TRANSCRIPT - Anuradha
Mittal, a native of India, is the Co-Director of Food First.
Her articles and opinion pieces on trade, women in development
and food security have appeared in numerous national and international
news papers and journals including the New York Times, Los
Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Bangkok Post,
The Times of India, Economic and Political Weekly, Seattle
Times, and The Nation.
do you think of the blue revolution? Is it living up to its promise
or was it flawed from the beginning?
When we look at the blue revolution we have to look at in terms
of the green revolution or the white revolution or the genetic revolution.
It is based first of all on a myth that we need to increase food
production to address the problem of hunger. Our research clearly
shows that we have enough food to feed every person, every man woman
and child on this planet- at least 4.5 pounds of food per person
per day around the world.
The reason we have hunger is really because of social and economic
causes, the lack of living wage jobs, and people not having access
to food producing resources. So when they have these revolutions
based on myth they actually end up denying people these food producing
resources so this blue revolution has been no different from the
green revolution or the white revolution where we have seen small
family farmers being displaced from their land. We have seen centuries
of tradition- growing food such as rice- basically move into this
short quick profit industry such as aquaculture.
what extent do you think the mindset "there are so many fish
in the sea" might exist in aquaculture?
I think its about the economic paradigm because on one hand you
can talk about the mindset of fisher folk that we want to go and
deplete our oceans but before we question them we have to question
the mindset of international financial institutions such as the
world bank who have given this paradigm of development to third
world countries that you need to increase your exports. You need
to replace your farms with aquaculture farms so that you can send
your products to Europe or Japan or other rich customers in rich
countries. So in that whole paradigm, that whole mindset is based
on making quick profits and it only looks at the numbers forgetting
what they are doing to our environment. Forgetting what they are
doing to the livelihoods of fisher folk or small farmers.
We forget that short-term interests cannot be balanced by the long-term
interests. It is only looking at dollar figures and there is no
way we can put a dollar value to our environment, to our seas, to
the livelihoods of farmers. We have to question the total development
paradigm, which has set out this mindset that quick profits are
the solution to ending our poverty, to ending hunger in the third
world. It takes away attention from true causes of hunger. It takes
away attention from true causes of poverty and it is a quick technological
fix what we really need is social and economic change.
is this an international phenomenon?
Well like the green revolution, when you look at the victims of
blue revolution they are scattered all over the third world whether
it is Thailand, whether it is India, whether it is Brazil, whether
it is Bangladesh. You can find the same story playing out over and
over again. You will find farmers who have lost their fields. You
find salinization of soils; you find destruction of livelihoods.
You would find local communities up in arms against the people who
have set up those aquaculture farms. So you can replace one story
from Thailand with a story from Bangladesh and that's the common
theme with this paradigm, this development model. It has gone out
from the international financial institution as the solution for
hunger and against poverty but you find the same stories over and
India you'll find the same stories, there might be a few differences
here and there, but you'll find good fertile land that has been
converted into aquaculture farms. Soon after you'll find destructed
livelihoods, then you'll find communities that are coming together
to resist and oppose this model of development. Actually I would
add to that and say that it is a blue revolution because it is this
aquaculture which is creating a new kind of revolution bringing
communities together to challenge this model of development so it
is really not just about reclaiming lands but also centuries of
traditions, growing food, feeding our communities, feeding our families
and also organizing.
do you see shrimp aquaculture as a step towards development that
can truly bring about food security?
I would give the story of my own country India which many people
when they think of India they think of massive starvation. It is
true that it is home to almost 380 million people who go to bed
hungry every night but what we don't realize is it is also the third
largest producer of food in the world with agricultural exports
increasing ten percent every year since 1990 with trade liberalization.
On one hand, when we are told that growing flowers for export or
growing shrimp for export is going to help solve the problem of
hunger it is a myth because our land is being converted into aquaculture
is being destroyed to feed the rich customers in Europe, in the
United States instead of focusing on feeding our own families and
communities, which used to be the focus of agriculture. Trade liberalization
has commodified our agriculture. Our food, our rice, and our wheat
are seen as commodities to be exported. What happens then is that
most of the people have gone through basically the cracks and you
find hunger increasing in a country like India when the export market
is also going up. There is no relationship between increased exports
and people's access to food
What about the notion of "trickle down"?
when free trade was brought to countries like India, third world
countries, the carrot that was given to third world countries was
really agricultural exports that it would have market access. However,
this carrot has now turned into a stick as we see that this trickle
down phenomena that more trade will increase national income that
more income will mean higher household income, more household income
will mean better nutritional levels. We know that model hasn't worked.
Whether we look at India whether we look at Mexico, whether we look
at the United States of America. We find that hunger is on a rampant
increase around the world as more and more of the resources are
concentrated in the hands of fewer individuals, fewer corporations
at the expense of the back pains of the poor. That is not changing.
It is an international global phenomenon, whether it's India or
is your sense on genetically modified fish?
If genetically manipulated fish were ever released, it would be
horrific. It would be a horrific crime against humanity. We are
forgetting that they can escape into the wild. Once they escape
into the wild they can destroy the native species. They have the
ability to grow faster. It would basically be like writing up a
death sentence for the native species of salmon and that has been
done in the most thoughtless way. Are we really ready to take on
the responsibility of having destroyed something that we can never
create? We have learned that lesson from aquaculture where we have
released these species, genetically engineered and others into the
oceans and into the wild that they will escape.
have to learn a lesson from GM foods. We have to learn from mass
contamination in Mexico. But when it comes to GE fish and salmon,
the risk that we take on is once again something that cannot be
recalled. Once it is done it is done forever. We need to have a
public debate we need to have a scientific debate; we need to have
environmental debates. This is something that the society needs
to have a say in. It cannot be determined by a few corporations
who make a quick buck because they will grow faster and they can
capture more markets.
that fish called? Tilapia. Yes. It's a classic one when you think
of GE fish and you think of Tilapia. We know what we have done in
the past. So its not that we are speculating, its very obvious to
us what's going to happen with GE fish. It's not something new.
It's something that we have done before. We have messed up big time
and yet the greed and instant gratification of a few people and
corporations, it's shocking and appalling.
been a vegetarian all my life, but from people even who love fish
and have eaten Tilapia they say it tastes like shit. I mean I hear
people talk about fresh salmon and they got it from the farmers
market and I'm willing to give it a try because it sounds so good.
How can we balance a quick profit for few people against our environment
and food? The whole aspect of what food is supposed to mean is something
so personal. It's something so political. It's something we eat
everyday. It's not just about getting to my job to make more bucks
or stopping at McDonalds to get a quick burger. I mean how have
we turned food into just something like a chore. We have turned
livelihoods of people into an inconvenience.