Implications of agricultural innovation for peasants and small farmers.
1. During the last five hundred years, various changing groups of powerful people and organisations have continually succeeded in depriving small farmers and peasants of the land they had worked, so that it could be used for other purposes. Large farms have succeeded in taking over an ever-increasing proportion of the world market for food.
2. From the eighteenth century, technological change has facilitated enormous increases in agricultural production and productivity. Innovations in agriculture have been mainly implemented by large farmers: there have been very few opportunities for small farmers and peasants to benefit from innovations locally or regionally.
3. In developed countries, the proportion of the population remaining at work as small farmers and peasants is now tiny. But the quantity of food produced by large farms in those countries (and elsewhere in the world) is now huge. One of the significant effects of this is that the international sale of food produced in large farms deprives small farmers and peasants in developing countries of markets for the food they produce.
4. In developing countries, however, enormous numbers of small farmers and peasants still work in agriculture –perhaps two billion or more. In general, the food they produce is well attuned to the tastes of local consumers, and is more nutritious than intensively produced food sold in international markets.
5. Small farmers and peasants have combined into organisations to promote their interests in particular,they have created La Via Campesina –which has huge numbers of members. La Via Campesina advocates policies of Food Sovereignty. But La Via Campesina’s political power is negligible in contrast to the huge power exercised by the organisations which oppose it
6. Many large farms use intensive production methods, often focusing on the use of monocultures. Increasingly they dominate agriculture world wide.These farms require large inputs such as water, fertilizers and pesticides. The food they produce is generally not particularly conducive to human health.Their farms produce noxious outputs, such as manure and air pollution which are seriously damaging to the environment.
7. This “thoroughly dysfunctional” increasingly intensive agricultural system is increasingly dominant throughout the world. This is mainly because its operators and proponents –large multinational farmers and suppliers of agricultural inputs, in co-operation with state governments and international agencies such as the World Trade Organisation, World Bank and the International Monetary Fund – control the levers of economic power.
There is intense worldwide controversy about the future of agriculture, and about which technologies are needed to meet the challenges it faces. To understand the economic and social significance of innovations, it is inadequate simply to consider their implications for economic growth. It is also necessary to understand their implications for the work and welfare of the people who produce the products that are derived from those innovations; for the welfare of the people who consume those products; and their implications for the environment and for biodiversity. Understanding how agricultural innovation could promote the welfare of humankind requires study of its relationships to global agricultural and food production in this era dominated by the worldwide power of capitalism and the neoliberal ideology which sustains it.
The usual implicit assumptions underlying research on agricultural innovation have been that agricultural innovation contributes to the productivity and profitability of the firms implementing innovations; that improvements in firms’ productivity and profitability contributes to economic growth ; and that economic growth trickles down to benefit the whole world’s population.
I shall seek to indicate that such assumptions are fallacious. I suggest that comprehension of the roles of agricultural innovation in today’s globalised world must be based primarily on a thorough understanding of how world agriculture and food production and technology have developed.
Since the Second World agriculture and agricultural innovation has been dominated by the drive for profits of huge multinational food and agriculture corporations. On balance, the quality of food produced is now relatively poor in terms of taste and nutrition; numerous people do not receive as much food as they would need to keep healthy: other large groups of people eat so much food that they become obese and unhealthy. The production of food causes unnecessarily severe damage to the environment, and many millions of people who would welcome the opportunity of producing better food by less environmentally damaging methods are deprived of opportunities of so doing.
In essence, the principal barriers to the achievement of better food production involve the power of large multinational corporations to persuade governments and international organisations to support them in implementing policies which increase their profitability; and to persuade billions of people to buy the food they produce. While hundreds of millions of peasants and small farmers oppose the policies of multinational corporations, their political power is relatively small.
THE DOMINANT PATTERN OF WORLDWIDE AGRICULTURAL AND FOOD PRODUCTION AND INNOVATION
The primary purpose of current production and distribution of food is not to satisfy human needs for nutrition but to create profit for the owners of capital. (Senker, 2013) Less than 60 per cent of the world’s population consume a reasonable amount and quality of food to keep them in good health. About 28 per cent consume too little food and 15 per cent consume too much. Economic growth and technological change have combined to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and severe deprivation. But there are still huge numbers of people suffering from severe deprivation – hunger, starvation and poor health: these include people who possess insufficient land on which to grow sufficient food for themselves and their families, together with the unemployed who cannot afford to buy food. Hunger in terms of lack of access to sufficient of the major macronutrients –carbohydrates, fats and proteins – afflicts nearly a billion people. .Perhaps another billion suffer from ‘hidden hunger’, resulting from inadequate micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals. This brings risks of physical and mental impairment. In contrast, about a billion people each consume too much and suffer from chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. (Foresight 2011). Extremely powerful corporations “are using massive advertising campaigns to change eating habits so that target population consume more of the foods that they control, particularly processed food with its heavy use of wheat and soya.” (Branford, 2011: 26).
The distribution of food and food production bears little relationship to people’s food needs;. For example, two centuries ago, simple cereal grains cooked as either porridge or bread were the staples of breakfast throughout the world. Manufactured, packaged ready to eat breakfast cereals – puffed. flavoured, salted and extruded cereals – began to be developed in the United States in the first half of the nineteenth century.as one of the earliest convenience foods. “They are the epitome of cheap commodity converted by manufacturing to higher value goods;of agricultural surplus turned into profitable export. Somehow they have wormed into our confused consciousness as intrinsically healthy when by and large they are degraded foods that have to have any goodness artificially restored” (Lawrence 2008:5)
The history of soy production provides an example of how national governments and international organisations have operated so as to ensure the domination of food production by the drive of multinational corporations to increase their profits. Needs to feed the world’s population or to protect the environment are generally secondary considerations in the policy formation processes which control world agricultural and food production and innovation processes.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the United States exported enormous quantities of soy oil and soymeal. Important competitors in this market were fishmeal from anchovies caught in Peru., and peanut oil from peanuts grown in West Africa. But in 1971-3 climate changes and over-fishing led to dramatic declines in the supplies of these products. In response to worries that the United States would run out of soy and soymeal, President Nixon imposed temporary embargoes on exports, and the rest of the developed world lost confidence in the ability of the United States to provide for consumption in the worldwide rapidly growing intensive meat production industries This created the opportunity for Brazil to produce massive amounts of soy. (Patel, 2007, pages 171-192)
After the Second World War, Brazil followed the then orthodox economic policy of Import Substitution. In rural areas, workers were “either chained by debt or…bonded to the land by traditions of patronage.” By 1950, 62 per cent of those in the agricultural economy were landless (Frank 1969). By 1962, inflation was hurting the poor, even those who owned or had access to land, and as a consequence, there were many bankruptcies amongst peasants. The big estates took advantage of this to expand their employment. The military dictatorship and then the civilian government supported the soy industry, with funding, processing capacity ,an export corridor and price supports. In 1960, Brazilian soy production was very small. By 1979, Brazil accounted for 18 percent of world production. But few Brazilians have benefitted from this, (Patel, 2007, pages 171-192)
The principal organisations which deploy R and D to develop and apply GM to agriculture are large multinationals located in rich countries. They deploy GM principally to meet the demand from food processors and farmers in developed countries.. They use GM to try to develop and market standard solutions (for the whole world) that involve the intensification of agriculture which are often environmentally disastrous. (Senker, 2013)
Similarly, in the Horn of Africa, Governments promote irrigated agriculture as being modern and in the interests of the public good. They portray pastoralism as backwards,outdated and unsustainable, belonging to a past in need of transformation. This is despite the fact that the pastoral areas of the Horn generate annual trade to an annual value exceeding a billion US dollars; and despite the fact that many scholars regard pastoralism as the livelihood best suited to the African drylands. (Dirie, 2014).
WTO rules prevent farmers from reproducing patented seeds (Altieri, 2005). Efforts by a US company to patent basmati rice caused an outcry and highlighted the dangers involved in patenting. Intellectual property protection to crops has negative consequences for poorer farmers (Commission on Intellectual Property Rights, 2002; Senker & Chataway, 2009).
SMALL FARMERS AND PEASANTS
The expansion of corporate capitalism. “has not only led to the eviction of millions of peasant families from their land, but is also transforming the very way in which countries farm. Many national systems have been converted to export-oriented agriculture, at the same time as the countries have been forced to open their own markets to food imports, including imports dumped on them by US and EU companies at less than the cost of production.As a result, millions of small farmers have seen their livelihoods destroyed.” (Branford, 2011, page 4)
During the last several centuries, hundreds of millions of small farmers and peasants throughout the world have been deprived of their livelihoods and of the land they had worked on. The general rationale for this has been that their food production methods were inefficient and obsolete; and that the land that they had worked on could be better used by larger organisations for agricultural or other purposes.
The decline in the number of small farmers and peasants in so-called developed countries has reached the point that only a very small number of small farmers and peasants now continue to work in those countries. England was perhaps the pioneer in this trend, and its yeomanry had virtually disappeared by 1850.
However, the agriculture and food production in some developed countries is huge –perhaps especially the agricultural output of the United States and the countries in the European Union. Moreover, the political influence of huge agricultural organisations –including the influence of major suppliers of inputs to agriculture, such as seeds, fertilisers and pesticides- is also huge. This political influence is generally exerted to the detriment of the livelihoods of the remaining population of small farmers and peasants in developing countries.
Despite widespread declining trends, the number of small farmers and peasants living and working in developing countries is still enormous –perhaps as many as two billion people out of a world population of seven billion.
Over the centuries and throughout the world, the drivers of the changes that have deprived small farmers and peasants of their livelihoods have been diverse, and have changed over time. They have included states, large landowners and capitalist firms, sometimes working in combination, less often opposing each other.
I suggest that major changes in dominant patterns of agricultural production and consumption during the last five hundred years have been driven more by politically powerful people and organisations –including large landowners, the leaders of nation states and of major multinational corporations – than by responses to consumer demand as conventional economists would have us believe.
Substantial changes in agriculture often been the result of changes in land ownership, such as enclosures. Innovation has also been used to drive change, from the innovations proposed by Jethro Tull in the eighteenth Century, to the green revolution in the second half of the twentieth century, and the gene revolution promoted by Monsanto and other corporations in the twenty-first century.
The basis of the analysis which follows is derived from a modified version of the concept of “social engineering” as developed and applied by Scott (1998).
Scott suggests that that “certain kinds of states, driven by utopian plans and an authoritarian disregard for the values, desires and objections of their subjects “ were the main initiators and drivers of what he calls “social engineering” schemes.
He considers that “the most tragic episodes of state-initiated social engineering originate as a “pernicious combination of four elements”:
1.The administrative ordering of nature and society
2 ‘a high modernist ideology: ‘self-confidence about scientific and technical progress, the expansion of production, ,the growing satisfaction of human needs, the mastery of nature … and, above all , the rational design of socal order commensurate with the scientific understanding of natural laws”
3. ‘an authoritarian state that is willing and able to use the full weight of its coercive power to bring these high-modernist designs into being’.
4. ‘a prostrate civil society that lacks the capacity to resist these plans’
(Scott, 1998, pages 3 and 4)
After 1989, Scott began to realise that in several cases “large scale capitalism is just as much an agency of homogenization, uniformity, grids, and heroic simplification as the state is, with the difference being that, for capitalists, simplification must pay.” (Scott, 1998, pages 7 and 8). Indeed as I shall seek to demonstrate, in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, social engineering schemes are increasingly driven primarily by “world wide large-scale capitalism”, rather than by states . I further suggest that such schemes are often supported and encouraged by states –often nominally democratic not authoritarian states –and also supported and encouraged by international organisations.
In his chapter on Nature and Space, in relation to Scientific Forestry Scott suggests that the perpetrators of social engineering schemes are organisations with control of large resources, and with power over people who wish to use this power and control as “an economic resource to be managed efficiently and profitably” (Scott, 1998, page13). I suggest that this analysis is more widely applicable.
The rationalization of farming on huge, even national scale was part of a faith shared by social engineers and agricultural planners throughout the world.(Scott 1998, page 196) In America, the high tide of this enthusiasm was reached between about 1910 and the end of the 1930s (Scott, 1998, page 197). Scott (1998, page 199) cites Michael Gold (1931) as indicating how Americans were enthused by the example of the Soviet Union’s high modernist centralized industrial farming on a massive scale, and convinced of the obsolescence of the small farmer:
” Politically, the small famer or peasant is a drag on progress. Technically, he is as antiquated as the small machinists who once put automobiles together by hand in little wooden sheds. The Russians have been the first to see this clearly, and to adapt themselves to historical necessity.”
SOCIAL ENGINEERING IN AGRICULTURE
I suggest that the “Green Revolution” and the “Gene Revolution” are current major examples of social engineering in agriculture, as is the practically worldwide drive towards intensive meat production. There is still intense ccontroversy about whether the “Green Revolution” has been successful, and whether the “Gene Revolution” is destined to be successful.(e.g. see, Senker and Chataway 2009). Scott suggests that “a substantial part of the problem “ (of implementing social engineering schemes in agriculture) lies in the systematic and necessary limitations of scientific work whenever the ultimate purpose of this work is adoption by a diverse set of practitioners working in a large variety of conditions”. (Scott, 1998, page 288).This problem certainly applies to both the Green and Gene Revolutions, and also to intensive meat production. Accordingly it seems reasonable to classify these developments as “social engineering” in accordance with James C. Scott’s use of the term. (see above).
The following section of this paper is intended to give a broad general description of some of the key historical developments which laid the foundations of the present world agricultural system. he sheer size and cxmplexity of world agriculture is such that this analysiscould not be comprehensive. For example,it is easy to identify major gaps –for example the exclusion of the influence of colonialism and post-colonialism.
The “social engineering projects” considered below are:
1.Enclosures, and the disappearance of the yeomanry in England in the eighteenth century
2. The Green Revolution in Developing Countries in the twentieth centyury
3. The Gene Revolution
4 Intensive meat production.
I shall suggest that there are numerous policies which could offer alternatives in the future, some of which can be classified under the heading of “Food Sovereignty”. But ,even if some such alternatives have merit, they face extensive, powerful political opposition.
MINI CASE STUDIES OF SOCIAL ENGINEERING IN AGRICULTURE
1.ENCLOSURES AND THE DISAPPEARANCE OF THE YEOMANRY IN ENGLAND IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY
Enclosures of common land started in England before 1600, and were virtually completed about two hundred and fifty years later. This movement is of considerable interest for several reasons. Over the centuries, it deprived a huge number of peasants and small farmers of their land and livelihoods. In this respect, it was similar to subsequent social engineering schemes in agriculture.. It also transferred huge areas of land into pasture in place of cultivation.
In the earlier period, the movement was driven by large landowners and actually opposed by the state. In its more recent period, from about 1700 to 1850, it was supported by the state, and became a significant factor in the development of the Industrial Revolution. Accordingly, it cannot be classified unequivocally as a failure.
Until the seventeenth century ,a system of parcelling up land in scattered plots between peasants and yeomanry was prevalent in Great Britain, and in most of Europe “from Andalucia to Siberia… on the Loire and the plains of Moscow.(Mantoux,1961 page 144).
In England, only the richer land was cultivated, and there was some uncultivated common or waste land in each parish.Before the enclosures, some peasants and yeomen had right to drive specific numbers of animals,especially sheep, onto it where they could feed. In addition, if there were trees on the common land they could cut wood there to use as beams to support their houses; or if a river ran through it, they could catch fish in it. (Mantoux, 1961 pages 148 to 149) But it would be a serious mistake to suggest that the medieval system was a golden age of peasant prosperity. The essence of the feudal system was “exploitation in its most naked and shameless form” (Tawney, 1938 page 67), including compulsory labour and “innumerable dues and payments, including the obligation to grind at the lord’s mill and bake at the lord’s oven” (Tawney,1938, page 69).
In the sixteenth century large landowners began to enclose lands, mainly by sheer force. (Mantoux 1961 p152). But , in the 1630s in particular, Government policy was generally against enclosures and the conversion of ploughed field to pasture which often accompanied it, in order to prevent depopulation and because these measures aggravated recurrent food shortages. (Tawney, 1938 pages 176-177)
The starting point of the reform of British agriculture through innovation was the publication of Jethro Tull’s book. (Tull, 1731).He was one of the first people to conceive methods of intensive cultivation, He recommended deep hoeing and ploughing and ,continuous rotation of crops. (Mantoux page158). Tull He recommended the growing of roots such as turnips and beets which could provide excellent nutrition for cattle in winter Lord Townshend,(Nicknamed Turnip Townshend) . learning from methods he had seen in the Netherlands, adopted such new cultivation practices.
Neighbouring landowners copied Lord Townshend and , in the period 1730 to 1760, such practices were copied throughout England, The preceding generation of large land owner had been mainly interested in hunting. Their successors became “gentlemen-farmers”, more concerned with “manure and drainage, rotation of crops, Lucerne grass and field turnips” (Mantoux, 1961 , page 160) .
“A yeoman was essentially a freeholder who owned the field on which he lived and cultivated it himself. But the name also applied to copyholders whose family had tilled the same bit of land for several generations .and even in certain districts to leaseholders for life. There were great and small yeomen. “ (Mantoux page 137)
Yeomen may have become somewhat less important during the seventeenth century, but remained a large section of the community during the eighteenth century, (Mantoux, page 137).But there was an important political change which affected enclosures from the eighteenth century. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, landowners carried out enclosures opposition to the king’s wishes (Mantoux, p165) ”In insolent conflict with king and parliament, the great feudal lords created an incomparably larger proletariat by the forcible driving of the peasants from the land, to which the latter had the same feudal right as the lord himself, and by usurpation of the common lands”. (Marx, 1954 Volume 1 page718).
But between the death of William 111 in 1702 and the accession of George 1V in 1820 , the power of large landowners had increased considerably relative to the power of the King which had diminished. (Mantoux, 1961, p141). In the eighteenth century, legislation was introduced in the shape of Acts of Enclosure initiated by landowners by means of petitions to Parliament for Bills of Enclosure. (Mantoux, 1961 p166). From 1702 to 1714 , there were thousands of such Acts of Parliament which were entitled “An Act for dividing ,allotting and enclosing the open and common fields, meadows, pastures, common and waste lands…” in specific parishes (Mantoux, 1961 page 141). The Acts as implemented involved small yeomen farmers losing nearly all their rights on the commons which were divided. They were allocated some land under the terms of Acts of enclosure They did retain some land, but had to pay a heavy share of the expenses incurred on carrying out the Acts, and this burden made them much poorer than before, and often in debt. Cottagers who were previously allowed to live on commons, gather firewood there and perhaps keep a cow there lost all such rights. (Mantoux, 1961 pages 169 to 170) The enclosures continued In the second quarter of the eighteenth century when many more small landowners were evicted. (Mantoux, 1961page 138) In the first two thirds of the eighteenth century , the reduction in the number of small holdings was followed by extensive conversion of land from cultivation to pasture. (Mantoux, 1961,page 173).
The rate at which such Acts were passed peaked in the period 1770 to 1780, and was higher still in the period 1800 to 1810. Very few such peasant proprietors of land survived after the middle of the nineteenth century (Mantoux, 1961 pages 140 and 141).“the enclosures resulted in the buying up of the land by the wealthier class; they lay at the root of all the evils of the period –the high cost of necessaries, the demoralization of the lower classes and the aggravation of poverty.” (Mantoux, 1961 page175)
These developments led to the disappearance of yeomen and peasants in England, mainly during the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth century. But it seems that this disappearance was not primarily a consequence of the Industrial Revolution because it started long before it. (Mantoux, 1961 page 141)., and in the period between 1780 and 1790, when the factory system “came into full play” , the number of Acts actually declined substantially, (Mantoux, 1961 page 142).
2. THE GREEN REVOLUTION IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES
After the Second World War, third world development became an integral part of the US government’s Cold War strategy. Food, food aid and agricultural production played key roles in this strategy. The Marshall Plan included distribution of food to hungry European populations. But by the early 1950s, European agricultural production had recovered. European farmers wanted US food aid to stop because it was preventing them from selling food locally. The focus of American food aid turned to developing countries—particularly to Asia—where several countries were perceived as moving toward communism. “The hungry might be rendered less trouble more grateful and . . . more dependent if provided with cheap food” (Patel, 2007, pp. 90–91) .During the Cold War, the US followed policies of promoting US international trade and overseas investment in cooperation with major US corporations and foundations, attempting to impose a US model of agricultural development on developing countries. The Green Revolution formed an integral part of these policies. (Senker, 2013, page 108)
The United States Government, in collaboration with foundations and big corporations, imitiated The Green Revolution in large areas of the developing world.(George 1976, pages 79-82). The view that the Green Revolution has been generally successful is widely held , and probably dominant among the world’s policymakers. (e.g. see Juma et al 2013, page 4).Nevertheless, I shall contend that it has been a failure, although its failures have been very considerably less catastrophic than Soviet agricultural Collectivization from the 1920s. But the Green Revolution has been implemented over a much wider proportion of the world’s population and geographical surface area.
Initially, this “Green Revolution” was based on breeding dwarf varieties of wheat capable of producing spectacular yields under ideal conditions. Similar developments were applied subsequently to rice and to maize . Scott points out that the enormous increase in yields achieved by using high-yielding varieties of these crops depends on combining the application of nitrogen fertilizers with plants with short,tough stalks. Securing high yields from these crops also required abundant water and periodic application of pesticides (Scott, 1998, page 287)
Growing high-yielding varieties involved securing large supplies of fertilizers and pesticides, which generally have to be imported by developing countries from developed countries, principally the US. Growing these crops requires more frequent and more precise irrigation. Farmers had to ensure the necessary inputs were available. This was enough to exclude all but the largest farmers from the benefits of the Green Revolution (George, 1976 page 119). These technologies tend to reduce indigenous biodiversity and are not designed for small resource-poor subsistence farmers.
The Green Revolution was adopted mainly by middle income fasrmers farmers who met the needs of urban areas or export demand for food, rather than by poor rural farmers who needed to feed their families. It contributed to the erosion of genetic variety in food
systems. Reliance on chemical fertilizers resulted in new ‘ecological diseases’, and has also made the food production of developing countries dependent on expensive imports of agro-chemicals and machinery. The Green Revolution contributed to global food security in terms of increasing available food supply, but it was partially responsible for entrenching an unsustainable food production system favouring monoculture and exacerbating environmental degradation, biodiversity reduction and unequal distribution of resources.
Initially, the Green Revolution increased the need for labour to spread fertilizers and pesticides, and to gather in two harvests per year instead of one. But gradually, as in the US, machines were used by large farmers to reduce their costs, thus reducing the demand for labour and the number of people able to benefit. The move to a higher input environment favoured those farmers who had access to capital and skills. These farmers strengthened their role at the expense of less well-endowed groups. The established roles of women in farming systems were challenged by the new technology and the new economic structures, as work previously performed by women was taken over by machines.
The Green Revolution helped US corporations dominate developing country agriculture, including the pattern of crops planted, supply of technology and inputs – particularly fertilizers, pesticides and seeds. It did not directly influence rain-fed farming systems, whose production can be adversely affected by droughts. As a result, income disparities between irrigated and rain-fed villages and regions worsened. For example in India, vast state expenditures on the Green Revolution were concentrated in the Punjab-the most fertile area of the country. Food grain production there increased from about 3 million tons in1965-6 to over 25 million tons in 1999 -2000. The Punjab – a state with 24 million people- about 2 per cent of the population – produces over 12 per cent of India’s food. But three quarters of Indian farmers living in poorer states without access to large area of land were marginalised and failed to benefit from the Green Revolution. Even in the Punjab, the number of smallholdings dropped sharply because many farmers could not afford the necessary irrigation or fertilizer. (Patel 2007, pages 125-126).
The prospects for significant technological advances in rain-fed areas are hampered by limited and uncertain rains that often make water a critical constraint in plant growth, and by diversity of local growing conditions, which limits the geographic applicability of improved technologies. This resulted in increased inequality in terms of living standards between farmers who could afford to buy the necessary inputs, and those who could not. Moreover, the gains have tailed off. Salination of irrigated areas, pest increases, declining returns to input applications and water supply problems hit hard. In the midst of surplus, there are still people who cannot gain access to food, for example, because they lack access to land. (Scoones,2006, page 26)
3. THE GENE REVOLUTION
The prevailing vision worldwide is of a ‘modern’ agriculture from the Green Revolution to the current Gene Revolution as a standard, preferred pathway to development.Technology-driven economic growth through sustained innovation and trade is envisaged as providing pathways out of agriculture, or a shift of subsistence-oriented ‘old’ agriculture to a modern, commercial, ‘new’ form of agriculture, with wider poverty reduction aims achieved through trickle-down and employment benefits from improved agriculture-led growth.
Advocates of biotechnology argue that its application can help to increase production, reduce costs and improve product quality. They suggest that biotechnology could have major impacts on reducing poverty, boosting incomes and employment opportunities in poor rural areas of the country.
Sir Robert May, then the British government’s chief scientist was reported as saying:
‘It seems unclear, at this point, whether GM crops have the potential to be a further notch up in (agricultural) intensification and as such, not good. But equally, they have the potential to enable us to redesign crops so that we work with nature and shape the crops to the environment rather than shape the environment to the crops in ways which are unsustainable…..I take a rather different view of this from Greenpeace, who see it as a prime campaign issue and necessarily bad.’(May, quoted in Douglas, 1999 –see Senker, 2000, pages 214-216).
Biotechnology is part of a larger set of scientific and technological changes occurring in the ‘life sciences’. Conway (2002 ) highlights the potential of biotechnology for addressing conservation as well as productivity in agricultural biotechnology. Daar et el report on a survey used to identify ten biotechnologies that could possibly benefit the health of people living in developing countries: examples are genetic modification to produce nutritionally improved crops.
Multinational Corporations –the drivers of the Gene Revolution
Initially large multinational companies (MNCs) concentrated their efforts almost entirely on developing products for major world commodity crops such as maize, cotton, rice bananas and soya bean which provided markets large enough to offer them prospects of recouping huge R & D costs. In response to these pressures, managers were looking for ways of escaping from becoming mere producers of commodity chemicals (Chataway et al, 2004)) So as to develop highly profitable products, MNCs moved from agro-chemicals to biotechnology. They invested large sums of money in R & D over a period of about fifteen But so far the development of agricultural biotechnology has been driven principally by comercial interests and has resulted mainly in standard solutions.
The early products introduced by Monsanto and other companies were based on relatively simple technologies which the companies and publicly funded research laboratories had been working on for some time, so that they could be brought to market quickly. The companies wanted to generate income which could be used to fund R & D on more complex products. They decided to concentrate mainly on herbicide and insect resistance which would help farmers to facilitate crop growth but did not offer any direct benefits to consumers.
Corporations’ research was concentrated in areas where it was thought likely to open up big markets in developed countries -e.g. to produce slow-ripening tomatoes -rather than in those which would benefit developing countries such as drought-resistant crops for marginal lands, or foods which have a high nutritional value. In Britain, The Royal Society carried out a study on the use of Genetically Modified plants for food use and or human health and found no examples of the use of GM technology to improve the nutritional quality of crops and human health( Royal Society, 2002, page 6). This study confirmed that few of the foods produced so far or being researched and developed were foods which the hungry could afford
But the public wanted to see some benefits to society, not just increased profits for MNCs . A report on a special public debate on genetic modification (GM) and the commercial growing of GM crops in Britain found that there was “ strong and wide degree of suspicion about the motives, intentions and behaviour of those taking decisions about GM –especially government and multi-national companies”.
Effects of the Gene Revolution on small farmers
Small farmers were often badly affected by the advent of GM soya grown and sold by Monsanto – the company’s great success story. Total production of soya programmed to be resistant to their Roundup agricultural herbicides , increased by 75% over five years to 2002 and yields increased by 173%. Its use grew rapidly in Argentina partly because it was planted by direct drilling into the soil, helping to solve a problem of soil erosion which had been caused by ploughing on fragile pampas. In the late 1990s, soya became the cash crop for half of Argentina’s arable land and a huge cash export providing cattle feed for Europe and elsewhere. But 150,000 small farmers were driven off the land so that more soya could be grown and production of many staples such as milk, rice, maize, potatoes and lentils fell.
Effects of the Gene Revolution on the Environment
Some researchers suggested that GM soya in Argentina is damaging soil bacteria and allowing herbicide-resistant weeds to grow out of control. Soya “volunteer” plants, from seed split during harvesting, appear in the wrong place and at the wrong time and needed to be controlled with powerful herbicides since they were already resistant to glyphosate. The control of rogue soya resulted in the drift of herbicide spray onto neighbouring small farms and caused them heavy losses in their own crops and livestock and fuelling fears of “super weeds”. Monsanto, acknowledged that some of these problems were caused by the growth of the soya as a monoculture and the failure to use the soya as part of an appropriate crop rotation. (Brown, 2004).
Key elements of the modern food and farming system involve a wide array of external expensive inputs such as R&D, fertilisers,seeds and irrigation together with reductions in crop diversity. Corporations such as Monsanto are likely to continue to push biotechnology, perhaps with some success .But it is doubtful whether biotechnology will make major contributions to food security in the developing world unless there are radical changes in the present directions of economic and technological development
4. INTENSIVE MEAT PRODUCTION
After the Second World War, Governments of both the United States and of European countries promoted cheap meat and other animal products as means of alleviating malnutrition amongst their own populations. Not only were rising levels of meat and dairy consumption regarded as indicators of social progress but also of health In the 1960s and 1970s the United Nations emphasised .the need to increase animal protein availability to people living in poor countries.
More recently,intensive methods of animal food production have been promoted by agribusiness as solutions to current world problems of malnutrition and hunger, the meat and eggs produced can only be afforded by the mass of the population in developed countries, and by social elites in poorer countries. (Cudworth ,2013, page 57)
During the first half of the nineteenth century, the upper classes in Britain demanded fat rich beef. .Cattle were bred to gargantuan sizes.I n the south of the United State from the late eighteenth to the late nineteenth century,,ranchers imported cattle from Britain and turned fields into densely stocked pastures, to increase profits by serving expanding markets in Europe. Buffalo were hunted extensively in the United States and replaced by castle, and intensive cattle production spread to Argentinia and Brazil.
Production was intensified and increased mechanisation reduced labour costs, resulting in substantial reductions in the price of beef which resulted in considerable increases in European beef consumption. (Cudworth 2013, pages 48-51)
More recently, “Brazil and Mexico have devoted increasing amounts of their agricultural production to produce soy and sorghum to feed cattle , rather than corn to feed people, earning considerable export revenue as a result and contributing considerably to food insecurity”. (Cudworth, 2013 page 56) . But such developments are not confined to Latin America. Rain forest has been cleared in Southeast Asia to grow animal feed. In Haiti, one of the poorest countries of the world, communities have been displaced from the best agricultural land to mountain slopes with poor soil to make room for growing alfalfa to feed cattle in Texas. Indeed, the arable crops grown in developing countries are increasingly used to feed animals for consumption in rich countries. The eggs and meat produced in developing countries can only be afforded by social elites in those countries. (Cudworth, 2013, page 57).
For centuries, peasants and small farmers throughout the world have produced very considerable quantities of a huge variety of pulses and grains such as corn, millet and rice to satisfy the protein needs of local population .This production is being replaced increasingly by monocultures to feed intensively reared livesatock, In contrast, intensive animal production resultsin rainforest depletion, undermines biodiversity, uses huge amounts of scarce water and causes extensive pollution and environmental damage. (Cudworth, 2013, pages 57 and 58).
FOOD SOVEREIGNTY: A viable alternative to social engineering in agriculture?
The four cases reviewed briefly above give insights into some of the most important processes of social engineering which have afflicted agriculture in the last five hundred years. They have all involved massive transfers of land away from peasants and small farmers, but have also involved substantial agricultural innovations which, with the possible exception of the current gene revolution, have all made possible substantial increases in agricultural productivity, which have certainly been needed to feed the world’s rapidly increasing population. But they have also involved the creation of what I have termed a dysfunctional system of agriculture and food production, for reasons outlined above.
La Via Campesina, with more than 200 million members in seventy countries, claims to be be the largest movement of peasant farmers and artisanal food producers in the world. (Gomez 2011). In summary, its principles are that
1. Everyone must have access to safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food in sufficient quantity and quality to sustain a healthy life with full dignity.
2. Agrarian reform to give landless and farming people ownership and control of the land they work and returns territories to indigenous people.
3. Food sovereignty entails the sustainable care and use of natural resources, especially land, water, seeds and lifestock breeds.
4. National agricultural policies must prioritise production for domestic consum[tion and food self-sufficiency.
5. The control by multinastionsal corporations is harmful to Food Sovereignty and should be curtailed
6. Food must not be used as a weapon.
7. Smallholder farmers must have a direct input into formulating agricultural policies at all levels. (Branford, 2011, page 29.)
It seems possible that the worldwide application of these principles could conceivably result in a far better system of agricultural and food production system than the present thoroughly dysfunctional system from every point of view, except from the point of view of the profitability of multinational corporations. In particular, application of Food Sovereignty principles could improve the working lives and livelihoods of several hundred million people; would improve the dietary quality and taste of most of the food produced in the world. And this could reduce substantially the immense environmental and pollution damage caused by present methods of food production.
But because of the political power of multinational corporations in contrast to the political weakness of the worldwide Food Sovereignty movement, there is virtually no likelihood that any of the seven principles of Food Sovereignty will be applied in a significant part of the world in the foreseeable future.
So far, the only country where food sovereignty has achieved significant success is Cuba, but this success has derived largely through Cuba’s virtual isolation from the world’s dominant capitalist food and agricultural production and development system. Only 2 percent of the Latin American population live in Cuba, but 11 percent of the scientists in the region live there. There are about 140,000 high-level professionals and medium-level technicians, dozens of research centres, agrarian universities and their networks, government institutions and scientific organizations supporting farmers.
In the period when it had close economic links with the Soviet Union, in many respects Cuba’s performance in terms of food sovereignty was probably worse than that in the dominant world capitalist system. But the Soviet Union’s demise in 1989 resulted in the collapse of the mono cultural food production system in Cuba which had persisted for 400 years. Food production fell sharply because imported fertilizers, pesticides, tractors, parts, and petroleum were no longer available from the Soviet Union on favourable terms Cuba rapidly re-oriented its agriculture so as not to depend on those imported inputs. Production rose rapidly even though 72 percent less agricultural chemicals were used in 2007 than in 1988. Peasants expanded ecological agriculture fast. A land redistribution programme was accompanied by research-extension systems that contributed to expansion of organic and urban agriculture.There is massive artisanal production and use of biological inputs for soil and pest management, and substantial increases in biological diversity. Urban agriculture, especially of vegetables, grew very rapidly. Import dependency declined rapidly to 16 per cent (Altieri, 2012).
Prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 , Cuba had imported large quantities of very cheap subsidised tinned food. When deprived of these supplies, and of imported tractors fertilisers and pesticides, Cuba developed organic methods of farming and horticulture to produce fresh, healthy food. Ironically, consumers initially rejected this fresh healthy food, and the government had to run a large television campaign to persuade them to accept it. (Branford, 201, page :14).
Nevertheless, there is still intense controversy over the future of agriculture in Cuba. With the aim of increasing food security, officials are dedicated to importing foods and promoting industrial agriculture schemes instead of stimulating local production by peasants.(Altieri and Funes-Monzote, 2012)
BARRIERS TO ACHIEVEMENT OF FOOD SOVEREIGNTY
The barriers to the achievement of food sovereignty are huge. For example, la Via Campesina proposes reasonably that , in order to achieve food sovereignty, “genuine agrarian reform is necessary which gives landless and farming people ownership and control of the land they work and returns territories to indigenous people” .(Branford 2011:29). But Governments throughout the world are lobbied extensively and successfully by powerful multi-national corporations to resist any such programmes of agrarian reform. The displacement of peasant populations to make room for the expansion of corporate agriculture is a dominant world trend.
Millions of people are deprived of opportunities of gainful employment in the production of wide ranges of nutritious food by the control of a high proportion of food production by a few enormous corporations which concentrate it on a very restricted range of crop varieties, produced intensively using capital and input intensive large scale production methods. Technology is developed and deployed on a large scale to support these production methods. This in turn accelerates rural unemployment and stimulates the movement of huge numbers of people from the countryside into already overcrowded huge cities in which there is already massive unemployment. Intensive food marketing efforts result in the creation of markets for foods of little nutritional value. Soil conditions and climate in developing countries are very different (and diverse) in developing countries from developed countries. (Senker, 2013)
If land is used by peasants, small farmers or peasants for producing food, then the profits which multinational corporations can derive from the use of that land are far less than they could secure from owning that land themselves and using it for intensive food production, or for other purposes such as tourism. Huge multinational corporations use their massive purchasing power and powers of persuasion on governments and international organisations to ensure that an ever increasing proportion of the world’s resources which could be devoted to agricultural production is devoted to increasing their own profits, whether in agriculture or in production of other commodities or services.
Accordingly, whatever the uses land could be put to, corporations will try to ensure that it is not used for food production by peasants, small farmers or pastoralists, simply because large corporations can almost invariably make higher profits from acquiring land themselves and using it for other purposes.
This paper suggests that the present state of world agriculture is thoroughly dysfunctional. Economic power is now concentrated into the hands of a small number of huge multinational corporations, some of them now based in less advanced countries such as China and India. Capitalism derives its strength primarily from the enormous resources deployed by major corporations; and from its extensive worldwide promotion of a more or less coherent ideology – neoliberalism –which now commands the support not only of those corporations, but of the majority of those who control other powerful organisations such as nation states and international organisations.
Could small farmers and peasants play significant roles in rectifying the sad situation that has resulted? This question is addressed by considering proposals for Food Sovereignty which are advocated by La Via Campesina, a worldwide organisation which represents peasants and small farmers. In conclusion, it is suggested that such proposals are likely to be confronted by huge barriers sustained by a range of powerful vested interests.
Food Sovereignty is unlikely to make much progress in the absence of extensive changes to the world capitalist system,. In relation to agriculture. much more local agricultural R and D is needed which works with subsistence farmers, peasants, and pastoralists to develop diverse technologies which could meet the needs of the world’s many millions of subsistence farmers. (Senker, 2013
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