In search of ‘Basmatisthan’ : agro-nationalism and globalisation

Abstract : It can't be many other domains where the defence of tradition is so utterly confused with the invention of new identities, of new natural species and of new definitions of places than agriculture. It may be due, for a part, to the fact that even the greatest enthusisats of hybridity in all other domains of life seem slightly more reluctant to follow the same credo when it comes to what they eat. But it has probably more to do with the apparent intellectual unability nowadays-even in all good faith – to decide what is the most desirable for developing countries : is it to stick to the old policy of localism and self-subsistance? or should one rather recognise in the manner of Amartya Sen, the limitations of such a strategy and insist on the fact that « food self-sufficiency is a peculiarly obtuse way of thinking about food security » 1. My intention here – as an anthropologist-is not, however, to enter into such a debate. One becomes hardly wiser by delocalising the debate about the delocalisation of agriculture; but it makes sense to look at in a more historical and comparative perspective that it had generally been done until now. This is, at least, what I intend to show while examining more in detail the controversy which took place at the end of the nineties when an American company owned by Hans-Adam II, one of the merchant Princes of Europe, tried to patent basmati rice in the United States. In recent years some American companies have tried to make use of some of the intrinsic ambiguities of American patent laws in order to appropriate commercial rights over various agricultural products and natural species that originate from developing countries. In particular, attempts have been made to patent turmeric, neem and basmati as 'novel' inventions in the United States despite the fact that all of these products have long been known and consumed for all sorts of purposes in India. Needless to say such dubious practices have not gone unnoticed. According to Vandana Shiva, a well known social and environmental activist in India, such activities are not just opportunistic; they signify a new form of colonialism: " This epidemic of piracy is very much like the epidemic of piracy which was named colonialism 500 years ago. I think we will soon need to name this round of piracy through patents as recolonization; as a colonization which differs from the old only in this – the old colonization only took over land, the new colonization is taking over life itself " ; (SHIVA,1988-2) Many other people-even if they do not go quite so far as Shiva-insist on the necessity of doing something against this type of appropriation. For example, one of the main objectives of Indian representatives of the World Trade Organisation is to obtain an extension of the application of 'geographic indication' to specific Indian products like basmati rice, Darjeeling tea and others. All of this helps to explain why it was considered such a dramatic 'victory' against the perils of globalisation when the American company which seemed to threaten the traditional South Asian monopoly over basmati finally 1 Sen, Amartya " Freedom's market " , The Observer, 25.6.2000 2 withdrew most of the claims of its patent because of the vocal public campaign and legal battle which had been conducted against it. In this chapter, I argue that the whole episode takes on a very different meaning if one extends the analysis beyond the time-frame of the controversy itself, considering also what happened before and immediately after it. By adopting a more inclusive approach – and also a more comparative one-one may acquire, I believe, not only different insights concerning the specificities of this case but also a more comprehensive understanding about what is actually going on under the overused label, 'globalisation'. GLOBALISATION AND DELOCALISATION
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Denis Vidal. In search of ‘Basmatisthan’ : agro-nationalism and globalisation. Jackie Assayag and C.J. Fuller (eds). Globalizing India : perspectives from below, Anthem Press, 2005. ⟨ird-01293195⟩

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