Category Archives: Landgrabbing

Absolute power comes from absolute control of food – Devinder Sharma

 This painting is by the French artist Michel Granger.

Is this what we have done to our planet?  

Devinder Sharma shares his interview with French journalist Catherine Andre, posted on January 2018 in the Bhoomi Network emagazine, which shares holistic views on ecological and man-made realities.

A summary

The industrial food production model, developed in the United States and Europe since WWII, and lately widely adopted in South America, is unsustainable and is destroying both the planet and its inhabitants…

The large high-input, high-yield monocultures, with heavy farm machinery running on subsidised fossil-fuel and laced with potent agro-chemicals have not only depleted soil health, but polluted oceans, rivers as well as ground water and has massively contaminated the environment. The decimation of plant and animal biodiversity, and the loss of accompanying ‘traditional knowledge’ has in turn impoverished communities that have lived in synergy with the bio-resources.

The emergence of commodity value chains and the way international trade regimes have been designed, means that developing country farmers have been forced to de-skill, abandon agriculture and migrate to the cities in search of menial jobs. Still worse, the forceful opening of the developing country’s trade barriers and inundation with highly subsidised food supplies, has already turned 105 of the 149-odd Third World Countries into food importing countries.

The best way to address hunger for any developing country is to have production by the masses, and not production for the masses

Producing food and carrying it all the way to different parts of the world has created ‘food miles’ which exacerbates global warming. And ever since the global food crisis in 2007/8, multinational companies are now in a race to grab farm land. Studies have shown that an area equivalent to the cultivable area in China and India has already been purchased or leased in Africa, South America and Asia. But in my understanding the best way to address hunger for any developing country is to have production by the masses, and not production for the masses. Small farmers need to be gainfully employed, in the sense that farming is turned into a profitable enterprise. Political stability apart, the region needs investment in livelihood options which means primarily focusing on restoring agriculture, livestock and the rural infrastructure.

The revival of traditional agriculture, depending on water availability and providing adequate farm prices and market infrastructure is immediately required

At the World Economic Forum 2011 at Davos, business leaders from 17 private companies – including Archer Daniels Midland, BASF, Bunge Limited, Cargill, Coca-Cola, DuPont, General Mills, Kraft Foods, Metro AG, Monsanto Company, Nestlé, PepsiCo, SABMiller, Syngenta, Unilever, Wal-Mart, and Yara International -announced the launch of a global initiative — New Vision for Agriculture — that sets ambitious targets for increasing food production by 20 percent, decreasing greenhouse gas emissions per ton by 20 percent, and reducing rural poverty by 20 percent every decade.

While all the targets seem very attractive, the fact remains that world does not need to produce more. As per the USDA report, the world already produces food for 13.5 billion people, which means for double the existing population. Roughly 40 per cent of the food produced globally is wasted every year. The challenge should therefore be to drastically reduce food wastage rather than to raise production thereby causing more environmental depletion.

From an era of food self-sufficiency, India is gradually moving to be an economy of dependence. Successive governments have pushed in policies that promotes privatization of natural resources, takeover of farm land, integrating Indian agriculture with the global economy, and moving farmers out of agriculture – in essence the hallmark of the neo-liberal economic growth model. The result is clearly visible. The millions displaced will constitute the new class of migrants – agricultural refugees. Twice the number of people that are expected to be displaced by global warming worldwide will be pushed out of agriculture in India.

According to Down to Earth magazine, the food import bill for 2015-16 stood at Indian Rs 1,402,680,000,000.

This was three times more than the annual budget for agriculture. Successive governments have actually been following a policy prescription that was laid out by the World Bank as early as in 1996.

Just like the controversial austerity measures in the European Union, the thrust of the economic policies is to cut down on social security, public investment in food, agriculture, health and education. International Financial institutions, credit rating agencies and the multilateral trading organisations have all been pushing for fiscal reforms. This is accompanied with increasing privatisation of natural resources, encouraging corporate agriculture and pushing for public-private partnership projects.

What India needs is a production system by the masses, not production for the masses.

For a country like India, which has 600 million people directly or indirectly engaged in agriculture, food production has the potential to revitalise the Indian economy, be a pivot of inclusive growth.

As I have often said: “Absolute power comes from absolute control of food” So far, the food chain is in the hands of three dominant players. The technology companies, the trading companies and the supermarkets. I see a convergence taking place in the years to come. Three players are swiftly merging into one – the future food factories. Many universities in US/EU have come up with designs for the future food factory, but the most worrying part is that the World Bank is considering how to subsidise it. That will be the end of farmers then.

Whether in Argentina and Mexico, a circle of poison escalated by the application of chemical pesticides, including the controversial glyphosate pesticide, has caused extensive suffering

In India aerial spraying of Endosulfan in cashew plantations in Kerala had for some decades inflicted innumerable diseases/disorders among the people. Lately a train carrying cancer patients from the food bowl of Punjab, engaged in high-intensive agriculture, to neighbouring Rajasthan has come to be known as ‘Cancer Train’.

With six companies controlling pesticides production, and the same companies also claiming intellectual propriety over ‘improved’ seeds, the control over agriculture has become complete. The Poison papers, prepared by the BioScience Resource Project, is a compilation of 20,000 documents that expose decades of collusion between the pesticides industry and regulators. But still, the international community is unwilling to work towards a pesticide-free world.

If consumers demand pesticide and GM-free food, the retail trade will provide it.

Once the demand for pesticide-free food picks up, I see no reason why farmers will not increasingly come under pressure to cultivate without the application of pesticides and chemical fertiliser. The sale of organic food in recent years has picked up enormously in America, Europe and India. I see this as a major development which can shape the future of agriculture, move towards sustainable farming systems.

Consumers rejecting genetically-modified food is primarily the reason why Europe has stood as a wall against the import of GM food from America. European governments are refusing to give way to pressure to allow for GM foods because of public opposition.

The challenge therefore lies in educating consumers, creating wider awareness about their food habits. Once they realise that they are responsible for the environmental damage the world is faced with, they will change. At a time when the world is in the midst of jobless growth, only a sustainably vibrant agriculture can provide livelihoods, save environment, reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions, and boost the global economy.

Read the full article here:





Richard Wright questions the dependence of Europe on Black Sea grain exports

Richard Wright in the Scottish Farmer says that events in the Ukraine give another reminder of the global nature of agriculture. Ukraine is the world’s top barley exporter and a major wheat supplier, much of it going to Europe:

ukraine wheat field“This week, global grain futures rose sharply, although prices are still far from where they were this time last year. This is partly because most crops are now in the ground, and the expectation is that by the time harvest comes around the situation will have resolved itself.

“However the dependence of Europe on Black Sea exports cannot be ignored, and the situation has been complicated by some of the major Ukrainian ports being in the area now controlled by Russia”.

He recalled the 2011 drought in Russia and Ukraine which drove one of many spikes in grain prices because export limits were introduced and Russia also banned grain exports.

Mr Wright – and others – question our dependence on these countries for imports, where political factors as well as weather is a threat to the stability of the supply chain; the Chinese government has leased thousands of acres in Ukraine to grow crops to improve its food security.

He concluded that whoever replaces Dacian Ciolos as EU farm commissioner next October needs to take the issue of food security and a productive European agricultural industry seriously – and events in Ukraine and the threat to its grain supply should serve as a reminder of why that is important.

The biotech industry retreats from Europe but is courting Africa

owen paterson on return from chinaOn 25-26 February the UK environment secretary Owen Paterson “confirmed” that he will leave flood-ridden Britain to attend an event persuading Africans – in the name of science – to accept GMOs.

As the biotech industry is in retreat in Europe, with corporations like BASF, Syngenta and Monsanto all halting the development and commercialisation of GM crops here, it is looking further afield.

The European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC), which published a report on GM last June, has organised the event in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. An extract from page 9 conveys its stance:

easac text

prof anne gloverThe leading speaker is Professor Anne Glover, Professor of Molecular biology and Cell biology at the University of Aberdeen and Chief Scientific Adviser to the President of the European Commission.

She is regarded as a pro-GM scientist and MEP Corinne Lepage, a former French minister for the environment, has called for her resignation on the ground of conflict of interest; Professor Glover is a shareholder in a biotech company and set up the firm Remedios, which was named Scotland’s “Best New Biotechnology Company” for Biotech Scotland by its industry peers.

Professor Glover said in an interview with EurActiv on 24 July: “There is no substantiated case of any adverse impact on human health, animal health or environmental health, so that’s pretty robust evidence, and I would be confident in saying that there is no more risk in eating GMO food than eating conventionally farmed food”, adding that the precautionary principle no longer applies.

Will the serious problems of GMOs be outlined?

  • the millions of acres of US farmland choked by herbicide-resistant superweeds,
  • the insect pests who have become resistant to chemicals used,
  • the animal studies that have shown health risks
  • an epidemic of suicides among Indian farmers, plunged into debt from high seed and pesticide costs, and failing crops.

Only two African speakers have been proposed; one is Calestous Juma, who has been based in the US for years and directs the Agricultural Innovation in Africa Project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, an investor in Monsanto and agribusiness commodity giant, Cargill.

There are reports that African farmers and civil society have repeatedly rejected GM crops, some asked their governments to ban them and the last word was given in the Guardian, earlier last year:

On the Keiyo escarpment

On the Keiyo escarpment

Esther Bett, a farmer from Eldoret in Kenya, said last week: “It seems that farmers in America can only make a living from GM crops if they have big farms, covering hundreds of hectares, and lots of machinery. But we can feed hundreds of families off the same area of land using our own seed and techniques, and many different crops.

“Our model is clearly more efficient and productive. Mr Paterson is wrong to pretend that these GM crops will help us at all.”

* On the 14th it was announced that Paterson will no longer be travelling to Africa



Land Grabbing: Journeys in the New Colonialism


stefano libertiA widely travelled investigative Italian journalist, Stefano Liberti, has recorded what he found on journeys in several countries, meeting landowners, displaced local people and commodity traders.

He visited a high tech Dutch-owned model farm in Ethiopia; a conference in Riyadh, where representatives of Third World governments compete to attract Saudi investors; meetings in Rome where the fate of nations is decided; Latin America’s “united republic of soya”, the ethanol-obsessed US farm state of Iowa and the headquarters of the Movement of Landless Workers in São Paulo.

The book in which he recorded all this is called Land Grabbing: Journeys in the New Colonialism, translated by Enda Flannelly and published by Verso.

landgrabbing coverIt exposes how modern-day corporations and governments are raiding the Third World. They refer to buying up vast tracts of the Third World as ‘land leasing’; their critics see it as ‘land grabbing’ – a new era of colonialism, stealing millions of hectares of fertile soil to feed wealthy westerners.

The FT’s review by its world trade editor Shawn Donnan points out that: “For all the advances in the business of food, the central fact of our age is that we by and large still need land to grow our maize and graze our cattle. Which is why – spying both vulnerability and opportunity – governments and corporations set about buying up acreage around the globe in the wake of the 2007-08 food price crisis”.

Shawn wryly comments that Liberti’s answers to his own questions are unlikely to be the same as those the Financial Times might offer in its editorials but admits that his questions are worth posing and certainly worth our time.

After some defensive remarks about financial naivety and so on, Donnan admits there has been “at least the whiff of exploitation about some of the deals made by governments and corporations in recent years. And you do not have to be a hoodie-wearing anti-capitalist to raise your eyebrows when Liberti details the control of the big five global commodities trading houses and a small clutch of landowners over the soya fields of Brazil’s Matto Grosso state”.

Citing predicted world population growth, he ends: “Technology has so far saved us from a Malthusian disaster. But add the predicted impact of climate change to the mix and there is plenty of reason for governments to be concerned and investors to pay attention. Land grabbing will undoubtedly be with us for many years to come”.