India’s direct investments

A new, darker edge to globalization is fast gaining ground. It is a form of neo-colonialism and is possibly, most prominent in the case of land grabbing. Disturbingly, India, itself a past sufferer of colonialism, is one of the frontrunners of this phenomenon. Large pieces of land are being bought off by Indian companies and the government in economically weaker countries, ones not necessarily known for their democratic competence.

Countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Uruguay and even some South Asian countries have experienced the financial might of emerging economies. However, there are varied dimensions to this problem, and not all are convincingly wrong. Essentially, land grabbing can be seen as investment by Indian companies on foreign soil – reverse FDI if you will. An inherent part of commerce is the profit motive, and creating a commercial advantage by taking production to the cheapest venue cannot be reason enough to dismiss a process.

In fact, the companies and the governments participating in such practices, will have you believe that these agreements are advantageous to all. Companies reduce production costs, and the poor countries receive much required investment. Moreover, in cases where food-grain is being produced, companies claim that a percentage of the crop is retained by the farmers, who are further paid for the rest.

However, this advantage is certainly not available when the produce is a cash crop or a biofuel. Moreover, things are not always as rosy as the companies will have you believe. There have been several reports of corrupt practices,government influence, forced eviction, prevention of labour unions and labour abuse.

Then there lies the issue of morality. In countries ravaged by famines (like Ethiopia), can there be any justification to take away even a percentage of the food? At a time when international aid efforts are pouring in money to uplift agricultural processes, we may consider private investment as an inflow of money. However, there is no real accountability of the investments and therefore no real way of telling whether the money reaches those who need it most.

Moreover, where the produce is cash crops, they do absolutely nothing to alleviate the hunger of the local population. Food is actually being taken away from them. So is water. In countries with famines, water is possibly the most essential commodity. Therefore, every time a commodity or product is exported from that country, the water of that country is effectively being exported away as well. This, in my mind, is the greatest problem with the dynamics of present day land grabbing.

However, India must tread carefully in such matters. Although the actions of a private company can be controlled only to a limited extent, the market (and by that I mean the Indian people) can adapt sustainable and socially responsible practices. The case for sound moral judgement is even stronger with the investments of the Indian government. However, one must always keep in mind that India cannot stop investing completely. That will be detrimental to our economic interests and bring very little change to those suffering from land grabbing (for, some other company will fill the gap in the market). Perhaps it is not a coincidence that land grabbing has become a more prominent issue with the media (especially the western media) when companies from transitional countries shifted their interests to the more lucrative cash-crops, food grains and biofuels. Perhaps the concern against land grabbing is less a case of human rights and more a case of stepping on inconvenient toes. Whatever the reason, one cannot dismiss the necessity for India to lead the way in sustainable and morally justifiable investments.

Rohit roy writes the environmental column for Kindle, with desperate intentions to help make a greener world. Currently he is pursuing a PhD in World Trade and Environmental law. His interests include theology, philosophy, good food, Rabindranath and an amateur take on natural sciences.

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