Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Consolidated Control of Food Chain :
Oakland Institute USA, has released a New Policy Brief Reveals that Consolidated Control of Food Leads to Declining Food Security, Economic Health, and Labor Standards :

Facing Goliath : Challenging the Impacts of Retail Consolidation on our Local Economies, Communities, and Food SecurityThis new policy brief from the Oakland Institute exposes how corporate consolidation in food retail has put our access to a reliable supply of healthy and affordable food at risk.

The top five food retailers, which now control more than half of all grocery sales in the country, have gained unprecedented market power," said Katy Mamen, Oakland Institute Fellow and author of the Policy Brief. "As a result, cost savings garnered through increased bargaining power are generally not being passed on to the consumer, supermarkets are abandoning low-income communities where profit margins are lower, and labor standards are being forced down."

The shift from small and medium scale food stores to big box stores brings broader economic turmoil for many communities. When a retail mega-store enters a community, independent shops that serve the local community are often forced to close. New Wal-Mart stores in a community have been associated with increased poverty levels and a decline in locally owned and operated businesses.
"In the U.S., the independent business owner is held in high regard - but small businesses throughout the food supply chain, from farmers to processors to grocers are being forced out as consolidation continues, undermining the American Dream," said Mamen.

The Policy Brief teases out the architecture of change in the food supply chain, outlines some of the key impacts on local communities, and suggests strategies for bringing balance back to the food retail landscape, including:

* Developing successful and innovative regional distribution and retail models;

* Re-creating real retail diversity that includes both locally-owned outlets that source a majority of their products locally and products that are direct marketed by producers;

* Fostering locally-owned and operated retail outlets in low-income communities;

* Working to balance the public subsidy and support system, which currently disproportionately favors large supermarket chains over independent markets;

* Raising public awareness about the social, economic and environmental benefits of locally owned and operated grocery stores.

Facing Goliath : Challenging the Impacts of Retail Consolidation on our Local Economies, Communities, and Food Security is a publication of the Oakland Institute, a think tank for research, analysis, and action whose mission is to increase public participation and promote fair debate on critical social, economic, and environmental justice issues.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Bandmasters of Raju and Munna Band - Corporate initiated, contract farming experts, sometimes remind me of the bandmasters of the wedding / barat bands in the small mofussil towns of Bihar, and sometimes, of the divine experts, who can sniff and tell the farmer, where to start drilling, for the best likelihood of drawing water at the most convenient depth in the rocky plateau ground.
Needless to say, the farmer is paying on a daily basis, for the expensive drilling equipment, and for the retinue of drilling labour, engineers, managers and water diviners that turns up, and knows very well - it is still undoubtedly his own fate, which will determine his success in drawing water at 50 metres or at 300 metres.
The farmer dares not question the professional competence, of this large retinue of water diviners, or ask for a simple written agreement, of, at what depth, water will be struck. Pay us, watch us, do your bit, and pay us more, will be the likely answer, even as the farmer, tries to hide, his ignorance, of the nuances of modern farming, his cultural illiteracy and lack of modern scientific knowledge in the presence of the confident master weavers of invisible cloth.
The retired, army Brigadiers and Colonels, who make up the Human Resources and farming division bosses, of the corporate charge into Indian contract farming, are no doubt, candid, realistic and earthy people. They do preface, their farm prescriptions, for Indian farmers, with the disclosure, that the Tata Rallis, ITC or Reliance companies, that they represent and get a fat salary from, are really not attempting any convoluted attempt at altruism or have completely charitable motives. Jokingly they ask the doubtful farmers to put on a brave face and proudly join in - "Jai jawan, Jai kisan" in unison with the earthy retired brigadier or colonel, and get to work in earnest. No room for doubting Thomases on Indian contract farming platter.
They know in modern India, the jawan is heading towards UN Security Council and global peace keeping operations, while the kisan is headed towards the blind alley of an undeclared exit policy, while the government cheers on the new marriages being made on the farm lands.
They do twirl their moustaches and with a private smile say, at best, they hope, that contract farming between the corporate and Indian farmer, will not be as exploitative, as that between, Indian government and the Indian farmer who is at the mercy of all and sundry.
Corporate shareholders, they say, will be just slightly better friends of the farmers, than the Indian politicians and government. We are in it for mutual benefit, and shall walk away if the whole thing does not make business sense. The farmer will of course get his land back.
Privately, these retired army brass - captains, colonels and brigadiers, who venture into contract farming after early retirement, also mention, that they have consulted extensively, with batteries of legal experts, while drawing up the exact wording of the contract farming contracts that the farmers are "requested" to put their thumb to. The lawyers get their share of the farmers misery too.
It is the public relations whizz kids, media writers with journalistic aspiration, and fresh management grads, and media experts sitting in Mumbai, who draft the press releases, who start painting the scenario of emperor's new clothes for the naked emperor, in real earnest.
They seem to go overboard in their enthusiasm in "selecting" the 400 or so odd, "extremely lucky" diligent farmers, with whom the company will sign an experimental contract.
And like that bandmaster, in the Bihar mofussil town, they tell each farmer, the same story that the band master tells all his shagirds, whom he has taken under his fold. "Munna, tera music mein bahut talent hai, tu to 50-100 shadi me band baja kar seedhe Mumbai nikal jaana, wahan par meri jaan pahchan ke kuch film music director hain". The poor Munna, delightedly but a bit warily, agrees to joining the band master in the fond hope, that one day, he will become the next Himesh Reshamayyia that Mumbai film industry, has all along been waiting for. He begins to imagine himself as leading big teams of musical band orchestra and giving final touches to popular lilting tunes for the Indian masses ... mere desh ki dharti sona ugle, ugle heere moti, mere desh ki dharti....
He brings out the dozen odd songs as well, that he wrote on the side, and hopes they too, will make it to the top of T-Series charts. ...Raja ki aayegi baraat, rangeelee hogi raat, magan main naachoongi....
One really wonders, why the corporate farming bandmasters and contract farming experts, even bother, to select 400 or so, illiterate, debt laden, traditional farmers, when these contract farming experts, can just acquire dirt cheap, farm land, from distressed farmers, and train 400 of their own youth, with tractor driving licenses, and set them up to farm and till for them ?
Maybe they just feel it is their patriotic duty to respond to the call of Shri Singh and Mr Chidambaram for private sector to generously invest in rural infrastructure and Indian agriculture ?
There is afterall, no shortage of unemployed, eager, tie clad, white shirted, and smart manpower in India, looking for jobs in Tata, ITC and Reliance. And of course, the seeds, the fertilizers, the pesticides, the water drilling technologies, the herbicides, the biotechnology access to wonderful organic and GM seeds, financial loans, latest technological inputs, storage and fumigating technologies, global marketing muscle, advertising reach - all these inputs can come from inhouse itself.
Vertical integration and competitive advantage, is what this is called in management schools lingo.
What SWOT Analysis about Indian farmers is occurring in the Indian Agriculture and Commerce Ministry is beyond my comprehension.
Afterall, these are the production inputs, that made the agricultural gadget makers, rich in the first place. And who knows better, as to how to take farm produce, from farm to fork, with fewest middlemen ? Can anybody ever beat ITC, Reliance or Rallis in the logistics of transporting fresh food from farms to urban markets ?
Why is the farmer asked to tuck up his dhoti, become the essential middleman, and put his dirty thumb to the spick and span, contract farming contract, and elaborate legal documents ?
No shortage of intelligent swindlers, stiching wonderful clothes, of a wonderful but invisible to the eye, material, for the " naked emperoror " of Indian farm fields - the farmer.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Food policy pundits, are busy these days, telling everyone that the solution to Indian farmer suicides, lies not in financial imprudence, a.k.a., farmer loans write off, but, in the farmers being persuaded to embrace contract farming, as the essential basic producers, who will somehow, fit into, the retail and corporate sector strategies, of food, "from the farm to the fork". They say, the Indian government should continue on the strategy, of subsidizing corporate and industrial infrastructure, and drop the policy of Indira Gandhi, that underlay the Green Revolution and the motive of food self sufficiency, that underpinned it.
Commodities futures trading, crop diversifications, horticulture, cut flowers for European markets, organic nomenclature, rural food processing units, you name it, they have enough solutions to how the farmer can save his body, even if he has to sell off his soul to the devil.
Of course, it is the same farm pundits, who can not tell the difference between one weed growing on a plot of land from another, or will entertain the idea, of forced farm conscription for their own children. Nor do they have any answers, why wheat is being imported from global markets at much higher prices, while the dumb Indian farmer is told, that he must attend kisan chaupals, to learn how to protect his crop from pests, and help in the dismantling of the food storage godowns of FCI.
The same farm pundits, are hoping that somehow, the lack of options, that the Indian farmer has from his own government, will effectively seal him and sandwich him, into accepting the role of "contracted producer" in the new regime, of food super markets and convenience shopping retail chains, for an urban, and maybe urbane, middle class.
A band of contract farming management experts, is taking shape, again, manned by the people, who will scoff at the very idea, of their own children being forced to till the land, even if only for purely academic purposes, and make a living from farming in the modern India.
Farming by conscription, is of course, unthinkable in democratic India for the children of the urban and urbane, farm pundits. But somehow, farmers are essentially doing that. In return, they get the sheer luxury of voting for either Ajit Singh, Mayawati or Mulayam Singh, once every five years, and derogatory labels like kulaks and illiterate peasants.
Tikait and the tractors of the Jat kulaks crowding the spick and span RajPath is a detestable sight of course for these concerned "friends of farmers".
Join the band wagon of sewing fantastic invisible clothes, for the naked emperor.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Continuing on the theme of academic honours to Indian politicians, specifically chosen for the power they wield in the galleries of Indian government, Cabinet and Indian ministeries, Mrs Sonia Gandhi has now been chosen to receive a rare Belgian honor. It is called "Order of Leopold" and is the second highest civilian honour of Belgium.
Now who are we to comment on academic honours being bestowed on Indians known for their distinguished academic achievements but when the honours are bestowed only to powerful Indian politicians, and that too for their " constructive nationalism ", it does set some alarm bells ringing.
Is there a shortage of Indian academicians or social workers that only political and powerful Indians are chosen by foreign countries for bestowing high honours and awards and distinctions ? Yes, In India, the mixture of honours, academics, economics and politics, is the new way to get entry to the Indian decision makers.
And the Indian media is busy congratulating itself on the super power status of India and the Mittals who take over Arcelor, and forget the sheer naked reality of being the only country that has succeeded in the dubious achievement of 150,000 farmer suicides in 15 years. Yes Super Power India, Asian Tiger, Foe of the Chinese, Incredible India, alright. Let even one of these politicians get an award from the farmers of India, then we shall have no objection, to powerful Indian politicians like Smt Sonia Gandhi and ManMohan Singh, receiving rare academic awards and honours from European countries, for their so called contribution, to " constructive nationalism " and selective reshaping of the economic liberalization agenda of India.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Academics, economics and politics, are now the winning combination, for prising open the doors for retail companies, in Indian food sector. While WTO, George Bush and Pascal Lamy may not be able to succeed in doing, with Indian Commerce Ministry, and the irrepressible Kamal Nath, maybe the Oxbridge fraternity, may succeed in doing - with the, gently does it, policy. It seems academic honorary doctorates, given to Third World politicians, for their services, to trade liberalization in the Indian agriculture sector, will be, the gently does it way.
Even while the Indian politicians and economists, are unable to stem the Indian farmer suicides, in the agriculture sector in the face of mounting debts, with appropriate local policies, they are coming up with further new prescriptions, for the Second Green Revolution, and transforming the Indian Agriculture ministry with the help of international retail sector. Yes, big time consultancy bucks, are here for the B-school grads. Agriculture and food processing, is the next big thing, wake up you Kellogs morning cereal bars chumping, B-school management grads. The question is, when will Indian farmers, decide to give honorary doctorates, to their own Prime Minister for his services to them. Maybe the farmers of India, do not have any really scintillating academic distinctions, to give to their local country politicians.
Local awards and distinctions, are not good enough for the Indian politicians and economists. In all these years, they could not even, given any respect, to the neighbouring, Bangla Desh Nobel Prize winner, Muhammad Yunus and his Gramin Bank efforts.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Consultants on Hire - for contract farming - I am beginning to understand that after the levelling out of the growth incline in the returns from software development and global outsourcing, the next big opportunity for Indian management consultants is going to be in, gently easing the entry of big players into the large scale corporate farming scenario of Indian agriculture. Management experts have already realized that information regaring Special Economic Zones (SEZ) is too freely available from the Indian government for them to be able to make really meaty consultancy killings.
Moreover, the Indian IT and Communications ministry have become a bit toooo transparent. And of course do not forget the RTI Act. But Agriculture and food, guys, this is one big Gulag Archipelago. Everything hidden, nobody really knows how decisions are made, and who makes the decisions and who endorses them from behind the scenes.
Guys, the next BIG thing is certainly going to be Contract Farming. I am willing to offer my services to all those bright Indian management grads who are looking to find their niche marketing or management consultancy opportunity in helping multi national food chains swoop in on the Indian contract farming scene. If there are any takers, keep watching this blog, this is certainly going to be the definitive blog for all the wannabe Indian contract farming consultants to get their NEXT GREAT ideas from. The politicians are still sleeping, in fact, the smarter ones are reading up all the persuasive arguments on trade liberalization in agriculture and agri food industry - and biding their time before those streams of mega consultancy dollars start arriving on their doorsteps or rather - back yards.
So guys, if any of you know the back doors of the Agriculture and Commerce ministry, you would be knowing that the "mantra" of dismantling FCI, state procurement et al is soon going to change into "Second Green Revolution" rhetoric.
Start reading up your Trade liberalization documents and making the right contacts in the Indian ministries. Big time consultancy is gonna be here soon.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Requirement Number One - The very existence of contract farming will require the continued existence of the Indian farmer. The big question is, in what numbers. Lets take a guess, - 650 million farmers managing the Indian farm fields is the current scenarion. This certainly calls for some classic management expertise. That is way too many of them. So the first thing required is to reduce the number of farmers to the extent that farming at least can begin to look like farming, rather than, squatting, by farmers on agricultural land. Maybe from 650 million farmers to 20 million farmers would be the ideal scenario, we may need to build some complex data and statistical models to prove this thesis, but then if I can find a sponsor I would be willing to have a go at this project. It would keep me fit as well as also buy me that piece of land in Europe grape vine country, I always keep dreaming of.
The big problem is that somehow genocide, war and communism are fast becoming unfashionable in the present day world where small bands of terrorists are giving sleepless nights to powers that be and to the airlines and media. Everybody seems to be focused on the global fight against terror and nobody has the time to work out simple calculations on the gigantic issue of as to how the Indian farming population can be reduced from 650 million to a manageable 20 million.
The other problem, is that India happens to be a vibrant democracy, in fact, the largest democracy on earth. So the solution has to at least seem, democratic, and achieved, so to say, by political process, if not necessarily by due consensus. I am sure some bright management kids from India's top B-Schools will shortly solve this problem.
Indian farming is in a mess. Indian farmers are in a greater mess. Indian farmers are running around like the Emperor without clothes, wishing for the clever master weavers to stitch for them, clothes of that fantastic material, that looks so fashionable as to be in fact invisible, but at the same time, is terribly expensive. Sustainable farming in India, is a thing of the past.
Indian government, agriculture and commerce ministries, corporate interests, IMF, World Bank, global trade blocs and local home grown Indian agricultural scientists, have taken over the right to dictate to the Indian farmer, what he should be doing to get out of the royal mess he finds himself in.
One of the brilliant ideas that are being thrown around is that of contract farming. Yes farming by contract, such a simple and benevolent idea thrown in by consultants of global repute.
The problem is that the Indian farmer is still too illiterate to understand clearly that contract farming is the next " hen that will lay golden eggs " for him. So this blog is meant to make him, the Indian farmer, understand that, contract farming, is really, just what the doctor ordered, for the ailing and terminally ill, 650 million Indian farmers.