A new report from GRAIN1 offers a deep analysis of the data available on agricultural systems and food production internationally
The report, Hungry for land: small farmers feed the world with less than a quarter of all farmland makes six central conclusions …
1. that the peasantry continue to be those who, on small areas of land, produce the majority of the world’s food needs – above all in terms of feeding families, communities and local markets.
2. that the majority of farms internationally are small farms, continually being reduced in number due to a range of eradicating forces. If this tendency is not reversed through resistance which includes a process of genuine agrarian reform, the existing process of expulsion of people, including children, will be even more brutal.
3. the entirety of these small-scale farms are squeezed into less than a quarter of the world’s agricultural land – and this proportion is decreasing.
4. that while farms, lands and peasants are being lost there is a corresponding increase in the number of large industrial agriculture projects. In the last 50 years around 140 million hectares of land – significantly more than the entire agricultural land area of China – has been appropriated to plant monocultures of soya beans, palm oil, canola, sugar cane and corn – all by industrial means.
5. that technically – using data extrapolated from national census records from almost every country in the world – small farms are more productive that enormous industrial agriculture operations – in spite of the enormous power and resources held by international agricultural companies.
6. that the majority of peasants are women. Their contributions, which continue to be marginalised, are not recognised in official statistics and so continue to be discriminated against in terms of the control of land.
Who is attacking the peasants
Today we must recognise that the life of whole peoples – and the very future of peasant communities – is in radical confrontation with systems which aim only to control the greatest amount of riches, relations, people, common goods and any profitable activities through the development of laws, dispositions, policies, programmes, projects and cash payments. Agro-industry is a representation of this – the production of crops (not just foodstuffs) through increasingly sophisticated (not necessarily more efficient) methods on large land areas aimed at harvesting large volumes and maximum profit at any cost.
This industrial logic perpetrates extreme violence against natural-scale processes and vital cycles and promotes so called “vertical integration” – the crazed race to add economic value to foodstuffs through the addition of more and more processing and privatisation (land-grabbing, certified seeds, the sterilisation and degradation of soils by agrochemicals, agricultural mechanisation, transport, cleaning, processing, packaging, storage, and again transport) before food is finally made available to the public through industrialised supply chains.
This total process contributes to the climate crisis (around 50% greenhouse gases come from the combined process of “vertical integration”). This system also contributes to the subjugation of people trapped in this transnational and globalised food system. This system does not feed the communities or neighbourhoods but instead seeks their cheap labour for certain aspects of this chain – while robbing the future of farmers of local farmers. For these reasons, to produce our own food independently of the so-called global food system is something profoundly political and subversive.
Landgrabbing, memory and resistance
It is undeniable that there is direct relationship between the loss of lands on one hand and the advance of mega-mining projects, oil and natural gas extraction, and monoculture research remains to be done in order to uncover the true extent of the extractivist projects and the fragmentation, dismantling and loss of indigenous and peasant held territories and lands. As a minimum we can say that in Mexico alone 26% of the national territory is in the hands of mining concessions, and in Colombia the figure is 40%. Mining in Colombia goes hand in hand with rights abuses; “80% of the violations of human rights which have occurred over the last 10 years occurred in mining-energy regions, and 87% of all displaced peoples from this period originated in these areas”.
Country by country we encounter similar situations, including the extreme case of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the percentage of lands lost no longer serve as a measure, rather the number of dead. More than 7 million have died violently in the last 15 year in conflicts over minerals, diamonds, cotton and gold.
Conflicts over water are also recurrent
In Africa for example, one in three people suffer from scarcity of water and climate change is worsening the situation. The development in Africa of highly sophisticated indigenous water management systems could help to alleviate this crisis, but these same systems are being destroyed under land grabbing – in the midst of claims that water in Africa is abundant, underused and is ready to be utilised for agro-export agriculture as we affirm in one of GRAIN’s reports2
Beyond the causes, which go from the monoculture fields of the industrial agricultural system to the most severe and polluting forms of extractivism (e.g. oil wells, electricity generation, biosphere reserves, REDD projects, mega-tourism, real estate developments, motorways, mega-dams, multi-modal corridors, narco-traffiking), the reality is that there is a real attack against traditions of territorial memory – the lands which are our vital surroundings; our common environment we need to recreate and transform our existence; the spaces we give meaning to with our shared wisdom and knowledge, with our common history.
To provoke scarcity and economic dependence, the international and multilateral transnational systems have promoted the disabling of the capacity of communities to feed themselves, or provide healthcare education and other needs. The effect of this imposed precarity is the expulsion of populations into urban slums without a future.
For these reasons Food Sovereignty remains deeply pertinent and a source of profound hope as a tool to rebuild autonomy and the defence of our territories, as it represents a living manifestation of our memories. The production of food from the smallest community level upwards is a vital proposal – and examples exist that show it is possible to reverse the damage that has been done. (Source: | Nyelini Newsletter, Sept 2014)
1 – GRAIN, Hungry for land: small farmers feed the world with less than a quarter of all farmland, May 2014. www.grain.org
2 – GRAIN, Squeezing Africa dry: behind every land grab is a water grab, 2012. www.grain.org