The Corporate Food Takeover

Yves here. Many of you have probably noticed some of the many signs of increasing corporate buyouts in the agriculture industry. I knew Japanese companies in the bubble years that were acquiring chicken farms and processors in Vietnam and hedgies in the 1990s who were buying agricultural land in Africa and South America. In more recent years, China has been buying food producer in Africa. Corporate interests have been hoovering up potable water sources in the US and many other major countries. And these examples only scratch the surface.

This post describes how this trend, along with increased techno-monitoring, is set to increase, but efforts are underway to stem this tide.

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, who was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought. Originally published at Inter Press Service

– Producers and consumers seem helpless as food all over the world comes under fast growing corporate control. Such changes have also been worsening environmental collapse, social dislocation and the human condition.

Longer Term Perspective

The recent joint report – by the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) and the ETC Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration – is ominous, to say the least.

A Long Food Movement, principally authored by Pat Mooney with a team including IPES-Food Director Nick Jacobs, analyses how food systems are likely to evolve over the next quarter century with technological and other changes.

The report notes that ‘hi-tech’, data processing and asset management corporations have joined established agribusinesses in reshaping world food supply chains.

If current trends continue, the food system will be increasingly controlled by large transnational corporations (TNCs) at the expense of billions of farmers and consumers.

Big Ag Weds Big Data

The Davos World Economic Forum’s (WEF) much touted ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ (IR4.0), promoting digitisation, is transforming food systems, accelerating concentration in corporate hands.

New apps enable better tracking across supply chains, while ‘precision farming’ now includes using drones to spray pesticides on targeted crops, reducing inputs and, potentially, farming costs. Agriculture is now second only to the military in drone use.

Digital giants are working with other TNCs to extend enabling ‘cloud computing’ infrastructure. Spreading as quickly as the infrastructure allows, new ‘digital ag’ technologies have been displacing farm labour.

With the pandemic, e-retail and food delivery services have grown even faster. Thus, e-commerce platforms have quickly become the world’s top retailers.

New ‘digital ag’ technologies are also undermining diverse, ecologically more appropriate food agriculture in favour of unsustainable monocropping. The threat is great as family farms still feed more than two-thirds of the world’s population.

IR4.0 Not Benign

Meanwhile, hi-tech and asset management firms have acquired significant shareholdings in food giants. Powerful conglomerates are integrating different business lines, increasing concentration while invoking competition and ‘creative disruption’.

The IPES-ETC study highlights new threats to farming and food security as IR4.0 proponents exert increasing influence. The report warns that giving Big Ag the ‘keys of the food system’ worsens food insecurity and other existential threats.

Powerful corporations will increase control of most world food supplies. Big Ag controlled supply chains will also be more vulnerable as great power rivalry and competition continue to displace multilateral cooperation.

There Is No Alternative?

But the report also presents a more optimistic vision for the next quarter century. In this alternative scenario, collaborative efforts, from the grassroots to the global level, empower social movements and civil society to resist.

New technologies are part of this vision, from small-scale drones for field monitoring to consumer apps for food safety and nutrient verification. But they would be cooperatively owned, open access and well regulated.

The report includes pragmatic strategies to cut three quarters of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions and shift US$4 trillion from Big Ag to agroecology and food sovereignty. These include “$720 billion in subsidies” and “$1.6 trillion in healthcare savings” due to malnutrition.

IPES-ETC also recommends taxing junk food, toxins, carbon emissions and TNC profits. It also urges criminal prosecution of those responsible for famine, malnutrition and environmental degradation.

Food security protocols are needed to supercede trade and intellectual property law, and not only for emergencies. But with food systems under growing stress, Big Ag solutions have proved attractive to worried policymakers who see no other way out.

Last Chance to Change Course

Historically, natural resources were commonly or publicly shared. Water and land have long been sustainably used by farmers, fisherfolk and pastoralists. But market value has grown with ‘property rights’, especially with corporate acquisition.

Touted as the best means to achieve food security, corporate investments in recent decades have instead undermined remaining ‘traditional’ agrarian ecosystems.

Big Ag claims that the food, ecological and climate crises has to be addressed with its superior new technologies harnessing the finance, entrepreneurship and innovation only they can offer.

But in fact, they have failed, instead triggering more problems in their pursuit of profit. As the new food system and corporate trends consolidate, it will become increasingly difficult to change course.

Proposed by the WEF, the UN Secretary-General’s Food Systems Summit later this year clearly seeks to promote corporate ‘solutions’. Very timely, A Long Food Movement is an urgent call to action for the long haul.

With so much at stake, representatives of food producers and consumers need to act urgently to prevent governments from allowing a UN sanctioned corporate takeover of global governance of food systems.

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30 comments

  1. Colonel Smithers

    Thank you, Yves.

    Mauritian cousins manage such farms in Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique for investors from Western Europe, the Gulf and US. They are also aware of such investors buying in South America, Romania and Ukraine.

    Investors in Romania often advertise the EU subsidies as an attraction when cashing out.

    With regard to Ukraine, the same investors are among those pushing for greater integration with the EU.

    Watch out for oligarchs and emerging land owners Gates and Dyson diversifying from their home turf, the former using philanthropy as cover.

    Reply
  2. Colonel Smithers

    Further to Yves’ mention of hedgies buying land, that remains the case in the British Isles and not for food production. As farm land is a tax shelter, that is an attraction for hedgies and bankers.

    Many more such investors invested in farm land over this century, even small holdings. A decade ago, I attended a talk by Andy Haldane where the destination of bonuses and quantitative easing was raised. The Bank tracked such investments.

    Many farms are being converted to hobby farms and sporting estates. This crowds out locals wishing to buy farms as going concerns or for rewilding, the latter made more difficult by the break up of farms and estates.

    One hopes PK chimes in about City bankster Magan.

    Reply
    1. Geo

      If, as the song goes, “This land is your land, this land is my land”, then why not do this if corporations are going to buy it all up and profit from it?

      The Alaska Permanent Fund (APF) is funded by oil revenues and has paid out an average of approximately $1,600 annually per resident.

      It has worked well in one state with one industry. Not an ideal solution but a plausible one at least.

      Reply
      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you, Geo.

        That is a fair point.

        How about farmer owned cooperatives? They do fine with Rabobank, Credit Agricole, Brittany Ferries and Arla.

        Further to some fantastic work being conducted by a young American Catholic lady, the church’s lands may soon be put to good use, including communal farming, including permaculture, ecotourism and solar power. I may get involved being a Catholic part time planter.

        Reply
  3. a different chris

    The history of (Western, anyway) agriculture is getting pretty interesting, at least if you are from another planet and don’t depend on the good graces and ideas of your fellow citizens. I might not have this right but here goes:

    Feudal post-enclosure period: Dude has his own plow and ox, but not land. Can generally make enough food for his family plus enough to pay off the Lord.

    Dawn of Industrial Age: Farmers now have and work land due to horse drawn equipment. Horses are self-replicating and can be fed

    Deeper into IA: Large steam tractors available for plowing and threshing but not affordable by average farmer. So some community co-operation at plowing and harvesting time. Planting and husbandry still per individual farm.

    Green Revolution: Farmers have their own property and their own, call them “people sized” tractors (Farmall H). Don’t need nobody for nuthin’ –oops, still screwed over by the railroads and other middlemen.

    Big Ag: Now the tractors have again gotten too big to be affordable but instead of the group-use the farm itself has grown to accommodate the cost, but it’s now basically a business with a CEO, a Board, and serfs.

    So I would claim farmers (and my further claim is also us who eat the food, other people particularly economists would argue exactly the opposite) were at their best point either at “Dawn” or “Deeper” depending upon how you view the equipment. Steam tractors have all the problems of any mechanical device, horses are slower, but at that point the horses were there for backup so I go with Deeper. (Also steam tractors are way cool).

    I argue even the Feudal period was better than what they are faced with today. The Green Revolution was the best as far as absolute but also well-distributed wealth was concerned but start of planetary issues we have now makes me look at it cross-eyed.

    YMMV

    Reply
  4. John A

    I was shocked to read a few years ago about how bees are transported across the US in huge trucks for pollination purposes, because of monocropping and the elimination of hedgerows and flowers etc that bees feed on otherwise. Absolute madness.
    There is at least some moves towards preserving vital biodiversity in Europe with flowering strips and lark plots, to name just two.
    When all these hedgies and the likes of Gates and Dyson have acquired all the land and destroyed the soil, even all their billions wont be able to keep them alive either.
    Everywhere you look from climate change to monocropping, you have to wonder if this planet will be fit for human inhabitation in generations to come. And all these disasters will have been avoidable with less greed and more community spirit, for want of a better word.

    Reply
    1. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you, John.

      Over the past decade, Dyson has become one of the top ten landowners in England, not the UK. He began in his native Norfolk and has expanded in the upper Thames valley and a bit further west.

      Dyson is particularly interested in the M4 and Oxford to Newbury corridors. The horse racing fraternity and locals are puzzled why he’s buying the gallops near Wantage and Lambourn.

      Speaking of strategic corridors, insurers like Legal & General are land banking farm land along the M1, M4 and M40 corridors and lobbying for planning permission.

      Reply
    2. R

      Agtech is certainly on a tear. Small robots replacing human operated vehicles. Automation / AI in dairying and aquaculture (the most intensive sectors). Endless drone and sensor companies.

      We have reviewed four bee startups recently. The most interesting one monitors hive health through vibrations. The old school method is apparently to weigh the hive as a proxy for honey and bee (re)production.

      Why are people trying to financialise bees, what is wrong with us?

      Reply
      1. Equitable > Equal

        ‘Efficiency’, because nothing says efficient like countless billions in sunk equipment costs in pursuit of marginal cost reductions of maintenance/operation

        Reply
  5. Telee

    This is pertinent information for me having just acquainted myself with the work of Vandana Shiva who advocates for eco-agriculture. She has an international voice. Although she has a doctorate in Physics, she became interested in farming when she observed the changes happening in Punjab, India where she was raised. She learned from the farmers who were confronted with corporate agriculture in the name of the Green Revolution. The farmers were promised that improving the yields would made them prosperous. To participate, they had to buy genetically modified seeds, fertilizer and pesticides ( which use enormous amounts of water ) from chemical companies as well as buy access to digitalized data. The farmers lost their freedom to grow what they wanted, farm the way they wanted and were unable to set the price of the yield. The outcome was degradation of soil, depletion of the water table and pests that became immune to the pesticides. Without the outcome promised, the farmers were unable to pay back the required loans and lost there land. This is the reason that the Punjab region saw 10’s of thousands of farmer suicides. In Punjab now 3/4 of the young people are now drug addicts. This is also the background behind the huge demonstrations by farmers in Delhi demanding their autonomy.
    Bill Gates is the face of IR-4 and is now going in Africa and Southeast Asia with the corporate seeds and chemical companies and their promises save the world.
    I strongly suggest that interested readers acquaint themselves with the work and positions of Vandana Shiva ( and others ) which is readily available on the web to understand the intricacies of this subject.

    Reply
    1. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you, Telee.

      As farmers and governments indebt themselves to Gates, his IR 4 gang, which includes Warren Buffett, insist on debt for equity swaps and seize farms and other property.

      With regard to such scams, the descendants of the Belgian, but not British, investors behind Union Miniere du Haut Katanga / Umicore, the firm implicated in the death of Patrice Lubumba, are at it in Africa. Their sock puppet and the Nick Clegg of the EU, Guy Verhofstadt, gets the EU to mobilise in support.

      Reply
      1. Telee

        I think you probably know by now that Bill Gates is the biggest owner of a record amount of farmland across the United States. Nobody quite knows why. Is it for an investment, practicing his farming method with genetically modified seeds, to own the best farmland has insurance against the oncoming climate change etc.
        Also, perhaps not all realize that the GMO crops are engineered so they don’t produce seeds, so they will be a constant source of revenue. In fact, in Rwanda, where Gates has much influence are outlawing the keeping of non GMO seeds. As of now, there is a law being proposed in PA. along the same lines. Or if a field of GMO blows pollen into a non-GMO plant and causes the engineered trait to be transferred, then the GMO seed producers want payment for the theft of their intellectual property right.

        Reply
        1. Colonel Smithers

          Thank you, Telee.

          Farming and land ownership are two things that I am passionate about.

          I have been following Gates and his malign influence for many years.

          Gates’ motivation are all of what you suggest.

          My parents and I grow much of our fruit and vegetables in the UK and Mauritius. We often grow from fruits and vegetables bought at markets. We have noticed that we can’t grow from produce bought in the UK, so we buy in France.

          Reply
        2. drumlin woodchuckles

          Clean-genes frankenfree growers should think about how to sue the GMO contaminators for allowing their GMO pollution to contaminate the franken-free genes of the clean-genes growers.
          ” Legal jeopardy” should not all be allowed to go one way.

          Percy Schmeiser of Canada was targeted for this kind of shakedown racket by Monsanto. He countersued Monsanto for genetic pollution and genetic trespass and genetic nuisance. Here is a wiki about Schmeiser versus Monsanto.
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monsanto_Canada_Inc_v_Schmeiser

          Long hard searching could find other articles on this subject.

          Clean-genes non-polluted-plant growers should not just adopt the posture of cowering in fear over the next gene-pollution incident engineered by Monsanto in order to shake them down for ” infringement” money. They should really be thinking about how to make Monsanto cower in fear of the next thousands of lawsuits for Monsanto gene pollution against gene-clean
          plants.

          I personally wonder whether the Monsanto gene-pollution shakedown-racket business model can’t somehow be lawsuited or even criminally prosecuted or both under the RICO statutes, because Monsanto ( and now Bayer) are obviously Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations. The case should really be made and pursued in court.

          Reply
    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      @Telee,

      If you are interested in buying any hard copies of some of Vandana Shiva’s work in this field ( which would translate into some money going back to Vandana Shiva for having done this work) two books and copies of several talks and addresses which Vandana Shiva has delivered at various times to Acres USA Annual Conferences are available for purchase through the Acres USA book store.

      Here is the link.

      https://bookstore.acresusa.com/collections/vandana-shiva-collection

      Reply
  6. BoyDownTheLane

    The corporate food control system would come as no surprise to those who had read Melanson’s “Perfectibilists” or Millegan’s “Fleshing Out Skull and Bones” (particularly the annotated appendix that documented what members had done with their lives since graduating from Yale, the most vivid example of which might be John Kerry’s marriage into the third-largest food and beverage company in North America and the fifth-largest food and beverage company in the world (https://www.kraftheinzcompany.com/ ).]

    ‘STICKER SHOCK” AT THE GROCERY STORE IMMINENT AS AG FUTURES SURGE MOST IN 8 YEARS. SOURCE: MIKE MISH SHEDLOCK
    With global food prices already at the highest since mid-2014, this latest jump is being closely watched because staple crops are a ubiquitous influence on grocery shelves — from bread and pizza dough to meat and even soda.

    “… “The relentless rise in prices acts as a misery multiplier, driving millions deeper into hunger and desperation,” Chris Nikoi, the World Food Programme’s regional director for West Africa, said earlier this month. It’s “pushing a basic meal beyond the reach of millions of poor families who were already struggling to get by.”
    And commodities aren’t the only component in driving up the price of food. Higher freight costs and other supply-chain headaches as well as packaging can all add up. Food and beverage giants are already signaling they’re watching margins. Coca-Cola Co. has flagged higher costs in plastic and aluminum, as well as coffee and high-fructose corn syrup, the key ingredient in soda. Nestle SA, the world’s biggest food company, warned it won’t be able to hedge all of its commodity costs and it’s raising prices where appropriate…..”

    Reply
  7. SES

    For those interested in analysis of agricultural issues from the perspective of alternate land ownership and management models, I’d recommend the blog of Chris Smaje: https://smallfarmfuture.org.uk/. For a focus on crop diversity and alternative crops, Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog is excellent: http://agro.biodiver.se/. For a good concrete look at sustainable crop management and agronomy, Andrew McGuire’s blog at the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources is excellent: https://csanr.wsu.edu/author/amcguire-2/. Finally, for a cold shower after the heated claims about the potential of perennial grains, check out the book Darwinian Agriculture by R. Ford Denison.

    Reply
    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      Even as the quest for “perennial grains” continues, some people come back to a realization that sources for perennial starch-and-fat-and-some-protein nuts and “beans” has already existed for thousands of years . . . growing on various kinds of trees , shrubs, and bushes.
      Mesquite and carob and siberian pea shrub for perennial legume tree-pea and tree-bean sources.
      Chestnuts for high-starch bread-equivalent nutritional nut sources.
      Hazelnuts for highish-starch/ highish-fat nut-ritional support.
      Certain hickories for high oil nuts, even to the extent of home-crushing the nuts for home-usable quantities of oil.
      Etc. etc.
      https://www.forestag.com/pages/mark-shepard

      https://www.chelseagreen.com/product/trees-of-power/

      http://www.badgersett.com/

      https://oikostreecrops.com/

      We really don’t have to wait for Wes Jackson and the Land Institute for a rescue which may never come from their direction.

      Reply
  8. Maritimer

    I have yet to read or hear any of the Government Certified Epidemiologists/Experts/Officials make any comments regarding poor diet/nutrition as a contributing factor to Covid deaths/hospitilizations.

    Nor have I heard any recommendations from them regarding better nutrition. I would estimate that 80% of the “food” at the local Stuporstore is deleterious to human health. Thus, our health experts obliviously allow Finance to mine Human Health for profit.

    More fodder for distrust, disrespect and disregard for Medicine.

    Reply
    1. Jason

      It’s a crime. No mention of health and nutrition, no mention of Vit D, Zinc, et al which have proven efficacy as a prophylaxis. Suppression of Ivermectin and Hydroxychloroquine. Etc.

      Reply
    2. Arizona Slim

      Exactly. I’ve heard Joe Rogan alluding to this problem during his podcasts. I’ve also heard it mentioned during the Carbon Cowboys mini-documentaries, but, sorry, I can’t recall which one.

      Reply
  9. polecat

    If at all possible, get some food producing space alloted and get to it! More and more people will need to – out of necessity … at least as a supplemental source of calories/nutrients, as in say, a kitchen garden. Home grown herbs and spices are good, as one can grow, harvest, and dry for storage, thus cutting the cost of use, plus better in flavor generally .. vs grocery shelf stock by $$$ saved. The time and effort is worth it .. even if the neighbors don’t yet grok the importance thereof.
    Our cherry blossoms are loaded with our bees .. as is the neighborhood.

    Reply
  10. Alfred

    There are many reasons I decided to retire in Vermont–not least was the history of family farms. I buy from the many CSAs and farm stands and co-ops here. I get great chicken and beef, eggs and veg from the source and am grateful to support them. They are farms I ride past often, and they use sustainable faming methods I witness as I ride by on my bike. I do everything I can, including writing to the State govt., to support them. For food, they are my future.

    Reply
  11. Bee

    Back in the early 2010s Donald Trump was the featured speaker at real estate seminars in rural Iowa. At the time, it seemed rather strange to me–what did he know about farmland? In retrospect it makes complete sense.

    Reply
  12. Mantid

    Hello All, I can’t stress enough the importance of watching the recent documentary “Kiss the Ground”. A good review of simple, positive changes that can occur that sidestep Big Ag, high tech and corporate power and can function from small scale gardens to large scale farms. It describes what I see as the only positive course of action we can take to address both food/water insecurity and global warming. I still think we’re all funked (as Parliament would say) but it proposes a positive alternative. Out to put in the pumpkins.

    Reply
    1. Brian Westva

      I second your recommendation of the documentary. It is good. Gabe brown is featured in it and he has done some amazing things at his ranch in ND. I highly recommend searching for a talk he did called “treating the farm as an ecosystem”. There are 3 parts and he talks in the first and third parts.

      Due to consecutive hail storms and drought Gabe had to drastically reduce his input cost and he stopped using fertilizers, pesticides, and reduced herbicides as well. He started using a lot of different cover crops to help rebuild the soil and stopped tilling the soil as well. He has dramatically increased the health and fertility of the soil by using cover crops, no till, and rotational grazing. He has increased the amount of nitrogen and carbon in the soil along with reduced erosion. It really is amazing what he has accomplished and what can be done. I hope that you will watch his talk and I hope that other farmers will adopt his practices.

      Another good documentary is about the Loess plateau in China. It is called lessons of the loess plateau by John Liu. They have managed to restore forests and agriculture to a severely degraded region. It really gives you hope that degraded land can be restored and that some how mankind might be capable of surviving on planet earth over the long term.

      Certainly Big Ag is not part of any solution for long term agriculture. They are all about making money.

      Reply
  13. roxan

    We grew all our own food, organically, when I was a kid, and kept bees as well. My mom read Silent Spring when it first came out and became obsessed with organic everything. For a long time, I corresponded with a biology teacher who was sure GMO crops killed his bees. I learned about heirloom seeds and heritage breeds. Now, I notice there are so few bees in my little garden, I find it hard to grow a lot of things. It’s too urban here to keep bees or chickens, but I wish I could. We buy a lot of food in Ephrata, at Amish markets. It’s still lush and beautiful, and will continue to be so as long as the Amish manage to stay.

    Reply
  14. drumlin woodchuckles

    @ the Rev Kev,

    In an earlier thread, you wondered how long the Covid Health Authorities expected us to trust them, given their ongoing efforts to suppress knowledge of aerosol transmission in order to suppress and prevent action to counter aerosol transmission. I would answer. . . . . they hope to keep us trusting them as long as possible. They are trying to buy enough time to make the epidemic permanent.

    Why are they doing that? A sentence from the content of this post offers a clue.

    “With the pandemic, e-retail and food delivery services have grown even faster. Thus, e-commerce platforms have quickly become the world’s top retailers.”

    If the pandemic can be made permanent and kept permanent ( on purpose), then e-retail and food delivery services will keep growing even faster. And thus, e-commerce platforms can be made permanently the world’s permanent top retailers, permanently. And they will use that permanent-pandemic permanency-status to further advance and permanentize the Davos World Economic Forum plan for the Fourth Industrial Revolution . . . . the Digi-Monopolization and GMO-tollgate-choke-holding of all significant food and fiber production everywhere in the world.

    That is the goal. Making the pandemic permanent helps achieve the Davos goal. Actively suppressing knowledge of aerosol transmission in order to suppress adoption of counter-aerosol action is part of achieving the goal of making the pandemic permanent, in order to make the Davos Fourth Industrial Revolution permanent.

    That is what the “anti-Davos” shinola-food movement will have to work against, and find a way to defeat and exterminate if that is somehow possible. The Davos Plan, and the Davos Players, will either be submitted to and humbly served . . . . . or exterminated from existence. One side will survive by exterminating the other side. Which side will kill and eat the other side? If only one side chooses to understand this conflict as a war of extermination, the side which understands that victory requires extermination of the other side is the side which will win. By exterminating the other side.

    We know which side the Davos side plans to be. Which side does the Shinola Clean-food side plan to be? The exterminators? Or the exterminated?

    There can only be one.

    Time to choose.

    Reply

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