At the annual World Economic Forum this past weekend in Davos, Switzerland, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Director Rajiv Shah stood beside CEOs from Monsanto and other infamous giant corporations, and announced U.S. support for a “New Vision for Agriculture.”
Yes, you should be worried.
Claiming that “large-scale private sector partnerships [can] achieve significant impact on global hunger and nutrition,” Shah introduced the initiative’s 17 agribusiness “champions”: Archer Daniels Midland, BASF, Bunge Limited, Cargill, Coca-Cola, DuPont, General Mills, Kraft Foods, Metro AG, Monsanto Company, Nestlé, PepsiCo, SABMiller, Syngenta, Unilever, Wal-Mart, and Yara International.
What!?! Are you kidding me? Most of these agribusiness giants could be listed in an edition of Who’s Who in Environmental Destruction, Hunger and Human Rights Violations. A few minutes’ of investigation on GRAIN, CorpWatch, Food & Water Watch or PAN’s chemical cartel page will prove this point.
Feeding the corporations
The plan, USAID tells us, is for the U.S. to leverage private sector investments for agricultural “growth,” using our taxpayer dollars through Obama’s Feed the Future initiative. Back in September, I wrote about the corporate Trojan Horse lurking within Feed the Future. There's always been some green window dressing scattered throughout the plan, claiming that the initiative will follow Southern country priorities, support gender equity, respect local and Indigenous knowledge, etc.
Back then, Rajiv Shah & Co. were making only thinly veiled references to the Initiative’s plan to “discover” and “deliver breakthrough technologies” (guess whose) to poor hapless farmers in the global South.
Now, however, USAID has abandoned all pretenses of respecting a people’s agenda, and baldly acknowledges that large-scale private sector partnerships with some of the world’s worst corporate actors lies at the core of Feed the Future. We are given the example of Feed the Future’s project in Tanzania, where an “investment blueprint” to establish "profitable, modern commercial farming and agribusiness" and designed to last for “years to come” has been set up with Monsanto, Syngenta, Yara and General Mills, among other multinational corporations. USAID “hopes to expand the blueprint in the future to at least five additional African countries.”
Not so hidden agenda
I think it’s no coincidence that this week’s bare-faced embrace of corporate solutions follows directly on Obama’s State of the Union speech. On that day, our president signaled clearly his intention to push neoliberal trade agreements and U.S. exports as the solution to our country’s woes. Never mind that fast-tracking trade liberalization has harmed, not helped, farmers and workers in the U.S. By restricting poor governments’ ability to manage domestic food production and supply, it also undermines efforts to strengthen global food and livelihood security. As the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy explains,
Trade and food security policy should focus on rebuilding local food systems in the North and South. This does not mean abandoning trade or closing markets, but considering ways to ensure that trade complements, rather than substitutes for, local food production.
Unfortunately, the Administration's approach to internationalism looks more like this: If a country hesitates to import our products for their own reasons, we unleash sustained retaliatory measures, as revealed by the recent Wiki Leaks’ release of a U.S. plan to punish France and indeed the entire EU for France’s unwillingness to import U.S. GMO products:
Country team Paris recommends that we calibrate a target retaliation list that causes some pain across the EU since this is a collective responsibility, but that also focuses in part on the worst culprits. The list should be measured rather than vicious and must be sustainable over the long term, since we should not expect an early victory.
That’s how we deal with our European “allies.” But we target poor countries even more insidiously, especially when they are made vulnerable by devastating floods or earthquakes: we simply start pouring in agricultural inputs designed to get them onto the corporate industrial agriculture treadmill and thus crack open their markets.
Get 'em while they're down
In Pakistan, over 20 million were displaced and 2,000 people killed during last year’s massive floods, triggering an outpouring of aid in the form of massive amounts of industrial agricultural inputs. Is this aid helpful? Our sister organization, PAN Asia Pacific and local community groups say no.
With Bayer, BASF, Monsanto, Du Pont, Dow Chemical and Cargill among the long list of donors to Pakistan's rehabilitation, the suspicion is high that these companies can use the situation to get their GM seeds on the ground and make contamination a done deal.
“The destruction isn't over yet. A big threat looms in the way the government is rebuilding agriculture, in partnership with big agribusiness companies, in the flood-stricken areas of Pakistan,” says Azra Sayeed of Roots for Equity, a Karachi-based grassroots NGO that works with small and landless peasants in the flooded areas.
Similarly, Haitians have had to fight back to retain local control of resources, in the face of U.S. and Monsanto “earthquake aid” packages. As global food policy analyst Devinder Sharma wrote on Huffington Post, “Every global crisis provides an opportunity for business. Multinational giants are quick to grab it.”
Farmers have been saying loudly and clearly for quite some time that they don’t want corporations taking over their food systems. They want food sovereignty: control over their own food and farming decisions. Many of the solutions needed to feed the world fairly and sustainably will be showcased and debated next week at the people’s alternative to the World Economic Forum: the World Social Forum in Dakar, Senegal. Stay tuned.