Betting the Farm


Food occupies a great deal of our attention, day in and day out. It also raises jarring questions: Why do hundreds of millions of people suffer malnutrition while millions of others struggle with obesity? It’s a question I ask myself every time I return to India following a visit home to the United States.

Dr. Suman Sahai is a geneticist based in New Delhi who is keenly interested in the nutrition of India’s poor. As a result, she has courageously taken on Indian agribusiness for its use of chemical herbicides. She is director of the Gene Campaign, a volunteer organization that researches and promotes biodiversity and the traditional practices of India’s indigenous farmers and tribal communities. Sahai recently conducted a study on plant diversity in the northern Indian state of Bihar, one of India’s poorest states, both economically and socially, but one of its richest in terms of natural resources. A rigid caste system and criminally corrupt politics there have ensured that the state does not benefit from its mineral wealth and its excellent soil and water supplies. Still, thousands of varieties of rice are grown in Bihar, thanks to traditional agricultural practices. The Gene Campaign wants to make sure these varieties are saved from extinction.

While small farms are still the norm throughout India, agribusiness is quickly making significant inroads here. The logic of corporate agribusiness is rooted...

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About the Author

Jo McGowan, a Commonweal columnist, writes from Deradoon, India.