of the profit than the farmers who produce the products. We do pay for the bread wrapper as well as for the nutrients it contains.

Globalisation increased inequality and the gap between poor and rich. It also destroys local culture by promoting dull uniformity in clothes, food and life styles (Reddy, 2000). The tendency of buying at the lowest possible price and selling at the highest has thrown every farmer on the planet into direct competition with every other farmer. When the economic prospects of small farms decline, the social fabric of rural communities begins to tear. As de-agrarianization proceeds, signs of social dysfunction are surfacing in villages. Losing the family farm has generated tremendous guilt and anxiety and they felt that they have failed to protect the heritage and commit suicide (Halweil, 2000).


Relaxation of import rules that control the unhindered dumping of all kinds of products including polluting hazardous wastes and exotic species of plants and animals that could wipe out indigenous species is a problem that has to the attended seriously (Kothari, 2001). Due to the dumping of imported, subsidized goods, prices of coconut, coffee, pepper, rubber, arecanut, tea and cardamom have collapsed. U.S. soybeans are cheaper not because of cheap production but because of subsidies. This led to the crashing of domestic oil prices and the closure of several oil mills. The dumping of subsidized soya, wheat, rice and sugar on Indian markets affected several rural farmers. Now the subsidies are given to corporations for wheat and rice while people are denied such subsidies (Shiva, 2001).


To feed the future generations without degrading our resources, agriculture has to be economically viable and ecologically sustainable. By encouraging small farms with practices of organic farming and integrated management sustainability can be reached. Equipping the rural people with necessary skill and technology besides making them economically independent and self-reliant and encouraging them to become rural entrepreneurs in small and tiny sectors will be the measures to protect them in this era of



The authors thank the authorities of their institutions for the encouragement.

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