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. 

Food is a key driver of climate change. How our food gets produced and how it ends up on our tables accounts for around half of all human-generated greenhouse gas emissions. A new food system could be key driver of solutions to climate change. We don’t need carbon markets or techno-fixes. If measures are taken to restructure agriculture and the larger food system around food sovereignty, small scale farming, agro-ecology and local markets, we could cut global emissions in half within a few decades.

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Large scale agricultural land acquisitions are generating conflicts and controversies around the world. A growing body of reports show that these projects are bad for local communities and that they promote the wrong kind of agriculture for a world in the grips of serious food and environmental crises. Yet funds continue to flow to overseas farmland like iron to a magnet. Why? Because of the financial returns. And some of the biggest players looking to profit from farmland are pension funds, with billions of dollars invested.

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The Government of the Province of Río Negro, Argentina, and one of China's largest agribusiness companies are moving forward on an agreement that hands over thousands of hectares of land for the production of soybean and cereal crops for export. The Río Negro provincial government has touted this project as a “food production agreement” but local communities and people across Argentina are voicing their opposition, denouncing it as a land giveaway for industrial soy production. They call the agreement “a land grabber’s instruction manual”. This issue of Against the grain gives the details.

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Saudi Arabia's strategy to outsource food production will be at the top of the agenda when several heads of state and high-level delegations from African countries arrive in Riyadh for an investor conference on December 4, 2010. In some of these countries, Saudi investors are already acquiring farmland and starting to put the Kingdom's policies into operation. One of their main targets is West Africa's rice lands. New information obtained by GRAIN shows that the Kingdom's most powerful businessmen are pursuing deals in Senegal, Mali and other countries that would give them control over several hundred thousand hectares of the region's most productive farmlands to produce rice for export to Saudi Arabia. The deals will severely undermine national food security and destroy the livelihoods of millions of farmers and pastoralists. All of this is transpiring behind closed doors with African governments and without the knowledge of the affected people or the general public.

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On 7 September 2010, the World Bank finally published its much anticipated report on the global farmland grab. GRAIN's take on the report is that it is both a disappointment and a failure. Very little new and solid data about how these land grab deals are playing out on the ground is presented. The findings that the Bank does articulate -- that the land grab trend is huge and growing, that communities are not benefiting and that the conditions under which most of these deals are being pursued are extremely poor -- corroborate what many have been saying for two years already. The Bank's own direct involvement in the global land grab is hardly mentioned. Most of the report is smoke and mirrors talk about potentials and opportunities, leading us to the conclusion that there is a huge disconnect between what the World Bank says, what is happening on the ground and what is truly needed. Right now, numerous governments and civil society organisations are calling to put a brake of one form or another on these land grab deals, which the study essentially ignores.

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A curious thing happened last week. A lot of people were under the impression that the World Bank was going to release its long-awaited study on global land grabs at its annual land conference in Washington DC on 26 April 2010. This is what GRAIN was told. It's what many journalists were told. And it's what those involved in producing the study expected. But it didn't happen. What's holding the bank back?

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Public is meant to be for people. But, as in evident with Bt crop research in Asia, “public” agricultural research is becoming less about the needs of ordinary people and small farmers and more about scientific control and corporate interests. The recent controversy around Bt brinjal/eggplant in parts of South and South-east Asia, together with the Bt rice research in China's public sector, show that governments and corporations, be they in competition or co-operation, are pushing the same GM crops into Asia's farms and food supply. This is decisively changing the perception of public agricultural research. People are realising that their public agricultural universities and national research institutes may not really be on their side.

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Right now communities in Latin America, as around the world, are suffering a new kind of invasion of their territories. Millions of hectares of farmland in Latin America have been taken over by these foreign investors over the past few years for the production of food crops and agrofuels for export. Much of the money comes from US and European pension funds, banks, private equity groups, and wealthy individuals, and it is being channelled through special farmland investment vehicles set up by both foreign and local companies.

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Remembering La Gloria

GRAIN | 13 January 2010 | Against the grain

New television documentary traces origins of the H1N1 pandemic back to pig farms in Mexico

Out of the swine flu crisis, the struggle against factory farming has grown stronger, moving from isolated local resistance to a major component of a national movement. A new documentary on the H1N1 pandemic and factory farming, based on the experiences of La Gloria and the neighbouring communities, now brings this struggle to an international audience and puts factory farming back on centre stage in the story of the H1N1 pandemic.

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The new farm owners

GRAIN | 20 October 2009 | Against the grain

Corporate investors lead the rush for control over overseas farmland

With all the talk about "food security," and distorted media statements like "South Korea leases half of Madagascar's land," it may not be evident to a lot of people that the lead actors in today's global land grab for overseas food production are not countries or governments but corporations. So much attention has been focused on the involvement of states, like Saudi Arabia, China or South Korea. But the reality is that while governments are facilitating the deals, private companies are the ones getting control of the land. And their interests are simply not the same as those of governments.

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