Do you ever get that gut feeling that something is going wrong? You don’t know what it is, but something’s telling you that, if you don’t act now, you’re going to regret it? That’s not your intuition talking: that’s your gut literally communicating to you that something’s not right, and our guess is it has something to do with what you ate. Who knew a staple diet of rice, wheat, cereals, soy, corn, and sugar would mess with you like that? Probably lots of people, but that hasn’t stopped #BigAgriculture from growing these crops more and more over the past decades, and finding new and exciting ways to make us think they’re good for us. Join Chell in his #CIA (Current Issue Analysis) on “The Ideology of Agribusiness” But first, check out our #GPS (Global Political Situation) on “Our One-Dimensional Media” in which we talk about #Mosul, #Aleppo, #Ceta, and the #BlackPantherParty.
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#Monsanto #Bayer #FeedTheWorld
- I want to discuss the ideology that stands behind agribusinesses like Monsanto (now Bayer). To do this though, we first have to take a little look at history.
- Starting in the 1960s, the US spearheaded a global agricultural reform that has come to be called the “Green Revolution”. Over the next few decades, modern farming technologies, including high yield crop varieties, chemical pesticides and herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, and mechanized irrigation and harvesting systems would be exported to the developing world 1.
- It is estimated that the Green Revolution prevented as many as 1 billion deaths from starvation 2 (although it’s likely this is way exaggerated). And one of its main proponents, Norman Borlaug, won the Nobel Prize for his efforts 2.
- Superficially, the Green Revolution seems like a great success. The reality, however, is a bit more complicated.
- It’s worth mentioning that altruistic or humanitarian concerns were not the impetus behind the Green Revolution. Rather, Western powers considered agrarian unrest in developing countries a potential source for communist uprisings—remember it was the Cold War—and thus the Green Revolution was an attempt to prevent the spread of communism 1.
- I don’t want to detract from the accomplishments of the Green Revolution. A billion lives saved is worth celebrating, even if done for geopolitical self-interest, and even if this number is way exaggerated.
- I am, however, highly critical of the post-Cold War ideology that resulted from the success of the Green Revolution. I call this ideology the “feed the world” ideology.
- The Green Revolution was, from its inception on, a capitalist “revolution”, and over time capitalist forms of exploitation have become increasingly apparent, and increasingly entrenched in the farming practices of developing economies where it took root.
- The feed the world ideology has a very specific model of how agriculture should be done. And this model has had, and continues to have devastating consequences for the environment, for global food security, and for the communities in the global south to whom it has been exported. So, let’s talk about this model.
- Farming, according to the feed the world ideology must be: First, big. Farms have to be big, and the crops grown on them have to be suitable for mass-scale industrial production. This means rice, wheat, cereals, soy, corn, and sugar. That these are the only crops considered worth growing should immediately raise alarm bells. If it doesn’t, try going a month eating only rice, wheat, cerals, soy, corn, and sugar and see how you feel. Together, these are some of the least nutritious foods available. They’re staples and we need them, but we cannot survive on them alone. At least not without suffering from chronic malnutrition.
- Second, farming’s produce must be cheap. Again, this seems like a good thing: cheap food means more people can eat it. But that view is naive and simplistic. Yes, more people purchase these products because they’re cheap, but that means more traditional farmers on smaller farms producing more nutritious foods, cannot compete. They lose their farms, which are in turn purchased by major agribusinesses. These businesses then migrate production to rice, wheat, cereals, soy, corn, and sugar, thereby lowering the price of these foods further, while driving up the price of more nutritious fruits and vegetables, leading to malnutrition and poverty for displaced farmers. The effects of this increase in poverty cannot be overemphasized. In India, for example, 30% of the population is involved in agricultural production 3 70% of which work on small, labor intensive farms 4. That’s over 260 million people! As small farms are replaced by large, industrial farms, the newly displaced rural poor wreak havoc on local economies. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), moreover, estimates that 70% of the world’s food come from small farms 5, while industrial farms produce less than half as much food, but use more than twice the amount of land 6. As these more efficient, smaller farms are replaced, food security therefore becomes a major issue. And when you take into account the the fact that there are over 1 billion malnurished people on the plant 7 it’s clear how harmful the the feed the world ideology is.
- OK, #3: oil. In addition to the oil consumed in all the industrial farm machines, in the packaging, and in the global shipping and distribution system for agricultural products which is alread enormous 9, sythetic fertilizer requires huge amounts of natural gas to process 8. This increases oil consumption, contributes to global warming, and ties food prices to oil prices.
- That brings us to the fourth thing farming must have according to the feed the world ideology: chemical pesticides and herbicides, and synthetic fertilizers. All of these have negative effects on human health and soil health, and may exacerbate food security issues in the future (especially if world oil reserves begin to dominish). I mean, think about that: the price of food is tied to the price of oil. As soon as oil prices (which are kept artificially low thanks in large part to Saudi efforts to undercut competition) as soon as they rise many of the world’s poorest people (many who were made poor by this feed the world ideology) will no longer be able to afford food.
- OK, the fifth and final ideological tenet: feeding the world is a white-man’s-burden. Major, capitalist agribusinesses take it as axiomatic that Western farming techniques are superior and must be adopted everywhere! This is not only false, but it’s, frankly, insulting. Especially when you consider, as we’ve already mentioned, that it’s the small farms that doen’t use Western techniques that are producing the great majority of the world’s food. Small farms are more efficent, they produce healthier food, they feed more people, they employ more people, and they’re more important to the global food system than Western industrial farms.
- If the feed the world ideology that’s charastic of Monsanto/Bayer and other massive agribusinesses like Syngenta continues to determine the course of global agricultural development then, to quote the Pope, “we’re all fucked” 10.
- There is hope though. In fact there is a very simple solution: we need to spend every effort to protect and support small farms! And don’t just take my word for it. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (the FAO) has said the same thing. In conclusion: High quality, nutritious food is a human right and should not be left to the vissitudes of an unaccountable, greed driven market.
1 B.H. (1986) ‘Perspectives on the “Green Revolution” in South Asia’, Modern Asian Studies, 20(1), pp. 175–199. doi: 10.1017/S0026749X00013627.
8Aleksander Abram; D. Lynn Forster (2005). “A Primer on Ammonia, Nitrogen Fertilizers, and Natural Gas Markets”. Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics, Ohio State University
10 It was actually Sir Richard Clive Mottram, but I don’t know who that is.
#Liminaire #Poésie #GastonMiron
J’ai fait de plus loin que moi un voyage abracadabrant
il y a longtemps que je ne m’étais pas revu
me voici en moi comme un homme dans une maison
qui s’est faite en son absence
je te salue, silence
je ne suis pas revenu pour revenir
je suis arrivé à ce qui commence
Gaston Miron (L’Homme Rapaillé, Montréal, l’Hexagone, 1994)
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