A “New Vision for Agriculture” hurts small farmers while Big Ag profits

December 21, 2016 by Frontline Copy
GRAIN report on farming in the Global South


by Faith Attaguile

Agribusiness giants are always on the prowl, looking for ways to increase profits and guarantee supply chain security. In Asia, Africa and Latin America, they’ve found new ways to work the system and increase their influence, not just over small farmers and the local food chain but also in the backrooms of power. Check out this report for snapshots of their latest victims.


A “green” program is born

Back in 2009, the World Economic Forum (WEF) authored three “New Vision for Agriculture” initiatives called Grow Asia, Grow Africa and Grow Latin America. Their vision promised, through public-private partnerships, to help these areas realize a 20% increase in crop yields, 20% reduction in CO2 emissions and 20% reduction in poverty for each decade to come.

How much greener can you get?

A whole lot more, according to the Barcelona-based non-profit organization GRAIN. Last week, GRAIN published a comprehensive 14-page report, “GROW-ING DISASTER: The Fortune 500 goes farming.” This report outlines the outright green-less-ness of the initiatives coming out of these WEF Grow programs.

It’s not a pretty picture.

New vision or paper promises?

True, the “New Vision for Agriculture” program initiatives had supportable green goals:

The WEF's New Vision for Agriculture

However, the GRAIN report reveals how these programs have turned out to be nothing more than agribusiness lobbying groups using old public-private partnerships (PPPs) in new ways to gain ground in the Global South.

Flip-flops, twists and tacks

Under these WEF 20-20-20 initiatives, giant companies like PepsiCo and Monsanto are supposed to develop market-based projects benefitting all stakeholders, including the environment. But is that the reality on the ground? No, says the GRAIN report. Here are some reasons why:

PPP Flip-Flops

The 20-20-20 vision urges active input from all stakeholders. But this isn’t happening under the public-private partnerships (PPPs) funding the Grow initiatives. Corporate profit, not local resiliency, is the primary driving force of these partnerships.

Public-private partnerships have been around for a long time. So WEF Grow programs aren’t alone in promoting them to achieve their 20-20-20 goals. But here, PPPs have mutated into a different sort of beast.

In the past, PPPs mostly grew out of government-sponsored infrastructure programs developed with input from affected stakeholders. Only when these projects were in their final stages did governments reach out to potential private partners for funding.

Under the WEF Grow program initiatives, that’s not the way things work. Instead of governments finalizing projects according to stakeholder needs (then soliciting money from private funders), corporations develop projects according to company needs (then solicit funds from governments, banks and NGOs).

This is an interesting flip-flop putting corporate interests way ahead of anyone else.

Investment twists

The 20-20-20 vision promotes mirror project investments from all involved parties — from agribusiness project developers to governments and involved farmer groups.

In reality, however, it turns out that for the agribusinesses involved (not governments), the company side of investments is just proposals, not necessarily promises. There’s literally no guarantee inside these Grow initiatives that the corporate portion of the investment will ever be implemented. This can leave governments and local farmer groups holding the bag once the project has started or stalled.

Crop tacks

A 20% per decade CO2 emission reduction in agriculture is a key part of the 20-20-20 rule. Yet, as documented by the GRAIN report, WEF Grow programs are failing to meet this goal. Indeed, the Grow projects in Asia, Africa or Latin America mostly involve monocrops grown by agribusiness contract farmers that decrease biodiversity and require increased use of nitrogen fertilizers.

Rather than promoting biodiversity, Grow projects promote either (a) high-value export monocrop commodities requiring high fertilizer inputs or (b) monocrop commodities for highly processed local snack foods to increase local supply line security.

Local supply lines? Highly processed snack foods?

Yes. Demand for highly processed snack foods is growing in the Global South. Thus, agribusinesses are eager to secure local supply lines to feed that growing demand at less cost. The result? Under the WEF initiatives, corporations are contracting with local farmers to grow food for — you guessed it — things like locally made potato chips.

Just take a look at the Grow Asia project in Vietnam’s Lan Dong province for an on-the-ground example. Here, PepsiCo gets farmers to grow the potato variety it needs for Lay’s potato chips — nothing else. Then, PepsiCo not only gets to use the buzz word “locally-grown food” in its marketing. PepsiCo also gets to claim it’s working to increase potato yields by 20% under the WEF 20-20-20 rule.

But just whom is this really benefitting?

Certainly not the people needing good food, not empty calories. And certainly not the environment needing less CO2 emissions, not more.

As the GRAIN report points out:

“While claiming to promote food security and benefit small farmers, Grow’s focus on a small number of high-value commodities exposes the program’s real objective: to expand production of a handful of commodities to profit a handful of corporations.”

What is to be done?

Unfortunately, the vision behind the 20-20-20 initiatives is nothing more than a repackaging of the same old story of profits over people. These Grow programs have nothing to do with increasing native crop yields and biodiversity, decreasing local poverty and reducing CO2 emissions. Instead, they have everything to do with increasing hunger, environmental degradation — and corporate profits.

They also have a lot to do with creating regional and national connections between agribusinesses and governmental power hubs, where corporations can lobby for legislation favoring their interests or against laws they don’t like.

As GRAIN says, the Grow programs are a win-win-win situation for agribusinesses like Monsanto, Nestle, Syngenta, AgDevDo, Cargill and Unilever.

What’s the solution? Increasing local food security and local control of food distribution; supporting local farmers practicing the methods of resilient agriculture; and growing local markets for these same farmers and small-scale food traders.

And if that’s true for Asia, Africa and Latin America, it’s also true for this country. Everywhere, local control of food production and distribution is key to increasing local food security and healing the environment.

Let’s get to work!

For a detailed analysis of what’s happening on the ground with the WEF “New Vision for Agriculture” initiatives, read “GROW-ING DISASTER: The Fortune 500 goes farming,” here.

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