Much needed shift

Much needed shift

The world is fast losing farms and farmers through the concentration of land into the hands of the rich and powerful.

A new review carried out by the organisation “GRAIN” reveals that small farms produce most of the world’s food. However, they are currently squeezed into less than a quarter of the world’s farmland.

The world is fast losing farms and farmers through the concentration of land into the hands of the rich and powerful. If we do nothing to reverse this trend, the world will lose its capacity to feed itself.

That is a well-founded claim because the report, ‘Hungry for Land’, states that small farmers are often much more productive than large corporate farms. For example, if all of Kenya’s farms matched the output of its small farms, the nation’s agricultural productivity would double.

In Central America, it would nearly triple. In Russia, it would be six fold. Marina Dos Santos of the Coordination of the Brazilian Landless Movement (MST) states that the peasantry is currently being criminalised, taken to court and even made to disappear when it comes to the struggle for land.

Every day small farmers are exposed to systematic expulsion from their land, which not only affects peasants fighting to stay on the land, but also many other small farmers and indigenous peoples who are the target of foreign corporations. Dos Santos says that small farmers want land in order to live and to produce as these are their basic rights against land-grabbing corporations who seek only speculation and profit.

If the current processes of land concentration continue, then no matter how hard-working, efficient and productive they are, small farmers will simply not be able to carry on. GRAIN’s Camila Montecinos asserts that the concentration of fertile agricultural land in fewer and fewer hands is directly related to the increasing number of people going hungry every day.

It is often stated in official circles that the planet needs to produce more food to feed the growing population. However, the report suggests that more food could be produced almost immediately if small farmers had access to more land and could work in a supportive policy environment, rather than under the siege conditions they are facing today.

Elizabeth Mpofu, General Coordinator of La Via Campesina, says that the vast majority of farms in Zimbabwe belong to smallholders and their average farm size has increased as a result of the Fast Track Land Reform Programme.

Small farmers in the country now produce over 90 per cent of diverse agricultural food crops, while they only provided 60-70 per cent of the national food before land redistribution. Mpofu says that we need to urgently put land back in the hands of small farmers and make the struggle for genuine and comprehensive agrarian reform central to the fight for better food systems. 

The world is fast losing farms and farmers in many places, while big farms are getting bigger. One major reason why small farms are disappearing is the rapid growth of monoculture plantations. In the last 50 years, 140 million hectares – well more than all the farmland in China – have been taken over for soybean, oil palm, rapeseed and sugar cane alone. By definition, peasant agriculture prioritises food production for local and national markets as well as for farmers’ own families, not commodities or export crops for profit and markets far away to cater for the affluent. 

GRAIN’s report relies on statistics that show small farms are technically more productive than big farms. While industrial farms have enormous power, clout and resources, small farms almost everywhere outperform big farms in terms of productivity.

The review comes on the heels of a September 2013 report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, which also stated that farming in rich and poor nations alike should shift from monoculture towards greater varieties of crops, reduced use of fertilisers and other inputs, greater support for small-scale farmers and more locally focused production and consumption of food. More than 60 international experts contributed to the report.

Monoculture farming

The report stated that monoculture and industrial farming methods are not providing sufficient affordable food where it is needed. The system actually causes food poverty, not addresses it.

Numerous high level reports from the UN and development agencies have argued in favour of small farmers and agro-ecology, but this has not been translated into real action on the ground where peasant farmers increasingly face marginalisation and oppression. 

Despite what these reports conclude and the better productivity of small farms, India is abandoning the small farmer in favour of foreign agritech corporations. This is resulting in a forced removal of farmers from the land and the destruction of traditional communities on a huge scale. In 2008, former finance minister P Chidambaram envisaged 600 million people from rural India eventually shifting to cities, leaving just 15 per cent left to work the land or associated with the rural economy. 

We need diversified agriculture to guarantee balanced local food production, the protection of people’s livelihoods and the respect of nature. The protection of the huge variety of local seeds and farmers’ rights to use them is paramount. Yet small farmers are being displaced and are struggling to preserve their indigenous seeds and knowledge of farming systems as big agritech monopolises and patents seeds and are allowed to shape policy and research agendas.

Throughout the world, we continue to witness land grabs for non-food crops or real estate, monocultures for export and the hijack of agriculture by big corporations that continue to propagate the myth that they have the answer to global hunger and poverty.

The evidence is mounting that they do not. Rather than addressing these issues, they merely serve to perpetuate them. We require a shift from corporate-controlled agriculture towards more biodiverse organic systems that place emphasis on local economies and food sovereignty.