What is dangerous about agriculture imports?
The conclusion of the so-called Doha Round, that talk that started in the Qatar capital in 2001,really called Doha Development Round to indicate the trade talk was for promoting.
There is almost a total ignorance among the farmers; I dare say the same thing about our agriculture experts and policy makers about agriculture exports and agriculture imports.
There is an Exim Bank and we don’t see even from their bulletins not much that is critical for the export and import trade in food and agri/horticulture products.
One or two basic lessons. Soviet Russia collapsed because it imported all its food and dependent upon outside supplies! In 1984-85 the USSR grain imports reached 55 million tonnes. It paved the way for Gorbachev and led to eventual collapse, say observes! India and China are the only two countries that are large and also insist on food self-sufficiency.
As for other smaller countries, it is always a risk that importing all food requirements or for countries that depend upon one food crop exports like Ecuodor that is the largest exporter of banana, it is important that such countries negotiate for a favourable terms of trade for long term supplies.
In India we have realisation about the basic need for food self sufficiency. But we are not sure what our Prime Minister or Agri Minister surely believes in!
That lack of clarity in our current perceptions, in our view, reflects in a way the reasons why our farmers, most of them small land holders, suffer and the farmers suicides are the only Indian agriculture story!
The same distress we see in other small holder farming be it food crops or plantation crops. Small holders in plantation crops or crops from tea to coffee to other export-oriented plantation crops like various spices and other trade-intensive crops like say, bananas, vegetables and fruits also suffer. Almost as a matter of fate!
The important point here is how the agriculture trade, international trade in agriculture products, not only food grains and other bulk commodities but also more value-added specialised and niche market crops and products like some plantation crops are conditioned by the historic growth and domination of some trading companies like, say Nestle or Cargill or other commodity trading firms operate.
When we have a look at the state of affairs in small African countries, say, the Sub-Saharan countries, the data tell us some shocking stories and trade patterns.
Take these countries like Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Morocco, Niger, Benin and the very many others grouped under the head of Sub-Saharan countries (SSA), you see there is a pattern.
What is it?
From 1990 to 2005, there is statistics to show that over the years in which fresh vegetables exports have been promoted in SSA and it is only Kenya’s trade had helped the country.
The total value of vegetables exports from SSA from this period had increased to 93 million US dollars. That is 38 per cent growth. But ironically their vegetables imports increased by 295 million US dollars. The deficit of imports against exports led to nearly quadruple in value. The total volume of exports actually fell by 5,000 tons.
What does this means?
It means that Kenya by concentrating on some few big producers and take up land and water from away from small land holders who are not able to compete and export to a small and narrow developed markets. There is data to show that trade in horticultural commodities is very concentrated, two thirds of developing country exports accounted for by eight countries. Kenya has had a lion’s share among the SSA countries, as Madagascar does for vanilla and Zanzibar does for cloves. Morocco had an export surplus in 2005,almost all of SSA vegetables, while Niger, most important vegetables green beans and onions, yet there is a fall in exports, may be there is a domestic demand or it is not as close to European markets as Morocco was or some other reasons. Ghana imported more vegetables thanks to some trade liberalisation and import tariff falling and thereby creating more imports. Nigeria is another very interesting country for studying the exports and import of vegetables. Nigeria accounted for nearly half of SSA’s vegetables production increase, enabling it to reduce its deficit in vegetable trade by nearly half. Nigeria is very different from other SSA countries and yet we see the small holders even in the SSA stand to lose vs. the fairly large producers.
The very many small countries in the SAA regions give many contrasts, some are geographically remote from ports or airports, some are near seas and thereby they gain in such resources like fisheries, they also here give way to large fisheries vessels from EU countries, inland fisheries are also helps, there is much of the seafood air freighted and even in these countries there is chance for exploitation and the local livelihood of people dependent upon fisheries harvesting lose out to outside trade inequities.
The important point we want to make here is that the commodities markets, their very patterns are such that they often distort the outcomes of trade and the distribution of benefits.
The subject is studied widely by many agencies.
The Western sympathetic studies are few and far between. In India we don’t seem to have studied the pattern of the commodity trade for several of our commodities, both bulk like food grains or niche products like coffee or tea or the various other specific spices products.
First, there is no such thing like free markets. All markets are distorted and restricted and manipulated by the Western commodity cartels and big traders and to this extent, Indian producers, specially those who are widely dispersed and where the organisation of these small holders are weak, as mostly everywhere, there is this danger of so-called trade liberalisation efforts or talk is a sure way to disaster!
That is one important lesson.
Trade liberalisation talks, be that of WTO or by any other regional arrangements first leads to unpredictable behaviour of the trade. By the companies and the various levels of speculators. That simply leads to swings in prices. That completely destroys sometimes the very entire crops like, say, and vanilla.
What applies to vanilla, very likely applies to every other plantation rope.
That is why whenever we see the reporting of such plantation crops like tea or coffee, we have to imagine that we are talking through our hats, so to say, without actually knowing what is happening through a chain of the speculative trade-in these commodities.
One common sense solution too many of the commodity producers is to find markets not through established traders but through some collective efforts.
Thus, it is better to promote the local consumption of coffee or tea through more coffee chains or tea chains. In the absence of any established institutions, we have to create the ones. To that extent there would be price stability and some predictability.
Also, our government policy makers are also misled or an absence of talk about what the government believes in. Free markets? Out of question for small farmers! Or, regulated trade? Yes, that is inevitable!