US Agribusiness, GMOs and The Plundering Of The Planet

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Small family/peasant farms pro­duce most of the world’s food. They form the bedrock of glob­al food pro­duc­tion. Yet they are being squeezed onto less than a quar­ter of the planet’s farm­land. The world is fast los­ing farms and farm­ers through the con­cen­tra­tion of land into the hands of rich and pow­er­ful land spec­u­la­tors and agribusi­ness corporations.

By def­i­n­i­tion, peas­ant agri­cul­ture pri­ori­tis­es food pro­duc­tion for local and nation­al mar­kets as well as for farm­ers’ own fam­i­lies. Big agritech cor­po­ra­tions on the oth­er hand take over scarce fer­tile land and pri­ori­tise com­modi­ties or export crops for prof­it and for­eign mar­kets that tend to cater for the needs of the urban afflu­ent. This process dis­places farm­ers from their land and brings about food inse­cu­ri­ty, pover­ty and hunger.

What big agribusi­ness with its indus­tri­al mod­el of glob­alised agri­cul­ture claims to be doing – address­ing glob­al hunger and food short­ages – is doing noth­ing of the sort. There is enough evi­dence to show that its activ­i­ties actu­al­ly lead to hunger and pover­ty — some­thing that the likes of GMO-agribusi­ness-neolib­er­al apol­o­gists might like to con­sid­er when they pro­pa­gan­dize about choice, democ­ra­cy and hunger: issues that they seem unable to grasp, at least beyond a self-serv­ing super­fi­cial level.

Small farm­ers are being crim­i­nalised, tak­en to court and even made to dis­ap­pear when it comes to the strug­gle for land. They are con­stant­ly exposed to sys­tem­at­ic expul­sion from their land by for­eign cor­po­ra­tions. The Oak­land Insti­tute has stat­ed that now a new gen­er­a­tion of insti­tu­tion­al investors, includ­ing hedge funds, pri­vate equi­ty and pen­sion funds, is eager to cap­i­talise on glob­al farm­land as a new and high­ly desir­able asset class. Finan­cial returns are what mat­ter to these enti­ties, not ensur­ing food security.

Con­sid­er Ukraine, for exam­ple. Small farm­ers oper­ate 16% of agri­cul­tur­al land, but pro­vide 55% of agri­cul­tur­al out­put, includ­ing: 97% of pota­toes, 97% of hon­ey, 88% of veg­eta­bles, 83% of fruits and berries and 80% of milk. It is clear that Ukraine’s small farms are deliv­er­ing impres­sive out­puts.

How­ev­er, The US-backed top­pling of that country’s gov­ern­ment seems like­ly to change this with the installed pup­pet regime hand­ing over agri­cul­ture to US agribusi­ness. Cur­rent ‘aid’ pack­ages are con­tin­gent on the plun­der­ing of the econ­o­my under the guise of ‘aus­ter­i­ty’ reforms and will have a dev­as­tat­ing impact on Ukraini­ans’ stan­dard of liv­ing and increase pover­ty in the country.

Reforms man­dat­ed by the EU-backed loan include agri­cul­tur­al dereg­u­la­tion that is intend­ed to ben­e­fit for­eign agribusi­ness cor­po­ra­tions. Nat­ur­al resource and land pol­i­cy shifts are intend­ed to facil­i­tate the for­eign cor­po­rate takeover of enor­mous tracts of land. (From 2016, for­eign pri­vate investors will no longer be pro­hib­it­ed from buy­ing land.) More­over, the EU Asso­ci­a­tion Agree­ment includes a clause requir­ing both par­ties to coop­er­ate to extend the use of biotech­nol­o­gy, includ­ing GMOs.

In oth­er words, events in Ukraine are help­ing (and were designed to help) the likes of Mon­san­to to gain a firm hold over the country’s agriculture.

Fred­er­ic Mousseau, Pol­i­cy Direc­tor of the Oak­land Insti­tute last year stat­ed that the World Bank and IMF are intent on open­ing up for­eign mar­kets to West­ern cor­po­ra­tions and that the high stakes around con­trol of Ukraine’s vast agri­cul­tur­al sec­tor, the world’s third largest exporter of corn and fifth largest exporter of wheat, con­sti­tute an oft-over­looked crit­i­cal fac­tor. He added that in recent years, for­eign cor­po­ra­tions have acquired more than 1.6 mil­lion hectares of Ukrain­ian land.

West­ern agribusi­ness had been cov­et­ing Ukraine’s agri­cul­ture sec­tor for quite some time, long before the coup. It after all con­tains one third of all arable land in Europe.

An arti­cle post­ed on Ori­en­tal Review notes that since the mid-90s the Ukrain­ian-Amer­i­cans at the helm of the US-Ukraine Busi­ness Coun­cil had been instru­men­tal in encour­ag­ing the for­eign con­trol of Ukrain­ian agriculture.

In Novem­ber 2013, the Ukrain­ian Agrar­i­an Con­fed­er­a­tion draft­ed a legal amend­ment that would ben­e­fit glob­al agribusi­ness pro­duc­ers by allow­ing the wide­spread use of genet­i­cal­ly mod­i­fied seeds. Ori­en­tal Review notes that when GMO crops were legal­ly intro­duced onto the Ukrain­ian mar­ket in 2013, they were plant­ed in up to 70% of all soy­bean fields, 10–20% of corn­fields, and over 10% of all sun­flower fields, accord­ing to var­i­ous esti­mates (or 3% of the country’s total farmland).

Accord­ing to Ori­en­tal Review, “with­in two to three years, as the rel­e­vant pro­vi­sions of the Asso­ci­a­tion Agree­ment between Ukraine and the EU go into effect, Monsanto’s lob­by­ing efforts will trans­form the Ukrain­ian mar­ket into an oli­gop­oly con­sist­ing of Amer­i­can corporations.”

It amounts to lit­tle more than the start of the US coloni­sa­tion of Ukraine’s seed and agri­cul­ture sec­tor. This cor­po­rate pow­er grab will be assist­ed by local banks. Appar­ent­ly these banks will only offer favourable cred­it terms to those farm­ers who agree to use cer­ti­fied her­bi­cides: those that are man­u­fac­tured by Monsanto.

Inter­est­ing­ly, the invest­ment fund Siguler Guff & Co has recent­ly acquired a 50% stake in the Ukrain­ian Port of Illichivsk, which spe­cialis­es in agri­cul­tur­al exports.

We need look no fur­ther than to Ukraine’s imme­di­ate neigh­bour Poland to see the dev­as­tat­ing impact on farm­ers that West­ern agribusi­ness con­cerns are hav­ing there. Land grabs by for­eign cap­i­tal and the threat to tra­di­tion­al (often organ­ic) agri­cul­ture have sparked mass protests as big agribusi­ness seeks to monop­o­lise the food sup­ply from field to plate.

The writ­ing is on the wall for Ukraine.

The sit­u­a­tion is not unique to Poland, though; the impact of poli­cies that favour big agribusi­ness and for­eign cap­i­tal are caus­ing hard­ship, impact­ing health and destroy­ing tra­di­tion­al agri­cul­ture across the world, from India and Argenti­na to Brazil and Mex­i­co and beyond.

In an arti­cle by Christi­na Sarich, Hilliary Mar­tin, a farmer from Ver­mont in the US, encap­su­lates the sit­u­a­tion by saying:

We are here at the [US-Cana­di­an] bor­der to demon­strate the glob­al sol­i­dar­i­ty of farm­ers in the face of glob­al­iza­tion. The cor­po­rate takeover of agri­cul­ture has impov­er­ished farm­ers, starved com­mu­ni­ties and force-fed us genet­i­cal­ly-engi­neered crops, only to line the pock­ets of a hand­ful of multi­na­tion­al cor­po­ra­tions like Mon­san­to at the expense of farm­ers who are strug­gling for land and liveli­hood around the world.”

The US has since 1945 used agri­cul­ture as a tool with which to con­trol coun­tries. And today what is hap­pen­ing in Ukraine is part of the wider US geopo­lit­i­cal plan to dri­ve a wedge between Ukraine and Rus­sia and to sub­ju­gate the country.

While the Transat­lantic Trade and Invest­ment Part­ner­ship (TTIP) is intend­ed to inte­grate the wider EU region with the US econ­o­my (again ‘sub­ju­gate’ may be a more apt word), by intro­duc­ing GMOs into Ukraine and striv­ing to even­tu­al­ly incor­po­rate the coun­try into the EU the hope is that under the ban­ner of ‘free trade’ Monsanto’s aim of get­ting this tech­nol­o­gy into the EU and onto the plates of Euro­peans will become that much easier.