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Anti-imperialist Manifesto in Defense of the Environment

Labour on the farm

By Chris Smaje - Small Farm Future, May 26, 2021

The first draft of A Small Farm Future had a chapter called ‘Labour on the farm’ which didn’t make the final version. I needed to cut the length, and although there were parts of this chapter I was quite attached to, I felt I hadn’t nailed the issues as well as I’d like, so it was easy to spike. Some passages found their way into other parts of the book, but I’d been hoping to make good on the issue in this blog cycle with parts of the deleted chapter and my own more polished thoughts. Trouble is, I still don’t feel I’ve nailed this issue sufficiently. So instead I offer this post as a placeholder for a more distant day when I hope I can offer something more up to scratch.

What I’ll do here instead is provide a few brief thoughts on the topic prompted by a deeper dive I took recently into Francesca Bray’s fascinating book The Rice Economies (University of California Press, 1986) – an old book, but a very good one. Then I’m hoping I can come back in the future with something a bit more expansive.

A key organizing theme in Bray’s book is her contention that wheat in western countries and dryland cereal crops in general offer economies of scale in production that don’t exist in the case of the wet rice cultivation that dominates much of the populous regions of East, South and Southeast Asia. The combination of relatively scarce labour and relatively abundant land in the west (albeit that the latter was too often a function of colonial dispossession) created a dynamic of labour substitution and mechanization geared to increasing the per worker productivity of farming as an economic sector that’s come to be seen as exemplary of agricultural ‘progress’. In the wet rice regions, on the other hand, relatively abundant labour and relatively scarce land created a dynamic of agricultural development where the focus was using more (skilled) labour to increase the per acre productivity of the land.

From this point of departure, Bray unfurls an enormously detailed and sophisticated discussion of poverty, development, mechanization, landownership, credit, state formation, agrarian organization and much else besides which I hope to draw and elaborate from in future posts. But for now I’ll restrict myself to a couple of main points.

In certain situations of economic growth and capitalist development, there can be a compelling logic to agricultural labour substitution of the western kind. People quit the toilsome agrarian life for better paid jobs in industry or services, helping fuel an accumulation of capital and resources that redounds to the net benefit of all.

This is a pretty idealized vision of how capitalism works in practice, but it has a sufficient grain of historical truth to it in western societies to colour notions of a more labour-intensive agricultural future with a sense of regress and misplaced romanticism. Nevertheless, it matters where the accumulated capital and resources go. If labour substitution helps generate extra income that doesn’t find its way back to labourers, then to them there is no benefit. And this is basically what’s happening in the present phase of the global economy.

Colombia: Is Access to Land Democratized?

By various - La Via Campesina, May 9, 2021

Sub-point 1.1 of the Peace Agreement establishes mechanisms for access to land for the benefit of peasants without land or with insufficient land, mainly through land allocation processes and formalization of rights. Thus, it has been planned on the one hand, the formalization of 7 million hectares in 10 years, prioritizing areas such as those related to Development Programs with a territorial approach – PDET, in Spanish, and on the other, the allocation of 3 million hectares in the first 12 years of management of the Fondo de Tierras.

However, the implementation is moving slowly. After the first 4 years of the implementation, the National Land Agency – ANT, the entity responsible for carrying out formalization and allocation processes, reports the formalization of 1,966,691 hectares, however, it should be remembered that 1,055,000 of these lands were handed over and registered before the signing of the Peace Accord. Land formalized before the implementation of the Accord should be excluded, which reduces the deal for formalization to 913,548 hectares; the claim to inflate the figures on the achievement of compromises is obvious. Likewise, it is pointed out that this figure is very low in comparison with the pace of implementation needed to achieve the goal set out in the Accord: nearly 700,000 hectares are expected to be formalized annually.

65.2% of the beneficiaries of formalization processes are men and 31.6% are women. It is also interesting to note that the 93.3% of formalized land corresponds to collective titles of black communities and constitution / expansion of indigenous reserves, similarly, only 14% of formalized hectares are in municipalities focused on the implementation of the Agreement.

Regarding the allocation process, the National Land Agency (ANT) presents the entry of about a million hectares to the Fondo de Tierras, however, if the hectares available to be distributed were strictly counted, in which the allocation condition has no restrictions or they are determined, this figure would be reduced to 90%, given that only 2,253 available plots corresponding to 96,471.1 hectares fulfill this condition1. This accentuates, again, the government’s pretention to inflate the figures for the fulfillment with the Agreement, given that only the entry [in the database] of the available land to be handed over to the peasants without land, in other words, the Fondo de Tierras actually has 96,471.1 hectares.

Likewise, the government is accounting for sources of vacant land and the Fondo Nacional Agrario, the land that is available for distribution, however, these are vacant lands with a previous occupation, which cannot be allocated and on which processes formalization of rights must be executed. In other words, these are cases where the formalization of the property is a must and that can feed the results of the formalization of seven million hectares goal, but this does not represent an accomplishment of the compromise to hand over land.

The Office of the Inspector General reports that 8,143.7 hectares have been allocated. It is important to stress that this figure corresponds to direct purchases and full allocations, that is, there were no allocations without previous occupation. Likewise, the regulatory body indicates that only 6.6% of hectares allocated by direct purchase correspond to municipalities prioritized in the implementation of the Agreement.

However, if we consider the figures presented by the ANT in relation to the Fondo de Tierras – in which the condition of land allocation is not considered – there is a 52.2% of the hectares put into the Fondo where the municipalities prioritized by the Territorially Focused Development Plans – PDET, and the 47.8% in non-priority areas. Likewise, 8 out of 16 PDET sub-regions2 each register less than 1% of the hectares included in the Fondo de Tierras.

As it is seen, the government is inflating the figures of the fulfillment of point 1 of the Agreement and there is no progress in democratizing access to land in the country. Additionally, the actions carried out by the government are not focused on the areas prioritized for its implementation, such as the PDET municipalities, which disregards the principle of prioritization established in the Agreement.

Paraguay: The struggle for Food Sovereignty is the struggle for life.

By Perla Alvarez - La Via Campesina, May 4, 2021

Whether in the movement or outside of it, the word “agribusiness” brings to mind instant associations like “soybeans,” “Brazil,” or “the Mennonites.” Why? When did this word first enter common parlance? What are we actually saying when we use this word?

The word “business” is not an accidental component of this portmanteau word; on the contrary, it is central to the whole concept. Agribusiness embodies a different conception of the earth than the one upheld by peasants and Indigenous peoples. For agribusiness, the earth is a commodity, a product to be bought and sold and made profitable, to be commercially exploited. It is no longer seen as tekoha, the place where we are, where we live, produce, and reproduce, where we come into our own, in which our culture is rooted. No: for agribusiness, the earth and its capacity to support life are negotiable. They are measured in terms of uniformity, not diversity; in tonnes of grain, not seeds; in productivity, not safety; in dollars, not life; in contour lines, not disappearing species of trees and birds.

That is agribusiness: the capitalist exploitation of the earth, extracting from it anything that can generate a profit in record time. Agribusiness subjects the earth to “inhuman” treatment because for agribusiness, agriculture has nothing to do with humanity. What’s human about chemical fertilization, constant tillage with heavy machinery, backbreaking labour, the spraying of toxic compounds, an unswerving routine? That’s not how we provide food our bodies or care for our health, is it? But when agribusiness hears the word food, it thinks in terms of commodities. For agribusiness, the earth is not a living thing but a machine, and to be treated as such. It has been that way ever since capitalism set foot in the countryside. True, these tendencies were there earlier, but timidly, at various stages of production, when merchants refused to pay fair prices, or when they started selling seeds, or when they presented themselves as the peasants’ allies and starting hawking poisons. With the rise of agribusiness, this mentality invaded the countryside and stealthily changed everything, even the way we think.

What do I mean by “changed the way we think”? In general, when we talk of agribusiness, we refer to large commercial plantations. But we also see its effects in the luxury vans cruising through villages, in fantastical-looking, robot-like tractors roaming the streets and kicking up so much dust we have to stay indoors. We see the elements of “success” and we think to ourselves: “So much money made in so little time… Why work so hard, if poisons and machines will make you rich?” We think that maybe, if we emulate this model, we’ll get rich too. Or we take a stab at it and become divorced from our communities; we stop being communitarians and start being landowners. We start using “weedkillers” so we can stop hoeing; we buy genetically modified seeds; we go into debt to buy biotoxins; we get someone to harrow so we don’t have to plough. We lease tractors because we can’t afford to buy them, and can’t get a bank loan without giving our land as collateral (but we don’t have the deed). We secretly take after agribusiness, whom we personify as a successful businessman, a role model. So when agribusiness colonized the countryside, it also colonized minds. It planted genetically modified seeds in the countryside and planted new ideas in our heads. As a complex process of rural capitalist accumulation, agribusiness applies costly, high-tech recipes (machinery, hybrid or GM seeds, biotoxins, trucks, etc). It looks easy and attractive on the surface, and that’s how it took hold of our minds. It occupied the countryside, displacing communities, and it occupied our thoughts, displacing knowledge. What we knew became old hat, a thing of the past, for Luddites only. The result, for rural peoples, for peasant and Indigenous communities, has been depopulation of the countryside, disappearance of wild land, lost seed varieties, and changes in food customs. And we didn’t turn into the nouveau riche, not by a long shot. Instead we were impoverished, lost our land, had our knowledge taken from us. Only the old rich kept getting richer, while a few others managed to sweep up some of the crumbs. And all this is by design: The purpose of agribusiness isn’t to enrich us but to fill the coffers of investment banks and multinationals.

Label Before Labor: Fair Trade USA’s Dairy Label Fails Workers

By Anna Canning - Fair World Project, May 2021

Fair Trade USA released a new “Fair Trade Dairy” label in partnership with Chobani. It’s a program that has been opposed by farmworker and human rights organizations since it was first announced. Now that there is yogurt on the shelf, but still no final standard released, this report looks at the label claims and evaluates “Fair Trade Dairy” based on the available standards.

The critique focuses on three key areas:

  • Inadequate standards development process
  • Standards that are not fit for purpose
  • Lack of enforcement mechanisms

Finally, the report also reviews the rising tide of research that shows that corporate-developed and led certifications are inadequate and points instead to existing models that are better suited to defending workers’ rights and safety. Organized workers are pushing policy changes across the country, improving wages and winning vital workplace protections. And Worker-driven Social Responsibility programs are building power and supporting workers defending their rights and addressing the fundamental power imbalances in the food system.

The report concludes that:
“Corporate consolidation, trade policy, and other macro trends are squeezing farmers and workers in the dairy industry. To address the forces at work requires addressing the imbalance of power head on. If we are to envision a world where those at the top of supply chains are held accountable, we must support programs that are transformative. Instead of reinforcing existing systems of power, we should look to the leadership of those who have been protesting, leading, and advocating for their own communities for hundreds of years.”

Read the text (PDF).

Strengthening the Canada Grain Act and the CGC is critical to farmers’ future

By National Farmers Union - La Via Campesina, April 29, 2021

Today, the National Farmers Union (NFU) provided detailed input to the federal government’s review of the Canada Grain Act (CGA) and the Canadian Grain Commission (CGC). The NFU submission considers the future of grain production in Canada and makes fifteen major recommendations to strengthen and equip the Act and the Commission for expected challenges and opportunities.

“The climate crisis and international measures to deal with it, increasing digitization and data-driven technology, ongoing mergers and acquisitions in the grain trade, and international trade agreements will have big impacts on farmers,” said NFU President, Katie Ward. “We will need a strong and effective CGC to regulate the grain handling system in the interest of farmers, and ensure that Canada will continue to be recognized for the quality of our grain.”

The CGC’s mandate is to “in the interests of the grain producers, establish and maintain standards of quality for Canadian grain and regulate grain handling in Canada, to ensure a dependable commodity for domestic and export markets.” The NFU’s first and foremost point is that this mandate must not be changed.

“The CGC has proved its worth as Canada’s grain system regulator for over a century. The global corporations that dominate the grain trade constantly seek to cut costs and unfairly lower prices paid to farmers in ways that not only remove wealth from our economy, but also compromise the quality of Canadian grain,” said Stewart Wells, NFU 2nd Vice President. “Changes in the grain handling system since the last major review of the Act have resulted in gaps where CGC lacks the authority to fully safeguard farmers’ interests. The need for a strong regulator has not gone away.”

The Act is the solid foundation of our grain economy, our farmers’ livelihoods and our domestic and international customers’ confidence. The NFU is pleased to offer recommendations for making the CGA and the CGC even stronger.

Food Sovereignty Is About Deciding To Change the World

By Pancha Rodríguez - La Via Campesina, April 27, 2021

To celebrate April 17th, International Day of Peasant Struggle, Capire publishes this interview with Pancha Rodríguez, a member of the Latin American Coordination of Countryside Organizations (Coordinadora Latinoamericana de Organizaciones del Campo—CLOC-La Via Campesina) and of the National Association of Rural and Indigenous Women of Chile (Asociación Nacional de Mujeres Rurales e Indígenas—ANAMURI). Pancha spoke about a long personal and collective journey of struggle for food sovereignty, feminism, and socialism.

First of all, please introduce yourself, looking back at your struggle as a militant and your life story.

I’m Luz Francisca Rodríguez, and everyone knows me as Pancha, which is short for Francisco and Francisca in our country. I come from a rural village that is now part of the city, because as the city expands, it takes over a big part of the countryside and the sectors that used to feed the villages. This forces me to be constantly migrating from the city. I’m someone who doesn’t have much formal education, but I have a great contribution regarding social, political, ideological, and cultural education within the movement.

I’m a flower farmer—this was my contradiction, I produced flowers, not food. When I was young, my work was dedicated to what now may be called a seasonal worker. I was a farmer, a gatherer. We started with the beans and worked our way to the vineyards.

Since I was very little, I had to take care of my home. I worked in different areas, including seasonal work in the countryside and working several different jobs in the winter. I worked for two years at a casino, the post office, and the telegraph office. Then I started to work in the union, at the youth department of the CUT [Unified Workers’ Central]. At age twelve, I joined the Communist Youth, and I’m “old school”: I’m part of the Communist Party, I do militant work in a cell, I pay my dues, I buy the newspaper, I study, I don’t hold big positions in the party, but I’m dedicated to the organization.

I was the woman in charge of the Communist Youth national office in its Central Committee, I worked a lot with the Women’s Front of the Popular Unity for the people’s government, I was one of the sisters working side by side with great women who built the first Women’s Department in the Allende administration, working for the Ministry of Women. Later, when I went underground, I worked with human rights supporting women who were building collectives with partners of political prisoners and victims of forced disappearance, with political prisoners, and family members in exile.

As of 1979, I was no longer underground and I joined the work of the Peasant Confederation of El Surco, now Ranquil, and became the female head. In 1988, when the “no” plebiscite was about to be held, my partner was elected secretary of the International Union of Agriculture, Forests, and Crops, which at the time was part of the World Federation of Trade Unions. I was in charge of the Women’s Matters office. From this process, I went on to build the campaign to commemorate the 500 years of Indigenous, peasant, Black, and grassroots resistance, and then the constitution of the CLOC and La Vía Campesina, always developing work with women in the organization, side by side with young sisters who come from feminist movements and organizations.

NFU Statement on the International Day of Peasant Struggle: Food Sovereignty in Canada

By Jessie MacInnis - La Via Campesina, April 16, 2021

Every year on April 17, La Via Campesina (LVC) honours the work of peasants, small-scale farmers, rural workers, and Indigenous peoples around the globe by marking the International Day of Peasant Struggle. This year is especially notable, being the 25th anniversary of the term “food sovereignty”, coined by LVC members in 1996 while demonstrating against the capitalist industrial food systems’ model being proposed at the World Food Summit in Rome. As defined by LVC, food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It emphasizes democratically controlled food and agriculture systems, horizontal learning networks, and agroecology. The National Farmers Union, a founding member of LVC, quickly resonated with the concept, and it is now a deep-rooted principle and vision for an alternative food system that informs our policy, movement-building, and solidarity work. 

The NFU takes this occasion to reflect on the struggles of its farmer members, as well as those of First Nations, Inuit, and Metis communities across Turtle Island, migrant farmworkers, the food insecure, and all food producers and rural workers whose right to food sovereignty is challenged. We stand in solidarity with you.

Who represents the peasantry in Canada? 

La Via Campesina is attempting to reclaim the word ‘peasant’ from its derogatory, pejorative connotations to represent a distinct political social group with specific human rights demands. According to the recently adopted United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP) – a landmark achievement for LVC, who developed and pushed the UNDROP from local peasant organizations to the UN – peasants are those who engage in small-scale or family-based agriculture, pastoralism, fishing, forestry, hunting or gathering, migrant and hired farmworkers. This wide-reaching definition acknowledges that despite differences, people in these categories often face similar oppressive forces when engaging in their livelihoods. Forces of neoliberalism, globalization, and corporate driven food systems leading to human rights violations. The undermining of dignity and justice of peasants brings together seemingly disparate farmer organizations around the globe into LVC. In Canada, though many do not relate to the word ‘peasant’ in a literal sense, as farmers in the NFU we are part of this wider umbrella of the peasant movement that seeks food system transformation rooted in food sovereignty. 

Hoodwinked in the Hothouse (Third Edition)

Edited by Lucia Amorelli, Dylan Gibson, Tamra Gilbertson, the Indigenous Environmental Network, et. al. - Various Organizations (see below), April, 2021

Authored by grassroots, veteran organizers, movement strategists and thought leaders from across our climate and environmental justice movements, the third edition of Hoodwinked in the Hothouse is an easy-to-read, concise-yet-comprehensive compendium of the false corporate promises that continue to hoodwink elected officials and the public, leading us down risky pathways poised to waste billions of public dollars on a host of corporate snake-oil schemes and market-based mechanisms. These false solutions distract from the real solutions that serve our most urgent needs in an alarming climate justice moment of no-turning-back. By uncovering the pitfalls and risky investments being advanced by disaster capitalists to serve the needs of the biggest polluters on the planet, Hoodwinked also provides a robust framework for understanding the depth of real solutions and how they should be determined. As a pop-ed toolbox, Hoodwinked promises to be instructive for activists, impacted communities and organizers, while providing elected officials with critical lenses to examine a complex, technocratic field of climate change policy strategies, from local to national and international arenas.

The second version of Hoodwinked in the Hothouse was released in 2009 as a pop-ed zine collaboratively produced by Rising Tide North America and Carbon Trade Watch with the Indigenous Environmental Network and a number of allied environmental justice and climate action organizers leading up to the 2009 United Nations climate conference in Copenhagen (COP 15). During that mobilization and in years since, this zine has played a major role in raising awareness across climate movements around the world – both helping frontline organizers in their fights against destructive energy proposals and shifting policy positions of large non-governmental organizations.

With the proliferation of false solutions in the Paris Climate Agreement, national and subnational climate plans, the third edition of Hoodwinked in the Hothouse aims to provide a resource that dismantles the barriers to building a just transition and a livable future.

Includes contributions from the following organizations:

  • Biofuelwatch
  • Energy Justice Network
  • Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives
  • ETC Group
  • Global Justice Ecology Project
  • Indigenous Climate Action
  • Indigenous Environmental Network
  • Just Transition Alliance
  • La Via Campesina
  • Movement Generation Justice and Ecology Project
  • Mt. Diablo Rising Tide
  • Mutual Aid Disaster Relief
  • North American Megadam Resistance Alliance
  • Nuclear Information and Resource Service
  • Rising Tide North America
  • Shaping Change Collaborative

Read the text (PDF).

Spain: Peasant women find it more difficult to access agricultural aid

By staff - La Via Campesina, March 8, 2021

On the occasion of International Women’s Day (8M), the Women’s Department of COAG and the Confederation of Rural Women (CERES) denounce the fact that peasant women-owned farms have more difficult access to agricultural aid.

According to data published by the Spanish Agricultural Guarantee Fund (FEGA), the number of women’s farms receiving CAP aid is far from being on a par with men’s. Only 27.5% of women’s farms receive CAP aid. Only 27.5% of direct aid is received by women and 26.34% of Rural Development aid. For all these reasons, COAG and CERES believe that it is essential to carry out an analysis of the gender perspective in these two programmes to promote agricultural activity.

COAG and CERES consider that the objective of advancing equality between women and men in the Common Agricultural Policy and in the Rural Development Programme is to apply a new gender strategy to the reality of the countryside, not only to achieve real equality but also to stop the depopulation of rural areas.

Currently, both the CAP and the RDP support have been designed from a male point of view, in which a model that suits the majority of farms whose owner is a man is established as the “standard” farm receiving support. In other words, it does not take into account the gender perspective, which should take into account the fact that the majority of farms owned by women have a different model to those owned by men. They are smaller farms and, in many cases, have alternative crops and livestock production that are not eligible for aid. This does not mean that they are not viable or productive, in fact “they have been there all their lives”.

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