The battle to feed the world: David versus Goliath

14 April 2017

Stanka Becheva, food campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, tells us why the fight over who will control our food, countryside and natural resources is heating up.

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Monday the 17th April marks the International Day of Peasant Struggles. These 'peasants', or paysan in French, are the millions of small farmers who currently produce the majority of the world's food. They are the David struggling against the agribusiness Goliath – the large corporations consolidating control over global food production.

There is little in common between these two sides. The former know that food sovereignty and small-scale ecological farming can feed the world – with food production fully in the hands of producers and consumers. The latter desire a resource intensive, chemical-based industrial farming model where control over seeds, chemicals, machinery, distribution and most importantly profits, sits in the hands of corporations.

In the last month the European Commission approved the merger of Dow Chemicals and DuPont, and Chinese state company ChemChina's acquisition of Syngenta. Next up is the potential merger of Bayer and Monsanto – a 'marriage made in hell'. These are some of the biggest agricultural companies ever known, true Goliaths, with market power that sends shudders through small-scale farmers worldwide.

We cannot allow corporations bent on profit at any cost to take control over our food and farming. Increasing corporate control, combined with a political fixation on export-led growth has tipped the scales in favour of industrial agriculture, threatening the existence of small-scale farmers, biodiversity and the environment.

In Europe, four million small farms disappeared between 2003 and 2013, a staggering 33% of all farms in the European Union. In contrast, three percent of industrial farms now control 52% of the European Union's agricultural land.

Exacerbating this are trade deals that favour global food chains instead of de-centralised local markets – benefitting a small number of transnational companies. If the current trend of chemical-intensive industrial farming persists, the UN estimates we may have fewer than 60 years of farming left. The status quo is simply not an option.

Resistance to this trend has begun. Direct food distribution like Community Supported Agriculture initiatives and organic sales are booming, and opposition to trade deals that only cater for corporate wishes is increasing. The myths of industrial agriculture are being busted at the highest level, and now peasant farmers, as well as a large number of civil society organisations are pressing the United Nations to recognise the rights of peasants. A petition to European foreign ministers calls for support from European governments for the rights of peasants to land, seeds, a decent income and livelihood, and means of production.

It is time for political leaders to catch up. The European institutions, as well as national governments across Europe, need to unshackle themselves from corporate influence, and focus support on truly sustainable food and farming.

Nothing less than a radical overhaul of trade deals and the Common Agricultural Policy is needed. Putting peasants and a locally-based food system at the core of policy-making means shifting public money away from industrial agriculture to those who deliver for the environment and society.

This would mean ensuring fair prices for farmers, providing support for agro-ecological food production and artisanal infrastructure, such as small-scale food processing facilities and farmers' cooperatives, to help them thrive.

At a local level, authorities can help by providing support to revitalise local shops, farmers' markets, community-supported agriculture, and fair-trade schemes. Internationally, it means recognising the rights of peasants and communities to define and build the food system.

The Davids of this world are not alone, and they have their slingshots full of public support. The fight to ensure that food and farming works for people, and the planet, has begun.