The global agri-feudals
There’s nothing new about the US goal of maintaining control over the world’s food and agriculture, or at least that of “developing countries”. It’s been an open secret since Kissinger’s time who advised that to control a country you had to control its food supply, then had it implemented.
With sophisticated wordsmiths from scientific academia and corporate media, post-independence democracy has become more associated with corporatization and centralized global control, so that today’s appropriation of the world’s resources and agriculture look more like a 21st century feudalism that casts all previous feudals worldwide in the shade.
The 2011 WikiLeaks confirmed what many countries suspected for a long time but was vehemently denied by the usual suspects. It revealed, among other things, that American diplomats sought funding for biotech (GM) industry lobbyists to hold talks with politicians and agricultural officials in “target countries”, especially where GM crops had not taken complete hold.
The US nonprofit consumer protection group Food & Water Watch (FWW) accused them of “a concerted strategy to promote agricultural biotechnology overseas, compel countries to import biotech crops and foods that they do not want”.
FWW went through some 260,000 diplomatic cables and zeroed in on over 900. Their findings led to the most recent report this month saying: “The State Department strategy sought to foist pro-biotech policies on foreign governments”; that it used a multi-pronged approach, namely, lobbying foreign governments to weaken biotech rules and adopt pro-agricultural biotechnology policies and laws; protecting US GM crops and seed exports and pressurizing developing countries to adopt biotech crops; and promoting biotech business interests through strong public relations campaigns to improve the GM image.
The State Department got embassies to send visitors, especially journalists to the US, and organized or sponsored 28 junkets from 17 countries between 2005 and 2009. Sound familiar? It’s happened in Pakistan too. But low-income African nations were the most bullied of all. After all, it’s a mouth-watering $15 billion global GM seed market out there led by Monsanto, with DuPont, Syngenta, Bayer and Dow in tow. They want to maintain and expand it, which is becoming increasingly difficult with more and more countries – some sixty to date — banning or putting some restrictions on GM.
The US Organic Consumers Association in a press release accompanying the report, added, “American taxpayer’s money should not be spent advancing the goals of a few giant biotech companies.”
Some suspect that GMO seed technology, dominated by Monsanto, especially of corn and soy crops which are almost entirely from GM seeds, belong to the few areas from which the US still obtains a trade surplus. The US has a trade surplus of $30 billion in its agricultural sector, and in 2013 it is estimated to export $145 billion in agricultural products. In the process it will further destroy other countries’ agriculture and livelihoods.
Our troubles began from the time countries, one after the other, began to declare agriculture an industry – prematurely and undemocratically in South countries. Agriculture, once the world’s biggest employer of cultivators big and small, that always provided everyone, even the poorest, with sustenance and something to do, has been snatched by corporate, big business and feudal interests, thereby throwing millions out of work.
Take for example the USA, with the biggest industrialized agriculture sector in the world. According to the US research-based Environmental Working Group report released this month, the US government paid the heaviest subsidies, from 1995 to 2012, not to medium-sized or small family farms, but fifty billionaires or businesses – all from taxpayer money! It didn’t include crop insurance subsidies for mass production of corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton and sorghum that many additionally received. Forbes magazine found that these subsidies-receiving billionaires had a collective net worth of $316 billion!
In times of soaring unemployment, food stamps kept about five million people above the poverty line in America. So it was shocking that US government lawmakers are now planning cuts of about $5 billion on the food stamps programme at the same time that it is generously coddling corporate farming. Given the attitude of the US government towards their own poor, other countries shouldn’t be expecting better for them. Agriculture has been a political and profiteering issue for a very long time, not a rights and humanitarian one.
In 2009 the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), completed a three-year project convened by the United Nations to assess what sort of agriculture would address the world’s food needs, especially during rapid climate change. The traditional methods, whether they were called organic, natural, sustainable, — but which can and have been improved and made even more productive — were the only solution. They had always existed but were deliberately undermined through disinformation and outright falsehoods.
Since then, the UN-backed views haven’t made as much news as corporate claims. IAASTD rejected deregulated biotech as a solution, so much so, that all but 3 of the 61 governments that participated at the meeting, refused to sign the IAASTD statement. The US with most to lose, was of course one of the three that didn’t sign, the other two being Canada, and Australia.
Agriculture for food and raw materials is one area that is key to human survival itself. The needs are basic and universal, and it wouldn’t matter if there were no modern industries run on machinery. There would be other kinds of progress and civilizations. In fact, the usurpation and concentration of agriculture in a few hands led by the west has brought unprecedented and widespread poverty, hunger and deprivation to the world’s most naturally bountiful countries.
Decades ago when big business failed to infiltrate US agriculture, they took another route, plying state agricultural universities with heavy grants in the name of research. In fact, some of the high-yield and genetically-modification work were rooted there, and the outcome should have become public property, not patented by the corporations. The universities were tricked, but having built on their original research and set up their own laboratories to build on it, the corporations have more or less dispensed with them.
Hopefully, our own scientists and academia who have been rooting for Bt cotton and other patented GM crops — which will give ownership of our most basic and sovereign resource to non-citizens — will look to their consciences and at our peasants faces, and have a re-think?
This article was printed in The Nation on 13 November, 2013