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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. 

Asia is a land of small farmers. But across the continent, governments are introducing changes to land laws that threaten to displace millions of peasants and undermine local food systems. The region is witnessing an agrarian reform in reverse.

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Transnational food companies are taking over traditional distribution channels in the South and replacing local foods with cheap, processed junk food, often with the direct support of governments. Free trade and investment agreements have been critical to their success. The case of Mexico provides a stark picture of the consequences for the world's poorest people.

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All around the world, the basic practice of saving seeds from one season to the next is being turned into a criminal offence, so that half a dozen large multinational corporations can turn seeds into private property and make money from them. GRAIN has just produced an updated dataset tracking how free trade agreements are privatising seeds across the world.

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Since the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation added “feeding the world” to its objectives almost a decade ago, it has channelled an impressive three billion dollars towards agricultural projects, much of it to improve farming in Africa. But GRAIN analysed the foundation's agricultural grants records for the past decade and reached some sobering conclusions.

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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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