Grow-ing disaster: the Fortune 500 goes farming

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Author: GRAIN
Date: 15 December 2016
Translations: Español and Français
Short URL: /e/5644

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GRAIN | 15 December 2016 | Media releases


Mr. Vinh Xuan Toa grows vegetables under contract with the Metro supermarket in Ho Chi Minh City, as part of a project coordinated by Grow Asia member company Fresh Studio and funded by the Dutch Government.

In a new report, GRAIN details how the world's largest agribusiness corporations are rolling out a programme to increase their control over food and farming in the Global South

Thousands of greenhouses cluster along the valleys of Lam Dong province in the central highlands of Vietnam. At night, the strong glow from their lights illuminates a flow of trucks carrying fruit, vegetables, flowers and herbs to Ho Chi Minh City or to nearby ports for export. The climate here is ideal for producing cash crops like potatoes to supply PepsiCo for its Lay’s brand potato chips.

Sometimes the payoffs are big. But losses resulting from crop failures, sudden price drops or scams by traders are just as frequent. Debt weighs heavily on the area's farmers—as do a water crisis, pollution from fertiliser run-off and escalating land conflicts.

It is in this context that some of the world's largest food companies are rolling out a programme called Grow, promising to apply “market-based solutions” to poverty, food insecurity and climate change. Vietnam's central highlands are the showcase for Grow Asia, led by Nestlé, PepsiCo, Monsanto and other food and agribusiness giants. Also under the Grow umbrella are Grow Africa, Grow Latin America and several national programmes.

Under a logic of “public-private partnership”, the companies participating in Grow are fostering close ties with governments in order to increase their control over markets and supply chains. While claiming to promote food security and benefit small farmers, Grow’s focus on a few high-value commodities—like potatoes, maize, coffee, tea and palm oil—exposes the programme’s real objective: to expand the production of a handful of commodities to profit a handful of corporations. The impacts on communities, biodiversity, nutrition and the climate are potentially disastrous.

Grow is part of the New Vision for Agriculture, an initiative of the World Economic Forum that was launched in 2009 and is led by 31 of the WEF's "partner" companies involved in the food business, whether in agriculture, food processing or retail. Ninety per cent of these companies are based in the US and Europe, yet the Grow programme is focused entirely on Latin America, Africa and Asia—the main growth markets for the global food industry.

The New Vision for Agriculture has succeeded in bringing the interests of its corporate members directly into some of the most influential policymaking circles. Through its Grow Africa programme, launched in June 2011, the New Vision's corporations forged a partnership with the African Union and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). This was then brought into the G8 in 2012, resulting in the creation of the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition in Africa—a key instrument for coercing African governments into adopting corporate friendly policies. The two initiatives are so closely intertwined that Grow Africa and the New Alliance issue their annual reports as a joint publication.

While Grow is a corporate initiative, it also receives funding from governments. Grow Africa is funded by the US Agency for International Development, the UK's Department of International Development and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, while Grow Asia is funded by the government of Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Global Affairs Canada.

One of the stated goals of the WEF's New Vision for Agriculture is to reduce CO2 emissions from agriculture by 20 per cent per decade using high tech "Climate Smart Agriculture". But evidence collected from the ground so far shows that Grow projects have done little to reduce the largest global source of greenhouse gas emissions from crop production—the use of nitrogen fertilisers. Farmers involved in the potato and maize projects in Vietnam and Indonesia, for example, have increased their use of fertilisers. Grow’s focus on “connecting more countries to global value chains” and increasing the production of commodities for export and food processing is fundamentally at odds with real solutions to climate change.

For corporations, Grow offers a win-win scenario. But there is no future for small farmers or small-scale food traders and processors in this vision, except where they can be made subservient to the main goal of large food corporations: securing supplies of cheap produce and raw material for processed food while selling them more and more industrial farming inputs.

The full report is available at:

Media contacts:

Kartini Samon, Jakarta (English), [email protected], +62 81314761305

Ange David Baimey, Accra (French, English), [email protected], +233 269 08 94 32

Devlin Kuyek, Montreal (English, French), [email protected], +1-514-571-7702

Ramón Vera Herrera, Mexico City (Spanish), [email protected], +52 15511328023

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