Corporate Farming: Turning farmlands into deserts

01 August 2002

Corporate farming accentuates desertification  The US National Commission on Small Farms (1998, US Department of Agriculture) has in its report entitled ‘A Time to Act’ called for policies that turn away from corporate agriculture and focus on environmentally sustainable and socially beneficial farming. And still, developing countries in Asia are one after another adopting corporate farming and that too quoting the wonderful experience of American agriculture!

 The eye-opening article below by Najma Sadeque from Pakistan is an authoritative critique of the corporate farming systems. It says, for instance, that in USA, large-scale chemical monoculture have turned a hundred thousand square miles of farmland into infertile bone-dry desert that ruined millions. A similar Dust Bowl is now developing in China, where 900 square miles are turning into desert each year. Conditions in former USSR states are not much better.

 This article should be compulsory reading for the policy makers, media and the academicians. If you can, please forward this article to your concerned minister, local representative, agricultural scientists and researchers and to the policy makers and planners.


by Najma Sadeque

Published in the The News,  July 26, 2002.

The government’s drastic introduction of corporate industrial farming sans public consensus to attract foreign investment threatens not only Pakistan‘s agriculture, but also our food security and the future of our already victimised rural masses. In tandem with the new trade policy that intensifies export-orientation, it spells a handing over of the biggest production, employment-creating and profit-earning sector to outside interests on a silver platter.

The action is even more questionable in view of the fact that Pakistan is at or near the bottom of the popularity list for foreign investment, especially after September 11. The government is silent about its expectations, but it is the rich countries that monopolise 80% of foreign direct investment. The entire African subcontinent receives less that one percent while countries like China, Mexico and Taiwan enjoy more favour, leaving very little for the rest of the world.

The government claims that Corporate Agricultural Farming will enhance efficiency of production. This is simply not possible — unless efficiency means the rapaciously high profits that accrue exclusively to big investors and monopolists. It takes only five units of inputs to produce 100 units of produce through multi-cropped traditional organic methods, while it takes 300 units through chemical monoculture to produce the same 100 units of crops. How is that efficient?

A study by the Food and Development Policy Institute of USA (Food First) and the Transnational Institute of the Nederland released at the UN Conference in Maastricht last year covering both industrialised as well as developing countries demonstrated and reconfirmed that indigenously- farmed small acreages are 200 to 1,000 percent more productive than the bigger ones. Small farms and peasants, however, cannot be successful if governments withhold basic facilities and extend them exclusively to a privileged minority.

If industrial farming were such a saviour, why are more and more people in the industrialised world turning back to chemical- and hybrid-free and organically grown foods? Why would India that had once been enamoured by the Green Revolution (and where 400 cotton farmers in just once state committed suicide following a 1997 crop failure) launch a National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP) last year to tap into the burgeoning $15 billion global market for organic food? Already, IFOAM (the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements with members in 30 countries) is working towards international certification standards for organic produce. Why is preference for organically grown food spreading rapidly in Europe (Scandinavia, Germany, Switzerland among the leading members)? How is that organic food sales in Japan have topped $10 billion?

Health concerns such as about cancer and destruction of the very soil needed for crops and not just the uniform bland or bad taste of chemical-ridden foods top the list.

The propaganda, misinformation and disinformation with regard to the so- called “success” of corporate industrial farming abroad (along with the wild myth that the South cannot produce enough to feed itself) has been difficult to counter because the global media is controlled or is dependent on the same corporations. On the other hand, peasant movements and civil society representations are blocked, given negligible coverage, repressed or put down by strong-arm methods. The same is happening in Pakistan.

Some unmentioned truths include the outcome of such dubious experiences, especially in countries from where such technologies emerge. In USA, large-scale chemical monoculture turned a hundred thousand square miles of farmland into infertile bone-dry desert that ruined millions. A similar Dust Bowl is now developing in China, once leaders in organic farming, but where, according to official estimates, 900 square miles are turning into desert each year. Conditions in former USSR states are not much better. Some 24 billion tonnes of eroded soil are blown off the world’s farmlands each year.

Today over 150 million acres are lying idle in USA, damaged beyond repair by industrial farming. Every year, hundreds of thousands of acres are going out of production. At least 90% of US cropland is losing topsoil faster than is being replaced. These are not claims of opponents but the US government’s own reports. So much so that the National Commission on Small Farms of USDA (US Department of Agriculture) issued a report in 1998 – A Time to Act– calling strongly for policies to turn away from corporate agriculture and focus on environmentally sustainable and socially beneficial farming. In fact, US big farms have long ceased to produce productively without heavy subsidies, which deviously enable the undercutting of international prices of grain that defeat the exports of poorer countries.

In each and every country where the so-called (short-lived) Green Revolution methods of large-scale, chemical, mechanised, hybrid-seed farming were introduced, output and profits soared, but rural hunger and unemployment spiralled even higher. Industrial farming has destroyed almost the entire African continent. The first investors here will probably be the seed multinationals already entrenched in Pakistan. Just four units of theirs have a capital investment that is around three times that of over 300 national seed companies put together.

In keeping with corporate objectives to control agriculture, consolidation has taken place among seed and chemical input corporations, some of them integrating vertically. Multinationals have taken over or control over a thousand, formerly independent seed companies since 1970. The top 10 agrochemical corporations control over 84 percent of the agro- chemical market. Two corporations — Cargill and Continental — control almost two-thirds of the entire world’s grain, just five multinationals control 85% of the world grain trade.

It has long been recognised that the market is no longer competitive if the four largest firms held 40% or more of the market. In America, the top four firms hold almost two-thirds of the market; the top four poultry firms dominate over 50% of it, while the top four beef firms have a firm grip on over 80%. The process has ruined millions of small farmers and brought the family farm in USA to the edge of extinction. Is aping such behaviour supposed to spell a bright and prosperous future? If so, it can only be true for feudal and big landowners who, fearing such overwhelming foreign competition, would find it more profitable to become sub-contractors to corporations that would in turn find such arrangements convenient for evading what few taxes after waivers are left payable.

By allowing unlimited size of landholdings, making big loans easily available and allowing zero duty on transfer of land to investors mean reneging on the commitment to true land reforms and redistributing land to the tiller-citizens. The very fact that the constitution has to be amended (which is correctly the function of elected government) to do away with the ceilings on land ownership betrays in whose benefit this is working. It means indebting our country further to provide high-priced infrastructure and privileges to investors, which will then be dumped on the taxpayers to pay off. Instead of reforms, long-victimised labour now face labour laws being made inapplicable so as to attract foreign exploitation.

First rights to land belong to the tiller who grows crops with his or her own hands. In the past, Agricultural Development Bank loans meant to uplift the peasant and small farmer financed and fattened the purses of big landlords instead. Every government to date has denied the minimum basic facilities to peasants who grow crops for all their fellow-citizens; in effect the foreign investor is being offered rights, perks and preferential treatment that our own citizens are being barred from in a sensitive sector that affects our sovereignty and survival. History is now about to repeat itself on a massive scale.

Industrial farming has historically exploited with massive capital investment for short-term high profits, which displaced and created few or no jobs for peasants, driving out local small entrepreneurs and factories out of business whose losses added to corporate consolidations. In America, the family farm is almost extinct. Corporate farming in Pakistan will concentrate vast, unlimited acreages in fewer hands with all the attendant diseconomies of scale applying to chemical monoculture and environmental degradation. The shortage of finite water supply means it will be diverted to where money is. Governments may not ignore the fact that all natural resources belong to the people and not even elected governments have the mandate to do as they please. It is a violation of civil and human rights and should be withdrawn immediately.

On the other hand, widespread re-distribution of land in small acreages (even as little as an acre or two) among lakhs of peasant-citizens, especially women who do over two-thirds of farm work anyway as low- paid or totally unpaid family labour, would produce several times higher total output per unit of land. This, through mixed-crops, chemical-free, cheap ecological farming, was the norm for thousands of years before the colonial introduction of plantation agriculture. It would require absolutely no foreign investment or loans; and as happened in Cuba, it would rid us of our self-imposed neo-colonial yoke. It only needs recognition of the rights of all citizens, not just a favoured few and the will to carry it through.


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About denebsumbul

Documentarian, Activist, Journalist, Photographer, Capacity Trainer
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