dorset chiapas solidarity

September 21, 2013

Who Will Feed Us?

Filed under: Corporations, Indigenous, Maize — Tags: , — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 4:55 pm


Who Will Feed Us?

Silvia Ribeiro

La Jornada, 21st September, 2013

20130512_maiz-391x293Given the growing world population, the issue of hunger and food needs is crucial, but it is rife with erroneous assumptions.

Almost all governments and the international community that deals with the issue of food start with the premise that we need the industrial chain and its technologies to feed ourselves, both in the present and to meet future challenges. Farmers and other small food producers are seen as almost folkloric: they exist, but they are marginal, and they don’t play an important role in food. It is also the slogan of the transnationals and scientists who are funded by them: given population growth and climate chaos, without industrial and transgenic seeds, without industrial monocultures, machinery and lots of supplies and pesticides, the world will be even hungrier.

But the hard data show an inverse reality: it is precisely the industrial chain, the multinationals and their technologies,that are exacerbating the crisis and producing more hunger, while the campesino networks and other “small” farmers are those who feed the majority.

Faced with the contradictions between real data and false assumptions based on national and international policies, the ETC Group, which has followed the agricultural and food issue and its corporate manifestations since the 1970s, decided to compile the research over several decades and compare in one document the realities of the industrial food chain and the rural networks. We synthesize the compilation into a series of six posters that compare both realities by posing Twenty Questions and juxtaposing the answers. The first question is, Who feeds us today? It is followed by Who will feed us in 2030? [Available for download Poster: Who Will Feed Us?]

Since 2009, the global food market, from seeds and agriculture to supermarkets, has been the world’s largest market, surpassing energy. Being also an essential item for survival, it is not surprising that the multinationals have acted aggressively to control it. The process didn’t take long: in technology some fifty years, with the so-called “Green Revolution”, and in new regulations to favour market oligopolies, just a couple of decades. From Monsanto to Walmart, a score of multinationals now control most of this lucrative market.

That the multinationals dominate the industrial chain of food production does not mean that they feed the most. Although they control about 70 per cent of the global agricultural resources (land, water, supplies), what they produce reaches only 30 per cent of the world’s population. Most of the food still comes from the hands of rural farmers, indigenous people, fishermen, pickers, neighbourhood and urban gardens and orchards and other small producers. With just 30 per cent of agricultural resources, they feed 70 per cent of humanity.

The industrial chain wastes two-thirds of its food production, destroys soils and ecosystems, causes enormous damage to health and the environment, and for that, 3.4 billion people, half the world’s population, are malnourished: hungry, malnourished or obese. The peasant and small producer network of food suppliers have a minimum level of waste, use and care for an enormous variety of foods that are healthier and have much higher nutritional content, and with low or no environmental impact. Even negative, because they counteract the devastation caused by the chain, as in the case of climate change. This is even taking into account that most of the farmers use some agrochemical.

In order to provide that 30 per cent of food, the industrial chain uses 70-80 per cent of the arable land, 80 per cent of fossil fuels, and 70 per cent of the water destined for agricultural use. It also causes 44-57 per cent of greenhouse gases, deforests 13 million hectares [32 million acres] of forests and destroys 75 million tons of vegetative cover [shrubs, trees] each year.

The peasant network harvests 60-70 per cent of food crops with 20-30 per cent of the arable land, uses less than 20 per cent of fossil fuels and 30 per cent of the water intended for agricultural uses, nourishes and uses the biodiversity and is responsible for most of the 85 per cent of food produced within national borders. It is the chief, and often the only, provider of foodstuffs that reach two billion people suffering from hunger and malnutrition.

To these data are added many others about the output per hectare, jobs, land, water, fisheries, forests, seed and microbial diversity, pollinators, agricultural research, patents and monopolies, animal production and related impact, health and environmental impact, which shows similar and often unknown realities not only for governments, but also for many of us.

The document, entitled “Who will feed us? Industrial Chain versus Peasant Network”, has been compiled from more than a hundred sources, of which the majority come from such United Nations agencies as FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization], UNEP [UN Environmental Program], UNDP [UN Development Programs], UNCTAD [UN Conference on Trade and Development]. The remaining data come from academic or civilian research institutions, which cite reports that are in turn based on hundreds of sources, such as those produced by GRAIN and OXFAM.

*Silvia Ribeiro is a researcher with the ETC Group, Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration.

Translated by Jane Brundage




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