The planting decisions of small-scale farmers are increasingly bound up with the vagaries of the global commodities markets. So what happens on the land in a place such as India – where the agrarian economy is central to the lives of half of its 1.1 billion people – is closely connected with what happens in the centres of commodities trading, such as Chicago.
This close and uneven relationship between small-scale producers and the large-scale buyers and movers of agricultural commodities is part of what geographer Anthony Weis calls the ‘The global food economy,’ which he argues is creating “a battle for the future of farming” – a battle small-scale farmers are losing in the face of trade regulation via the World Trade Organization, which favours larger producers, mechanization & industrialization, and “fossil fuel-intensive monoculture on a treadmill of agro-chemicals and fertilizers” (Weis, p.162).
But then, as an article in the New York Times also points out with reference to sugar production in India, the fate of agricultural production and the future of agrarian sectors is also bound up with domestic political decisions and particularly attempts by the state to regulate and manage agricultural production. So it is that Indian sugar production has fallen after the state tried to reduce prices by banning exports in 2006. But now there’s a sugar shortage and India will need to import 20-30% of its demand this year (which is good news for sugar exporters, such as Brazil and the U.S.).
As the sugar shortage in India shows, the tale of how food gets to our table is complex, political, and increasingly global and interconnected in nature.