The battle for direction of our food systems

This feature is released in view of the recently concluded Davos Agenda 2021 of the World Economic Forum. The transformation of food systems and land use is one of the hot topics under the theme of “How to Save the Planet.”

Today, the global food system is entrenched in a complex architecture of exploitation and oppression – depriving food producers of their right to land and resources, starving the population amid abundance, and pushing our planetary boundaries to a point of no return. 

Transnational corporations (TNCs) and their lobbyists are constantly trying to squeeze every drop of profit in the sector by introducing more layers of corporate capture such as public-private partnerships, financialization, and digitalization. Old and new modes of land and resource grabbing that further push the divide between food producers and a handful of corporate profiteers of Davos continue to dominate official processes such as in the United Nations.

Research work that is aligned with the aspirations of the most vulnerable food producers are too few and far between while trillions are poured into the contrary.

For many advocates, remodeling food systems should embody not only the human right to food but also the sovereignty of nations in producing, managing, and distributing their food and agriculture as well. As such, these pathways have developed in constant clashes with the current paradigm of “profit-growth-at-any-cost” agriculture.

While struggles for agrarian reform and land distribution have been around since the Middle Ages, the fight for a “genuinely distributive land reform” is a byproduct of farmer organizations opposing the World Bank’s market-assisted land reform (MALR).

With staggering success through conditional loans and policy manipulations, the World Bank further commodified agricultural lands and relegated agrarian reform as a market transaction. The Bank turned the call “land to the tillers” to a policy of “land to the highest bidder” – further enabling land reconcentration in Latin America and Asia where MALR wereimplemented.

Despite the self-proclaimed success of MALR lobbyists, landlessness remains the most salient source of poverty in most countries in the Global South. Turning expropriative land reforms into negotiated land transfers have resulted in massive debts for farmer-beneficiaries and, in many cases, legalized landgrabbing. In effect, most farmer organizations in the Global South reject market-assisted land reform and rally under the banner of a more expropriative and genuinely distributive land reform.

Similarly, food sovereignty developed in poor and agrarian countries. This happened alongside the worsening encroachment of US, Europe, and Japan’s agriculture TNCs facilitated by the World Trade Organization. Its punitively imposed policies of trade liberalization,deregulation of land and agricultural markets, and privatization of food agencies and grain buffers undermined, subverted, and denationalized agriculture in the Global South.

This “rebranding” of old colonial trade routes and creation of neocolonial channels of plunder has faced fierce opposition from within and outside the official processes of the WTO negotiations since 1998. Under the emblem of food sovereignty, farmer organizations and activists have asserted national ownership, repudiated agricultural plunder of the Global South, and advanced rural peoples’ right to land, seeds, and resources.

Furthermore, agroecology and regenerative agriculture developed in opposition to the devastating impacts of fossil-fuel hungry corporate agriculture to the world’s climate. As the world grows cognizant of climate change and its effects to the most vulnerable unfold, farmer organizations and advocates have, in the early 90s to early 2000s, forwarded the concept of sustainable agriculture as a counterbalance.

However, coercion and co-option are both tools that dominant powers are not shy of utilizing, especially in advancing its neoliberal agenda in food and agriculture. As sustainable agriculture got its foot inside official talkshops and, notably, in the Sustainable Development Goals, the more assimilated it became. Large food and beverage corporations, and even GM seeds and pesticide TNCs have advocated sustainable intensification – a greenwashed transmogrification of sustainable agriculture. Going further, sustainable intensification found its so-called middle ground with climate-smart agriculture.

At present, many movements and organizations that are aligned with the concept of agroecology aim to reclaim and de-corporatize food and agriculture production, re-institute and develop nature-positive practices in growing food, and integrate the efforts to curb fossil fuel consumption into the struggle for food and rural peoples’ rights.

With monopoly TNCs at the most influential positions in deciding global food and agriculture policies, transforming food systems also entail people-to-people solidarity. South-South cooperation in food and agriculture without undermining national patrimony is not only possible but also necessary in opposing global plunder. Some countries, like ALBA nations, have shown that non-interfering and voluntary cooperation in food and agriculture helps in averting short-term food supply shortages and exchange in technologies.

For transformative pathways in food and agriculture to flourish and develop, rural producers should be at the front and center of its aims, discoveries, and aspirations. ###

Written by JC Mercado, PCFS Global Secretariat staff

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