Agribusiness Corporations Stack the Deck Against Independent Farms
Agriculture Moves Further and Further Away from Free Market
Corporate agribusiness, funded by corporate welfare handouts, continues to try to crush independent farmers. In a free market with no special privileges, what modes of farming would be most successful? We may never find out.
Here are portions of a much longer essay on global agricultural economics from ZNet.
by Katherine AingerWhy does it matter that small, 'inefficient' producers are being eradicated by globalized, corporate agriculture? Free-trade theory is based on the idea that countries should specialize, produce the things that they make best and buy in everything else. But, as Kevan Bundell from Christian Aid says: 'It makes little sense for poor countries or poor farmers to put themselves at more risk if they have to rely on the efficient functioning of markets which all too often fail or don't exist.'
How 'efficient' is a system of agriculture that ignores ('externalizes') the huge costs of removing chemical contamination from water or losing genetic diversity? How 'wholesome' is it to create new diseases in animals and antibiotic resistance in people? How 'cheap' is the expense of public subsidies to private agribusiness, of global transport or social breakdown in rural areas?
Prevailing free-market thinking asks why we should provide support just to keep people in a state of 'backwardness' and rural poverty. But experience shows us that when these people lose their rural livelihoods, only a few will find better jobs in the city. Many will end up in enormous and growing urban slums.
The question is not whether we have any right to condemn people to the difficult life of a poor farmer -- an accusation often thrown at those who oppose the global-trade regime and the food cartel that runs it. The real question is whether vulnerable farmers themselves have meaningful choices. They need an international voice for their own priorities.
Let them eat trade
Nettie Webb, a Canadian farmer explains: 'The difficulty for us, as farming people, is that we are rooted in the places where we live and grow our food. The other side, the corporate world, is globally mobile.'
To put it another way, global-trade rules might be fundamentally transforming agriculture, but as one sceptic asked: 'can one envision a coalition of Belgian, Dutch, French, Italian, Uruguayan, Brazilian and New Zealand farmers marching on a GATT (WTO) meeting in Punta del Este? And what could they demand to benefit them all, since they are all in competition with one another?'
In fact Via Campesina has been marching on every WTO meeting from 1994 onwards. 'We will not be intimidated. We will not be "disappeared",' they have declared. This global alliance of small and family farmers, peasants, landless and indigenous people, women and rural labourers, has a membership of millions -- the vast majority from poor countries -- and they're putting an alternative agricultural paradigm on the map.
It's based on the idea of 'food sovereignty'. It is, they say, 'the RIGHT of peoples, communities and countries to define their own agricultural, labour, fishing, food and land policies which are ecologically, socially, economically and culturally appropriate to their unique circumstances.'
They believe food is a human right, not a commodity, and that their job -- the production of food -- is fundamental to all human existence. This attitude is summed up by a food co-op member's retort to Brazilian then-President Cardoso when he said that agriculture had to submit to the law of the market: 'Very well, Mr President. When Brazil no longer needs food, then you can let agriculture go bankrupt.'
The farmers of Via Campesina argue that nothing as important as food should be ruled by the WTO. They've been leading the campaign to take agriculture out of its remit entirely. This does not mean that they are 'anti-trade'. They believe in trading goods which a country cannot produce itself. Once a country has supported its own food needs and production it should be free to trade the surplus.
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