A new report by War on Want condemns the global industrial food system for its massive profits for the few, while one-sixth of the human population suffers from starvation. Instead, agroecology and food sovereignty models provide where the corporate state fails.
Below are excerpts from Food Sovereignty: Reclaiming the Global Food System, including the section on genetically modified crops.
Food Sovereignty: Reclaiming the Global Food System
War on Want
The model of food sovereignty stands in marked contrast to the approach of ‘food security’ that has dominated official reactions to the crisis of world hunger.
Food security, ultimately a defense of the status quo, fails to recognize that hunger is essentially a political problem that must be resolved by changes in the balance of power.
This report introduces the basic principles that underpin food sovereignty. It also presents a number of case studies to show how farmers are already implementing those principles successfully in their own communities around the world.
§2.3 Genetically Modified Crops
The main reason why genetically modified organisms (GMOs) were developed was not to increase crop yields, as the corporations tell us, but to bring farmers more closely under their control.
The huge profits made by the agrochemical companies during the Green Revolution allowed them to fund the next big step in their bid to control world farming: the development of genetically modified (GM) crops. Over 20 years ago, when the corporations began to test GM crops in laboratories and in field sites, they realized that, even more than with hybrid crops, genetic modification would turn the humble seed into the linchpin of world farming. If corporations could monopolise the seed market, they would leave farmers with no option but to buy their GM seeds and all the other products associated with their cultivation. Overnight they would create a captive market.
So the corporations began to buy up seed companies. Over the last two decades they have taken control of more than 1,000 once independent seed companies, so that the top 10 seed companies now account for 73% of the world’s commercial seed market (the top three companies alone account for over half). US-based Monsanto has been particularly aggressive in its targeting of small seed manufacturers in key countries such as Brazil. In 1996 Monsanto was not even among the top 10 global seed companies, but by 2009 it was secure in first place, responsible for 27% of the global commercial seed market on its own (see Table 1).
The first genetically modified crop, put on the market by Monsanto in 1996, was Round-up Ready (RR) soya, a variety of soya into which a gene had been introduced to make it resistant to Round-Up, an herbicide also made by Monsanto. At first, this advance seemed to be a real boon for farmers. They no longer needed to plough fields, just douse them with pesticides to kill the weeds. And it allowed them to spray their fields early in the growing cycle as their crop, although still vulnerable seedlings, would not be affected. Shortly afterwards, Bt maize, Bt potato and Bt cotton, all of which had had a Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxin gene introduced into them to make them resistant to common pests, were put on the market, also by Monsanto.
The main advantage of these new crops for the big farmers was that they facilitated monoculture and helped reduce labour costs – both key elements in the agricultural ‘race to the bottom’.
It did not take long, however, for problems to emerge. ‘Super weeds’ soon developed resistance to the Round-Up herbicide, and ‘super bugs’ began to munch their way into the Bt crops. The corporations have repeatedly told farmers that all their problems will be solved by the second generation of GM crops, engineered to be more toxic or more pest-resistant, and some of these crops are now on the market. While they may work for a time, pests and weeds will undoubtedly find their way in to the new crops. So another generation of GM crops will be needed: the techno-fixes go on and on.
§2.4 Pulling in the Profits
Even though there has been considerable resistance from farmers in many parts of the world to genetically modified crops, the agrochemical corporations continue to increase their sales not just of GM crops but of agrochemical products in general.
The global South has become increasingly important to the companies, with industry figures suggesting that the combined sales of agrochemical products in Latin America and Asia have now for the first time surpassed combined sales in North America and Europe.
In the dog-eat-dog world of corporate competition, companies either buy up their rivals or are bought up themselves. The agrochemicals sector has been going through – and is still going through – an intense process of concentration. By the end of 2007, the top 10 companies were responsible for 89% of agrochemical sales.
These companies have become so powerful that they can push new and potentially harmful farming techniques on to farmers, who in poorer countries are often illiterate and ill-prepared to assess the risks of the technology they are offered. One of the most shocking cases involves India’s cotton farmers. They were strongly ‘encouraged’ to use expensive hybrid and GM seeds, which eventually trapped them in an escalating debt spiral. Some 150,000 farmers have committed suicide as a result.
While peasant farmers, smallholders and indigenous people struggle to stay on the land, the corporations are tightening their grip and producing multibillion-dollar profits for their shareholders. Although distinctions between sectors are blurring as technology changes and the corporations move into new areas, there are still clearly two groups: the biotech companies, which provide inputs for farmers from seeds and pesticides to veterinary products (see Table 3); and the food merchants, who buy the produce and transport it around the world (see Table 4). Both have continued to chalk up billions of dollars in profit each year, even during the financial crisis.
Now that the world is entering a phase of climatic uncertainty, with increased droughts, flooding and other kinds of extreme weather, the corporations would like us to believe that only their GM crops, which will be specially engineered to resist drought or salinization, can save the world from hunger. This completely ignores the fact that hunger is essentially a political problem, caused by poverty and landlessness. The proliferation of further GM crops will simply increase farmers’ dependence on the agrochemical corporations themselves.
Until recently the corporations were careful not to buy up land or get involved in the actual work of growing crops or raising livestock, clearly deterred by the very real but unpredictable risk of losing crops or livestock as a result of bad weather, natural disasters or disease. But, as we shall see in the next section, this is changing. With the stock of fertile land around the world declining, investors are now viewing land itself as the next investment opportunity.
Food sovereignty entails a radical change in the way society is organized so that power is taken away from local elites, who are so often aligned with corporate capital, and is restored to the people. It means people gaining control over their land and deciding what they will grow and how they will grow it.
It means pushing through changes in macroeconomic policy so that national food production can be protected from competition from cheap food imported from abroad. In this way, food sovereignty is an integral part of the process of constructing participatory democracy, and of demonstrating that another world is possible.
Read the full report here: www.waronwant.org/attachments/Food%20sovereignty%20report.pdf
Or here: Food sovereignty War on Want 10-2011