Since the 1980s, we are living in a new phase of capitalism, marked by the hegemony of finance capitalism and transnational corporations, which have gained control of the production of the principal commodities and world trade, generating structural change in agricultural production.
This control over goods by financial capital that circulates in the world in proportions five times greater than their equivalent in actual production (255 billion dollars/year in currency, for 55 billion dollars/year in goods), transforms natural assets – such as land, water, energy, minerals – into mere commodities under its control. And due to this, there is an enormous concentration of property in land, natural assets and food.
In effect, at the present time, close to one hundred food and agriculture transnationals (such as Cargill, Monsanto, Dreyfus, ADM, Syngenta, Bunge, etc.) control the greater part of world production of fertilisers, agrochemicals, pesticides, agro-industries and the food market. This is because foods are now sold and subject to speculation in international markets, like any raw material (iron, petroleum, etc.), and the big financial interests acquire millions of tons of food for speculation. Millions of tons of soya, maize, wheat, rice, even harvests not yet planted, for the year 2018, are already sold. That is to say, millions of tons of grain that do not exist already have owners.
This production model that capital is now establishing in the whole world is known as agribusiness, and this basically involves organizing agricultural production in the form of monoculture on an ever increasing scale, with the intensive use of agricultural machinery and toxic chemicals, along with the growing use of GM seeds.
Thus this productive model of agribusiness is socially unjust, since it tends to expel the workforce from the countryside, it is economically unsustainable, since it depends on the import of millions of tons of chemical fertilizers; it is subordinated to large corporations that control seeds, agricultural inputs, prices, the market and are left with the greater part of profits from agricultural production. It is not environmentally sustainable, since the practice of monoculture destroys naturally-existing biodiversity, the irresponsible use of toxic chemicals destroys the natural fertility of soils and their microorganisms, contaminates the environment, and above all, contaminates the food produced, with grave consequences for human health.
In Brazil, the National Cancer Institute (Inca) warned in February that the prognosis for this year is 546,000 new cases of cancer in the country, the greater part caused by food contaminated with pesticides, above all breast and prostate cancer, since these are the more fragile cells where the elements of chemical poisons act.
In the face of this agribusiness model that looks to the production of dollars and commodities, rather than foods, we urgently need to renegotiate, throughout the whole planet, the principle that food cannot be a mere commodity. Food is a right of survival, so that every human being should have access to this energy to reproduce as a human being, in an equal way and without restriction.
In Via Campesina we have developed the concept of food sovereignty, based on the need, in every place in the world, for the people to have the right and duty to produce their own food. It is this that has guaranteed the survival of humanity, even under extremely difficult conditions. And it has been biologically demonstrated that in every part of our planet it is possible to produce food for human survival, based on local conditions.
The key question is how to guarantee peoples’ food sovereignty. And for this we must defend the need for all who work the land and produce food, farmers and campesinos, to have the right to land and water. This is a basic human right. Hence the need for a policy of distribution of natural goods (land, water, energy) among all, which is what we call agrarian reform.
We need to guarantee national and peoples’ sovereignty over the basic goods of nature. We cannot subject these goods to the rules of private property and profit. Natural assets are not the result of human labour. Because of this, the State, in the name of society, should subject these assets to a collective, social function, under social control.
We must ensure that seeds, different strains of animals and genetic improvement made by human beings over history, are accessible to all farmers. There cannot be private property of seeds and living things, as is now being imposed by present-day capitalism with its laws of patents, GM seeds and genetic mutations. Seeds are the heritage of all humanity.
In every locality, every region, we must ensure that necessary foods from the local biodiversity are produced, in order to preserve food customs and local culture, which is even a question of public health. Scientists, medical specialists and biologists tell us that the alimentation of living things, for their healthy reproduction, must be in harmony with local habitat and energy.
We need government policies that encourage the practice of agricultural techniques of food production that are not predatory with respect to nature, that do not employ poisons and that produce in harmony with nature and biodiversity, and with abundance for all. This is what we call agro-ecology.
We need to prevent transnational companies from continuing to control any part of the production of agricultural inputs and the production and distribution of food. And at the same time, to move toward the adoption of practices of international trade in foods among peoples, based on solidarity, complementarity and exchange, rather than on oligopoly dominated by the US dollar.
In addition, it is incumbent on the State to develop public policy that guarantees the principle that food is not a commodity, that it is a right of all citizens. People can only survive in democratic societies, with minimal rights guaranteed, if they have access to the necessary food-energy.
A new model of production
Under the hegemony of this agribusiness model, in Brazil we are undergoing an accelerated process of concentration of landed property and agricultural production, with natural assets increasingly concentrated in the hands of an ever smaller number of capitalists. There has been an avalanche of foreign and financial capital to control more land, more water, more agribusiness and practically all external trade in agricultural commodities.
In addition, with this agribusiness model, an ideological class alliance has emerged between the big landowners and the media, especially television, journals and newspapers, which have become promoters and permanent propagandists for capitalist business in the countryside, as if this were the only possible modern and irreplaceable project. There is a symbiosis between the big media proprietors, agribusiness, advertising and economic power.
Under these new conditions, the struggle for land and for agrarian reform has changed in nature. Because of this, the 6th National Congress of MST (the Landless Workers’ Movement), in February of this year, adopted a programme of Popular Agricultural Reform, because this is in the interest of the whole people. It is no longer an agrarian reform for the landless, but aims for structural changes that are necessary for society as a whole.
A policy of agrarian reform cannot be reduced to the distribution of land for the poor, although this can resolve localized social problems. It is a question of moving towards the establishment of a new agricultural production model. The reorganization of agriculture is urgent, so as to produce, in the first place, healthy food for the internal market and for the whole Brazilian population. To achieve this, it is necessary and urgent to implement public policies that guarantee support for a diversified agriculture in every biome, producing with agro-ecological techniques.
The government should dedicate more resources to agricultural research in food and not simply to benefit transnationals. This should include the establishment of a large programme for small and medium agro-industries along the lines of cooperatives, so that small agriculturalists could have their agro-industries in order to add value and create a market for local products, among other things.
Obviously a popular agrarian reform will take more time and will be more difficult, since it will be necessary to raise awareness among urban dwellers in order that they will mobilize, for example, for healthy food, for the labelling of food products to indicate if they contain poisons or not, whether they have genetically modified components. And also to promote awareness of the contradictions of agribusiness with respect to food, climate change, the environment and employment.
As the programme of MST indicates, we now face new challenges, such as:
“a) The popular agrarian reform should resolve the concrete problems of the population that lives in the countryside.
b) The agrarian reform has as its base the democratization of land, but it seeks to produce healthy food for the whole population, an objective that the capitalist model is unable to pursue;
c) The accumulation of forces for this kind of agrarian reform now depends on a consolidated alliance between campesinos and urban workers. The landless alone cannot achieve the popular agrarian reform.
d) This represents an accumulation of strength for campesinos and the whole working class in the building of a new society.”
(Translated for ALAI by Jordan Bishop)
- João Pedro Stedile is a member of the National Coordination of MST and Brazilian Via Campesina.
- Osvaldo León is the Director of “América Latina en Movimiento” (ALAI).
*The original text is part of the Spanish language magazine América Latina en Movimiento, No. 496, June 2014, that deals with the theme: ” Policies and alternatives in agriculture in the year of family agriculture” – http://www.alainet.org/publica/496.phtml