Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Wayanad: Misery in an Emerald Bowl

"The state of Kerala is well-known worldwide for the Communist Party governments it has frequently had over decades, and many hold it up as an example of a more equitable model of development. Jacob picks many holes in this idea, exposing the corruption and poverty rampant in the state, as well as pointing out that much of the state’s revenue comes from workers overseas in places such as the Persian Gulf states."


Wayanad: Misery in an Emerald Bowl
Essays in the Ongoing Crisis in the Cash Crop Economy — Kerala
By T.G. Jacob
Published by Vikas Adhyayan Kendra, 2006

A snapshot of imperialist globalisation

Wayanad is a rural region of the southern Indian state of Kerala, the state in which author Arundhati Roy set her semi-autobiographical novel The God of Small Things. This short collection of essays on Wayanad presents a broad picture of the vast social problems which beset the impoverished area.

Wayanad has been doubly colonised. Not only did the British colonise the whole of India, but later — as late as the 1940s — it was overrun by waves of settlers from other regions of India, both internal migrants and internal refugees. The Indigenous Adivasi people of the region were dispossessed and subjected to discrimination and marginalisation, reminiscent of Indigenous people in other settler states like Australia.

Agriculture grew especially with the “green revolution” (fuelled by application of pesticides and artificial fertilisers). As prices for Wayanad’s main crops such as coffee and pepper climbed in the 1980s, the region seemed to be entering a golden age — but prices crashed due to globalisation and other market liberalisation. Now, previously prosperous farmers commit suicide due to unpayable debts, and agribusiness is moving in. The methods of the “green revolution” have left the soil impoverished and land clearing has destroyed most of the forests.

The state of Kerala is well-known worldwide for the Communist Party governments it has frequently had over decades, and many hold it up as an example of a more equitable model of development. Jacob picks many holes in this idea, exposing the corruption and poverty rampant in the state, as well as pointing out that much of the state’s revenue comes from workers overseas in places such as the Persian Gulf states.

The author analyses some of the left. The often-ruling Communist Party of India (CPI) and the CPI-Marxist are described as social democratic parties, and their ineffective reformism is criticised. The revolutionary left in the state has been represented by various splinter groups from the Naxalite tradition, which trace their origins from the peasant uprising in the Naxalbari region of northern India in the 1960s. While they are small, some idea of their activity may be obtained from the text. Unfortunately, no left or grassroots campaign has been able to unite this state’s poor yet.

Jacob manages to set the state’s problems in a broad international and historical context quite convincingly, explaining the international market mechanisms that have devastated the local economy, and the historical journey that
has been traveled so far. The profound weaknesses of the region’s economy, hardly unique in the Third World, are described in gruesome detail.

His brief survey of the left leads in to a tentative look at the measures needed to set areas such as Wayanad back on their feet to achieve self-sufficiency and sustainability, if not prosperity. All in all this short book is thorough and generally very clearly written. A student of economics, development, globalisation, or environmental issues would find much of use by way of case studies and broad analysis.


Originally published in Green Left Weekly issue 693, 6 December 2006.

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