Agriculture, food and development

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Agriculture, food and development

General problem from a contemporary perspective

It is not by accident that this sector of economy is in the focus of the attention of environmental, alterglobalist movements: it is the most ancient human activity, it fulfils basic human needs, and still employs more than half of the world’s population. Moreover, the harmful effects of unsustainable agricultural practices and systems of distribution and consumption have a direct impact on the environment.

There is a power shift from local communities to powerful economic actors such as multinational corporations. This trend is reinforced by recent deregulation processes facilitated by World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) negotiations. Contrary to what is implied by the intra-national logic of such negotiations, the real cleavage in this conflict is not between farmers of the North and the Global South, but between different forms of production: small, sustainable, locally embedded family farming vs. global agribusiness.

In this respect, farmers’ movements and civil society organisations around the world are demanding increased participation in defining local and national agricultural policies based on the principles of food sovereignty.

Link: What is Food Sovereignty?

http://www.viacampesina.org/main_en/index.php?option=com_content&task=vi...

Main issues and related alternatives

Hunger and poverty

More than half of the world’s population are small farmers. Paradoxically, they also represent the majority of the 863 million people faced with starvation on our planet. This is caused not only by armed conflicts and climate-related problems, but induced by the export orientation of indebted countries. Cash crops such as coffee and cotton take up the best lands and food producers are marginalised. These countries export raw commodities. However, due to the continuous decline of world commodity prices, they are trapped in poverty, and cannot afford their growing food import needs.

Environmental problems and climate change

Industrial agriculture models are guilty of a number of environmental problems: polluting groundwater, endangering wildlife, inducing erosion, reducing soil fertility and agrobiodiversity. The “food miles” accumulated in our globalised logistical systems contribute severely to greenhouse emission and global warming. Instead of seeking to reduce fossil fuel consumption by localising food systems, leading political powers are turning to the technological fix of biofuels. This contributes to the worsening of climate situation because agrofuel plants like palm oil and sugarcane are grown on monocultural industrial holdings and contribute to the cutting down of rainforests, displacement of native communities, and marginalisation of food production in developing countries. The alternatives for eradicating these problems reside in the consumption of organic, local, seasonal agricultural products or in fair trade for irreplaceable tropical products.

Links: Wuppertal Institut (on food miles)

Links on Agrofuels:

Seedling- Special Issue on Agrofuels (GRAIN, July 2007)

http://www.grain.org/seedling_files/seed-07-07-en.pdf

CAP and international trade rules

The international trade agenda is dominated by transnational corporations. Their objective is to gain a larger share of the world market, access to cheap input for their products, and freedom to invest in developing countries. The CAP-reforms since 1992, which paved the way for the WTO agreement on agriculture, have led to a crisis among EU-farmers; they are forced to produce below production costs, and as they become bankrupt, they are forced to leave the countryside. The discourse around the WTO, dominated by a few vocal agro-exporting developing countries like India and Brazil, postulates market access as the main priority for developing countries from a development perspective. According to the global food sovereignty movement, however, what these countries need much more is policy space to be able to protect their local food production from dumped produce and to define their agricultural and food systems according to the specific needs of their population.

Websites:

Via Campesina: www.viacampesina.org

Links: EPFS állásgoglalás a CAPról, VC a WTO agrárról

Food Sovereignty (I think we should introduce this already in the beginning as the framework of our work)

GMOs and agrobiodiversity

Genetically modified (GM) crop varieties, mainly corn, soybean, colza and cotton, have spread world-wide in the past two decades. In 2006 they represent 100 million hectares (approximately 7% of the total arable land surface) concentrated in the Americas (United-Stated, Canada, Argentina and Brazil). In the pursuit of their economic interests, the largest producer countries as well as biotechnology firms, in particular Monsanto, Syngenta and DuPont, are exerting great pressure on national governments to introduce permissive legislation allowing open-field testing, the cultivation and commercialisation of transgenic seeds and crops. They also push for the privatization of research and the recognition of intellectual property rights on transgenic varieties through the introduction of patents on plants. At the same time, independent researches conducted demonstrate that GMOs are actually leading to irreversible environmental problems. Through the inevitable nature of contamination (ex. via the flow of pollen and bees, the inseparability of chains of production), GMOs are becoming totalitarian cultures making impossible other forms of non-GM agriculture, including organic farming. In some cases, their uncontrollable expansion even obliges farmers to disburse royalties on crops contaminated against their will. Transgenic crops are also a threat to human health and undermine the food security and autonomy of local communities.

The GMO question and the problems it creates require a participatory decision-making process on behalf of local communities, whom, based on the “precautionary principle” outlined in the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, have the right to refuse GMOs due to the threats they confer on biodiversity and human health. Citizens, farmers and civil society organisations have adopted different strategies in fighting for a GM-free agriculture. These tactics include awareness-raising campaigns, civil disobedience through GMO-reaping actions, legal cases to modify the current GMO authorisation procedure, independent scientific testing to prove the impossible coexistence of GM and non-GM crops, the creation of GMO-free regions and joint lobbying for a moratorium on transgenic crops. Farmers have also begun to select and reuse their own seeds.

For centuries, seed conservation and the renewing of biodiversity have been carried out on farmers’ fields. However, with the expansion of markets on the national and international level, the concentration of seed companies as well as the agrifood business, including retailers and distribution chains, has lead to the production of large volumes of standardized, homogenous seed varieties. These processes have lead to an unprecedented loss of agrobiodiversity. In terms of vegetables, 80% of varieties cultivated fifty years ago have disappeared from our table today. The introduction of patents on seeds has further marginalised farmers. They took seed production out of farmers’ hands and increased their economic dependence on the seed industry by obliging them to purchase seeds on an annual basis. Today, both in the North and the Global South we are witnessing the renewal of a farmers’ movements reclaiming their rights to seeds. Beside reintroducing and cultivating local, traditional or “”peasant” seed varieties, many of which exist and can be retrieved only from genebanks, farmers place an important emphasis on combining traditional and modern knowledge on processing these seeds and making these foodstuffs part of our diet (for example, bread made from local wheat varieties and with sourdough). They are also fighting for their rights to seeds by demanding the obligatory application of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Agriculture and Food (articles 6 and 9), which recognizes this right.

Links:

i. GMOs:

Websites:

-CBD Website: http://www.cbd.int/biosafety/default.shtml

-ETC Group Website: http://www.etcgroup.org

Readings/Movies:

-Genetically Modified Crops in African Agriculture (Devlin Kuyek, August 2002, GRAIN)

http://www.grain.org/briefings_files/africa-gmo-2002-en.pdf

-GMO movie: GMOs? No Thanks! (English version, 17 min)

ii. Agrobiodiversity:

Website: GRAIN: www.grain.org

Readings:

-Seedling- special Issue on Seed Laws (GRAIN, July 2005)

http://www.grain.org/seedling_files/seed-05-07.pdf

-The end of farm-saved seed? Industry’s wish list for the next revision of UPOV

(GRAIN, February 2007)

http://www.grain.org/briefings_files/upov-2007-en.pdf

-Seeds and Food sovereignty:

Experiences in different parts of the world to maintain – or wrest back – control over the cultivation and preparation of our foods, with a particular focus on bread-making.

http://www.grain.org/seedling_files/seed-07-04.pdf

What PtF does

In all our activities, including the ones related to agriculture, we place an emphasis on systematically linking local and global struggles and alternatives, thus insisting on the interconnection of processes in a globalised world and fostering international solidarity within and between communities.

Information Gathering and Awareness-raising

Our aim is to raise awareness among consumers about the social and environmental implications of their buying choices. Beyond the immediate concern for one’s health, this attitude implies developing a citizen perspective on agriculture. Such behaviour includes support and active involvement in food- and agriculture related campaigns, signing of petitions, writing to MPs, etc. Our awareness raising activity is supported by research projects, which enable us to better understand the economic and social processes, we comment on and provide us with data for our argumentation.

Food Sovereignty Platforms

Food Sovereignty Platforms (link:www.epfs.eu) are networks of farmers, environmental, consumers’ and development NGO’s working together awareness raising and lobbying activities in order to promote a sustainable and solidarity-based agricultural and food system and a citizens perspective on food and agriculture. The recently founded Hungarian Food Sovereignty Platform runs a campaign aiming at elaborating the concept of Food Sovereignty for the specific Hungarian context, and issuing joint statements on contemporary European and national policy developments, such as the CAP Health Check, GMO-legislation, or the upcoming reform of land ownership regulation in Hungary.

European Movement on Peasants’ Seeds

PtF is also supporting the activities of local groups involved in agrobiodiversity conservation and renewal in Hungary as well as participating in the construction of a European coordination on peasant seeds.