FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Land Grabbers: the Threat of Giant Agriculture

In the 1980s, I met a retired general at a Borders bookstore in northern Virginia. He used to buy tons of military history books. I used to buy environmental and classics books. We started talking about books. But, slowly, in our discussion of Latin America, I criticized American policies, especially the immoral support of  landlords against landless peasants.

“If I knew you a few years ago, I would take you outside the town and shoot you,” he said to me.

I dismissed this vicious threat as a sign the old man was crazy. But the threat, nevertheless, mirrors the invisible war around farming, food, and the environment. I felt the tension of that ceaseless war for decades.

Agrarian reform

In January 28 – February 1, 1992, I was attending an international climate and development conference in Brazil. I was one of the speakers addressing agrarian reform.

I argued that it was necessary for governments and international institutions to protect peasant farmers from the violence of large industrialized farmers. Moreover, Brazil and many other countries, including the United States, should give land to peasants and very small family farmers because the farming they practice has had negligible impact on climate change. In contrast, agribusiness and, especially animal farms, are having significant effects on global warming.

Taking this position in 1992, apparently, was controversial. Once at the conference in the gorgeous city of Fortaleza, Ceara, Northeast Brazil, I learned I would not be delivering my paper. Instead, I joined a few professors in a small room wasting our time: debating agrarian reform and drawing recommendations destined to oblivion.

Fear in the countryside

This is just one example of what happens to unwelcomed ideas. Governments ignore or suppress them. Powerful media refuse to publish them. Advocates of those ideas often abandon them. Sometimes, they risk death.

I entered this fight in 1976 in my first book, Fear in the Countryside: The Control of Agricultural Resources in the Poor Countries by Non-Peasant Elites.

That study opened my eyes to the injustices and violence of modern industrialized agriculture. This is agriculture in name only. It is rather a factory exploiting land, crops, animals and people. It is armed by weaponized science, large machinery, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and, since the mid-1990s, genetic engineering.

Farmers immersed in this mechanical and chemical farming are pretty much divorced from democratic or ecological concerns and politics. They convince themselves they own the world. They have no trouble in poisoning and even destroying the land, which they own by the thousands of acres.

I wrote Fear in the Countryside as a historian. I knew that large-scale farming in antiquity and the dark ages institutionalized slavery and brought the collapse of nations and civilizations.

Giant agriculture has been having similar effects on us and our civilization.

I caught a glimpse of that scary reality during my tenure at the US Environmental Protection Agency. I studied American agriculture in depth.

American agriculture

I was astonished by the insistence of the leaders of American agriculture their model was the best: the world’s farmers should become like those of Iowa; I could not explain their obsession with gigantic monopolies and farms; I was outraged agricultural schools have been serving agribusiness; and I found it unfathomable that farmers are destroying the soil and poisoning the water with deleterious pesticides and fertilizers. And, ironically, I found myself serving a toothless regulatory bureaucracy doing the bidding of agribusiness.

These bad practices have been spreading the world over.

The peasant model

Timothy Wise, a senior researcher at the Small Planet Institute and Tufts University, explains why. His timely and important book, Eating Tomorrow: Agribusiness, Family Farmers, and the Battle for the Future of Food (The New Press, February 2019) summarizes the invisible war of agribusiness against peasants and family farmers. He gathered his data in Iowa, Mexico, India, Mozambique, Malawi, and Zambia.

He found Iowa “blanketed in genetically modified corn and soybeans, dotted with industrial hog factories and ethanol refineries.”

In Mexico, India and Africa, Wise talked to peasants who raise about 70 percent of the food in their countries. They do that without any support from their governments and international farm assistance organizations. In addition, these peasants raise food in traditional ways enriching the soil and diminishing the harsh realities of climate change. And yet, despite these achievements, both governments and foreign food assistance experts are ridiculing them and, often, grab their land. That’s why, Wise says, peasants describe foreign-funded agriculture as land grabbing.

Wise also observed the foreign philanthropic, agribusiness and government coalitions pressuring the peasants to abandon their native seeds, crop diversity, and “patient soil-building practices” for growing one crop wholly dependent on petrochemicals and GMOS.

Most peasants turn them down.

The agribusiness coalition, however, has plenty of land for transplanting the Iowa model of farming – despite global warming and the repeated failures of the “green revolution” to gain a foothold in Africa. The green revolution is the slogan of agribusiness.

For example, the Gates Foundation, the largest international aid farm donor, has been pushing the agenda of agribusiness in Africa.

The agribusiness danger

The agribusiness forces causing food and environmental chaos in 2019 are not that much  different than those I detected and denounced in 1976. Large farmers (American and non-American), agribusiness producing pesticides, fertilizers, machinery and seeds. GMOs entered the fray in the mid-1990s.

This phalanx of agribusiness power also includes tainted philanthropic foundations, the World Bank, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and governments.

Wise sheds light on the social and ecological harm of the global domination of agribusiness: massive world hunger, especially in Africa and India; loss of 25 million acres of crop land every year; too much synthetic fertilizers in the fields of farmers, year in and year out, are causing the contamination of groundwater and the acidification of the natural world, including the decline of the organic matter and microbial diversity of the land.

The fertilizer not used by the crop escapes the land as nitrous oxide, an extremely damaging greenhouse gas.

Animal farms also contaminate the atmosphere with huge amounts of global warming gases. Wise says that the top 20 animal farms (global livestock conglomerates) together emit into the atmosphere more global warming gases than countries such as Germany, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom or France.

Obviously, time is running out for agribusiness. A former senior UN official, Olivier De Schutter, agrees. He urges the world to make “a decisive shift away from the agribusiness model.” Millions of peasants and small family farmers could not agree more.

Read Eating Tomorrow. No civilized human being is a cannibal. Tomorrow belongs to the future.

This book promises to outrage and inform you to say no to agribusiness. It’s well-written, inspiring, and incisive.

 

More articles by:

Evaggelos Vallianatos is a historian and environmental strategist, who worked at the US Environmental Protection Agency for 25 years. He is the author of 6 books, including Poison Spring with Mckay Jenkings.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
January 23, 2020
Richard Moser
Ten Best Messages for Waging Peace
Thomas S. Harrington
The Catalan Crisis Threatens to Reopen a Debate That the EU’s Power Brokers Thought They Had Long Ago Quashed
Martha Rosenberg
SARS-Like Disease Could Become a Pandemic
Ron Jacobs
A Cesspool of Constitutional Nonsense-Impeachment in the Senate
Gaither Stewart
One Hundred Years: the Proletariat in Search of a Class
Nick Pemberton
Final Phallus
Russell Mokhiber
PBS Public Editor and the Disease of Contempt
Thomas M. Magstadt
The Myth of the Free Market
Mandy Smithberger
How the Military-Industrial Complex Gets Away With Murder in Contract After Contract
Russell Rickford
The Paradox of Populism
Howard Lisnoff
Action Research: Acquiescing to the Awful
George Ochenski
Comes Now the Winter of Our Discontent
Binoy Kampmark
Diminishing Returns: Calculated Misery in Air Travel
Nick Licata
Do Republicans Have More to Lose Than Democrats in the Impeachment Trial?
Dean Baker
The Myth of China’s Population Crisis
John Kendall Hawkins
Steal This Whistle
January 22, 2020
Melvin Goodman
The Media and the Military Mindset
John Davis
The Real Megxit Deal
John O'Kane
The Obama Legacy: Reform Versus Revolution
Kenneth Surin
The “Evolving” Scotty Morrison From Marketing
Martin Billheimer
“The Cops & the Klan Go Hand in Hand!”
Thomas Knapp
Executive Power: Alan Dershowitz’s Imagination Versus the Constitution
Jacob G. Hornberger
Egypt and the Destruction of Civil Liberties in America
Justin Podur
The People of Colombia are Cracking the Walls of War and Authoritarianism
Kelsey Hawkins-Johnson
Our Final Decade to Get Climate Policy Right
Jonah Raskin
Terence Hallinan: Fighter for the People and for the Legalization of Marijuana 
Colin Todhunter
Challenging the Flawed Premise Behind Pushing GMOs into Indian Agriculture
January 21, 2020
Sheldon Richman
Warmonger Cotton Accuses Antiwar Think Tank of Anti-Semitism
John Feffer
Trump Makes Space Great Again
Patrick Cockburn
The US and Iran’s Perpetual Almost-War is Unsustainable – and Will End Badly
James C. Nelson
Another Date That Will Live in Infamy: 10 Years After Citizens United
Robert Fisk
Iran Will be Changed Forever by Admitting Its Great Mistake, Unlike the West Which Ignores Its Own Misdeeds
Dean Baker
Did Shareholders’ Benefit by Paying Boeing’s Fired CEO $62 Million?
Susan Roberts
The Demise of the Labour Party and the Future For UK Socialism
Binoy Kampmark
Janus-Faced on Climate Change: Microsoft’s Carbon Vision
David Levin
The Teamster Revolt Against the Hoffa Era
Victor Grossman
Defender and Spearheads
Russell Mokhiber
BS Public Editor and the Disease of Contempt
Tiffany Muller
Get the Money Out of Politics: 10 Years After Citizens United
Laura Flanders
Iowa is Not the Twitterverse
Graham Peebles
Education: Expanding Purpose
Elliot Sperber
Handball in Brooklyn 
January 20, 2020
Paul Street
Trump Showed Us Who He Was Before He Became President
Eric Mann
Martin Luther King and the Black Revolutionary Tradition
Ipek S. Burnett
MLK and the Ghost of an Untrue Dream
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail