|Feb 7, 2013 - Issue 503|
Food Sovereignty or Industrial Agriculture?
As national economies around the world are each facing “fiscal cliffs” of their own, and as climate change and environmental degradation threaten all nations, the crisis in agriculture may be a greater threat and the solutions that are being proposed might make things even worse.
The power of transnational corporations, headquartered mostly in the economically powerful nations, is moving the world’s people toward industrial agriculture and away from small farm agriculture, the only system that will provide the people with what is now commonly called “food sovereignty.”
Food sovereignty is a term used by La Via Campesina since the mid-1990s to describe the rights of peoples to produce their own food by using a system of agriculture of their own choosing. Food sovereignty puts the people and their communities, as well as their nations, at the center of food systems, without regard to the demands or profits of a corporatized global food system.
La Via Campesina
is an international movement, which brings together millions of peasants, small
and medium-size farmers, landless people, women farmers, indigenous people,
migrants and agricultural workers in about 150 local and national organizations
in 70 countries from Africa, Asia, Europe, and the
In describing itself, Via Campesina declares: “It defends small-scale sustainable
agriculture as a way to promote social justice and dignity. It strongly opposes
corporate driven agriculture and transnational companies that are destroying
people and nature.” The movement began just 20 years ago in
Now, however, the movement’s spokespersons point out, “La Via Campesina is now recognized as a main actor in the food and agricultural debates. It is heard by institutions such as the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) and the U.N. Human Rights Council, and is broadly recognized among other social movements from local to global level.”
If it is difficult for
small groups that try to offer alternatives to the way the dominant culture is
doing things in the
The sheer numbers of people in the movement should give them great credibility (of which they have earned a great measure), but they are functioning on a global scale and they have few rich and powerful friends to carry their message into the parliaments, congresses, and corporate headquarters around the world. The world has many issues that are more important to them than peasants and indigenous and fisher people and their cry for food sovereignty.
But food sovereignty should be of concern to those in the richer countries, as well, because they are, indeed, subject to the same corporate food that peoples of poorer nations are having slammed into their dinner pans and onto their plates. That is, if they are being given a share of the spoils of land grabbing, at all.
Everyone should be
learning about land grabbing on all of the continents, but especially Africa,
Asia, and the
A most recent example of land grabbing is the project, ProSavana, an enterprise of the Brazilian government and the private sector, in collaboration with Japan, for a large-scale agribusiness project in Northern Mozambique, where the rainfall is good and, according to Via Campesina, “millions of small farmers work these lands to produce food for their families and for local and regional markets.” It is these lands that would be made available to Brazilian and Japanese companies to establish large, industrial farms, to produce what they would consider low-cost commodity crops for export.
It is not clear whether
the export crops would be destined for
What is clear is that, if the land grab there runs true to form, as in other countries, the people who have been farming the land for a very long time might be able to work on the vast plantations at wages that are so low they might not be able to feed themselves, their families and their extended families. They would be refugees in their own land, without the means to send their children to school or to seek medical care when it is needed…the most basic amenities of life.
Ostensibly, the project is concentrating on “abandoned area,” where no farming is being practiced in the region and they will be able to obtain long-term leases (in some countries as long as 99 years), at fire sale prices: $1 per, hectare per year (a hectare is 2.47 acres).
Via Campesina stated, “But land surveys by Mozambique's national research institute clearly show that nearly all the agricultural land in the area is being used by local communities.” The millions who depend on small farms for their way of life do not want the large-scale monocropping of “commodities,” such as corn, soybeans, cotton, wheat, and other plantings that are not for food, but for the world market. The people in that part of the country do not want to be employees of Brazilian or Japanese companies or rural laborers who work at whatever they can at a (low) wage-paying job.
Commodity production in other countries has produced disasters of large proportions and it has resulted in the depletion of the soil and damage to the soil in ways that small farm agriculture would not be able to accomplish, even if they intended to do so. Peasant farmers around the world know this, because they have seen commodity cropping in other parts of the world. The result of raising commodities, year after year, is soil that is without much life after a while and crops can be grown only by industrial and chemical intervention: Chemical fertilizer is necessary, as are pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. And, new pests are encountered regularly, largely because crops that spring from chemical intervention are weaker than crops that are grown without such aids, and in conditions closer to their natural state.
Those who live in
countries like the
Small farmers in many
Corporations like St.
Louis-based Monsanto, a worldwide chemical and seed company want to force the
replacement of saved seeds wherever they are able. Land grabbing companies and
governments are the likeliest places for Monsanto to do their work. It has
happened in the
This is all pure profit
for Monsanto and other seed and chemical companies of the world. They don’t
have so much as a shovel invested in farming around the world and yet, they
reap the profits, while peasant farmers and indigenous peoples go hungry. That’s
why land grabbing is so important to worldwide corporations. They have seen
that it works in places like the
A year ago, the news outlets in the U.S. were full of stories of the “Occupy” movement and the most important result of its creation: The nationwide discussion of the reality of the working of the economy, in that 1 percent owns or controls the vast majority of the wealth and income of the country, while the 99 percent of the rest of us are left with little.
People who work the land
in other countries, like
BlackCommentator.com Columnist, John Funiciello, is a long-time former newspaper reporter and labor organizer, who lives in the