Mining, Plantation, Forestry and Agryculture

Agribusiness devastates our environment

Meanwhile, indigenous peoples are custodians of 80 percent of the world’s remaining biodiversity, but are facing severe food insecurity, extreme poverty and other human rights deprivations.

Trade

Agribusiness fundamentally fails to adequately fulfil the food needs of the worlds’ population – one in three people face some form of malnourishment, and one in nine face hunger issues. 

The ‘supermarketisation’ of food systems leads to an increase in reliance on processed, rather than fresh, food – con- tributing to this rise in malnutrition and obesity.

Children remain the most vulnerable to malnutrition – according to the World Health Organization, malnutrition is the underlying contributing factor in approximately 45 percent of deaths of children under five.

Today’s food systems are dominated by trade​​​​​​ agreements and economic policies that prioritise profits over the right to food.

Power is concentrated in the hands of a few corporate actors that benefit from free trade rules and export-oriented agricultural policies.

Such regimes privilege large-scale agribusinesses to the detriment of others, creating instability in the global food system.

Pollution

Yet, the food produced in this way represents a small part of global production – the UN estimates that 70-80 percent of the food consumed in most of the Global South is produced by smallholder farms. 

The 20-30 percent of food produced by large agri-businesses is having huge, destructive impacts across the system.

Big commodity traders like Bunge Ltd, Cargill, Luis Dreyfus and Archer Daniels Midland, are the agricultural equivalents of fossil fuel companies like Shell and BP.

They reap the rewards of a broken system and are subsidised by state handouts, while leaving the basic needs of millions unfulfilled and de- stroying the natural world.

Trade agreements encourage the planting of cash crops and the industrial meat industry, thereby incentivising deforestation, the redirection of water away from local communities and the pollution of ecosystems.

Grazing

Indeed, the destruction of forests in order to grow animal feed is one of the biggest threats to biodiversity, which is vital to sustainable agriculture, resilient and sustainable food production, and carbon sequestration.

This process also results in the marginalisation of women from agricultural decision-making, whose subsistence-based knowledge and practices are derided and made impossible.

Women face a lack of voice in shaping work agendas, and increasingly depend on men for cash and access to the market to purchase the food they previously grew.

This contributes to a growing dissonance between women’s roles as agriculturalists and the social recognition accorded to them, and has particularly troubling implications for household food security, since the main responsibility for this lies in women’s hands.

It also prioritises business-led ways of knowing and doing over more sustainable methods, like traditional rotational systems, permanent pasture and conservation grazing.

Subsistence

These sustainable forms of farming that can restore soils and biodiversity, and sequester carbon, are derided, while the demand for crops requiring high inputs of fertiliser, fungicides, pesticides and herbi- cides are forcibly increased.

The growing feminisation and casualisation of the waged agricultural workforce over the past few years enables flexibility for larger growers, while increasing precarity for workers.

The ecological cost of agribusiness is also clear. As a model, agribusiness dangerously increases emissions while destroying wild habitats – and by driving climate breakdown, the agricultural industry is, somewhat ironically, making access to food increasingly precarious.

As a recent example, Cyclone Idai – which struck Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe in March 2019 – alone destroyed nearly two million acres of crops including corn, cassava, beans, rice and groundnuts such as peanuts.

Displacement caused by increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather is being particularly felt by those who rely on the fishing and agriculture sector for income and subsistence.

System

Industrial agricultural practices also threaten food stability by reducing our resilience to intensifying ecological impacts – such as desertification – in the future. 

A 2015 report from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization found that, globally, 25 to 40 billion tonnes of topsoil are lost annually to erosion, thanks mainly to ploughing and intensive cropping.

The IPCC’s August 2019 Special Report on Climate Change and Land found that to become fit for purpose in an era of climate change, agriculture must move away from intensive and industrialised approaches, and towards food systems based on agroecology and less and better meat.

Countries on the frontline of the most extreme impacts have done very little to cause the crisis and instead been required – through trade and investment agreements – to open their markets to foreign investment in a carbon intensive, displacing and polluting way of growing food.

A vicious and ironic cycle, where global agribusiness is behind some of the biggest threats to food sustainability and accessibility, is therefore coded in the DNA of our global food system.

Agro-chemicals

The Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights warns that this is leading towards a “climate apartheid scenario in which the wealthy pay to escape overheating, hunger and conflict, while the rest of the world is left to suffer”.

In response to this crisis, the international peasant movement La Vía Cam- pesina developed the concept of ‘food sovereignty’ in the 1990s.

Introduced at the World Food Summit in 1996, food sovereignty was framed as an explicit critique of the neoliberal global food system13, representing a radical break with the dominant agrarian system.

The 2007 Nyeleni Declaration defines food sovereignty as “the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.”

Food sovereignty prioritises factors such as local production, direct commercialisation, the use of agroecological methods, opposition to genetically modified crops and agro-chemicals, and rights to land, water, seeds and biodiversity.

Plant-based

A globally just Green New Deal must think of land and food as part of the global commons, and therefore to be regulated and shared fairly. It must also recognise the intimate relationship between land sovereignty and food justice.

This means supporting indigenous land rights, halting land grabs for mining, agro-industrial plantations and biofuels and banning land speculation by big financial institutions.

Supporting regional, short and regenerative agro-eco- logical models, as well as traditional knowledge that minimises the use of toxic inputs, reduces food waste and re-allocates industrial agriculture subsidies to small farmers, would not only cool the planet, but feed the world at least three times over.

It is entirely possible to live in a world where everyone has access to publicly paid for food. Agricultural policies across 53 countries currently provide an average of USD$528 billion per-year of direct support to – predominantly intensive – agricultural businesses.

These resources must be redirected to climate change resilient and equitable practices. In addition, while it is no substitute for land and resource redistribution, any technological innovations, such as plant-based meat alternatives, must be accessible to all those who need and want it.

Just

Taking the agricultural industries into public ownership, re-thinking what we produce and how much we really need, democratising land access and control of food decision making to prioritise sustenance over market power is crucial, especially for revaluing the labour rights of a women-dominated workforce and enabling food justice.

Embracing this kind of ‘food citizenship’ may take many forms, including support for greater urban-rural engage- ment, collective procurement and participation in food policy councils. Such community-based movements are taking control of local and regional food systems with the goal of promoting bottom-up change.

Indeed, the food and energy needs of the world’s population do not contradict principles of land sovereignty, which holds that “land belongs to those who work it, care for it and live on it”. 

On the contrary: a Global Green New Deal that enshrines land sovereignty is necessary to achieve a just new deal. 

These Authors

Harpreet Kaur Paul and Dalia Gebrial are the curators and editors of Perspectives on a Global Green New Dealwhere this article first appeared.