Saturday, February 15, 2014

Corporations and Development Debate

Only two years after it was rejected, the controversial Monsanto Company is trying to enter Nepal once again. However, this time it has chosen an indirect way; a subsidiary of Chaudhary Group (CG) named CG Seeds and Fertilizers is trying to push in the hybrid and genetically modified organism (GMO) seeds. From the other way round, it can also be said that, Chaudhary Group has taken up the right to distribute the Monsanto seeds in Nepal.

In the context when hybrid and GMO seeds have proved to be fatal in India, resulting into suicide of close to three hundred thousands farmers in a span of 15 years from 1998 to 2013, an attempt to distribute such seeds is a clear case of a corporation, CG in this case, motivated by profit and nothing more than that. Otherwise, how can anyone distribute the seeds which have been blamed, and also proved, to decrease the fertility of soil, eliminate indigenous breed of seeds, increase use of fertilizers & pesticides, effect health of peoples, etc. that too amid the high chances of public uproar and criticism!

With this background, this article will pitch the idea of corporation and show how it works, if not regulated, in a way which ultimately will not benefit local people economically, socially and environmentally. Similarly, it will also try to reason why corporation as an agent of development, as perceived by political parties of Nepal, is a false idea and will finally argue for more agencies in local level as the way forward.
Raj Patel in his book The Value of Nothing sarcastically defines corporations as ‘novel human creation moved by the search for profit, and which has in its short history come to dominate our planet’. Given the gargantuan size and power of corporations and the monopoly earned by them in global food, water, medicine, and important basic systems the sarcasm is understood. For example, six major corporations in the world has control over global food supply and they virtually have power to decide on what is to be produced and how. Their hold on food is such that peoples dying in famine is not because of lack of food but because of lack of money to buy it. So it would not be an exaggeration to say, corporations are a monster trying to accumulate as much profit as possible at anybody’s expense.

This explanation clearly shows how corporation works only for profit and there are no other values associated. It is for this reason, corporations, psychologically, has been declared a ‘psychopath’. At present, people in developed countries and the countries which have been effected by the ‘psychopaths’ are looking back to what damages corporation, in the name of economic growth, did to their economy, society and environment.

For example, corporations have stripped countries of their natural resources and have left behind a trail of social and environ-mental devastation. The explosion at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal (India) which killed more than 20,000 people and the dumping of contaminated materials from gold and copper mine into the Ok Tedi and Fly Rivers in Papua New Guinea by the corporation Ok Tedi (Australian-majority ownership) which later refused to clean the dump and run away from the country are only few of the instances.

In this circumstance, I feel like helpless when I read political parties and their leaders being vocal about achieving economic growth at any cost. All of the political parties in their recent election manifesto have pledged of double-digit economic growth within a decade time but they have not mentioned anything in substance, for instance, about how they are going to achieve it. For Nepal to achieve the double digit growth in short span of time, it will have to follow the economic-growth-at-any-cost strategy which will surely bring in the corporations at some point of time which has proved to be fatal to societies economically, socially and environmentally.

We must understand that the idea of industrializing, for instance – agriculture, as the corporate wants us to do will be counter-productive. Even in case of India, it took about a decade for the problems regarding the hybrid and GMO seeds to reach the surface. In the first few years, there were increased crop yields and everyone – including farmers and governments – were happy about the ‘green revolution’. But the happiness was short lived; with the increasing number of years, the yields kept on decreasing and the debt rose resulting in to the ‘genocide’ of farmers. According to Vandana Shiva, the so called ‘green revolution’ of India was a master plan of the corporations to destroy farmers – the smallest producers left.

In short, something like corporation which is led only by profit should not be the made the basis of development. So, rather than pursuing the dream of double-digit growth with the involvement of life corroding corporations, Nepal should look for steady and sustainable kind of development. At this juncture, it is also very important to convince people, obsessed towards economic growth, about the differences of growth and development. All of us must know that there is limit to growth but development is limitless and is not about big roads, tall buildings, high per-capita income and so forth rather is it well-being of individual and society as a whole. Development as the way we live can always be made better: more beautiful, more inventive, more creative, more efficient, more fulfilling and it does not require economic growth beyond a certain limit to do all the these things.

So, one of the starting points – besides government regulation that would make corporations socially and environmentally accountable – would be power devolution to smallest unit of administration which will empower people and make them able to decide the kind of development they want for them.    

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