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Posted on May 15 2017 in Food Working Group

Food: Sovereignty or Slavery

Food: Sovereignty or Slavery


Food Sovereignty is the Right of peoples, communities, and countries to define their own agricultural, labour, fishing, food and land policies, which are ecologically, socially, economically and culturally appropriate to their unique circumstances. It includes the true right to food and to produce food, which means that all people have the right to safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food and to food producing resources and the ability to sustain themselves and their societies.

Food Sovereignty Framework: Concept and Historical Context

Chronic shortages in food in many developing countries that otherwise would have the capacity to produce sufficient food for their citizens is at least partly attributed to the contradiction between export crop production and food production for domestic consumption, skewed land ownership patterns, and the prevalence of merchant monopolies. There may be natural causes that can aggravate the situation such as drought, floods, typhoons, pest infestations, etc. However, food insecurity is rooted more fundamentally in the structure of agriculture and the underdeveloped economy rather than on natural calamities.


The Hidden Radicalism of Southern Food

Fannie Lou Hamer, a woman of great emotional and intellectual ferocity, made her name as a voting rights activist. In June 1963 in a jail in Winona, Miss., a highway patrol officer ordered two of her fellow prisoners to beat her with blackjacks before joining in himself and nearly blinding her. Mrs. Hamer rose to national prominence as the leader of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which attempted to unseat the segregationist Mississippi delegation at the 1964 Democratic National Convention.<

From a region where slavery and sharecropping had made mono-crop agriculture possible — and a state where Senator James Eastland once said that the best fertilizer was the plantation owner’s foot — Mrs. Hamer argued that stewardship of the soil was man’s highest calling. With the help of the singer Harry Belafonte and a charitable group based in Madison, Wis., Measure for Measure, she founded Freedom Farm Corporation in 1969 on 40 to 60 acres of Delta land. The need was urgent, she told Northern supporters: “We must buy land immediately, or our people will die forgotten.”


Food Sovereignty Framework: Concept and Historical Context

Cheap heavily subsidized food imports as well as food aid has the direct effect of displacing local produce from the local markets and ultimately dampening local production and displacing local producers. It is oftentimes argued that the poor benefit from cheap food imports. What that statement hides is the fact that cheap imports take away livelihoods of peasants and other small producers, which undermines their capacity to procure food. When political leaders and big transnational corporations said they would feed the world we know what they meant – they want to go on dumping their surplus production in the developing countries to maintain if not expand their profits from international agricultural trade at the expense of the peasant and other small producers of the developing countries.

Re: The Proposed Dow-DuPont Merger

A vertically integrated Dow-DuPont traits-seeds-chemicals platform would likely raise entry barriers for smaller rivals and increase the risk that they are foreclosed from access to technology and other resources needed to compete effectively.

Seed costs are the highest input expense for farmers,” explained NFU president Roger Johnson. “We have seen time and again that consolidation and market restructuring has increased the cost of crop inputs. In a lagging farm economy with multi-year trends of low commodity prices, additional cost increases for crop inputs could cripple a lot of family farms in this country.”

Dow Chemical and DuPont won the blessing of the European Union for their $130 billion merger on Monday by agreeing to sell substantial assets including key research and development activities...The deal is still to be approved by regulators in the United States, Brazil, China, Australia and Canada, but the companies said they were confident of clearance in all remaining jurisdictions.

“The main surprises here are the inclusion of the pesticides and the exclusion of any kind of seed assets,” Bernstein analysts wrote in a note. The analysts also said they had expected EU to be concerned about the concentration of seed sales, and that they would require Dow to divest its corn seeds business.”

“We see the required divestments here as smaller than we originally expected, due to the exclusion of seed assets”.

“This decision to allow Dow Chemicals and DuPont to form the world’s biggest agribusiness company will give giant corporations an even tighter toxic grip on our food and countryside. For the public and nature such mergers are marriages made in hell,” said Adrian Bebb from Friends of the Earth Europe.

Freedom Farm and Pig Bank

Freedom Farm aimed to give farmers land to work and poor families food to eat. This bold promise threatened plantation agriculture and its scions. Conservative whites saw cooperative agriculture as a threat to their political and economic power. Across the region, white banks called in loans, white families fired cooks, and night riders torched crosses.

Mrs. Hamer was unbowed. “If we have that land,” as she once put it, “can’t anybody starve us out.” By 1971, she had acquired 620 more acres of Delta farmland. She and her colleagues planted snap beans, squash, butter beans, peas and cucumbers.

Families could work for a few hours and carry home a bushel of produce in exchange. “You can give a man some food, and he’ll eat it,” she liked to say, in a paraphrase of the common proverb. “Then he’ll only get hungry again. But give a man some ground of his own and a hoe, and he’ll never go hungry again.”

Mrs. Hamer began this work in the midst of an agricultural crisis. The South had begun to shift from labor-intensive family farms and plantations, hoed and harvested by men and women, to equipment-intensive farms with less need for labor. During the Great Migration, African-Americans had quit the region to claim manufacturing and service jobs in the North and the West.

This reinvention pushed more than three million farmers and their families off the land, including more than half a million African-Americans, abetted by discrimination against black farmers by the Department of Agriculture. Mrs. Hamer argued that a Johnson administration shift from commodity food distribution to a discounted food stamp purchase program, which too few could afford, had made matters worse. In a letter urging President Lyndon Johnson to bring back the troops he had sent to Vietnam and the Dominican Republic, Mrs. Hamer wrote, “If this society of yours is a ‘Great Society,’ God knows I’d hate to live in a bad one.”

With the help of Dorothy Height, the president of the National Council of Negro Women, she developed a Pig Bank in Sunflower County in 1969. Conceived as a complement to Freedom Farm, the idea was innovative and, for the moment and place, odd. Beginning with 35 gilts and five boars, she gave pregnant pigs to Delta families who agreed to care for them, return the mother pig to the bank and keep the remaining piglets as dividends. Poor families butchered those dividends once they reached an acceptable weight.

Instead of buying ham and lard from a plantation commissary, Ms. Height bragged, Delta women went a year without store-bought pork. The Pig Bank built pride. “I don’t be ashamed when someone comes here,” Mrs. Hamer said in 1972, “and I can go in the kitchen and fry some ham.”

By year two, 100 families slaughtered pigs in the fall, froze the meat and roasted hams for winter suppers. A cooperative gardening project followed. “When you’ve got 400 quarts of greens and gumbo soup canned for the winter, nobody can push you around or tell you what to say or do,” Mrs. Hamer said.

She preached the differences between the interracial cooperative farm she organized and the white-owned plantations where she was raised. She argued that Freedom Farm and Pig Bank subverted that past. White funders grasped the promise. But many black farmers and the children of black farmers failed to grasp the difference between cropping cotton for white planters and raising beans and corn for a black-majority cooperative.

Land is the basis of freedom

Mrs. Hamer and her colleagues tried to incorporate the beliefs of the Black Power movement and the essence of Malcolm X’s declaration that “land is the basis of all independence. Land is the basis of freedom, justice, and equality.” Even though her work achieved only a short-term success, it presaged our nation’s contemporary focus on food sovereignty as a solution to malnutrition.

Transnational Corporations and Market Concentration

TNCs are now increasing their control of food systems. For one, transnational corporations have control over vast markets and simultaneously operate in many countries. Another aspect of the concentration of production and distribution is their integrated operations. They are buyers of agricultural products from family farms, they are into bulk transportation and shipping, insurance, and they also operate feedlots for livestock or feed mills for the manufacture of feeds for smaller livestock growers. They employ financial instruments such as futures. This integrated operation allows them to dictate terms and allows them to make profits at every turn. If grain is cheap these can be turned into feed for cattle; or they may not make a profit from buying and selling grain but make a killing transporting it. A portion of the profits can come from speculation (futures) that have nothing to do with production or even efficiency in the usual sense.

In the developed countries as well as metropolitan centers of the developing world, the distribution of food is increasingly dominated by fewer but larger distribution chains. These chains can dictate farm gate as well as consumer prices as well as determine to a large extent what food is available to consumers. This growing control has been the concern of many consumer groups all over the world.

Concentration of markets also leads to the rise of industrial agriculture thus intensifying and further concentrating agricultural production and thus leads also to overproduction and dumping. This results in the displacement of family based farms and other small producers in favor of large transnational concerns. Equally important issue is its environmental sustainability. Industrial farming creates environmental problems far bigger than those in the traditional farming systems.