Farming and capitalism

Amal Chatterjee
10 min readJan 16, 2019

Source : Google photo of rice fields in Sapa, Vietnam

Synopsis : Of all types of occupations, I think farming is the most difficult and laborious one. Most people in this world who live in towns and cities and are not farmers have no idea what it takes to grow food that they buy at the supermarket. They have never been to a farming community to see for themselves how hard the farmers work and under what conditions. Many have never seen a rice or wheat plant.

Once someone told me that she asked a simple question to her friends who were all Americans . The question was How many teats a cow has. Some one said five, some said three and others said two but no one got it right because they had never been to a farm and seen a cow up close. This is not an isolated case.

An American woman who had never seen a rice plant asked me how we got the green rice that we prepared for her and did the green rice come directly from the plant? We were amused at her ignorance and explained that we used a food color to make it green.

We take our food for granted and never know what it takes to produce them because people who never do any physical work except typing using a key board in an air conditioned office do not have any idea of the sheer work required to grow the food that we then buy at a local store so today I wanted to write something about the farmers of this world who feed us but are not given due credit or understanding of their hard life.

Farming of any sort is hard work but rice farming takes the cake when it comes to sheer back breaking hard work. The farmer has to first prepare the land meaning he has to plow the field full of water and level the paddies with a plank or a leveler. Then he has to get up at 4 or 5 am and pull the seedlings from the seedbed and tie them in bundles and distribute the bundles throughout his fields which may contain several paddies.

Source : Google photo of rice seedlings transported to fields

Then comes the hardest part of all. The planting has to be done manually so hundreds of men , women and even youngsters start planting the seedlings one at a time in straight rows by bending from waist down in thick mud of the paddy that may be anything but clean. It may have sharp objects in the mud, leeches or worms but they must keep at it the whole day under the scorching heat of the tropics with only short breaks for lunch.

At the end of their day their whole body aches from head to toe due to this hard work that they must repeat until all the fields are thus planted. There are mechanical rice planters used in some countries but most of the poor rice farmers can’t afford them so it is still done manually. Then comes weeding by pushing a weeder between the rows of plants hour after hour, day after day and week after week until the job gets done. Then comes spraying the entire field to protect the plants from insect pests . This means carrying a heavy knap sack sprayer and walking through mud under the sun.

Then comes the harvest after 120 days or so that is also a back breaking job because the plants have to be harvested by hand and carried to a thresher to separate the grains from the plant. If you have never done such work in your life then you should know that it is a dirty job that will make you very itchy all over your body. I know because I have done such work myself when I was doing my field research here in the Philippines and Vietnam.

Source : Google photo of rice harvesting in Asia

So don’t be fooled by the emerald sea of rice paddies planted so neatly and the golden mature fields that you will see from your car if you happen to pass through the rural areas. It takes a great deal of hard work to produce the grains you call rice and no they are not green from the plants.

My topic today is farming and the capitalistic system in many countries where small farmers are disappearing giving way to large corporations that operate millions of hectares of fertile land and use massive farm machineries that do the land preparation , planting, weeding and all other work to grow the crops and harvest . There you will see many air conditioned machines operated by a few that cover a lot of ground in a single day. Only large corporations have a lot of money to buy the large machines that do the job so efficiently leaving the small farmers to their own resources that are so limited.

I will now tell you how the capitalistic system pushes out small farmers in favor of large corporations that take over the production of food on a large scale. In the United States less than 3 percent of the total population of the country is engaged in farming hence the ignorance of the 97% people who say cows have 3 teats or less. But there was a time when this was not so. May be one hundred years ago there were many small farmers but they did not have the resources the large companies have so they were gradually forced out.

This is happening in many countries where the mechanization is replacing manual labor in the fields even in some rice growing regions. One rich businessman started to farm in Brazil investing billions of dollars and thought that complete mechanization of rice crop will give him great profit but he was wrong. His expensive machines bogged down and rusted in the deep mud of the rice paddies so after suffering great loss, the whole project was abandoned.

Here is a story that is quite interesting so I will mention it here. There was a prosperous farmer somewhere in the United States who had over 600 acres ( they still use acres there) that he cultivated well and was known as a progressive farmer but one day he died leaving his widow and the house and a lot of farm related debt. The poor widow did not know a thing about farming so the fields remained fallow generating no income for her. So she failed to pay her taxes that prompted the government to take away a part of her land as recompense every year until nothing was left of once prosperous farm.

When she was left with nothing but only the house she lived in, they threatened to take that as well and put her on the street so a plea was made to the governor to save her and give her the reprieve she so badly needed so that was granted. I wonder what would have happened if she was white but that is another issue altogether.

The capitalist system is based on making money at any cost so it disregards the plight of small farmers and leaves them to fend for themselves which they find hard to do but the tax collectors are relentless as I mentioned about the black widow above so they sell their land and try to find other jobs. This is easier said than done because jobs are scarce for poorly educated farmers who have no other skills than farming.

The small scale dairy farmers or those who raise chickens or hogs face the same problems as other small farmers and are often subject to exploitations by the rich corporations that ask them to raise chickens or hogs for them and pay them a low price in return to maximise their profit margins. Ask any chicken farmer in Arkansas how they fare and they will tell you their sad stories of exploitation.

These rich corporations then employ immigrant women from the poor communities and pay them minimum wages to de feather the chicken and gut them whole day. Gutting a chicken is a very hard job that these poor women do for low wages and can’t complain if they get nerve damage and swollen and very painful hands. When women can’t work any more or slow down, they are summarily fired.

I see the same kind of exploitation here in the Philippines where the rice farmers borrow the money from the rich Chinese mill owners to buy the seeds and fertilizer etc. to grow their crop which they are required to sell to the Mill owner who deducts all the loans plus the interest leaving the farmer as poor as before so the cycle of exploitation continues year after year with no improvement in the life of a poor farmer.

I was shocked when the beautiful cotton the Malian farmers grew at a great cost and very hard labor was bought by the Cotton ginning mills at a low price. They did the same thing and deducted all the loans given to farmers plus interest and said that the cotton was of poor quality and dirty etc. so this sort of exploitation goes on everywhere.

I had earlier written a blog on how the rich landlords in some part of India exploited the poor share croppers that led to a revolt and a farmer called Man Singh emerged as the Robbin Hood to save the farmers from abuse.But guess what happened to Man Singh? One day he was riddled with 64 bullets by the police who hunted him day and night.

In India many farmers who are heavily indebted to the money lenders commit suicide out of desperation so now some politicians find it convenient to pass the farm bill that forgives the debt or reduces it because they want farm votes. They should have gone after the moneylenders who use usury to make money and put them in jail but they are rich so nothing happens to them.

I still favor a government that does not tax poor farmers and makes farm loans available to them. This is the approach the Government of India has taken which brings a great relief to farmers who number in hundreds of millions. The new government there is building farm to market roads, bringing electricity to most of the villages, giving them subsidy for diesel fuel to run their pumps for irrigation, buying the farm products at an assured rate that is then distributed to all Indians at a subsidized rate.

But subsidy at such a grand scale costs billions of dollars in India that has to come from other sources of revenue. Poor countries that can’t afford subsidies leave the poor farmers to the loan sharks and unscrupulous money lenders.

The farmers are the salt of this earth. They grow the food we eat everyday. Without them the country will starve or will have to import food from somewhere else so the farmers need all the help they can get. Any system that exploits the farmer puts food production in danger. Any country that favors rich corporations to manage agriculture hurts the poor farmers who are not trained for any other job. In countries where more than half the population is engaged in small scale farming face serious challenges to improve the lot of such farmers. That is where the exploitation of farmers is also rife.

The collective farms of the former Soviet Union was a failure because the farmers did not own the land so had no incentive to produce anything. They were paid poor wages but the collective farms were very inefficient and not very productive so it failed. The farmers must own their land to have the incentive to produce anything. The countries that have succeeded in implementing an effective land reform program like in Cuba have become self sufficient in food production.

As a country develops and where infrastructures are built, it helps the farming community in many ways that helps them grow more food that they can sell to buyers easily when the farm to market roads are built. Eventually the farming population in many countries will decline leading to more mechanization but it should not happen at the cost of making them destitute. That is the flaw in the capitalistic system.

If all the hard work to grow food is taken over my machines someday then it can only be a good thing but only if the farmers are given alternative to make a decent living in other jobs. That can only come from education and training . This is happening to some communities where the youngsters are not interested in farming so they try to get some education and skills that make them employable in other jobs.

Planting rice is a back breaking job. I know because I have done it.

Note : My blogs are also available in French, Spanish, German and Japanese languages at the following links :

tumblr posts

Blogs in French

Blogs in Spanish

Blogs in German

Blogs in Japanese

Anil’s biography in Japanese

Anil’s biography in French.

Anil’s biography in English.

Anil’s biography in Spanish.

Anil’s biography in German