How the Corporations are Being Removed from the Food Supply Chain
“Industrial agriculture has created a complex system of interlocking oligopolies that spans seeds, agrochemicals, biotechnology, trading, and retailing and consumer goods companies.”
The Poverty of Capitalism
The above quote is made by John Hilary, director of the NGO War on Want sums it all in his recent book The Poverty of Capitalism. The industrial food system is characterized by economic focus through an outgrowth of a long and on-going process that has allowed major agribusinesses—companies that supply the chemicals, seeds, equipment and services that are critical to industrial farms—to greatly determine and influence the modern food system. It’s estimated that in 2004 only 8% of farms in the US accounted for 72% of sales.
Further, the top ten seed firms were estimated to control the entire world seed market and the top ten agrochemical corporations controlled 84% of the $30 billion agrochemical market. Further, only six corporations – Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, Syngenta, Bayer and BASF – control 75% of the world pesticides market, Factory farms now account for 72 percent of poultry production, 43 percent of egg production, and 55 percent of pork production worldwide and only four corporations – ADM, Bunge, Cargill and Dreyfus – control more than 75% of the global grain trade who overwhelmingly push commodity crops like corn and soy on local farmers at the expense of native crops.
The major aim of most of these agri-corporations the world over is to earn profit through their operations. They are more concerned with their own interests and not those of the public. The policies of these organizations are usually profit oriented. The underlying policy is profit making leaving other superficial benefits constant. With the hegemony of transnational food corporations, food production has been reduced to becoming a model of profit generation instead of producing quality food production. Food is considered to be one of the basic requirements for humans to survive, and agriculture is one of the largest employers/ occupations in the world.
Challenge to Farmers by this Model
The influence of these corporations in the “input sectors” has led farmers to be exposed to artificially high costs for seeds, chemicals and other farming products, while the influence on the commodities markets has led to artificially lower prices paid to farmers for their crops.
To give you an idea of how the farmer’s income is being affected, let us take the example of the Idaho farmer. The average Idaho farmer gets paid 2 and a half cents per Potatoe. A packet of chips in Idaho could range between a dollar or more depending on the brand.
This results in small farmers being pushed out of the market. This farm crisis is devastating to the rural communities. In developing nations, the quest for agricultural development and the opening of markets to large-scale, heavily subsidized foreign farm products is causing even more extensive displacement of small farmers.
Agribusiness’ motive to seek for profits is expected to usher in a new era where we will witness the commercialization of genetically engineered (GE) crops. GE adoption push has witnessed fresh rounds of mergers and acquisitions of seed, agrochemical, and biotechnology companies.
This has led top seven agricultural biotechnology companies are now also the top agrochemical corporations and rank among the top ten seed corporations. The quest to control this area has seen these companies seek intellectual property rights by patenting “new forms of life” and licensing biotech seeds, rather than selling them.
Licensing agreements typically outlaw the farmer’s use and breeding of second-generation seeds and impose other requirements. Thus, GE crops have deepened corporate control of food by accelerating economic concentration and by changing property rights around seeds. Meanwhile, biotech seeds have seen mixed performance in terms of yield and pesticide use, contaminating non-GE crops, creating uncertainties over liability, accelerating the emergence of herbicide-resistant weeds, and causing insect resistant to bio-pesticides, which are essential tools for organic farmers.
Environmental costs have seen soil erosion, depletion, salinization, alkalization, and chemical and animal waste contamination becoming intractable problems. The highly processed foods has nutritionally degraded food made worse with the addition of hazardous additives and other industrial contaminants
Reactions to the Model
A rejection of a permit for a more intensive type of dairy farming at Kernot, in south-west Gippsland can be quoted as one of the reactions to this model. That decision was based on the reason that the area is predominately a lifestyle farming zone not meant for intensive farming. Thus, the establishment of such zones can control what happens in farming areas across the world.
A Climate-Smart Agriculture model has been proposed. It’s defined by The Food and Agriculture Organisation in Rome (FAO) as “agriculture that sustainably increases productivity, resilience (adaptation), reduces /removes GHGs (mitigation), and enhances achievement of national food security and development goals.”
However, this approach has been seen to be vague as it lacks clear definition of what it entails. More than 350 civil society organisations say that Agribusiness corporations that promote synthetic fertilisers, industrial meat production and large-scale industrial agriculture – all of which are widely recognised as contributing to climate change and undermining the resilience of farming systems – can and do call themselves ‘Climate Smart’.
Further sharing of resources and provision of a space for inspiration and an opportunity to connect with other food-growing communities is being practiced. An example of this approach is being practiced by CFGN; which is a network of organic community gardens across London. Food sovereignty by encouraging urban communities into growing food in the cities is being promoted. This is being achieved through political changes calling for policies that support small-scale farmers, improvement of infrastructure, availing funding and through the provision of education and resource sharing.
What can be interpreted as a strong challenge to the Corporate Model, is that a recent report from the F.A.O. of the U.N. states that 800 million people are actively engaged in Urban Agriculture. Some of the most important points that were identified;
• Vegetables have a short production cycle; some can be harvested within 60 days of planting, so are well suited for urban farming.
• Garden plots can be up to 15 times more productive than rural holdings. An area of just one square metre can provide 20 kg of food a year.
• Urban vegetable growers spend less on transport, packaging and storage, and can sell directly through street food stands and market stalls. More income goes to them instead of middlemen.
• Urban agriculture provides employment and incomes for poor women and other disadvantaged groups.
With so many people now actively engaged in some form of Urban harvesting and the knowledge, E.G. By using Wicking beds, raised gardens or keeping chickens, being shared in real-time. The reliance on the Corporate networks and their profit making is, justifiably diminishing.