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Archive for December, 2012

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 11,000 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 18 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

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I would like to suggest the possible connection between changing discourses and changing patterns of migration. During the early 1900, farmers did not have to migrate for their subsistence. For most of us, migration is the natural consequences of rapid economic growth.  I would like to pursue the possibility that perhaps what drives the economy is changes in public discourse. Discourse is defined as perspectives emerging from the field of knowledge that, through power negotiation and struggle, has become a dominant perspective defining standards and norms while claiming universality.  There was a time when Thai farmers were guided by Buddhist cosmology and farming was primarily for self-subsistence.  Then Western world view together with the emphasis on industrialization and technology became the domineering discourse leading to the concept of farms as commodities and product maximization as the definition for success. The new discourse redesigned the economic system that aims at maximized production and thus the alteration from farming for consumption to farming for commodities. And commodities are converted to currency making the concept of subsistence unsustainable and thus migration. 

Migration is a common practice among farmers. Seasonal migration to the city for construction work, seasonal migration to the coast for fishing industry, or migrating overseas, which has become more common in this decade.  Why do farmers migrate? King Ramkhamhaeng of Sukhothai once stated, “In the field rice, in the pond fish.” The land was plentiful.  What changed? Mr. Sombat, a victim of human trafficking once said to me, “When I was growing up we were poor. But we could survive on our land. But that is no longer possible?” He migrated to the US hoping for the promised financial gain that could save his family from debts only to be exploited and in deeper poverty than he once was. What has changed?

In Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System, Raj Patel documented the impact of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) on Mexico. The rationale for NAFTA was reasonable: “The spark of wealth would, it was argued, jump across the border, bringing freedom, enterprise and the Good Life from a country of high-potential to one a little less charged” (48).  And while the flow of wealth affected some across the border, the heart of Mexico agriculture was negatively impacted.  Before NAFTA, 60% of the land in Mexico was used for the cultivation of corn. With free-trade, local corn has to compete with those produced in the US where the cost of production per bushel was 2.66 dollars but sold for 1.74 dollars. On the first of January 1994 when NAFTA came into effect, Mexican Peso crashed with 42 % devaluation against the dollar. As a result of NAFTA, about 1.3 to 2 million Mexicans were forced off their land.  For many, border-crossing was their only hope for survival.  Labor migration follows the flow of currency.  Raj Patel writes, “NAFTA has encouraged migration from the country to the city (often then to live in the growing shanty towns)” (60). We see similar phenomenon of the interrelatedness between economic policies and migration in India, Africa, South America and some countries in Asia.  

There was a time in Thailand where rice was not a commodity, rice was for consumption. Thai farmers did not have to migrate. Their lives were governed by Buddhist cosmology promoting simplicity and charity.  Simplicity made life sustainable. Goodness was measured by compassion and not GDP.  Then came The First National Development Plan and the Green Revolution.  Agriculture was translated into commodity.  A new discourse was set in motion.  Goodness was redefined as maximum output. Productivity has become a new norm. Charity has become idealized but not prioritized and simplicity, marginalized or relegated to the religious realm.  Technology has manipulated gene structure of plants for high yield.  Farmers were reeducated to see farm products as commodities.  And high productivity was the name of the game.  The newly designed seeds need chemical fertilization and pesticides and double the amount of water.

Used of Chemical Fertilization

1971

128,139 Tons

1982

321,700 Tons

1999

1,763,028 Tons

2007

3,400,000 Tons

 

And while it was good for a while, farmers soon realized the gap between dependency on chemical fertilization that keeps getting bigger and bigger.  The yield was not much differed from what they were used to but now they have to depend on expensive chemical fertilization and pesticides and the dependency keeps increasing along with price tags on these agricultural products. 

According to Kanoksak Kaewthep in 1965 34.8% of products were agricultural and 22.7%, industrial.  In 1995, 10.3% were agricultural while 39.5% were industrial. Since 1989 to 2009, the number of Thai farmers dropped from 67% to less than 40%.  In 2008, the average debt per family was 107, 230 baht.  80% of farmers are in debt and have difficulty repaying.  60% of farmers have to pay rent land for farming. There are 546, 942 agricultural families without land and 969,355 families with insufficient land for farming.  On average 90% of farmers own one rai of land while 10% of farmers own 200 rai. Between 2007 and 2008, farm rental has gone up 2-4 times.

Migration seems the inevitable path toward survival of rural farmers.  While many organizations addressing the issues of human trafficking dealing with the problem of exploitation taking place due to migration, I wonder if it is possible to raise questions pertaining to the system that creates vulnerability in the first place, system that is biased towards the haves (transnational corporations) and marginalized average farmers? For example:  

  • Six TNCs – BASF, Bayer, Dow, DuPont, Monsanto and Syngenta – now control 75-80% of the global pesticides market.
  • DuPont and Monsanto together dominate the world seed markets for maize (65%), and soya (44%).
  • Monsanto controlled 91% of the global genetically modified (GM) seed market in 2001 and took 
over 60% of the Brazilian non-GM maize seed market in the space of two years (1997-1999).
  • Bayer controls 22% of the Indian pesticide market.

Once Buddhist cosmology was the dominant discourse. Farmers were able to sustain themselves. In the pond fish, in the field rice. Goodness was measured by simplicity and charity. Then came a discourse fueled by Western scientific world view together with industrialization and technology. Norm is redefined by productivity and success by GDP. Technology serves as tools. Economy has redesigned a system that perpetuates dependency or rather, increasing dependency. From increasing debts to farmers losing their farms, to migration and exploitation as a result from changes in the discourse. There is a definite shift in our public discourse and life has not been the same, especially for farmers. Farmers were once respectable members of the society and now they have been relegated to the margin as poor and uneducated. Farmers do not possess less skills nor knowledge. The change is in the discourse. The change is, we have allowed GDP to define success for us and utilized maximization of productivity as the new standard for measurement. But a discourse is just a discourse. 

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