Standing Against Corporate Capture of Agriculture and the World Food System

World Food Day Statement

Monday 20 October 2014

Date: 21 October 2014

Source: Peoples Coalition on Food Sovereignty

Type: Statement

Keywords: Farmers, World Food Day

In the celebration of World Food Day, farmers and small-scale food producers will again receive grand praises. Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and other institutions will likewise be acclaimed for their work on food security and nutrition. The consensus building process amongst stakeholders and their collective work will be commended as highlights of the supposed gains in curbing hunger and poverty.

This year, however, the stage will be shared by a sector which has been portrayed as a new kid in the block, a reluctant actor timidly helping in the background but holds what other actors lack - money. This so-called new player is the private sector which recently corresponded on the decline of the Northern donor funding to intergovernmental institutions and world’s poorest countries. This, expectedly, has become the basis of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Director General, Jose Graziano da Silva’s call to all other stakeholders to rely and embrace to the private sector on increasing the world food output.

While it is noble to create a space for dialogue and collective work among different stakeholders, it is crucial however, to recognize their real relations and the differences in their standing in the global food system. Small-scale farmers, for example, will not get involved in the ’revolving door’ scheme of agrichemical industry whose former executives, lawyers and scientists now serve in the government agencies in charge of keeping watch over the same industries. In the same manner, unlike the agribusiness which maintains an army of lobbyists in Washington DC, CSOs do not have $100 million a year to spend on lobbying in US Congress alone. Even governments of developing countries are no match to agro-industrial corporations that are now dominating the global market and shipping, and increasingly controlling the world’s food producing resources: land; labor; water; inputs; genetic material and investments.

These are evident with the ownership and control of the six (6) largest agro-industrial corporations, more known as the “Big 6”, on the world’s seed, pesticide and biotechnology industries and even on the alarming expansion of supermarkets across continents. According to GRAIN, as supermarkets and their procurement chains expand, they take in revenue from traditional food systems and out of the hands of peasants, small-scale food producers and traders. They also exert increasing influence over what people eat and how that food is produced. Vertical and horizontal integration and mergers of agribusinesses even aggravate the small-scale food producers’ situation as farmers are now forced to be part of global assembly line, being paid pittance for hard labor. They are referred to being a critical part of the ‘value chain’ but instead at least being able to earn a decent livelihood face hunger and indebtedness.

The passage of Seed Acts/Bills and privatization of new varieties of plants in countries like Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Burundi, Kenya, Pakistan and India among others, for instance, which proposes mandatory registration and privatization of all seeds and new varieties of plants- domestic or foreign, promotion of genetically modified (GM) seeds among its food producers and the continuous promotion of Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) which are detrimental to the interest of rural populations are just some of the concrete evidences of governments’ supports to corporate agenda and interests over the farming population.

In the international policy arena, the agro-industrial corporations in collaboration with imperialist countries has shown its ugly head again in disrupting efforts to develop policy reforms consistent with the well being of the people and its right to food. In the 41st Session of the Committee on World Food Security, which is set to endorse the Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Systems (or the rai Principles), CSOs engaging in the process were dismayed to learn that provisions on trade were developed in the document stipulating that it should be consistent with international agreement related to trade and investment and that the rai Principles are based on the “relevant multilateral World Trade Organization (WTO) agreements."Aside from this, a proposition by Canada was also made to disregard a provision on the principles of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) under the United Nations Declaration of Rights and Indigenous Peoples in the rai Principles. Not to mention the manner how United States has sinisterly incapacitated meetings for the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) from which efforts are being made to recognize the people’s right to food and oppose the corporate scheme to make people dependent on vitamin pills for their nutrients.

Lest we forget, WTO’s Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) and Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) are the main reasons why developing countries with previously robust agriculture and a degree of self-sufficiency in staple food crops were forced by developed countries and agribusiness monopolies to allow cheap imported food and agricultural products to be dumped into local markets. And the Bali agriculture package, which similarly imposes constraints on government grain subsidies that developing countries must have to ensure food stockholding programs.

The Civil Society Mechanisms have made it clear that indigenous peoples’ rights, particularly land and resource rights including their right to free, prior and informed consent, FPIC must be a pillar of any principle related to the responsible investment in agriculture and food systems. It must be keenly seen that the failure to ensure this provision undermines respect for these rights, thereby putting at risk the sources of livelihood and culture of many indigenous communities.

In this regard, we call on all grassroots organizations and social movements, along with the CSOs and advocates, to continue protecting the gains of their struggles like the FPIC principles and stand firm on what they have fought for against the WTO impositions. We believe, the Human Rights defenders and all of civil society will take a strong stance on the issue of holding Agro-Industrial corporations accountable especially in terms of human rights by replicating the gain in the UN Council for Human Rights in which it was enshrined that a separate open working group must be established to develop a similar legally binding instrument specifically on agro-industrial organization and other related business enterprise with respect to human rights.

Outside the halls of global policy forum however, we call on social movements and grassroots organization to consolidate their ranks and build the broadest alliances with other sectors along with their advocates and supporters. The corporate capture of agriculture and the global food system is coming to a full circle and has controlled all aspects of food production and distribution including processes developing laws and international instruments. In this situation, the agro-industrial corporations will not hesitate to shamelessly make another killing in the name of profit regardless of its impact towards the world population like what happened in the 2008 global food crisis.

And as we have claimed before, the international policies and guidelines given its importance in the international arena, will just be instruments of giant private corporations that can be utilized to improve an enabling environment at the national level. But just like the plow and sickle that we use in our farms, fundamental changes will still be in our own hands, which will cultivate the land and harvest the fruits of our labour.###

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