Bangladesh: Global Day of Action Against Corporate Control of Food Systems

Statement by the Labour Resource Center, Bangladesh

Today, the whole world is occupied by a few corporate companies. They control the world’s trade, agriculture, the world economy, market management, resources, food, water, natural resources, land and forests. Now their target is on the nature of the earth. They have been trying to control agriculture with different strategies from generation to generation. Farmers are becoming labourers because of this bad strategy of theirs. Farmers are becoming landless.

The land that was once the farmer’s own, today they are working as wage-based laborers on that land. Farmers have lost their food sovereignty due to corporate power. Farmers do not have control over the land, seeds, fertilizers, agricultural equipment and crop price. They are unknowingly being controlled by corporations. The thousand-year-old traditional knowledge of the farmer is now on the verge of extinction. From the state structure to business, economy, market management, all types of management are in their hands.

Land grabbing is going on all over the world. Many of them are in South Asian countries. Due to the increase in population in this region, land acquisition is underway for the construction of houses, schools, colleges, universities, health centers, hospitals, roads and mills. As well as new cities, mega cities, picnic spots, shooting spots, eco-parks, resorts, garden houses, air ports, seed breeding farms and various farms, multi-national companies and big businessmen of the country either forcibly occupy the land by sowing fear, or land is being snatched at very low prices from farmers. And corporate traders are embezzling land in the name of organic farming.

In this case, our government is not lagging behind. The government is acquiring land from the work of marginal farmers in various ways—to build airports, to accommodate the army, the BGP, the police, government bureaucrats, the MP, the ministers. The government has been acquiring land from marginal farmers, citing new cantonments, police outposts, jails and unplanned roads. Marginal farmers are becoming landless. They are taking up positions in the slums of small and big cities. They make their living as a day laborer, rickshaw-van driver, mason, painter, housework and mill-factory worker, etc. They do not have education facilities for their children, health services, nutrition facilities. The government does not have a vision for them. Land grabbers are occupying everything like rivers, canals, beels, hawars and forests. They turned the river into a canal, turned the canal into a drain, and turned the hawars into a lake.

Land grabbers have been encroaching on natural forests at various times with the help of government land officials and are building factories, car depots and various infrastructures in the middle of the forest. They sometimes resort to new tactics. Cadets are occupying land in the name of a college, in the name of a university. Another good strategy is to first buy a piece of land or lease it to build a small factory and spread its waste on the agricultural land next door.

Fifty years after independence, Bangladesh has not been able to walk the path of planned industrialization. Although some unplanned industries have been set up in Dhaka, Chittagong, Narayanganj, Savar and Gazipur, Bangladesh has been relying on agriculture and rural economy for over fifty years. But no government of the country has been able to ensure production and employment for all citizens. As a result, rich-poor inequality has been exposed from the city to the district and even to the individual level.

The government will establish 100 economic zones on 30,000 hectares of land to spread investment across the country with a view of eliminating rich-poor inequality. It has already acquired agricultural land and is developing 27 economic zones. Inspired by the success of India and China, the Bangladesh government took the initiative to establish an economic zone in the country for the first time in 2010. But in the present context of Bangladesh, the cultivable land is declining due to being a densely populated country. As a result, the farmer is losing his land, work and sovereignty. According to government estimates, agricultural land in Bangladesh is going to the non-agricultural sector at the rate of one percent every year. If land degradation continues at this rate, there will be no agricultural land in Bangladesh by 2050.

Since the middle of the last century, the concept and characteristics of seeds have changed. Before, the decision to store a portion of the crop as seed, to select the seed, to make the seedling in the next season and to produce different varieties of paddy and other crops was taken by the farming family, considering the variety and characteristics of the land. There was a direct role of peasant women.

But before the end of the century, the problem of modern agriculture or the Green Revolution appeared. Soil loss, water loss, reduced yield, increased production costs, crop failure, etc. For all these reasons, the survival of small and medium farmers became a matter of difficulty. Then in the nineties came the scattering of hybrid seeds. Moving away from government initiatives to produce and distribute good seeds, private companies, especially those that have so far sold chemical pesticides, chemical fertilizers and medicines, or other chemical products, have entered the hybrid seed business. In Bangladesh, farmers are now losing native seeds due to inbred and hybrid seeds. Although the yield of hybrid seeds is apparently higher, the quality of food has decreased. The use of pesticides and various harmful chemicals in the production of ‘fresh’ and ‘shiny’ vegetables and fruits has increased drastically. Agriculture and agricultural products have become toxic and as a result, diseases have increased. The rate of non-communicable diseases, especially cancer, has risen alarmingly in the health index.

Large multinational companies have sprung up because of modern agriculture. They are not satisfied with the seed business, they have started hijacking or patenting the seeds illegally in order to dominate. By stealing the seeds or through patents, the corporation becomes the real owner of the seeds. Despite inventing thousands of varieties of seeds in thousands of years of agriculture, the farmer never took ownership of the seeds because seeds are part of nature.

The coronavirus outbreak’s blow to agriculture and farmers in agrarian Bangladesh is severe. However, despite concerns over export-oriented industries and trade, the state is playing a silent role in addressing the problems and plight of agriculture and farmers. The loss of agricultural products and farmers due to the closure of public transport, rail communication and shipping is immeasurable. The national economy of Bangladesh is dependent on agriculture, readymade garments and remittances sent by migrant workers. There is no permanent system in the garment industry and remittances. On the other hand, agriculture can be sustainable. But the contribution of our farmers and agricultural workers in keeping the nation free from hunger and malnutrition is rarely discussed. The problems of the rural economy rarely attract the attention of our policy makers. The population of the country is growing. Nevertheless, the survival of the people depends on rural economic activity, especially agriculture.

There is no one to look after the marginal and small farmers of our state. Medium and small farmers do not get government-fixed price of paddy during the paddy buying season. They cultivate by borrowing. As soon as the crop grows, he sells it at a lower price and repays the loan. The rice mill owner buys and stocks paddy at a lower price through a syndicate. The government is dependent on the rice mill owners for internal rice procurement. Although there is a provision in the national food policy to buy food grains from the market through open competition, it has not been implemented.

Today, farmers and landless people all over the world are deprived of their land and fair rights due to the tyranny of corporate businessmen and land grabbers. In order to realize this right, we have to continue the struggle unitedly on the basis of specific programs.