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Against the grain

Against the grain is a series of short opinion pieces on recent trends and developments in the issues that GRAIN works on. Each one focuses on a specific and timely topic. 

Dow Agrosciences is proposing new varieties of transgenic soy which will result in the use of millions more litres of even more toxic herbicides. But sustained resistance is growing in all five countries where Dow is seeking regulatory approval as the impacts of GM technologies are denounced and the fallacies that allowed for them to be rolled out are exposed.

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The vibrant network of small producers and milk cooperatives that makes up most of India's dairy sector is a powerful model: one which is now threatened by free trade agreements and liberalised investment policies.

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During 20 years of struggle to regain their lands and improve working conditions on oil palm plantations, the villagers of Buol, in Central Sulawesi, have had little but empty words from the company and the government. The only real gains they have made have come from direct actions. However, the risk with actions such as roadblocks and occupations is violent repression.

Now the villagers are optimistic that they are finally close to getting their lands back.

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Two dinosaurs of world trade – the United States and the European Union – have begun talks on a bilateral free trade agreement in order to boost jobs and economic growth in their largely depressed economies. There is nothing in the proposals that will serve consumers or the public interest. It is all about reducing the hoops for agribusiness.

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The world’s agribusiness corporations are pursuing their attempts to privatize and monopolize our seeds. Their goal is clear: they want to convert the millennial practice of plant breeding into a crime, for their own profit and nothing else. Latin America is one scene of such attacks on public property.

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On 19 August, Colombian farmers' organisations initiated a massive nationwide strike. They blocked roads, dumped milk on cars and basically stopped producing food for the cities. The problem? They are being driven out of existence by the government's policies, which serve the interests of a wealthy elite minority.

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“The United Republic of Soybeans.” That’s the patronizing moniker given to the entire Southern Cone − comprising the countries of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Bolivia − by the Syngenta Corporation in a 2003 advertisement in the rural supplements of the Argentine papers Clarín and La Nación. It’s an open statement of the neocolonialist fervour with which these companies are attempting to dominate this region of the world.

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The G8 countries are implementing a New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition in six African countries that will facilitate the transfer of control over African agriculture from peasants to foreign agribusiness.

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Governments in a number of countries are trying to address concerns about land grabbing by closing their borders to foreign investors. Are these restrictions effective?

Not really, says GRAIN. They give the impression that something is being done at the highest level and appeal to nationalist or pro-sovereignty sentiments. But they are very narrow approaches to a complex problem and often full of back doors and loopholes.

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Biofuels production has pushed farming and forest communities off their land from Colombia to Sierra Leone to Indonesia, threatening livelihoods and food security. Meanwhile, biofuels are failing to achieve promised reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, with some found to have a worse carbon footprint than conventional fossil fuel.

Diverting precious farmland to the production of fuel for cars is plainly irresponsible. All the more so since these lands are often home to the very rural communities whose food systems provide the world with the models needed to reverse the environmental crisis that fossil fuels have provoked.

EU biofuels mandates have already prompted companies to grab 17 million hectares of land around the world, a figure that could rise to over 40 million hectares by 2020.

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