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 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

April 25, 2019
Marc Levy
All My Vexes Are in Texas
Jim Kavanagh
Avoiding Assange
Michael D. Yates
The Road Beckons
Julian Vigo
Notre Dame Shows the Unifying Force of Culture, Grenfell Reveals the Corruption of Government
Ted Rall
Democratic Refusal to Impeach Could Be Disastrous
Tracey Harris
Lessons Learned From the Tiny House Movement
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Human Flourishing (Eudaimonia): an Antidote to Extinction?
Dana Johnson
Buyer Beware: Hovercraft Ruling Deals a Major Blow to Land Conservation in Alaska
Norman Solomon
Joe Biden: Puffery vs. Reality
Jen Marlowe
The Palestine Marathon
Binoy Kampmark
Lethal Bungling: Sri Lanka’s Easter Bombings
Michael Slager
“Where’s Your Plan?” Legalized Bribery and Climate Change
Jesse Jackson
Trump Plunges the US Deeper Into Forgotten Wars
George Wuerthner
BLM Grazing Decision Will Damage the Owyhee Canyonlands Wilderness
April 24, 2019
Susan Babbitt
Disdain and Dignity: An Old (Anti-Imperialist) Story
Adam Jonas Horowitz
Letter to the Emperor
Lawrence Davidson
A Decisive Struggle For Our Future
John Steppling
The Mandate for Israel: Keep the Arabs Down
Victor Grossman
Many Feet
Cira Pascual Marquina
The Commune is the Supreme Expression of Participatory Democracy: a Conversation with Anacaona Marin of El Panal Commune
Binoy Kampmark
Failed States and Militias: General Khalifa Haftar Moves on Tripoli
Dean Baker
Payments to Hospitals Aren’t Going to Hospital Buildings
Alvaro Huerta
Top Ten List in Defense of MEChA
Colin Todhunter
As the 2019 Indian General Election Takes Place, Are the Nation’s Farmers Being Dealt a Knock-Out Blow?
Charlie Gers
Trump’s Transgender Troops Ban is un-American and Inhumane
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Just Another Spring in Progress?
Thomas Knapp
On Obstruction, the Mueller Report is Clintonesque
Elliot Sperber
Every Truck’s a Garbage Truck
April 23, 2019
Peter Bolton
The Monroe Doctrine is Back, and as the Latest US Attack on Cuba Shows, Its Purpose is to Serve the Neoliberal Order
David Schultz
The Mueller Report: Trump Too Inept to Obstruct Justice
Geoff Beckman
Crazy Uncle Joe and the Can’t We All Just Get Along Democrats
Medea Benjamin
Activists Protect DC Venezuelan Embassy from US-supported Coup
Patrick Cockburn
What Revolutionaries in the Middle East Have Learned Since the Arab Spring
Jim Goodman
Don’t Fall for the Hype of Free Trade Agreements
Lance Olsen
Climate and Forests: Land Managers Must Adapt, and Conservationists, Too
William Minter
The Coming Ebola Epidemic
Tony McKenna
Stephen King’s IT: a 2019 Retrospective
David Swanson
Pentagon Claims 1,100 High Schools Bar Recruiters; Peace Activists Offer $1,000 Award If Any Such School Can Be Found
Gary Olson
A Few Comments on the recent PBS Series: Reconstruction: America After the Civil War
April 22, 2019
Melvin Goodman
The NYTs Tries to Rehabilitate Bloody Gina Haspel
Robert Fisk
After ISIS, a Divided Iraq, Wounded and Grief-Stricken
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange as Neuroses
John Laforge
Chernobyl’s Deadly Effects Estimates Vary
Kenneth Surin
Mueller Time? Not for Now
Cesar Chelala
Yemen: The Triumph of Barbarism
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail