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Notes on Cultural Globalisation: From Agri-culture to Agri-business in Karnataka

M. N. Panini

Centre for the Study of Social Systems
School of Social Sciences

Jawaharlal Nehru University
New Delhi 110067


The cutting edge of globalisation has severed cultures from their roots in distinct space-time niches. The arrow of cultural time has been broken; technological advances in mass media and transport now make it possible for the past of one culture to become the future of another. Nostalgia for the present has now become a widespread cultural trait in a world that is rapidly shrinking under the pressure of globalisation. Easy and frequent interactions allow cultures to free themselves from their spatial moorings and float freely in an ever-changing global kaleidoscope of multiple cultures. Seductive "virtual realities" generated by computer technology and the internet allow the "virtual" to morph into the "real" in both the cyber and social spaces with the result that the reality principle itself is now in doubt. Under the onslaught of cultural criticism the certitude of modern science based on the "objectivity" of its method has crumbled. Globalisation is therefore a concept that marks a significant break in the flow of social processes-a concept that subverts the very objectivity that fixes its meaning (Appadurai 1997).

There have been attempts to deconstruct the ideology that supports the thesis of globalisation. According to its proponents, globalisation is an inexorable process that opens the door to prosperity especially for those of the third world: resisting it is to invite national calamity. It is pointed out that this argument covertly promotes the culture of the first world as the culture to which all the other countries are headed-a thesis reminiscent of the failed modernisation project of the 1950s and 1960s. Like its predecessor, the theory of globalisation is also viewed as obfuscating the skewed exploitative relations that obtain between the first and third world countries today (Patnaik 1998).

Criticisms of the process of globalisation and its supporting theories have come under close scrutiny particularly in the context of liberalisation policies in Indian agriculture. In India, forces of globalisation gained momentum in the agricultural sector in 1988 when the new National Policy on Seed Development allowing the entry of private enterprises in seed production and development was announced. Numerous private enterprises-both national and multinational-have launched ambitious plans to develop seed farms, horticulture, floriculture, poultry, animal husbandry and meat processing to cater to both domestic and foreign markets. Many internationally reputed agribusiness corporations including Cargill Seeds, Pioneer Overseas, Monsonto and Kentucky Fried Chicken have entered the Indian market either on their own or in joint ventures with Indian enterprises. Agriculture is also becoming attractive to Indian corporate giants who were till now operating in the industrial sector. This trend is particularly conspicuous in floriculture-a sector that is registering impressive growth in the recent years.

Resistance to globalisation in agriculture has also come from several left wing intellectuals who see in it a threat to the food security of the third world. Right wing nationalists are concerned that foreign multinational corporations would drastically undermine the Indian ethos by propagating the Western life style and its values. Political leaders, intellectuals and activists espousing the cause of the Dalits are concerned that a vast majority of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes would suffer from the escalation of food prices. Groups propagating the cause of gender equality and of Women's rights argue that the trends of globalisation are likely to pauperise rural women. Such criticisms and protests against the globalisation of agriculture have acquired an extra edge in the light of several reports of suicides committed by farmers, especially the cotton growers, in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Punjab last year. The concerned State governments have been forced to constitute commissions of inquiry on the reported suicides and disburse financial relief to the affected families.

Thus, the opposition to globalisation cuts across a wide spectrum of ideological positions. Numerous social and political movements have consciously adopted agendas resisting the recent trends in globalisation. These ideological critiques and movements of protest in some ways represent the reflexive attitude that is characteristic of the culture of globalisation. Yet, in the Indian variant of the culture of globalisation the ideological and reflexive attitude towards globalisation seems to have yielded to political and economic interests that support globalisation. Despite the fact that almost all rising ideologies resist globalisation, in practice, even the State governments dominated by left parties have adopted policies favouring economic globalisation. This is true of the Government of India as well. Despite strong statements favouring the pursuit of the nationalist "swadeshi" ideology of the Bharatiya Janata Party the dominant party in the ruling alliance, policies favouring economic liberalisation and investments by foreign multinational corporations have not been altered drastically. In fact, ministers of the government repeatedly assure investors that economic liberalisation in India is irreversible.

Agribusiness in Karnataka

Policies of agricultural liberalisation in Karnataka have set off a major political controversy in the country. Groups owing allegiance to Gandhian ideas on technology and self-reliance and groups of environmental activists have taken the leading role in protesting against the policies of agricultural liberalisation. The Karnataka Rajya Raita Sangha (KRRS) led by Dr Nanjundaswamy has, since the early 1990s launched a sustained campaign against the new agricultural policies in Karnataka. Adopting the tactics of "Gandhian violence", he led groups of farmers in attacking and ransacking the office premises of Cargill Seeds in the early 1990s. The attacks were justified on the ground that the foreign multinational firm would make the local farmers dependent on hybrid seeds produced by the company thereby eroding the autonomy and self-reliance of Indian peasants. In 1996, he organised a similar attack on the first outlet of Kentucky Fried Chicken when it was opened in Bangalore. He reasoned that the outlet would promote non-vegetarianism in India and reduce her cattle wealth (Assadi 1996). In 1998, he organised the farmers to surround and burn the standing crops of Bt Cotton-a genetically engineered cotton crop introduced by Monsonto the famous multinational corporation in agribusiness (The Sunday Times of India November 29, 1998). The company claimed that the crop had the special feature of producing its own insecticide and that it was being legally cultivated on a trial basis in some select plots. The protestors, on the contrary, argued that the new crop emits ecologically harmful toxic substances leading to extensive ecological degradation and health hazards to human beings. They also asserted, that the new crop incorporates a "terminator technology" that makes it impossible for the plants to produce their own seeds. Apart from making the Indian farmer dependent on the company for the supply of seeds, it was feared that the sterility-producing gene in the plant could contaminate other plants thereby causing unprecedented damage to the rich Indian ecology. The company, however, vehemently refuted this charge.

The decline of the force of ideology in mobilising political support and in influencing policy decisions is dramatic in the context of the rise of agribusiness in Karnataka. There is a significant change in the attitudes of the farmers of Karnataka towards the State government's policies supporting agricultural liberalisation. They are no longer the enthusiastic supporters of campaigns launched by Dr Nanjundaswamy and other political leaders against the operations of multinational agribusiness firms in the State. For instance, "the Cremation of Monsonto" campaign initiated by Dr Nanjundaswamy under the banner of the KRRS in November-December 1998, did not evoke much enthusiasm among the farmers of Karnataka; in fact some of them even resisted the campaign. The farmers in Karnataka are in fact, positively disposed to private agribusiness firms, including some multinational ones. They prefer to enter into contracts with reputed agribusiness firms to cultivate their high yielding varieties be it of gherkin, seeds or different types of flowers. Such contracts involve a commitment on the part of the farmers to use only the seeds or saplings supplied by the agribusiness firm and work under the technical guidance of its officers. They also involve an obligation by the agribusiness firm to buy back the produce at a pre-specified price. Such contracts assure the farmers of predictable and guaranteed returns for their produce. Even the farmers who have not entered into such contracts are favourably disposed towards the more reputed agribusiness firms because of the assurance of quality and high yields of their seeds and saplings. It should be mentioned here that the agribusiness firms have also wooed the farmers in various ways to win over their trust. They have invested huge amounts to organise demonstrations of their plant and seed varieties on selected plots to convince the farmers of the claims they make regarding their products. They have also set up efficient marketing and extension network to ensure that the farmers get their supplies of their seeds and prompt technical guidance whenever required.

In Karnataka, a significant change can be noticed in the rural areas affected by agribusiness. The peasants have now become farmers and traditional subsistence agriculture has yielded to agribusiness. The peasant produces primarily to meet the subsistence requirements of himself and his family. He ventures out into the market and produces cash crops only after providing for his and his family's subsistence needs. In contrast, the farmer is primarily market driven-he prefers to buy his food grains from the market and specialise entirely in the cultivation of high value crops. In Karnataka this change occurred gradually in the last few decades. It started with sugar cane cultivation in the Mandya District after the first sugar mill in Mandya town was established in 1948. In the 1970s when the Karnataka government made efforts to popularise sericulture which was till then confined to some dry regions of Mysore District. Many of the farmers found the cultivation of mulberry plants so remunerative that they even gave up the cultivation of ragi, which was their staple food item. The agricultural policy of the Government of India aimed at controlling the price of food grains and other "essential commodities". The farmers found it profitable to grow commercial crops like mulberry and with the money they earn from the commercial crop they bought food from the market. The new agribusiness firms have encouraged this tendency by increasing the range of "cash crops" by introducing new varieties of hybrid seeds and tissue culture plants. The farmers now find horticulture, floriculture and seed production attractive alternatives to food grain cultivation.

The new varieties of crops introduced by the agribusiness firms tend to encourage market orientation. These varieties are less dependent on the seasons than the traditional varieties of crops. This means that there is greater degree of freedom in choosing the time to sow seeds or planting saplings. The farmers can now schedule their cultivation to ensure that they bring their crops to the market when the prices are high. They are no longer bound to the traditional seasonal agricultural cycle and the practices that go with it. Some of them claim that they manage to get three or even four different types of crops in a year on the same piece of land instead of the traditional two or three.

In cultivating the new varieties of crops the farmers find that their traditional agricultural knowledge is no longer helpful. They depend on the companies that sell them the seeds and plants for detailed instructions on sowing, watering sequence, fertilisers and insecticides to be used and such other details in the cultivation of the new varieties. They have to maintain regular contacts with the extension agents of the seed producers or plant breeders to seek advise on plant diseases and blights, fertiliser dosages and such other technical matters.

The new practices demand huge investments because of the high price of seeds, plants, fertilisers and insecticides, but they also promise high returns. Hence, several small farmers now prefer to lease in land to cultivate the new varieties even if it means that they have to take loans from moneylenders at a high rate of interest. A new practice of leasing land has emerged in Karnataka now. Informal annual leases for mutually agreed amounts of cash are becoming the common practice in several parts of Karnataka. As there are many small and marginal landowners migrating to urban areas, land for rent is always available to trustworthy farmers.

The new agricultural practices have instilled an instrumental attitude in the farmers. This is reflected in their complaints about labour problems. They complain of high wage rates (the prevalent daily rate for men is Rs 35/- per head with a mid-day meal or its equivalent value in cash; in the peak season the rate may even go beyond Rs 40/-) and difficulty in finding labourers when needed. They resent the fact that labourers have become defiant and dictate their own terms in regard to hours of work. No labourer now comes to work earlier than 8 a.m. and works beyond 2 p.m. unless he is paid more. They regard the customary practice of farmers serving mid-day meals to their workers demeaning and demand that they be paid the cash equivalent for the meal. Realising the defiant mood of the labourers the farmers now prefer to cultivate crops that are not labour intensive so that they avoid to the extent possible what according to them are unpleasant and humiliating experiences.

A dramatic impact of the new trends in agribusiness is the optimism in regard to prospects in farming. The farmers are now confident that agriculture can yield high returns to them and that they do not have to depend on the government to protect them. On the contrary, they are critical of the government for not coming to their aid sufficiently promptly when they find themselves in dire straits. For instance, they complain about the subsidy provided to the farmers on the consumption of electricity as having led to erratic power supply causing considerable damage to their crops. Some of them prefer the government to charge higher rates to the farmers if it can assure them timely supply of electricity every day.

The changes that are occurring in Karnataka's agriculture are most dramatic in floriculture. The countryside around Bangalore is dotted with 'polyhouses', growing carnations, gladioli, gerbera, roses and other flowers that are in great demand both locally and internationally. The 'polyhouse' is an enclosure covered by polythene sheets to facilitate the retention of moisture and climate control. There are large 'polyhouses' covering over 20 acres of land as well as small ones covering an acre or two. The larger polyhouses use the latest computerised technology for climate control whereas others depend on their workers to switch on and off the machines that control the climate. These 'polyhouses' have assured themselves of adequate water by digging bore wells, sometimes to depths of more than 600 feet. They use captive power generators to overcome problems caused by frequent load shedding by the state electricity board. Some of the floriculture units have even imported a special growing medium called rockwool to grow their flowers. Sprinklers, water atomisers, drip irrigation systems, electrical fans and blowers, chemicals to kill weeds, special insecticides and fertilisers are required in the cultivation of the flowers. Plant cuttings and saplings, seeds and bulbs and insecticides and special fertilisers need to be imported into the country. Of course, there are laws requiring that such items are first tested and certified by the competent authorities before being allowed for cultivation on a regular basis. Most of the polyhouses are also equipped with air-conditioned cabins for grading and packing. Packed flowers have to be stored in cold rooms and transported in refrigerated vans to the airport for onward transmission to different international markets. The highly sophisticated technology requires considerable capital outlay. According to an estimate of the Industrial Development Bank of India optimal investment for a hectare of roses is about Rs.20-25 million. While there is considerable variation in capital intensity across different enterprises, those in the business say that to establish a modern floriculture farm an investment of around Rs.10 million per acre (Deccan Herald, June 24, 1996). Of course, there are traditional floriculturists who are taking to modern floriculture on much lower investments without adopting modern technology, but they produce mainly for the local markets and are not particularly quality conscious as the exporters are forced to be. Unless the flowers meet international quality, hygienic and patent norms, permission to sell in the international market is simply not forthcoming. In fact, the floriculturists in the State complain that despite adhering to such strict international norms, their flowers are often rejected by the importing countries without giving sufficient reason.

The huge investments required in modern floriculture have come from the corporate sector and from several urban businessmen and entrepreneurs. The public sector financial institutions such as the Industrial Development Bank of India provide loans at attractive interest rates to encourage investments in floriculture. The Government of Karnataka is considering the demand of the floriculturists that floriculture be given the status of an industry. Some of the larger floriculture units have been promoted by Israeli, Dutch, American and Japanese enterprises in collaboration with Indian entrepreneurs. Although the land laws of Karnataka have been amended to allow non-agriculturists to buy land for investment in floriculture, most of the floriculture enterprises team up with an agriculturist in whose name the land is purchased. Most of these enterprises are established either as partnerships or as private limited companies.

There is subcontracting in the export flowers as well. Firms engaged in the export of flowers enter into a putting out relationship with floriculture units to ensure adequate supplies of good quality flowers. They supply their vendors with the seeds, bulbs or saplings and provide technical help and advice to them. The contract binds the vendors to supply their flowers exclusively to the exporting firms at pre-specified prices. The vendors have to bear the expenses as well as the risks involved in the cultivation of the flowers. The exporting firms can reject the flowers if they do not come up to international standards on quality. Another route to export flowers is to take them to the flower auctions conducted every morning by the Karnataka State Agro Industries Corporation in Bangalore. At the auction stringent international standards are used to grade the flowers before they are accepted. Several export houses bid at these auctions. There is keen competition to export flowers as flowers command high prices in the international market. For instance, a good quality rose can sell for over Rs 50/- in the Netherlands. During the peak season, that is a few days prior to the Valentine Day on February 14, flowers fetch even higher prices in Europe. Flower exporters gear their activities in such a way that they are able to export their best flowers in large quantities during this short peak season.

Flowers rejected for export are auctioned as "seconds" for sale in the local markets. The auction for 'seconds' seems to have given a boost to the local markets for cut flowers. Almost every street corner in Bangalore now has a florist making brisk business throughout the year. It is true that being a cantonment town with a cosmopolitan ambience; there was already a big market for cut flowers in Bangalore even before the modern floriculture units were established. The market, however, has grown in size in the last few years. The recent advertisement campaigns to popularise the celebration of Valentine Day have proved to be great successes; florists now consider the first 14 days in the month of February as their peak season. On the Valentine Day roses are in such great demand that they fetch as much as Rs.10 per rose. The demand for cut flowers in the city has increased, as the culture of presenting bouquets at weddings and public ceremonies is now becoming popular. Another source of demand is the proliferation of commercial and business activity in the city. Some hotels and business firms in the city have entered into contracts with florists for weekly supply of cut flowers. In some upper class localities florists have entered into such arrangements with private households as well.

The growing market for cut flowers has had a demonstration effect. Attracted by the rising prices of cut flowers several traditional farmers too have taken to floriculture. In the villages around Bangalore one comes across fields covered with marigolds, tuberoses, gladioli and roses. These new floriculturists get their saplings, cuttings or bulbs from local commercial nurseries and rely on the gardening tips they pick up from other gardeners and owners of nurseries. They are also willing to experiment with novel practices. They have taken to using green manure and earthworms to enrich the soil. These farmers find a ready market for flowers in the towns surrounding Bangalore-they do not even have to visit the city to get a good bargain. They cater to the market for cut flowers as well as to the market for plucked flowers. They harvest flowers in such a way that they can be sold in the cut flower market that is by ensuring that there is a long stem with the flower. If plucked flowers are in great demand on a given day, all that they do is to pluck the flowers and throw away the stems. The market for plucked flowers is also growing in Karnataka. As plucked flowers are required for Hindu worship there is growing demand from temples all over Karnataka. The demand for plucked flowers goes up during festivals, in the wedding season and during some secular celebrations. The demand for plucked flowers is not just confined to the Hindus. Muslims as well as Christians use plucked flowers strung into garlands on various occasions. Moreover, plucked flowers are now being used in novel ways on important social occasions. At wedding receptions, public celebrations of birthdays of important persons and at political party conclaves, it is now the common practice to construct huge welcome arches and decorate with plucked flowers of various colours. Flowers also embellish messages and symbols on welcome arches and decorative panels. Viewed from an all India perspective, the culture of flowers is prominent in the everyday life of Karnataka.

Modern floriculture has introduced a plantation type of agrarian system in several parts of rural Karnataka. There are security guards to prevent unauthorised entry and trespassing into the floriculture farms. Graduates in agricultural science are employed as managers to supervise the day to day work. Besides the managers, the farm may also use the services of consultants to give expert advice on insecticides, fertilisers, engineering and accounting problems. Floriculture is a highly labour intensive activity. According to an official estimate on an average a modern floriculture farm employs 50 workers per acre. Workers, especially the women, have to do a variety of different tasks in the farm. They have to water the plants at regular intervals and in right amounts, apply specified quantities of fertilisers and insecticide at the right time remove weeds and stones and harvest the flowers at least twice a day. The job of continually checking the plants to ensure that one plant has only one flower bud blooming in it, harvesting flowers twice or thrice a day, dressing them properly, grading and sorting the flowers and packing and storing them in cool rooms are also that of women. Men are involved in maintaining of equipment and climate control. The workers have to acquire the requisite skills and knowledge to tend to the plants and manage them. Most of the workers employed in polyhouses are women as they are reputed to be good at noticing even slight variations in the health of the plants, in nipping buds and in cutting the flowers. In fact, busy women workers briskly moving around attending to different chores in their brightly coloured synthetic saris add variety and colour to rows after rows of flowers in the polyhouses. The men are mostly busy with working with humidifier machines, pumps, cooling fans and other farm equipment. These farms resemble a factory although unlike in a modern factory, division of labour and specialisation has not evolved sufficiently.

In the villages around Bangalore, people prefer to work in floriculture farms because such work commands high prestige. Availability of work throughout the year, skilled nature of work and the factory like work atmosphere attracts the villagers to these farms. The wage level in these farms is often lower than the wage level outside the farms. The high prestige attached to the job; regular employment and the prospect of being absorbed by the firm on a permanent basis are more important considerations for these workers than the higher wage they can get elsewhere in agriculture.

Since the farms are new and have sprung up only in the last 2-3 years, it is yet too early to talk about the pattern of management-labour relations. There are, however, signs of incipient tensions. The managers speak of the need to handle the workers delicately to overcome problems such as absenteeism. They seek the advice and assistance of village elders in the vicinity in identifying reliable workers and later, in maintaining work discipline in the farms. Village elders also seem to enjoy the attention they receive from the senior officers of the floriculture farms-it gives them a sense of importance especially in these troubled times when their sense of dignity is being challenged by their former clients. The workers in the floriculture farms of Karnataka are apparently not as well organised as their counterparts in Andhra Pradesh. In Andhra Pradesh, the Non Government Organisations have played a significant role in mobilising the workers to demand higher wages and better working and living conditions.

General Impact

Agribusiness seems to have injected considerable optimism in the rural areas of Karnataka. The farmers see the new plant varieties and new cultivation techniques as opening the doors for economic prosperity long denied to them by agricultural policies that ostensibly sought to protect the interests of consumers and peasants. There are visible signs of rural prosperity today. Bus services bringing in daily commuters-both men and women-from the city and nearby towns to work in floriculture farms, commercial banks and in the private schools, convents and boarding schools that are proliferating in the countryside. The farmers are keen to give their children a good English education. Another sign of prosperity is the number of motorcycles and cars that crowd rural roads. Private consultants on horticulture and floriculture as well as agricultural experts recruited by the large agribusiness firms have a busy daily routine visiting farmers even in remote villages to render professional advice demonstrate the new agrarian dynamism sweeping the rural areas. There are numerous other signs of the dynamism of the rural economy. In the numerous small towns and overgrown villages surrounding Bangalore, hotels are doing brisk business and more are coming up everyday. There are taxis available in these towns to take visitors to the remoter villages. Marriage halls, catering services, rentals of public speaker systems, photo studios and video parlours and retail sales agencies for seeds, pesticides and fertilisers and shops selling green manure and even earthworms imported from the Philippines are doing big business in these towns and villages.

There are also other indicators of economic dynamism such as the boom in house building and construction, proliferation of brick kilns and multiplying opportunities for small businesses. Thus, it is now easy for an experienced mason to set himself up as a contractor building houses, for an experienced cook in a catering establishment to set up his own catering service and for a cane craftsman to go into business independently to construct decorative floral arches for weddings. Similarly, a worker with some experience of tending grape orchards can now hire out his expertise on a weekly basis to grape farmers. Employment opportunities for both men and women seem to be increasing. Apart from the floriculture farms, seed farms and horticulture nurseries prefer women workers. Women also find work as shop assistants, nurses and health workers, beauticians, schoolteachers and receptionists. Agricultural labourers prefer to look for work outside their own villages so that they can bargain for higher wage rates in an impersonal market situation. As a matter of fact, it is difficult to locate able-bodied workers in the villages even during the off season.

The developments narrated above are affecting the quality of social relationships in the rural areas. The organic unity of the village is coming under severe strain. Rich farmers are moving out of their residences inside the residential portion of the villages to 'farm houses' located in their own fields. These farmhouses possess all the modern amenities such as piped water supply, electricity and flush latrines. The large compounds have enough room to park their tractors, motorcycles, cars and jeeps and for their cows and poultry. The rich farmers are gradually seceding from the social and political life of the village. They say that their farm work has become so complex and demanding that they can no longer find adequate time to attend to the village affairs. This is partly also a defensive reaction to their loss of power. The rising political consciousness of the Dalits has pushed their former peasant masters on the defensive. The expansion of employment opportunities in the region has made it easy for the marginal farmers and agricultural labourers to find work outside the village. They are no longer dependent on the rich farmers in the village to eke out a livelihood. They can now afford to ignore and be indifferent, if not hostile, to their former patrons.

A significant trend that can be attributed to agribusiness is the proliferation of caste neutral social spaces in the rural economy and society. Agribusiness practices have sharpened the sensitivity of the farmers to considerations of productivity and market competition. The farmers have to now operate in numerous social spaces in which caste and community considerations tend to recede to the background. In interacting with agricultural experts, retail agents of agribusiness firms and their agents' instrumental considerations such as competence and reliability rather than considerations of affinity and caste are becoming important.

Another notable feature of the expanding rural economic horizon is the increased scope for social anonymity. To a certain extent social anonymity is the consequence of the impersonality of social relationships engendered by agribusiness. A skilled worker with some experience in modern floriculture is in such great demand that her social background becomes irrelevant for the firms hiring her. Similarly, a Dalit who has acquired culinary skills is assured of a clientele if he sets himself up as a caterer in a nearby town because, as one of them said, "in the towns no one has the time to ask him about his caste." Further, with rapid migration of people in search of employment and the consequent dispersal of members of any given village over a wide area, it is difficult to ascertain the caste and community identities of people with whom one forges economic ties. In such situations, it is possible to pass oneself off as a member of a higher caste. And even if one wants to do so, it is difficult to check on the caste and community antecedents of people with whom one interacts. As a wholesale flower dealer in one of the smaller towns near Bangalore rudely commented when I queried him about his caste; "you ask another person's caste only if you are interested in getting your daughter married." There are also instances of Muslims owning flower shops named after Hindu deities, of Brahmins involved in poultry and meat processing and of Madigas (a numerically preponderant Dalit caste in the region) setting up milk diaries called Gokula or Nandana Vana (names and places associated with the Krishna legend and with the yadavas who claim kinship with the god Lord Krishna).

In considering the social impact of agribusiness and hence of globalisation it becomes imperative to point out that the social trends vary significantly in different regions. Thus, while it is true that globalisation seems to erode village solidarity in the southern parts of the State, in some rural locations the experience has been different. Thus, in the villages around Ranibennur near Dharwar District in the north of Karnataka, agribusiness seems to have strengthened the unity of the village. Here, firms engaged in seed production prefer to enter into annual contracts collectively with all the landowners in the village. The seed production firms prefer such collective contracts to ensure that the seeds produced by the farmers are not contaminated by the diversity of crops and agricultural practices in different fields. To ensure consensus on the annual contracts in the village the firms find it convenient to promote village solidarity. Therefore some of the more reputed firms build village community halls, Panchayat buildings and primary schools to win over the collective sentiments of the villagers. Considering that some of these villages were earlier notorious for their factionalism, it is indeed remarkable that agribusiness firms have injected a strong sense of unity in these villages in a matter of a couple of years.

In drawing inferences on the impact of agribusiness it is important to keep in mind the fact that the trends that are contributing to the rapid expansion of the market can also easily get reversed leading to rapid contraction of economic opportunities. Thus, the spate of suicides of farmers-especially cotton farmers-of Andhra Pradesh, north Karnataka and Punjab in the light of two successive failures of cotton crops in 1998 highlighted the social costs of globalisation. Inquiries conducted by various committees and bodies and other studies have now established that the farmers who committed suicide had fallen into a debt trap. In Andhra Pradesh, cotton had acquired a reputation as "white gold" and even the farmers who had no experience of growing cotton switched to the cultivation of cotton. Thus, the farmers in Warangal District of the State who had only the experience of growing food crops earlier took up cotton cultivation in a big way. Investigations reveal that when the crop failed the first time, instead of being deterred, several farmers tried to recover their losses by growing cotton once more by raising another loan. The crop failures were caused by adverse weather conditions, but the losses were compounded by excessive use of insecticides and fertilisers, unscrupulous retailers selling spurious insecticides and fertilisers and by the lack of efficient extension services to advice the farmers (Shiva et al. 1999). Apparently, the requisite network of experts, extension workers, retailers of seeds, fertilisers and pesticides to cater to the needs of cotton growers had not been built in the area which compounded the woes of the cotton growers.

The suicides mentioned above reveal the darker side of the impact of agribusiness and of globalisation. As markets are opened up, job opportunities and opportunities for making profits increase thereby creating an atmosphere of prosperity. Suicides of some of the cotton farmers, however, reveal that the mood of the market may soon swing to the other extreme of depression and gloom. To prevent such sharp swings in market sentiments, it is imperative that the farmers are supported by an institutional infrastructure that enables them to get correct and reliable information on new crops and their market potential. The farmers should also be protected with an effective system of quality certification and regulation so that those who sell spurious seeds, plants or insecticides can be compelled to pay heavy damages to the farmers. It is clear that the forces of globalisation can be effectively harnessed only if a proper institutional infrastructure is built up. In the absence of appropriate institutions, the vagaries of weather and market are likely to erode farmers' confidence in adopting new agricultural practices.

The suicides are also symptoms of the pathology of globalisation. Globalisation, by converting the peasants into farmers, has dispossessed them of their agri-culture and deprived them of the knowledge of and the cultural capital of agribusiness. Had they at least possessed the cultural capital it could have somewhat compensated their lack of knowledge because they could have then gained the social access to the experts in the field. Cultural capital also enables them to be discriminative about the advice rendered by others. Lacking in cultural capital, the cotton growers of Andhra Pradesh suffered huge losses by heeding the advice of unscrupulous traders and retail agents for various types of pesticides.

Another inference regarding cultural globalisation that can be drawn is about the need to convert the speculative orientation that is triggered off by market liberalisation into a hardboiled pragmatic orientation based on accurate calculations about costs and benefits and forecasts about market trends. It is evident that as peasant became a farmer, he lost the tradition of resilience and pragmatism that had been the hallmark of his survival strategy. Agribusiness has rendered him dependent on the technical experts and scientists and various commercial interests that dominate his life today.


Recent trends indicate that the forces of globalisation have brought significant changes in rural Karnataka. The farmers of Karnataka have been receptive to the operations of agribusiness firms and have been optimistic about their prospects in a liberalised economic regime. The policy of agricultural liberalisation has apparently opened up entrepreneurial and employment opportunities sufficiently to inculcate a widespread sense of optimism in the society at large. No wonder then that movements resisting globalisation, despite their lofty ideologies have not been taken seriously by the people. The reflexive attitude that is regarded as a characteristic of the culture of globalisation is conspicuously subdued in India. Considering the fact that ideologies have dominated and shaped the culture of Indian politics and taking account of the near universal opposition to globalisation though for divergent reasons, it does seem paradoxical that the current policy on liberalisation has not been resisted in practice. Instrumental considerations have become primary rather than ideologies-this in itself is an important social consequence of globalisation.

Another finding of this paper is that the impact of globalisation depends on the specific conditions that obtain in a given locality. Hence, it is hazardous draw inferences on the general impact of globalisation. Nevertheless, one general observation that can be made is that in some contexts the rural society is undergoing profound changes. The organic unity of the village cannot any longer be taken for granted.

Despite the fact that globalisation has made deep inroads in Karnataka, it will be premature to infer that it cannot be reversed. The fact is that the farmers now have much more to lose than before in the eventuality of failure either due to adverse market conditions or due to unpredictable climatic factors. Under such circumstances upward and optimistic economic and social trends can quite easily get transformed into a general atmosphere of pessimism and gloom. To avoid the latter eventuality it is imperative that proper institutional infrastructure is built up so that the farmers can be given strategic support at crucial junctures. It is clear that the success or failure of globalisation depends considerably on the nature of institutions that are built up to harness the forces of market liberalisation.



Appadurai, Arjun, 1997 Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalisation, Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Assadi, Muzaffar, 1996 "Attack on Multinationals: Reenactment of Gandhian Violence", Economic and Political Weekly, May 18, pp: 1184-1186.

Deccan Herald, June 24, 1996.

Patnaik, Utsa, 1998 "Scenario in Developing Countries and India: Export-Oriented Agriculture and Food Security" in The Great Grain Drain, Bangalore: Books for Change.

Shiva, Vandana, Ashok Emani and Afsar H. Jafri, 1999 "Globalisation and Threat to Seed Security: Case of Transgenic Cotton Trials in India", Economic and Political Weekly, March 6-13, pp: 601-613.

The Pioneer, December 7, 1998.

The Sunday Times of India, November 28, 1998.

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