Farmers Mobilize around the World Against Free Trade Agreements and for Food Sovereignty
WASHINGTON - Today thousands of women and men farmers of the international peasant movement La Via Campesina mobilize worldwide against Transnational Corporations (TNCs) and Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) which affect peasant and small-scale agriculture and national food sovereignty. Since April 17, 1996 La Via Campesina celebrates this day as a global day of action with allies and friends.
Free Trade Agreements promote TNCs and a capitalist industrialised mode of production heavily reliant on agrochemicals. These have increased the displacement, expulsion, and disappearance of peasants. Free Trade Agreements put profit over all other rights and concerns. Currently, the most significant FTAs in history are being negotiated by the European Union, the United States, and Canada. These agreements, if finalised, will liberalize trade and investment markets in favour of transnational companies (see tv.viacampesina.org April-17th).
With hundreds of actions at local and global level (see our regularly updated MAP) in all continents, La Via Campesina reasserts the importance of local struggles and at the same time underlines the need of a global resistance and organization between the cities and the rural areas. Actions such as land occupations, seed exchanges, street demonstrations, food sovereignty fairs, cultural events, lobby tours and debates will be carried out until the end of the month as part of these global days of action. This year in Europe, various actions are being organised against Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), Comprehensive Trade and Economic Agreement (CETA), Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) in Germany, Switzerland and Belgium; in Asia, a mass rally to reject the negotiation of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) by Japanese government is being organised in Japan and South Korea; in South America, a big march (over 1,500 people from all continents) is being organised in Argentina during the CLOC-Via Campesina (Latin American Coordination of Rural Organizations) congress in Buenos Aires.
La Via Campesina denounces laws and interests that affect the peasant way of life, an important heritage of the people at the service of humanity. The movement promotes food sovereignty to end hunger in the world and promote social justice.
Instead of a gloomy future based on free trade and big business, La Via Campesina believes the time has come for an economy based on equity that will restore the balance between humanity and nature. Agrarian reform and sustainable agriculture are at the heart of this way of living based on peoples' Food Sovereignty.
La Via Campesina is the international movement which brings together millions of peasants, small and medium-size farmers, landless people, women farmers, indigenous people, migrants and agricultural workers from around the world. It defends small-scale sustainable agriculture as a way to promote social justice and dignity. It strongly opposes corporate driven agriculture and transnational companies that are destroying people and nature.
La Via Campesina comprises about 164 local and national organizations in 73 countries from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas. Altogether, it represents about 200 million farmers. It is an autonomous, pluralist and multicultural movement, independent from any political, economic or other type of affiliation.
The World Bank and the Battle for the Future of Farming
Investing in smallholder farmers and regenerative farming methods, as opposed to the practices of industrial agricultural, would help foster a more equitable distribution of power in an increasingly unequal world.
To reverse the further corporatization of global agriculture, the World Bank must be aggressively challenged over its ongoing programs and policies.
There is a battle raging over the future of farming on this planet, and the front line, this week, is at the Spring Meetings of the World Bank in Washington, DC.
There are two visions. They are often portrayed as being about differences in technical approaches but are, in truth, far more fundamental. This is a battle over nothing less than the structure of global power and the sustainability of life on this planet.
In one corner are the World Bank and its financial backers, primarily rich country governments, multinational agriculture corporations and large private foundations. Their vision is one in which farming is seen, first and foremost, as a mega-industry, primarily concerned with efficiency, output and profitability. The way they go about this is to promote “business friendly” policy environments and aggressive structural reform programs focused on liberalizing economies to make them more amenable to large multinational businesses and foreign investment. Their case rests on the claim that the only way to feed a growing world population is to focus on increasing overall food production through more widespread use of genetically modified seeds and the synthetic fertilizer and pesticides that they need, economies-of-scale, and vast, centrally planned industrial farming operations.
In the other corner are a group of 260 NGOs, think tanks, smallholder farmer’s groups, environmental organizations and trade unions, of which /The Rules, the organization I work for, is one. Our collective vision is one in which power is not centralized in corporate boardrooms and the offices of global institutions but held by farmers themselves. Our case is built on the fact that the real problem isn’t that we are, or will be, short of food in any aggregate sense, but that it is poorly distributed because of deep imbalances of power. Throwing vast amounts of money at large corporate models, and telling governments to put in place rules that focus solely on bolstering the ability of large institutions to grab huge tracts of land for industrial, often mono-culture farms, only deepens those power imbalances. It also does incredible harm to the health of the soil and the wider environment. Far better to invest that money in smallholder farmers and regenerative farming methods that are perfectly capable of feeding a growing population; can do so in ways that can help reverse the pattern of pollution by the agricultural industry (the world’s largest single source of greenhouse gasses); and help foster a more equitable distribution of power in an increasingly unequal world.
To help make our case, the Our Land Our Business campaign has publically posed three questions to the Bank at their Spring Meetings.
1. Why have you not spoken to farmers before promoting massive agriculture-reform programs?
Your flagship agricultural reform initiative – “Enabling the Business of Agriculture” (EBA), formerly known as “Benchmarking the Business of Agriculture” (BBA) – is due to be rolled out across 40 countries this year. At no point in your decision to create the EBA have you consulted farmers or farmer groups. Your consultation has been limited to rich governments and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, who fund you. The only open consultation that could have given affected communities an opportunity to be heard was at a meeting that you staged in London in November 2014, to which you gave seven days notice for attendance. This sort of sham-consultation would seem to be in direct opposition to your own stated goals to consult affected communities, and makes a mockery of President Kim’s recent mea culpa on how the Bank has failed to take into account communities’ needs in the past.
2. Why are you rewarding countries that cede their power and wealth to foreign corporations, while punishing those who spend on the health and wellbeing of their populations?
The EBA is a sister-initiative to the Doing Business Rankings. These rankings, judged annually by technocrats in Washington DC, influence massive amounts of revenue, from the Bank itself, donor governments and corporations. Over the past seven years, in response to the Doing Business ranking, twenty-one Sub Saharan African countries decreased corporate income tax rates at least once. In some countries, they have been reduced as many as three times. At the same time, you rewarded countries like Chad, DRC, and Mali with higher rankings for reducing property transfer taxes and regulations on land acquisition, and downgraded eleven African countries for establishing or increasing social contribution taxes that can be used to improve social services.
3. Why are you prioritizing farming models that destroy the environment and impoverish people, over those that work in harmony with the environment and are already feeding the world?
Using the discredited claim that only by using commercial, patented seeds and synthetic fertilizers and pesticides can we hope to feed the world in the future, you have centralized the role of large multi-national corporations and their financial backers (e.g. the Gates Foundation, which holds $23 million shares in Monsanto, and $1.4 billion of shares in fossil fuel companies) in your model for global agriculture. Rather than speak to and support the family farmers who are already producing 70% of the world’s food, or look to the library of evidence that shows the benefits and potential of regenerative farming methods, you seem to be taking direction from the mega-rich and corporate monopolies. Agroecology not only increases crop yield over time, it does so in ways that sustain the health of the soil and sequester large amounts of carbon. Synthetic methods, on the other hand, plateau and then decrease yield, actively degrade soil and produce greenhouse gasses in enormous quantities.
The World Bank has a lamentable record when it comes to caring for the people affected by their large-scale interventions. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and the Huffington Post released the results of the join investigation into this record just yesterday. The evidence, they concluded, showed how “The World Bank broke its promise to protect the world’s poor,” by providing the financing for projects that have physically or economically displaced around 3.4 million people since 2004.
It should be acknowledged that World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, in his opening remarks to the Spring Meetings, promised to do better in future. But it is hard to put much faith in his words, for two reasons. Firstly, practically every World Bank President has promised the same and yet the problems continue or worsen year on year. Secondly, and more importantly, the World Bank’s entire development model puts so much power into the hands of people whose primary purpose is to increase private profit that it is naïve, at best, to expect that altruistic appeals to “do better” can counteract the structural incentives to maximize profit above all else. At worst, it is merely cynical propaganda to hide an agenda designed to benefit the few at the expense of the many.
Only a wholesale commitment to reverse the further corporatization of global agriculture, by doing away with the Doing Business Rankings and Enabling the Business of Agriculture project, and instead orienting the Bank’s strategy to supporting smallholder farmers and regenerative farming methods is likely to have any meaningful impact.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License
Martin Kirk is Head of Strategy for /The Rules, a global network of activists, organizers, designers, researchers and writers dedicated to changing the rules that create inequality and poverty around the world. Follow him on Twitter: @martinkirk_ny
It’s not science fiction anymore: Monsanto seeks
to control the world’s food
by Systemic Disorder
The ultimate monopoly would be control of the world’s food supply. Although not the only multi-national corporation attempting to achieve the ability to dictate what you eat, Monsanto Company appears the most determined.
Already infamous for toxic chemicals such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), Agent Orange and dioxin, Monsanto’s march toward control of the world’s food supply is focused on proprietary seeds and genetically modified organisms. No corporation or corporate oligarchy possessing a food monopoly would be desirable, but Monsanto is a particularly frightening contender. So powerful is the company that a special law tailored for it was snuck into a congressional appropriations bill funding U.S. government operations.
The Farmer Assurance Provision — better known by its nickname, the “Monsanto Protection Act” — was quietly slipped into an appropriations bill in March by a Missouri senator, Roy Blunt. The appropriations bill had to be passed to avert a government shutdown, providing an opportunity to do a favor for the powerful. Slipping off-topic special measures into bills hundreds of pages long is routine in the U.S. Congress.
Efforts to remove the language from the bill have so far failed. The relevant language is this:
“Directs the Secretary [of Agriculture], if a determination of non-regulated status under the Plant Protection Act has been invalidated, to authorize movement, introduction, continued cultivation, or commercialization for the interim period necessary for the Secretary to complete any required analyses or consultations related to the petition for non-regulated status.”
In plain language, what the above passage means is the U.S. Department of Agriculture is required to ignore any court order that would halt the planting of genetically engineered crops even if the department is still conducting a safety investigation, and rubber-stamp an okay. The group Food Democracy Now! summarized the implications of that requirement:
“This dangerous provision, the Monsanto Protection Act, strips judges of their constitutional mandate to protect consumer and farmer rights and the environment, while opening up the floodgates for the planting of new untested genetically engineered crops, endangering farmers, citizens and the environment.”
The Monsanto Protection Act expires at the end of the government’s fiscal year, September 30, with the expiration of the appropriations bill of which it is a part, but the language could easily be included in next year’s appropriations bills. As outrageous as the special provision is, it is consistent with the basic methodology of public safety in the United States — new products are routinely put on the market with minimal testing (or the product’s manufacturer providing the only “research” and declaring it safe), and can’t be removed from sale until independent testing determines the product is unsafe.
Sell first, ask questions later
In other words, it’s not up the company selling a product to prove it is safe; it is up to others, after the fact, to prove that it is unsafe. This is the case with, for example, chemicals and pesticides. And it is the case for genetically modified organisms (GMOs). No corporation has more riding on GMOs than Monsanto. That is not merely because GMOs have steadily taken an increasing share of foods grown for animal and human consumption, but because of genetically engineered seeds. A report by the Center For Food Safety and Save Our Seeds puts the magnitude of this change in stark terms:
“The vast majority of the four major commodity crops in the U.S. are now genetically engineered. U.S. adoption of transgenic commodity crops has been rapid, in which [genetically engineered] varieties now make up the substantial majority: soybean (93 percent transgenic in 2010), cotton (88 percent), corn (86 percent), and canola (64 percent).” [page 5]
Seeds containing genes patented by Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, account for more than 90 percent of soybeans grown in the U.S. and 80 percent of U.S.-grown corn, according to a separate report by Food & Watch Watch. These seeds have been engineered to be resistant to insects or to withstand the application of herbicides. The report, “Monsanto: A Corporate Profile,” states:
“Monsanto not only markets its own patented seeds, but it uses licensing agreements with other companies and distributors to spread its traits throughout the seed supply. … The acreage on which Monsanto’s [genetically engineered] crop traits are grown has increased from a total of 3 million acres in 1996 to 282.3 million acres worldwide and 151.4 million acres in the United States in 2009. … Monsanto’s products constitute approximately 40 percent of all crop acres in the [U.S.]. …
“A lawyer working for DuPont, the next largest competitor in the seed business, said ‘a seed company can’t stay in business without offering seeds with Roundup Ready in it, so if they want to stay in that business, essentially they have to do what Monsanto tells them to do.’ ” [page 8]
DuPont is one of the world’s largest chemical corporations and a major competitor in many fields. If an enterprise as powerful as DuPont finds itself at the mercy of Monsanto, what chance does a family farmer have?
The reference to “Roundup Ready” in the quote above is a reference to a suite of Monsanto agricultural products (soybeans, corn, sugar beets and other crops) that are genetically engineered to be resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide. Farmers growing these crops with Monsanto seeds can thus spray more herbicides on their crops. Unfortunately, as more pesticides are sprayed, weeds and insects become more resistant, inducing farmers to spray still more and thereby introduce more poisons into the environment.
Patents on life reverses precedent
As with the consolidation of seed companies, the rise of genetically engineered crops and the right to patent living organisms is a recent development. After decades of refusal by the U.S. Congress to allow patents on food-producing plants that re-produce via seeds, it passed a law in 1970 allowing patenting of “novel” varieties produced from seeds.
The U.S. Supreme Court issued rulings in 1980 and 2001 allowing living organisms, including plants, to be patented, opening the floodgates to current corporate practices. A frenzy of acquisition of seed companies and a rapid expansion of patents on seeds and plants ensued. The report by Center For Food Safety and Save Our Seeds summarizes what these changes have wrought:
“As a consequence, what was once a freely exchanged, renewable resource is now privatized and monopolized. Current judicial interpretations have allowed utility patents on products of nature, plants, and seeds, without exceptions for research and seed saving. This revolutionary change is contrary to centuries of traditional seed breeding based on collective community knowledge and established in the public domain and for the public good.” [page 5]
The ETC Group, in its report, “Who Owns Nature?,” also highlights the privatization of a commons:
“In the first half of the 20th century, seeds were overwhelmingly in the hands of farmers and public-sector plant breeders. In the decades since, [biotechnology companies] have used intellectual property laws to commodify the world seed supply — a strategy that aims to control plant germplasm and maximize profits by eliminating farmers’ rights. … In less than three decades, a handful of multinational corporations have engineered a fast and furious corporate enclosure of the first link in the food chain.” [page 11]
Proprietary seeds now account for 82 percent of the world’s commercial seed market. Monsanto, according to the ETC Group, directly accounts 23 percent of the world’s seed sales by itself. Monsanto and the next two biggest seed companies, DuPont and Syngenta, sell almost half.
Once a farmer contracts with a giant seed company, the farmer is trapped. Standard contracts with seed companies forbid farmers from saving seeds, requiring them to buy new genetically engineered seeds from the company every year and the herbicide to which the seed has been engineered to be resistant. Monsanto aggressively litigates against farmers to enforce this provision, dictates farming practices and requires its inspectors to be given access to all records and fields. The company has even sued neighboring farmers whose fields unwillingly became contaminated with Monsanto’s seeds.
Doubts raised on ‘benefits’ of GMOs
Nobody knows the full effects on the environment or human health of these chemicals and GMOs. A recent study published in the journal Entropy found that residues of Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, are found in a variety of foods in the Western diet and in turn can cause cellular damage leading to several diseases, including gastrointestinal disorders, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. More than 800 scientists have signed a letter calling for a moratorium on all field trials of GMOs for at least five years, a ban on patents on life forms and declaring that genetically modified crops “offer no benefits to consumers for farmers.”
Genetically modified crops, of course, are carried along by winds and don’t stop at property boundaries. Last month, genetically modified wheat was discovered in the fields of a farmer in Oregon. The Guardian reports that the wheat has never been approved for human consumption and is a variety developed by Monsanto in an experiment that ended a decade ago. Several Asian countries responded to this news by banning imports of U.S. wheat and the European Union advised wheat shipped from the U.S. be tested.
Hoping to expand its reach, Monsanto (and three other corporations) are attempting to corner the market in maize in Mexico, the staple crop’s birthplace. The companies have applied to plant genetically modified maize on more than two million hectares in two Mexican states. Already, according to a report in Truthout, farmers near Mexico City have found their crops contaminated with genetically modified maize.
Sixty-four countries currently require GMO labeling, but such labeling in the United States is bitterly fought by Monsanto and other giant agribusinesses. The companies argue that GMOs are safe, but if they are so proud of their products, why do they resist them being put on a label for consumers to see? Nor does the revolving door between the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Monsanto inspire confidence.
Corporate lawyers and others who have done work for Monsanto, for instance, subsequently moved to the FDA, where they gave approval for Monsanto products. Although corporate executives going to work for the U.S. government agencies that regulate them, then going back to their companies, is a common practice, Monsanto has sent an extraordinary number of executives to government posts.
Nonetheless, this specter shouldn’t be looked at overly simplistically as Monsanto being an evil company. It and its competitors are acting in the way that capitalist competition mandates they act — grow or die is the ever present imperative. All industries move toward monopolization (a handful of companies dominating an industry, not necessarily a “pure” monopoly of one); corporations grow to such massive size that they can dominate their societies; and the surviving corporations convert ever more human activity or traditionally public spheres into their private profit centers. This is the natural result of market competition and allowing “markets” to determine social outcomes.
Monsanto happens to be the company that is most ruthless at navigating and further developing these ongoing systemic trends, just as Wal-Mart is the company that is the leader among retailers forcing the moving of production to the lowest-wage countries, squeezing suppliers and exploiting workforces. That does not mean that we should be content to allow Monsanto to grab control of the world’s food supply or make life itself a commodity. Quite the contrary. The specter of any enterprise gaining a monopoly over food is too frightening to contemplate, never mind an enterprise so dedicated to squashing anybody who gets in its way.
The idea of Monsanto (or any other corporation or bloc of corporations) wresting control of the world’s food supply sounds like a bad science fiction movie or a crazy nightmare. But modern capitalism is heading toward that previously unthinkable place. The time is to organize is now, for we never have as much time as we think we do.
The 10 GMO Myths That Monsanto Wants You To Believe
Seed laws that criminalize farmers
Peasant seeds – the pillar of food production – are under attack everywhere. Under corporate pressure, laws in many countries increasingly limit what farmers can do with their seeds. Seed saving, which has been the basis of farming for thousands of years, is quickly being criminalised.
What can we do? A new booklet and poster from La Via Campesina and GRAIN documents how big business and governments are moving to stop farmers from saving and exchanging their seeds, and shows how farmers are fighting back.
Control over seeds must remain in peasants' hands. This is the principle, based in the production process, that guarantees the food sovereignty of rural communities and urban populations against multinationals and their enormous profits. Over centuries, peasant farmers have created the thousands of varieties of crops that are the basis of the world's food supply and diversified diets, says La Via Campesina's Guy Kastler.
But for corporations who want to impose laws that will give them complete control of land, farming, food and the profits that could be made from this sector, these time-tested practices around seeds are an obstacle.
For La Via Campesina, the law should instead guarantee the rights of peasants to conserve, use, exchange, use and sell their seeds and protect them from biopiracy.
Big business is carrying out, with the support of governments, a global legal offensive to gain complete control over seeds. This includes not only privatising seeds through new laws, but giving themselves new rights to physically search farmers' homes and destroy their seeds, says Camila Montecinos of GRAIN.
Seed laws are evolving and becoming more aggressive in response to new demands from the seed and biotechnology industry. So-called free trade agreements, bilateral investment treaties and regional integration initiatives are hardening ‘soft’ forms of ownership rights over seeds. And laws strengthening intellectual property rights over seeds are being reinforced by other regulations that are supposed to ensure seed quality, market transparency, prevention of counterfeits, and the like.
What is at stake is the very basis of peasant farmers' existence. Social movements worldwide, especially peasant farmers organisations, have resisted and mobilised to prevent such laws being passed.
Corporations and governments rely on secrecy and lack of transparency because they know that an informed citizenry will reject the privatisation of seeds.
This booklet will strengthen the resistance by ensuring that as many people as possible – especially in the rural communities that are most affected – understand these industry-backed laws, their impacts and objectives, as well as the capacity of social movements to replace them with laws that protect peasants’ rights.
1. How seed laws make farmers’ seeds illegal
2. African seeds: A treasure under threat
3. The Americas: Massive resistance against “Monsanto laws”
4. Asia: The struggle against a new wave of industrial seeds
5. Europe: Farmers strive to rescue agricultural diversity