Nearly 870 million people worldwide are suffering from chronic malnutrition, the majority of which live in developing countries. The reason behind malnutrition lies in the current food system as it puts the interests of big agricultural businesses and distribution companies first.
Studies show that there is enough food for every human being on the planet, thus the mere existence of hunger itself is not due to a lack of food. Insufficient food supply is due to income inequalities and unequal distribution and access to food products.
This reason is precisely why the problem focuses on the production and distribution of food products and above all, on multinational companies’ control of the food chain.
The origin of this system, detrimental to small farming businesses, can be traced back to the Green Revolution that took place in the 60s. This ‘new agriculture’ entailed the replacement of a traditional sustainable farming system for one that is fully industrialised.
This is why pesticides, chemical fertilisers and other artificial methods were introduced, such as the cultivation of genetically modified seeds. As a result, land is now in the hands of a few large landowners, who end up displacing the rightful owners of the land.
This not only meant small farmers lost their earnings but it also increased the debt of developing countries, with institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.
A new focus
When faced with the current situation, the ‘food sovereignty’ stance is strengthened. This stance currently defends various organisations such as in the War on Want case, in their study Food sovereignty: Reclaiming the global food system.
However, food sovereignty highlights the importance of the production method of food products and their origin. Therefore, one proposes a framework for the creation of agriculture and food policies, which will cover land reform, territorial control, biodiversity, local markets and production, and autonomy, amongst others issues.
This new plan will, thus encompass more than just basic food production. It indicates a radical change in the way that society is organised, stripping the elites of their control and instead giving it to small farming communities.
This presupposes that farmers will have control of their land and thus, they will be able to decide what it is that they want to cultivate and what sustainable methods to use.
But the only thing they achieve is being under the same control as beforehand because they are obliged to buy seeds and pesticides from the same company in order to keep on cultivating, thus making themselves completely dependent on them.
Furthermore, whilst farmers and indigenous communities, who are still alive thanks to their agricultural work, are struggling to survive, large corporations are awarded with multimillion-pound profits for their shareholders.
In fact, U.S. Monsanto and DuPont and Swiss Syngenta head the profits ranking table in that sector. According to data, published in 2009 and collected by War on Want, Monsanto had a profit of 7, 297, 000 dollars; DuPont made an estimated 4, 461 million and Syngenta’s estimated profit was 2, 564 million dollars.
However this system not only involves large multinational chemical companies, the distribution sector and supermarkets also benefit. The four major supermarket chains in the UK (Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrison) control three quarters of the market in the country.
The relationship between these retailers and multinational companies seems clear. Whilst corporations force farmers to cultivate the seeds and use pesticides that they design, massive marketing campaigns are conducted to create new consumption habits in the so-called ‘first world’, which uphold the required practices and deplorable conditions imposed upon agricultural workers in developing countries.
The proposals for food sovereignty follow Via Campesina’s guidelines. Via Campesina is an international movement that acts as an umbrella organization for landowners, small farming businesses, indigenous communities, farm workers and landless labourers from around the world.
It was Via Campesina who proclaimed that the concept of food sovereignty defends one’s right to decide upon their agricultural policies and to produce food locally.
Defending anti-capitalist and anti-globalization positions, food sovereignty is based on a set of principles, which are advantageous to small farming communities, in comparison to the current system, which only benefits large corporations.
The proposals have many positive attributes, from protecting natural resources, conserving the environment and being bio-diverse by rejecting agrochemicals, to democratic, free decision-making land control and the equal participation of farmers.
However, amongst the most important benefits is, undoubtedly, the end to the problems caused by globalisation, such as world hunger, and a reorganization of the commercial food system. If small farming communities were given the opportunity to produce food for themselves and for their own domestic consumption, and not for exportations to rich countries which they currently do, it would be much easier to eliminate the grave hunger problem.
And no doubt, it would put an end to the problems that arise from current practices, such as the oppression of indigenous communities and small farming companies, forced to deal with displacement and poverty. Let’s not forget that food is a basic human right, not a weapon.
(Translated by Emma O’Toole)