1.BBC on World Food Summit
2.Grabbing Africa - Helena Paul
3.Small is bountiful - George Monbiot
4.Free markets push farmers into poverty
EXTRACT: "Big business is killing small farming. By extending intellectual property rights over every aspect of production, and by developing plants that either won't breed true or don't reproduce at all, big business ensures that only those with access to capital can cultivate." - George Monbiot (ITEM 3)
1. BBC on the World Food Summit
(Soil Association: Today's News - 10 June 2008)
BBC World Service reports and discussion on Global Agriculture
World Service reporting around the UN Emergency World Food summit in Rome, Wednesday 4 June.
The segment on the World food security starts at 32:30min.
The segment on the Green Revolution starts at 33:40min.
The segment on GM including interviews with the Kenyan Environment Minister and Rod Harbinson, Head of Panos London Environment Programme, starts at 38:00min.
Listen again - BBC World Service, search under 'News hour 1300 GMT', and select Wednesday (4 June)
http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/programmes/000000_newshour_listen_again.shtml [DON'T FORGET TO COMMENT ON THE BBC WEBSITE ON WHAT YOU THINK OF THEIR COVERAGE]
2. The message from the high level conference at FAO, Rome, 3-5 June 2008
To this marginalised member of a small organisation trying to get through police and security cordons to attend the High-Level Conference on World Food Security, the Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy at FAO, Rome, 3-5 June, it seemed obvious that the food crisis is being exploited to target African smallholders as the last "unimproved" area of agricultural production, the part the first green revolution did not reach.
"Make today's crisis tomorrow's triumph": this is what one speaker said at the press conference where they signed a Memorandum of Understanding on 4th June 2008. This MoU is between the UN agencies Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), World Food Programme (WFP), International Fund on Agricultural Development (IFAD) and AGRA the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, with the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD), Rockefeller and Gates Foundations all mentioned as collaborators. The promises are for irrigation, infrastructure, better seeds, higher yields, fertilisers, animal feed, access to markets, bulk buying power, experts and credit for a green revolution for Africa, with a focus on small farmers.
The aim is to "unlock production in Africa" (Jacques Diouf, Director General of FAO) through a "sustainable green revolution for smallholders". The organisations say they will focus on the "natural bread baskets in Africa", ie the places where there is plenty of water and good soils. Crops in focus are the "orphans" that have attracted less attention from the private sector to date: millet and sorghum, cassava and yam. It is clear that African smallholder farmers are viewed as "the biggest reserve of productivity we have" (John Holmes, Emergency Relief Coordinator at another press conference at the summit). Of course this also makes them a great source of new profits.
Did these organisations ask the small farmers of Africa what they want?
The WFP describes AGRA's role as helping people produce more and get their harvest to market. WFP now purchases far more food aid in the global south than it used to and has two programmes: Purchase for Progress, to help farmers gain access to seeds, fertilisers and technologies and Food for Work, by which people get food in exchange for, eg: building the roads that will carry their produce to market in the better future that is planned for them.
IFAD said that Africa had been hit particularly hard by the food crisis and also noted Africa's production potential. In the 60s, India was the basket case, while Africa was exporting food. Remove the constraints and bring on the green revolution, he said, referring to the need for "genetic improvement" to orphan crops such as sweet sorghum for food and fuel.
And of course, although barely mentioned, agrofuel prospects will be a major aspect of this push, with targets and incentives from industrialised countries already driving a major land-grab throughout Africa. The irony is that, while using the food crisis as a pretext, industrial agrofuel production will compete with and marginalise food production.
In answer to a question about how the first green revolution had benefited large farmers but not small ones and asking how will the new one for Africa avoid the same problem, the answer from Kofi Annan was: we will learn from history. To the question about which corporations are involved, there was no answer. However, anyone who wanted to know would have found likely candidates if they had attended the business forum on the first day of the conference, boasting the presence of Syngenta, Cargill, Bunge, Pioneer Hi-bred (Dupont), CropLife International, the International Fertilizer Industry Association (IFA) and Unilever among others.
It is obvious that for signatories of this Memorandum, soil fertility means fertiliser, plus the "right" seeds and inputs. These will include GM seeds for which increased yields and drought resistance are claimed.
However, IFAD noted, rather to this listener's surprise, that many GM crops are already grown in Africa, as the term refers to any crop that is the result of "manipulation". Transgenic crops, we learned, are the result of transfer between life kingdoms and these are more problematic. IFAD's examples of GM crops were tissue banana and miracle rice, the result of a hybridisation between Asian and African material.
Kofi Annan for AGRA reminded us that women are the majority among farmers and they have to take all the risks in their struggle "against nature". He thus showed us that nothing about the green revolution model has changed. Based on chemicals often originally developed for war (fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides) the green revolution for Africa will continue the war against nature that is at the heart of modern industrial agriculture.
Annan did speak of the need to link countries in Africa, saying trade between countries could be worth up to 250 billion USD. However, many observers fear that the main roads will all lead directly to ports for export to Europe and other parts of the world.
The African Development Bank is ready to lend for infrastructure. Equity banks are lending to make fertilisers available to African farmers in Kenya and other banks want to join. So it is clear that the vision is for a fossil agriculture, based on fossil fuel, to be imposed on Africa, using the food crisis as a lever.
Yet nitrogen fertiliser production already uses 2% of world energy consumption, some 5% of natural gas, according to the industry itself. N2O emissions may actually amount to some 3-5% of fertiliser applied. Global agriculture contributes 14% and landuse change 18% to global climate change emissions without counting energy use.
When will we begin to move on from this outdated, greenhouse gas intensive, climate changing model?
Not any time soon was the message from this conference.
3. Small Is Bountiful
Monbiot.com, June 10 2008
Peasant farmers offer the best chance of feeding the world. So why do we treat them with contempt?
Published in the Guardian 10th June 2008
I suggest you sit down before you read this. Robert Mugabe is right. At last week’s global food summit he was the only leader to speak of “the importance ”¦ of land in agricultural production and food security”.(1) Countries should follow Zimbabwe’s lead, he said, in democratising ownership.
Of course the old bastard has done just the opposite. He has evicted his opponents and given land to his supporters. He has failed to support the new settlements with credit or expertise, with the result that farming in Zimbabwe has collapsed. The country was in desperate need of land reform when Mugabe became president. It remains in desperate need of land reform today.
But he is right in theory. Though the rich world’s governments won’t hear it, the issue of whether or not the world will be fed is partly a function of ownership. This reflects an unexpected discovery. It was first made in 1962 by the Nobel economist Amartya Sen(2), and has since been confirmed by dozens of further studies. There is an inverse relationship between the size of farms and the amount of crops they produce per hectare. The smaller they are, the greater the yield.
In some cases, the difference is enormous. A recent study of farming in Turkey, for example, found that farms of less than one hectare are twenty times as productive as farms of over ten hectares(3). Sen’s observation has been tested in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Malaysia, Thailand, Java, the Phillippines, Brazil, Colombia and Paraguay. It appears to hold almost everywhere.
The finding would be surprising in any industry, as we have come to associate efficiency with scale. In farming, it seems particularly odd, because small producers are less likely to own machinery, less likely to have capital or access to credit, and less likely to know about the latest techniques.
There’s a good deal of controversy about why this relationship exists. Some researchers argued that it was the result of a statistical artefact: fertile soils support higher populations than barren lands, so farm size could be a result of productivity, rather than the other way around. But further studies have shown that the inverse relationship holds across an area of fertile land. Moreover, it works even in countries like Brazil, where the biggest farmers have grabbed the best land(4).
The most plausible explanation is that small farmers use more labour per hectare than big farmers(5). Their workforce largely consists of members of their own families, which means that labour costs are lower than on large farms (they don’t have to spend money recruiting or supervising workers), while the quality of the work is higher. With more labour, farmers can cultivate their land more intensively: they spend more time terracing and building irrigation systems; they sow again immediately after the harvest; they might grow several different crops in the same field.
In the early days of the Green Revolution, this relationship seemed to go into reverse: the bigger farms, with access to credit, were able to invest in new varieties and boost their yields. But as the new varieties have spread to smaller farmers, the inverse relationship has reasserted itself(6). If governments are serious about feeding the world, they should be breaking up large landholdings, redistributing them to the poor and concentrating their research and their funding on supporting small farms.
There are plenty of other reasons for defending small farmers in poor countries. The economic miracles in South Korea, Taiwan and Japan arose from their land reform programmes. Peasant farmers used the cash they made to build small businesses. The same thing seems to have happened in China, though it was delayed for 40 years by collectivisation and the Great Leap Backwards: the economic benefits of the redistribution that began in 1949 were not felt until the early 80s(7). Growth based on small farms tends to be more equitable than growth built around capital-intensive industries(8). Though their land is used intensively, the total ecological impact of smallholdings is lower. When small farms are bought up by big ones, the displaced workers move into new land to try to scratch out a living. I once followed evicted peasants from the Brazilian state of Maranhao 2000 miles across the Amazon to the land of the Yanomami Indians, then watched them rip it apart.
But the prejudice against small farmers is unshakeable. It gives rise to the oddest insult in the English language: when you call someone a peasant, you are accusing them of being self-reliant and productive. Peasants are detested by capitalists and communists alike. Both have sought to seize their land, and have a powerful vested interest in demeaning and demonising them. In its profile of Turkey, the country whose small farmers are 20 times more productive than its large ones, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation states that, as a result of small landholdings, “farm output ”¦ remains low.”(9) The OECD states that “stopping land fragmentation” in Turkey “and consolidating the highly fragmented land is indispensable for raising agricultural productivity.”(10) Neither body provides any supporting evidence. A rootless, half-starved labouring class suits capital very well.
Like Mugabe, the donor countries and the big international bodies loudly demand that small farmers be supported, while quietly shafting them. Last week’s food summit agreed “to help farmers, particularly small-scale producers, increase production and integrate with local, regional, and international markets.”(11) But when, earlier this year, the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge proposed a means of doing just this, the US, Australia and Canada refused to endorse it as it offended big business(12), while the United Kingdom remains the only country that won’t reveal whether or not it supports the study(13).
Big business is killing small farming. By extending intellectual property rights over every aspect of production; by developing plants which either won’t breed true or which don’t reproduce at all(14), it ensures that only those with access to capital can cultivate. As it captures both the wholesale and retail markets, it seeks to reduce its transaction costs by engaging only with major sellers. If you think that supermarkets are giving farmers in the UK a hard time, you should see what they are doing to growers in the poor world. As developing countries sweep away street markets and hawkers’ stalls and replace them with superstores and glossy malls, the most productive farmers lose their customers and are forced to sell up. The rich nations support this process by demanding access for their companies. Their agricultural subsidies still help their own, large farmers to compete unfairly with the small producers of the poor world.
This leads to an interesting conclusion. For many years, well-meaning liberals have supported the fair trade movement because of the benefits it delivers directly to the people it buys from. But the structure of the global food market is changing so rapidly that fair trade is now becoming one of the few means by which small farmers in poor nations might survive. A shift from small to large farms will cause a major decline in global production, just as food supplies become tight. Fair trade might now be necessary not only as a means of redistributing income, but also to feed the world.
2. Amartya Sen, 1962. An Aspect of Indian Agriculture. Economic Weekly, Vol. 14.
3. Fatma Gül Ünal, October 2006. Small Is Beautiful: Evidence Of Inverse Size Yield
Relationship In Rural Turkey. Policy Innovations. http://www.policyinnovations.org/ideas/policy_library/data/01382
4. Giovanni Cornia, 1985. Farm Size, Land Yields and the Agricultural Production function: an
analysis for fifteen Developing Countries. World Development. Vol. 13, pp. 513-34.
5. Eg Peter Hazell, January 2005. Is there a future for small farms? Agricultural Economics, Vol. 32, pp93-101. doi:10.1111/j.0169-5150.2004.00016.x
6. Rasmus Heltberg, October 1998. Rural market imperfections and the farm size”” productivity relationship: Evidence from Pakistan. World Development. Vol 26, pp 1807-1826. doi:10.1016/S0305-750X(98)00084-9
7. See Shenggen Fan and Connie Chan-Kang , 2005. Is Small Beautiful?: Farm Size, Productivity and Poverty in Asian Agriculture. Agricultural Economics, Vol. 32, pp135-146.
8. Peter Hazell, ibid.
10. OECD Economic Surveys: Turkey - Volume 2006 Issue 15, p186.
This is available online as a Google book.
I was led to refs 9 and 10 via Fatma Gül Ünal, ibid.
12. International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), 2008. Global Summary for Decision Makers. www.agassessment.org
13. IAASTD, viewed 9th June 2008. Frequently Asked Questions. www.agassessment.org
14. Eg Terminator seeds
4. Free markets push farmers into poverty
(Letters) The Independent, June 10 2008
Sir: In his critique of my comments on the global food crisis (Opinion, 6 June), Dominic Lawson is left wondering why market liberalisation is "such a terrible idea" for developing countries. Let me explain.
Opening up developing countries to competition from cheap foreign imports means that farmers are no longer able to produce viably for their own local markets. Like British village shops exposed to competition from out-of-town supermarkets, vast numbers are forced out of business. Unlike here, there are no safety nets to catch them when they fall.
While free-market economists like Lawson may applaud this social Darwinism, the reality is that entire local economies collapse and vast increases in poverty ensue. Millions of farmers and agricultural labourers are forced to migrate to the slums of mega-cities in search of non-existent work, joining the millions already eking out a precarious living on the margins of society. Rural poverty meets urban poverty, and both plunge deeper into despair.
So what about the argument that cheap imports are to be applauded since they make food more affordable for the poor? On first sight this is a persuasive thesis, especially for those of us who live with the luxury of guaranteed basic incomes. Yet it has long been established that the impact of prices on the poor's sources of income, not on their consumption levels, is the key determinant as to whether market liberalisation will be a force for good or for harm in developing countries. Put simply, even cheap food is unaffordable when you have no job and no money with which to buy it.
Finally, it is important to debunk Lawson's claim that "food sovereignty" means rich land-owners extorting monopoly rents at the expense of the poor. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Food sovereignty entails the redistribution of land from the rich to the poor and landless so that they can exercise their right to food. This, not market liberalisation, offers the prospect of a fairer future for developing countries, and we should support it.
War on Want