Agriculture, WTO, Trade Liberalisation, and Food Security Challenges in the Developing Countries

By Kalim Siddiqui

The agriculture sector plays a historic and integral role in the socioeconomic development of the country – it has a significant contribution to the per-capita income of both industrialised and developing nations and has helped in shaping the early civilisation to progression. This article will trace how the policy and reform challenges in agricultural development have helped in restructuring the economic fabrics of the society, and why food security is a crucial contributing factor in the growth of both the regional and international economies.

I will discuss herein the impact of trade liberalisation (i.e., free trade) on the agricultural sector and also food security in the developing countries. The WTO (World Trade Organisation) entered into force in 1995 as the most powerful multi-lateral institution worldwide, not least because of bringing free trade into agriculture and its dispute settlement mechanism. It is understood that if a country, after for instance struggling with its internal finances, secures a bail-out from the IMF (International Monetary Fund), its obligations cease when it has repaid its loan in full, whereas once a country joins the WTO, in contrast, it will be locked into the organisation in perpetuity.

The WTO’s negotiations at Doha in 2001 were fundamentally flawed, as they were clearly designed to protect the interests of big corporations, especially those linked to agricultural commodities and based in the developed countries, while conferring very little benefit to farmers in the developing countries. Therefore, at the next WTO ministerial meeting, which is scheduled for June 2020 in Kazakhstan, it is important that developing countries propose reform within the WTO in order to protect their agricultural and industrial sectors and indeed their general interests.

The WTO’s trade liberalisation policy draws its theoretical support from David Ricardo’s ideas of ‘comparative advantage’ and ‘free market’ in order to achieve efficiency and cost reduction.6 ‘Market’ as a term, generally refers to a competitive environment and competition, but under capitalism it does not always mean this. Leon Walras defended the ‘advantage’ of the market, but unlike neo-liberal enthusiasts, he did not confuse the two. For Walras, capitalism only offers a non-optimal version of the market. The WTO is based on the argument that free trade favours the expansion of international trade and promotes the growth and well-being of trading countries. However, historically, there is no real evidence to support these propositions. Proponents of ‘free trade’ emphasise the idea that trade liberalisation leads to greater competition, which as a result achieves higher efficiency; however, historically, gains brought about by increases in productivity were much higher than those that could be obtained through competitive advantage. Moreover, relative prices are not determined by the market, but by the social conditions, i.e., beyond supply and demand, in which production operates.

In the developing countries, industrialisation was not a natural product of capitalist expansion but took place due to historical conditions created by the formal independence of these countries.

There is an urgent need to revisit the Uruguay Round Agreements, because some of the associated sections severely restrict the use of economic policy instruments which could be helpful in the promotion of late developers (i.e., developing countries) in terms of building their manufacturing sectors. The Doha Round largely sanctions an industrial and agricultural policy to favour those countries which are well advanced technologically and who are well equipped to compete in the global markets. This is the reason that late developer countries, such as the Germany and the USA, rejected ‘free trade’ policy during their early industrialisation period and found it an obstacle rather than a catalyst to building and modernising their economies.6 For example, in the 19th century both Friedrich List in Germany and Alexander Hamilton in the USA emphasised that the role of protectionist policy and industrial links with agriculture clearly show that no ‘one-size-fits-all’ prescriptions can work for all countries. The past tells us the connections between business elites, military power and development centred around the control of natural resources. Neo-classical economists (also known as mainstream) essentially failed to take into account the associated national social structures and international geopolitical aspects in their analyses.

In fact, in the developing countries, industrialisation was not a natural product of capitalist expansion but took place due to historical conditions created by the formal independence of these countries. During their struggles for independence, it was their stated goal to launch industrialisation in order to diversify their economies, save foreign exchange and to build self-sufficient economies. It was also viewed that such policies would lessen the burden on agriculture and raise incomes and employment.7; 10 At Doha negotiations, the WTO emphasised the idea that ‘agriculture and food production’ should be treated as any other form of production and be submitted to the rules of competition in deregulated and open markets. The free traders in agriculture argue that modern agriculture in Europe and North America is not only able to feed their own population, but also produces surplus for export. According to them, this should be repeated and emulated in the developing countries. Such arguments fail to consider that the European and North American agricultural models are almost impossible to adopt in the developing countries. When Europeans launched their modernisation of agriculture in the 19th and early 20th century, the available technology required labour-intensive efforts, while in the 21st century farming is far less labour intensive and does not absorb large numbers from the labour force due to the associated advancements in this same technology.

In order to be globally competitive, developing countries have to adopt modern technology and also to achieve economies of scale, meaning millions of peasants in the developing countries would be expelled from their lands, and for whom there are hardly any avenues of employment. Such adoption would simply mean a huge increase in the urban population and increased unemployment.8 In the 18th and 19th centuries, during the European transition from agriculture towards industrialisation, the surplus population emigrated from these countries to the Americas, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. In the 19th century, there was extensive emigration of displaced peasants and workers from Europe, mainly to the New World, where they were party to essentially the largest land grab in history, eliminating the indigenous inhabitants and permanently seizing their vast lands and natural resources. They carried out unprecedented violence and, ultimately, genocide against the native populace. From Britain in the 19th century, the first nation to begin industrialising, on average nearly half the increment in population each year went on to emigrate to the ‘New World’, which carried on for nearly a century. For developing countries, at least at present, no such possibilities exist. This means that under WTO, trade liberalisation in the agricultural sector will lead to further exclusion and impoverishment of up to potentially 3 billion people, and will, of course, be ecologically disastrous.9

The deregulation policy is being imposed by international organisations such as the IMF, World Bank, and WTO where these organisations, in the name of good governance, are trying to shape the developing countries’ policies to create the most institutional environments favourable to allow them to open up to global markets.17 However, such policies would affect the possibilities of autonomous development in the developing countries by constraining the policy choices open to them and denying them the availability of the most important policy instruments used by the currently developed economies in their own initial phases of industrialisation and modernisation.11 For instance, TRIMS (Trade-Related Investment Measures) do not allow the use of local content specifications to increase linkages between foreign investors and local manufacturers or restriction on the outflow of capital by investors. Another WTO policy change includes TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights), which allows for further privatisation and concentration of knowledge into the hands of big corporations.20

The WTO must address real subsidies in agriculture rather than a theoretical construct as to the measure of support, which should also include the impact of subsidies in rich countries. Agricultural subsidies in the rich countries have been a problem for developing countries like India, South Africa and Ghana. In the developing countries, agriculture is highly dependent on weather, particularly rainfall. Because of this, agricultural production is open to fluctuation, which can make agricultural commodity prices volatile. This could lead to problems not only for consumers at times of shortage but also to small and medium farmers, who are resource-poor. During any period of food shortages, small and poor farmers have very little to sell to the market.

The WTO must address real subsidies in agriculture rather than a theoretical construct as to the measure of support, which should also include the impact of subsidies in rich countries.

In fact, unlike industries, agricultural production cannot take place throughout the entirety of the year, which means that prices can be lower during the harvest than the rest of the year. Small and medium farmers in the developing countries are often forced to sell their products soon after the harvest due to difficulties with storage, and the more practical fact that they need money to pay their debts. Government stockpiling with minimum price support is effective and helpful to farmers in terms of negating price fluctuations. This ensures that when there is an oversupply, then by government purchasing at remunerative prices it can safeguard farmers against lower prices and price fluctuations in the market. Furthermore, when there is a shortage in the market, then government can release food, so the prices and food security of the country is ensured. However, under WTO rules such stock holdings would be difficult to continue and farmers will be left essentially at the mercy of the markets.

Children and a herd of goats roaming over a dried-up rice field in the Bulacan province of the Philippines. Photo by Romeo Ranoco/ Reuters


Impact of trade liberalisation

Developing countries, with the exception of China, remain weak because they are marginal players in the global economy. For instance, India’s share of global trade is only 2.1%, but its strength lies in the size of its economy, US$ 2 trillion, currently growing at 7.5% annually.7 The last two decades have witnessed an increased dependence on food imports and a decline in food self-reliance, especially in the developing countries.

Agriculture subsidies were designed to minimise costs of production by providing inputs at lower prices than the market price. Many developed countries began to support the farmer to enhance production levels during the post-war period, and agricultural subsidies have become a tool for the developed countries to maintain supremacy in agricultural output.

Why do agriculture subsidies remain the most contentious issue in WTO meetings? Why do developed countries pressurise the developing countries to reduce subsidies?

The US and EU provide massive subsidies to their farmers and do not want to reduce them. According to the OECD, total world support to agriculture was about US$282 bn in 2016, which came down from $364 bn in 2012, and which was $337 bn in 1994. It also says that agricultural support has only marginally reduced in the developed countries. The global agricultural market is highly distorted due to huge subsidies and high tariffs. Developed countries’ markets like the US, EU, Japan and South Korea are highly protected in their respective agricultural sectors. Their average tariff rate figures could be misleading as a country can accord high protection for a few products while keeping average tariff rates low. Most developed countries support their farmers through subsidies rather than through import tariffs. As a result, this has resulted in the generation of a huge food surplus which, especially in the case of grain, is being dumped by selling at prices far below the cost of production. This is particularly true in sub-Saharan African countries, and is destroying their self-reliance in agricultural sectors. The WTO’s Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) will allow developed countries to continue subsidising of their own agriculture and big agrobusinesses, while preventing the farmers from developing countries from accessing even a small fraction of the subsidies.20

The last two decades have witnessed an increased dependence on food imports and a decline in food self-reliance, especially in the developing countries.

Modern capitalist agriculture currently includes both big land owners and business corporations, and these agro-corporations would like to gain greater market access for their products. They openly lobbied during the WTO’s negotiations at Doha in 2001. The peasantry occupies, in a global sense, more than half of the world’s population, and agricultural production is shared between these two groups in developed and developing countries. However, both groups are very different, and are entirely unequal in terms of size of operations, access to capital, and levels of efficiency. The capitalist farmers in North America, Latin America, Europe and Australia operate highly mechanised and capital-intensive agriculture, and each farmer’s productivity ranges between 10,000 and 20,000 quintals of cereal per worker per annum, while farmers in the developing countries in Asia and Africa have far less mechanised operations and production ranges from 100 to 500 quintals per farmer per annum.

Modernising agriculture

The WTO, IMF and World Bank support the capital-intensive solutions causing the current agrarian crises in the developing countries.10 They also extend support to increase cultivation of cash crops and export-led growth with the help of overseas investment in agriculture. These organisations ignore the fact that such policies will leave farmers in the developing countries increasingly vulnerable to global demands and price fluctuations. Such policies will also undermine any attempt to build food sovereignty and food security in the developing countries.

The policy essentially seems geared to remove the small farmers and landless people of the rural population and force them into cities in order to reduce the rural population, as occurred in the 19th and early 20th centuries in Europe. In the developing countries, on the pretext of modernising agriculture, the proponents of free trade in agriculture support such policy measures. As Dandekar(1994:29)2 argues, “to transform traditional subsistence agriculture into commercially viable agriculture, the surplus population must be withdrawn from agriculture, that is from current operations of cultivation and conditions must be created whereby capital from outside agriculture may flow into agriculture”.

Neoliberalism argues in favour of increased reliance on the market forces through economic development policies.11; 19 The crucial element in this is financialisation, which is the shift in emphasis of economic activity from industrial production towards the financial sector. Financialisation represents a much longer tendency toward the expansion of the size and importance of the financial superstructure in relation to the economic base. In fact, financialisation may lead to increased capital accumulation through a process of speculative expansion, but it could also contribute to the erosion of the entire economic and social order in the developing countries.12

Modern capitalist agriculture currently includes both big land owners and business corporations, and these agrocorporations would like to gain greater market access for their products.

Historically, enclosures in England forced direct producers from their means of production by the state; that is, people were forcibly removed, rather than removed through market forces, from whatever little access to social wealth they had. This policy was carried out in England in the 17th and 18th centuries by Acts of the British Parliament of enclosing commons lands. British colonies also witnessed largescale dispossession which resulted in large number of deaths. For instance, one might consider the British colony in Ireland during the English civil war, where local farmers were dispossessed and made into the tenants of English settlers. Soon after, land rents rose sharply and Ireland was forced to export wheat and animal products to Britain, while the tenants living under the burden of heavy rents mainly consumed potatoes. The great potato famine of 1846–1847 killed one million Irish out of the total population of 8 million, while during the famine, wheat and livestock products continued to be forcibly exported. Three million people died under British rule in the Bengal famine, in 1944, which is well known worldwide.

Britain’s colonies contributed over half of its total imports during the period from 1785 to 1810, and which never accounted for less than two-fifths thereafter. The commodity composition of Britain’s imports from South Asia and the West Indies shows that nearly two-thirds were comprised of food products by the end of the 18th century. This share increased to about 73% by 1815, before declining to just over three-fifths over the following two decades. Imports of raw materials increased sharply from one-fifth to more than two-fifths by the mid-19th century, but still remained below the 52% share of food products. In fact, food products from South Asia and the West Indies combined averaged as much as 32% of the total of ‘all’ imports into Britain during the last two decades of 18th century, which also coincided with the early phase of British industrialisation.19

According to the statistics, the imports from both the tropical colonies and Ireland trebled between 1785 and 1820. During the early phase of its industrialisation, the supply of food products from the colonies was crucial to Britain’s economic development and industrialisation. As Utsa Patnaik(2015:9)5 states, “By 1854-56, the value of imported primary products retained within the country was more than Britain’s domestic primary sector output value. But Britain could not have afforded to undertake such massive imports had they been from free, sovereign countries, because it lacked the ability to pay for them. The trade deficit with Asia and West Indies combined, ranged from nearly four to six percent of Britain’s GDP during the period of industrial revolution and adding the trade deficit with continental Europe raises the deficit 7 to 10 percent of GDP”.

In India, under colonial rule during the period 1900 to 1941, there was a 29% decline in food grain output per capita, while the market for export crops grew ten times faster than food grains. Indonesia, under the Netherlands, also witnessed a similar order of decline in rice output per head over same period, while sugarcane and rubber output were considerably increased.

In a number of countries which are net food exporters, substantial numbers of households suffer from malnutrition.

Historically, a pattern of global specialisation in the cultivation of agricultural commodities was initiated and forcibly imposed by today’s developed countries under colonial systems, which entailed their increasing dependence on primary imports from tropical countries. The basic reason for imposing such a pattern of specialisation lay in their permanently poor range of crop production, as dictated by climate, compared to the highly diversified productive capacity of tropical lands. The pressure on developing countries is enacted through international organisations such as the WTO, IMF and World Bank, urging them to remove all protection offered to their producers and engage in free trade.

The developed countries urge developing countries to give up domestic food security systems and import food grains from them.18 Trade liberalisation and food imports are not encouraged in order to prevent malnutrition and increase food consumption but to find markets for some developed countries who happen to have huge surpluses of agricultural commodities. Moreover, such policies are enacted when domestic demand is constrained by the deflationary neoliberal economic policies widely imposed on the developing countries.

Re-emergence of colonial period practices

After gaining independence from colonial rule, substantial improvements in food availability were registered as governments prioritised domestic food security over exports. In the present era of neoliberal reform and trade liberalisation, this process has been reversed, and indeed we can see the structural features of the colonial period re-emerging. Since the 1980s, many countries in Latin America, the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, and India from the 1990s, have seen declining grain output per head. Food imports have not compensated for the decline because whether imports are sufficient to meet the associated needs all depends on whether the purchasing power of poor populations can be maintained. If purchasing power is curtailed, then grain exports may be required even while the population is going hungry; the market responds not to hunger but to purchasing capacity. In the main, neoliberal policies involve not only free trade but also tight money and fiscal contraction, hence there is mass income deflation. We see declines in purchasing capacities, declines in food availability and worsening nutritional levels.

The developed countries urge developing countries to give up domestic food security systems and import food grains from them.

The so-called primitive accumulation, therefore, is nothing else than the historical process of divorcing the producer from their means of production. Primitive accumulation in the sense of appropriation of the resources of small farmers and producers could be seen as part of capital accumulation, namely in the sense of expansion through the reinvestment of profits. Rosa Luxemburg (1913), in her book Accumulation of Capital, noted the drive by capital to remove independent small farmers and producers not only within the Britain, but also in the colonies. She argued that capitalism needs external markets, and that it is not possible to sustain accumulation in the absence of colonies, i.e., external markets. This simply means that the development of capitalism and industrialisation involves the dispossession of small producers, notably the peasantry, after which a similar process can be expected from the industrialisation process in developing countries such as India.

Harvey has pointed out that capital can expand itself, through coercive forms of force and plunder, from the means of production which results in the separation of the direct producer from the means of production. This is the key feature of the entire history of capitalism. Under contemporary capitalism, Harvey argues accumulation takes place by dispossession, which helps the capitalists overcome the over accumulation crises by devaluing assets. Harvey (2003) emphasises accumulation by dispossession occurs in the context of the devaluation of capital through which capitalists respond to crises of over-accumulation. In the late 19th century, Karl Marx also identified and noted that during economic crises capital assets could be bought at lower prices, while at the same time higher unemployment compels workers to accept lower wages and as a result profitability is restored, which permits further accumulation. Harvey (2003:149-50) notes: “what accumulation by dispossession does it to release a set of assets (including labour power) at a very low (and in some cases zero) cost. Over accumulation capital can seize hold of such assets and immediately turn them to profitable use. [Accordingly] if capitalism has been experiencing a chronic difficulty of over accumulation since 1973, then the neoliberal project of privatisation makes a lot of sense as one way to solve the problem”.3

How can the surplus population from agriculture sector be absorbed into other sectors in the developing countries? This is only possible if the remaining sectors are not only growing quickly but also creating jobs and do not displace labour. In contrast to this, since 1991, India has adopted neoliberal reforms and their growth rates have risen, but these high growth rates have not been able to create additional employment and absorb the surplus labour from the agricultural sector. Moreover, in India, the proportion of labour engaged in the agricultural sector has seen as slow by steady decline, i.e., from 69.8% in 1971 to 64.9% in 1991, and to 54.6% in 2015. In contrast, the share of agriculture in GDP fell more sharply from 39.7% in 1971 to 29.5% in 1991 and further to 11% in 2015. Moreover, in India, Pakistan, Philippines and Sri Lanka, the relative wages of agricultural workers have declined due to the relative lack of employment opportunities being created in non-agricultural sectors. In contrast, other developing countries, such as China, Taiwan and Malaysia, have performed better in raising the incomes of agricultural workers due to rapid increases in employment possibilities in their non-agricultural sectors.13

Agrarian crisis in India

With the adoption of neoliberalism in India, the government has reduced its investment in irrigation and research extension services for agriculture. For the last two decades, the agrarian crisis has deepened, the origin of which lies in a number of policies such as trade liberalisation and cuts in government spending in agriculture sector, and also cuts in social services, such as education and health, and a greater emphasis on the reliance on private providers.14 On top of this, farmers have had to suffer the demonetisation of 2016 that took place soon after monsoon harvest season where, due to lack of finances, farmers were unable to sell their crops or buy the inputs to allow them to sow winter crops. The agrarian crisis is reflected in the increasing number of suicides, forced migration and in mass protests amongst farmers.

In short, neoliberal policies have given rise to increased cost of production while incomes have declined, which is the core issue behind mass protests by farmers in India.

The present agrarian crisis in India is grounded in the neoliberal economic policy reforms that have shaped India’s political economy since the early 1990s, and therefore it is crucial to examine this critically. Neoliberal reforms have led to a relative withdrawal of state intervention in the agricultural sector, such as through public investment in rural infrastructure and the removal of trade protection for agricultural commodities, resulting in a drastic cut in price subsides for inputs, while control over input and output prices has been removed.15 Financial liberalisation has led to a decline in the availability of institutional credits for farmers. In short, neoliberal policies have given rise to increased cost of production while incomes have declined, which is the core issue behind mass protests by farmers in India.

Soon after independence, India failed to implement radical land reforms which resulted in the continuation of rural inequality. The scope for further extending canal irrigation with the help of big dams is limited because they create huge negative externalities in the form of loss of forest land and displacement of people; however, there is further scope for rainwater harvesting and recharging ground water aquifers in India. Agricultural land is highly unequally distributed and neoliberalism has escalated this problem further. Nearly 40% of the agricultural workforce is wholly dependent on wage labour for their livelihoods, while the majority of cultivators have such small holdings that they need to supplement cultivation with wage labour. In India, it is estimated that about half of the total workforce is engaged in agriculture and roughly a third of this agricultural workforce consists of entirely landless labourers.

India’s population has increased rapidly since independence over the last seven decades, by a factor of 3.5 from 361 million to 1,300 million in 2018, while over the same period; its food grain production has risen five-fold from 51 million tonnes to nearly 255 million tonnes. India became self-reliant in terms of food production mainly through the adoption of the ‘green revolution’ in the 1970s through increased investment in irrigation, availability of credit and subsidised chemical fertilisers and pesticides which resulted in higher yields and output in certain crops. Moreover, the net sown area under cultivation increased between 1950 and 2015 by less than 18%. The gross irrigated area increased from 23 million hectares to 93 million hectares during the same period, which is a four-fold increase. Indian farmers are experiencing a deep crisis, while Modi’s government policy seems to be a fusion of neoliberalism and Hindutva (right-wing Hindu extremism), which basically is an authoritarian populism. Rural discontent is generated by agricultural stagnation, rising unemployment and state-sponsored land grabs. The Modi government has attempted to bring in a land acquisition bill which will allow the forcible acquisition of land from farmers and tribal people without proper compensation.

During the pre-neoliberal reform period in India, the state protected farmers from the vicissitudes of world’s market fluctuations. Inputs were subsidised, remunerative prices were provided through government procurement of crops and substantial investments in irrigation were undertaken. With the current move towards globalisation, it seems that the insulation of agriculture sector from global market price fluctuations is being systematically removed.

The squeeze on farmers’ incomes is mainly due to subsidies being cut and a reduction in availability of formal credit. As a result, small and medium farmers are forced to borrow from private money lenders. It also means the costs of production have risen sharply, while agricultural commodity prices have declined due to global price fluctuations. As a result, the profitability in agriculture has declined. India is the largest producer of wheat and the second-largest producer of rice. In 2017, production of wheat in India was about 96.6 million tonnes and consumption was almost the same, though India exported some 3 million tonnes from government stocks. In the same year, production of rice was 105 million tonnes and consumption was 103 million tonnes, but the country exported 11 million tonnes of rice, which was only possible due to the existence of stocks. However, for example, a large section of the population in India is food insecure due to high unemployment and poverty. Therefore, India cannot depend on the global market due to the various food-related problems faced by its society. India has a huge population, and during food shortages the country will need a huge amount of food which could push up the international prices, resulting in adverse consequences for Indian consumers.

Improving food security

Under the AoA, developing countries (including least developed countries or LDCs) have to remove non-tariff controls on agricultural products and convert these to tariffs. Developing countries are then required to progressively reduce these tariffs, while LDCs are exempt from this requirement. In many developing countries this has threatened the viability of small farms that are unable to compete with cheaper imports. Millions of small and medium farmers could be affected. The process has also increased fears of greater food insecurity in that the developing countries will become less self-sufficient in food. For many, food imports may not be an option due to the shortage of foreign exchange. Therefore, food sovereignty should prioritise the national economy and governments should empower peasants and families in terms of farmer-driven agriculture and improve the social and economic sustainability in the rural environment. These governments should ensure that the right to use and manage land, water, seed, livestock and bio-diversity are in the full control of the local communities producing the food. This also means new social relations of operations and greater equality between people and between countries.

Food sovereignty is a pre-condition to food security, and to implement it the developed countries should end the practice of dumping food and the wider use of food as a weapon of policy.

The particular strategy employed by individual countries to improve their food security status is one of the key factors in understanding the relationship between trade liberalisation and food security. Two broad options have been followed by countries attempting to achieve adequate levels of food security: food self-sufficiency, and food self-reliance. Food self-sufficiency means to increase food output with the help of domestic resources. While this approach implies the provision of sufficient domestic production to meet a substantial part of consumption requirements, it does not necessarily imply that all households in the country have access to all the food they require. In a number of countries which are net food exporters, substantial numbers of households suffer from malnutrition. Developing countries face a number of other risks associated with trade. Besides the declining terms of trade, a related problem is the volatility of world prices for the primary (especially agricultural) commodities they export.16 Furthermore, these prices are determined in markets that are beyond the influence of individual poor countries and typically affected by factors beyond their control. Related to this are supply side risks, especially the sensitivity of output to climatic variability. Droughts and excess rain that result in flooding can cause serious damage to agricultural output.

Workers harvesting corn from a commercial farm in Ethiopia. Photo by Barry Malone/Reuters

Food security is a basic human right, and this can only be realised in a system where food sovereignty is guaranteed. It is the right of each country to maintain and develop its own policy to produce food for its citizens. Food sovereignty is a pre-condition to food security, and to implement it the developed countries should end the practice of dumping food and the wider use of food as a weapon of policy. It is also the right of the people to define their own food requirements and to protect their food production and trade in order to achieve sustainable development. Such policies promote self-reliance in food production and people’s right to safe, healthy and ecologically sustainable production. As the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) states “the availability at all times of adequate world food supplies of basic foodstuffs to sustain a steady expansion of food consumption and to offset fluctuations in production and prices”(Cited in Patel, 2009:664)4

Neoliberal policies undermine the commitment to food security and in fulfilling the human rights mentioned in the Millennium Development Goals. The WTO emphasises market solutions to countries’ food crises, which are guided to protect global corporations and food businesses in which capital is dominant, and where food security has moved away from being purely about producing and distributing food towards being the nexus of concerns regarding social control, nutrition and public health. The understanding of food security is further elaborated in the declaration of the UN food submit “food security, at the household, national is achieved when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs for an active and healthy life”.(Cited in Patel, 2009:665)4

The question of food security is clearly a very important issue in a highly populated country like India. Despite the increase in growth rates over the last 25 years, India has not addressed the basic issue of the need to ensure the food security of its populace. In fact, nutrition levels have remained the same, and per capita calorie consumption has in fact declined, which shows that the problem of hunger has not yet disappeared in India.

Food sovereignty should prioritise the national economy and governments should empower peasants and families in terms of farmer-driven agriculture and improve the social and economic sustainability in the rural environment.

There is an urgent need for policy change in order to transform industrial agriculture away from fossil fuel-based production and the overwhelming cultivation of cash crops for export towards an alternative agricultural paradigm that encourages local food production by small and medium farmers based on local resources and solar energy, primarily to improve nutritional levels and domestic consumption. This implies allowing peasants’ access to land, seed, water, credit and local markets, partly achieved through the creation of supportive economic policies, financial incentives, and market opportunities. As Altieri and Toledo (2011:588) argue “the diversification of farms in order to promote beneficial biological interactions and synergies among the components of the agroecosystem so that these may allow for the regeneration of soil fertility, and maintain productivity and crop protection. The core principles of agroecology include recycling nutrients and energy on the farm, rather than introducing external inputs; enhancing soil organic matter and soil biological activity; diversifying plant species and genetic resources in agroecosystems over time and space; integrating crops and livestock and optimising interactions and productivity of the total farming system, rather than the yields of individual species”.1

Since neoliberal economic reforms were adopted in a number of developing countries, the resultant cuts in public investment in agriculture and greater reliance on market forces have adversely affected productivity and farming income. A shift in land allocated with traditional food crops that were better suited to the local ecological and environmental conditions in favour of cash crops that largely rely on expensive inputs has become evident. Reversing such policies is essential, but this requires substantial public investment and public distribution to ensure both increased food output and delivery.

In conclusion, it is very important to re-emphasise the fact that food security is crucial to the developing countries, as it will protect rural employment and save foreign exchange. This is not only for reasons of sovereignty but also due to the fact that during the colonial period, their food production declined due to the metropolitan policy to expand production of cash crops which did not benefit the farmers in these countries, resulting in their per capita income remaining stagnant, while these countries witnessed repeated famines which killed millions of people and also increased indebtedness of the peasantry. Historically, cash crop cultivation has only ever benefited money lenders, planters and the colonial administration in terms of raising revenue and collecting high rents.

In order to revive the economy, it is crucial to understand that the obsession with exports and GDP growth is no longer feasible. Export-led growth is reaching its limits. We need to reverse this policy and introduce a new policy to address rising inequality, and unemployment. Therefore, food security must be given priority in the developing countries. The government should also play a crucial role in protecting small and medium farmers, and also in increasing public investment and productivity. Such measures should help to curb speculation by traders. Moreover, national food security should increase domestic food production so that a country with a large population, such as India, does not depend on food imports. This is strategically important for India as its entry into the world food market would affect global food prices. We also know that, in the past, the food has been used as a strategic weapon in international politics.

About the Author

Kalim Siddiqui is an economist, specialising in Development Economics and International Economics. His work, which combines elements of international and development economics, economic policy, economic history and political economy, often challenges prevailing orthodoxy about which policies promote overall development in less developed countries.



1. Altieri, M.A. and V.M. Toledo. 2011. The Agrological Revolution in Latin America: Rescuing Nature, Ensuring Food Sovereignty and Empowering Peasants”, Journal of Peasant Studies, 38(3): 587-612.

2. Dandekar, V M. 1994. “Transforming Traditional Agriculture: A Critic of Professor Schutz” Indian Economy 1947-92, Vol 1: Agriculture, New Delhi: Sage, pp 96-126.

3. Harvey, D. 2003. The New Imperialism, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

4. Patel, R. 2009. “Grassroots Voices: Food Sovereignty”, Journal of Peasant Studies, 36 (3): 663-706.

5. Patnaik, U. 2015. “The Origin and Continuation of First World Import Dependence on Developing Countries for Agricultural Products”, Agrarian South: Journal of Political Economy, 4 (1): 1-21.

6. Siddiqui, K. 2018a. “David Ricardo’s Comparative Advantage and Developing Countries: Myth and Reality”, International Critical Thought, 8(3): 1-28, September. Taylor & Francis Group. ISSN: 2159-8282 (Print) 2159-8312. DOI:10.1080/21598282.2018.1506264.

7. Siddiqui, K. 2018b. “The Political Economy of India’s Economic Changes since the last Century” Argumenta Oeconomica Cracoviensia, No.19. ISSN: 1642-168X.

8. Siddiqui, K. 2017. “Globalization, Trade Liberalisation and the Issues of Economic Diversification in the Developing Countries”, Journal of Business & Economic Policy 4(4): 30-43.

9. Siddiqui, K. 2016. “International Trade, WTO and Economic Development”, World Review of Political Economy, 7(4):424-450, winter, Pluto Journals

10. Siddiqui, K. 2015a. “Agrarian Crisis and Transformation in India”, Journal of Economics and Political Economy 2 (1):3-22. ISSN: 2148-8347,

11. Siddiqui, K. 2015b. “Trade Liberalisation and Economic Development: A Critical Review”, International Journal of Political Economy 44(3):228-247.Taylor & Francis ISSN: 0891-1916. Print/1558-0970. DOI: 10.1080/08911916.2015.1095050.

12. Siddiqui, K. 2015c. “Foreign Capital Investment into Developing Countries: Some Economic Policy Issues”, Research in World Economy 6(2): 14-29. doi: 10.5430/rwe.v6n2p14

13. Siddiqui, K. 2012. “Developing Countries’ Experience with Neoliberalism and Globalisation”, Research in Applied Economics 4(4): 12-37, December.

14. Siddiqui, K. 2008. “Politics and Economics of Recent Global Food Crisis”, Klassekampen, (in Norwegian), July 17.

15. Siddiqui, K. 1999. “New Technology and Process of Differentiation: Two Sugarcane Cultivating Villages in UP, India”, Economic and Political Weekly, 34 (52): A39-A53, December 25. ISSN (Online) – 2349-8846.

16. Siddiqui, K. 1998. “The Export of Agricultural Commodities, Poverty and Ecological Crisis: A Case Study of Central American Countries”, Economic and Political Weekly 33(39): A128-A137, September 26. ISSN (Online) – 2349-8846.

17. Siddiqui, K. 1996. “The Debt Crisis – Need for a New Strategy”, The News, May 17.

18. Siddiqui, K. 1995. “Food Security and Sustainable Agricultural Development”, The Nation, 2 September.

19. Siddiqui, K.1994. “The Economic Philosophy of Neo-liberalism” The Nation, 20 September.

20. WTO. 2017. Annual Report, World Trade Organisation (Accessed on February 10, 2019)

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The World Financial Review.