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Imagine A Farming Industry That Grows Food, Not Corporate Profit

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In Mali on Feb. 27, 2015, the organization Nyeleni (global congress for food sovereignty) produced The Declaration of the International Forum for Agroecology. It advocated a model of food production radically opposed to the current corporate-controlled system. Delegates pledged that they would work to:

"... build our own local food systems that create new rural-urban links, based on truly agroecological food production... We cannot allow agroecology to be a tool of the industrial food production model: we see it as the essential alternative to that model... We need to put the control of seeds, biodiversity, land and territories, waters, knowledge, culture and the commons in the hands of the peoples who feed the world."

The declaration represents a challenge to the commercial and geopolitical interests of the U.S. government and its transnational agribusiness sector. Rather than wanting to transform society and food and agriculture, these state-corporate interests require business as usual.

Their corporate model threatens food security and food sovereignty. The interests behind it have captured government regulatory/policy agendas, important trade deals and global trade policies. Monsanto itself is a major player and wields enormous influence and receives significant political support, which is unfortunate given its terrible track record.

In recent times, much resistance to the power of agribusiness has centred on seed patenting, the deleterious impacts of glyphosate-based herbicide and the dangers that GMOs pose to human and animal health and the environment (GMOs were put on the market fraudulently in the first place). And, of course, there is the GMO labelling issue.

monsanto corn field
A sign for DeKalb seed corn, a brand of Monsanto Co., stands near a corn field in Princeton, Illinois, U.S. (Photo: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

But if proper mandatory labelling of GMOs is successful and glyphosate gets banned, what next? Years of debate, deception, industry-funded science and PR over RNA interference, synthetic biology or some other "cutting-edge" technological development and regulatory bodies as government agencies continue to collude with companies?

That would suit powerful corporations just fine. By the time they surrender ground on one issue (if they ever do), the next technology is ready to be rolled out and be promoted or protected by their army of lawyers, PR departments, front groups, glove-puppet politicians and officials. Then it is left to the public and various organisations to fight the good fight all over again and engage in another rear guard action that could take decades to resolve. In the meantime, profits are secured, while health, agriculture and the environment are further degraded.

This piece describes how the people at Monsanto work inside a (well-paid) bubble defined by a business model that is aimed at market capture and profit maximization. As if to underline this, Jack Kasky on Bloomberg reports:

"Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Hugh Grant is focused on selling more genetically modified seeds in Latin America to drive earnings growth outside the core U.S. market. Sales of soybean seeds and genetic licenses climbed 16 per cent, and revenue in the unit that makes glyphosate weed killer, sold as Roundup, rose 24 per cent."

In the same piece, Chris Shaw, a New York-based analyst at Monness Crespi Hardt & Co states: "Glyphosate really crushed it," implying its sales were a major boost.

Powerful corporations might like to project the view that their particular business model and the public interest are one and the same. But this is clearly deluded thinking, given the health impacts of glyphosate and, for example, the deleterious impacts of a corporate agriculture throughout South America.

But through massive PR and advertising, this warped mindset or ideology is perpetuated not only within the confines of a company like Monsanto, but is also rolled out to try to convince the public of the same.

The only aim of companies such as Monsanto is to maximize profit. Why else would Monsanto see nothing wrong with making illegal profits from the seeds sold to farmers in India who live on a knife-edge? Why else would it seek to boost sales of health-damaging chemicals and conveniently ride high on an estimated wave of over $51 billion of taxpayer subsidies in the U.S. over a 10-year period to get farmers to plant its corn?

There is a need to establish societies run for the benefit of the mass of the population and a system of food and agriculture that is democratically owned and controlled.

Transnational agribusiness is very much embedded within dominant power structures and plays a key role in determining global and regional policies. While tackling agribusiness on an issue-by-issue basis is necessary, we must appreciate that there is a need to establish societies run for the benefit of the mass of the population and a system of food and agriculture that is democratically owned and controlled. This involves encouraging localized rural and urban food economies that are shielded from the effects of rigged trade and international markets, which serve transnational agribusiness interests.

It would mean that what ends up in our food and how it is grown is determined by the public good and not powerful private interests, which are driven by commercial gain and the compulsion to subjugate farmers, consumers and entire regions, while playing the victim each time campaigners challenge their actions.

There are enough examples from across the world that serve as models for transformation, from farming in socialist Cuba to grass-root movements centred on agroecology in Africa and India.

The 2015 Declaration of the International Forum for Agroecology (read here) sets out a framework for action. It was devised by delegates representing diverse organisations and international movements of small-scale food producers and consumers, including peasants, indigenous peoples, communities, hunters and gatherers, family farmers, rural workers, herders and pastoralists and fisherfolk. These diverse constituencies provide 70 per cent of the food consumed by humanity, and, as such, are the primary global investors in agriculture, as well as the primary providers of jobs and livelihoods in the world.

There is a need to transform a food system and rural sector that has been devastated by industrial food production. Groups like Nyeleni show there is an alternative to an increasingly globalized economic system that puts profit before the environment and privileges the needs of agribusiness ahead of all else.

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