Welcome to GRAIN’s 20th anniversary! Yes, GRAIN has been around since 1990, and to celebrate this we have devoted most of this issue of Seedling to looking at how we – and this issues that we deal with – have changed over this period. To mark the occasion, we have also altered our design into one that we feel is modern, practical and pleasing to the eye. We hope you agree.
Perhaps the biggest change that GRAIN has undergone in these years is the broadening of our focus and the decentralisation of our operations. As we describe in our opening article, we embarked in the late 1990s on a radical decentralisation process that brought us into much closer connection with regional and local realities and struggles around the world. We transformed ourselves into a truly international collective, and we strengthened and deepened our relationship with local groups and regional networks. This greater exposure to local struggles and social movements made us realise that we could not limit our work to campaigning on specific issues at international fora. We decided that we had to analyse the changes in the wider food system that were having such a harmful impact on the social movements that we work with.
As we describe in the second article in this issue, today just ten corporations have come to control about half of the global market for commercial seeds. Most of these corporations were originally pesticide and pharmaceutical producers, which have now redefined themselves as “life science” companies. They are at the forefront of the development of genetically modified crops, largely as the means for developing a captive market for their own products, particularly pesticides.
Along with the increase in corporate control over seeds, farming itself has increasingly become subject to the wheeling and dealing of the corporations. In the livestock sector, for example, more than half of the world’s pork and two-thirds of the world’s poultry and egg production now take place on industrial farms, which are generally either owned by large meat corporations or under contract to them. Indeed, the speed with which corporations in different sectors have merged and consolidated has been awesome. A relative newcomer in the global food system is the finance industry, with banks and investment houses increasingly taking control of fertile farmland and pushing commodity speculation to levels that the world hasn’t seen before. The recent food crisis, with food prices spiralling out of control due to speculation, is just one example of what happens when banks decide to start making money out of food.
Along with most of the social movements that we work with, we are increasingly convinced that the world would be far better off without agribusiness. The expansion of agribusiness control over the food system has generated hunger and destroyed livelihoods, as well as exacerbating climate change and other environmental calamities. The good news is that most of the food in the world is still produced and gathered by peasant farmers and other rural communities, often outside global markets and without high-tech monoculture farming. It is on the basis of their food systems that we need to rebuild the way that we produce and consume food.
Resistance is growing, particularly among social movements. In another article in this issue we look at how peasant organisations in Haiti, despite their desperate needs in the wake of the earthquake, are saying “no” to Monsanto’s donation of tonnes of hybrid maize seeds. Experience has made Haitian farmers more aware than most of the way in which transnational corporations can take advantage of natural calamities to increase their penetration and tighten their control.
We hope that you find our reflections in this special issue both interesting and thought-provoking. We are looking forward to the next 20 years with a mixture of trepidation and anticipation. Trepidation at the scale of the disasters that agribusiness is creating for the planet and the people who live on it; and anticipation at the response that is gaining momentum among the social movements. We invite you to continue with us on our journey towards 2030.