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Stop World Bank’s Support for Corporate Land Grabs


The World Bank‘s policies for land privatization and concentration, have paved the way for corporations from Wall Street to Singapore to take upwards of 80 million hectares of land from rural communities across the world in the past few years, according to a press release from National Family Farm Coalition.

Giulia Franchi from the Italian-based Campaign for the Reform of the World Bank (Campagna per la Riforma della Banca Mondiale) said during a teleconference with reporters that the principles the bank is promoting, (RAI),  is an attempt to justify and support transnational corporations’ attempts to grab farmland.

“It’s an attempt to make it look like a responsible deal, as something that can be done in a transparent way with the support of the local community, and something that will improve local communities. But there’s no way the expropriation of people’s land, however it’s done, can be a responsible deal.”

Franchi said corporations are using diversified financial vehicles such as pension funds, commercial banks, and investment banks,  as well as foreign governments, to acquire millions of hectares of land worldwide for producing food and agrifuels for international export.

“This is all being done with the backing of international financial institutions, and most of all, of the World Bank.”

Franchi said the World Bank for decades has been promoting land concentration and privatization policies.

“It has been promoting land titling programs in many countries in the world, which has  transformed customary and traditional land rights into titles which can be marketed, traded, and sold.”

As the World Bank presents the global takeover of farmland as the promotion of responsible agriculture,  Via Campesina and its international allies are calling upon the bank to comply with the Extra Territorial Human Rights Obligations of States.

“The bank cannot continue to act in full impunity as it has up to now,” Franchi said.

Bob St. Peter directs Food For Maine’s Future and is a board member of the National Family Farm Coalition.  He describes himself as a small-scale family farmer. He said he and his family rent, borrow, and lease about 4 acres of land for largely subsistence and small, direct-market production.

“Coming at this as a new farmer in the United States, and looking out to what’s about to happen over the next 20 years, there is set to be a very large transfer of productive farm land in this country. The older generation of farmers are set to retire and we have not been developing the farmers that are going to be able to replace them.”

St. Peter said many farmers are in debt and likely will sell their land and equipment to have some money as they retire and some money to leave to their children.

“We’re in the position now of having to stave off what is likely to be a very significant rush for farm land in this country. Those of us who would like to farm the land”are not in the position to purchase it at the prices that the older generation is going to need to get themselves out of debt to secure their retirement. There aren’t enough land trust or philanthropic dollars to make up the difference. So, what is likely to happen is there will be investment groups–and we’re starting to see this already—speculators as well as corporations purchasing these farm lands.”

St. Peter said this is going to exacerbate problems related to industrialized agriculture. He calls for not only low interest loans,  but a transfer of wealth of some kind so new farmers have access to land without repeating the cycle of chronic debt where they have to depend on corporations just to stay in business.

“We don’t have a plan for that yet, but if we don’t stave off the farmland grab that is happening in other parts of the world, we’re likely to see that happen here.”

St. Peter calls for local food enthusiasts to look into the systemic issues involved with their cause.

“There’s been this change in the food industry. There’s been this political economy established to favor corporate agribusiness and that model has been replicated around the world. So the small-scale farmer —in Maine I am literally competing in my local community with cheap imported food from all over the world, produced in conditions we don’t generally support.”

He said people who are only focused on their local food system would be well served by looking deeper and wider.

“(They should look at) how the global food industry manipulates markets and uses international financial institutions and trade organizations to basically pit us against each other and undercut and undermine all of us. There’s a situation in Mexico, for example, of people being displaced from their land because of dumping. It also happens in our country, in our local communities. That’s why we have a local food movement in the first place. It’s because that’s been taken from us and we need to put it back. But we can’t do that without understanding both the solidarity aspects and the way the political economy works.”

Rafael Alegria, coordinator for Via Campesina for Central America said during the tele-press-conference that in Honduras and other countries in the region the re-concentration of the control of land under the auspices of the government, the transnational corporations, and the World Bank, has displaced small producers and family farmers.

“The situation in the countryside in Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador is similar. It’s very grave poverty in the countryside but this does not only affect the countryside but also the urban areas.”

Alegria said the US used free trade agreements to dump many tons of rice on the Honduran market, making it impossible for local producers to sell at a reasonable price. (See Oxfam briefing paper,   A Raw Deal For Rice Under DR-CAFTA)

He said this is causing serious agrarian and rural conflicts in Honduras.

“In the region of Bajo Aguan on the Atlantic coast of Honduras, large numbers of campesinos have been hurt and killed in conflicts with a large land owner named Miguel Facusse, who owns agribusiness firm Quimicas Dinant. This company has been in the sites of the World Bank. The World Bank has been trying to give them $30 million in loans. He and Reynaldo Canales—these two men in private industry—have taken over almost all of the arable land. They have displaced thousands of small producers and family farmers and replaced their diverse cultivation methods with monocultures of African palm for export.”

Facusse makes his fortunes by producing palm oil used for snack foods.

Alegria said, “We’ve been able to document that Mexican corporations and private interests from other neighboring countries, as well as the United States, have taken over large tracts of land in Honduras. That’s why on the April 17th Via Campesina decided to do an international struggle to highlight the problem of land grabbing.”

He said that on that date campesinos and small family farmers in Honduras decided to do a land reclamation.

“They reclaimed 12,500 hectares of publicly own land that is now being taken over by private corporations and private interests. But the government and private interests have been actively evicting farmers and farm workers from these land reclamations, and today (April 23) there was a predawn attack by private guards from the sugar company.”

As a result of the attack, the leader of  Movimiento Campesino de San Manuel (MOCSAN) is hanging between life in death in a hospital in San Pedro Sula , said Alegria.

“The minister of agrarian reform and the minister of security and the Honduran president    Porfirio Lobo Sosa refused to talk with Via Campesina and the Honduran campesino movement. So, we declare that those government representatives are responsible for all of the bloodshed.”

Alegria said Via Campesina in Central America denounces the  media campaign to defame his leadership and the leadership of all of the local and regional campesino movements in Honduras.

“We demand the World Bank stop promoting land grabbing being done by private interest. We call on the World Bank to support comprehensive land reform strategies like the one we put forward before the legislature of Honduras in October 2011.”

Alegria said there has been no legislative progress. He asked that food sovereignty activists around the world increase their solidarity with campesinos in Central America and all those who are struggling in Honduras. He said in the 1970s the Catholic Church was in solidarity with peasants fighting for land reform, but that more recently they have not received any kind of support from the official churches, either the Catholic, the Evangelical, or Protestant.

“We’ve only received support from the very small community-based churches from the Protestant and Evangelical side.”

Alegria said the land reclamations threaten monopoly capitalist’s interests in the northern areas of Honduras. He said  powerful people in the banking industry and large landowners on the northern coast of Honduras have ties to the  owners of the country’s newspapers , such as Diario del Tiempo.

“Those high level business interests and the owners of the main newspapers, Diario La Prensa and The Herald and Tiempo, they all work together. Their interests are entwined. This media campaign is one where they attempt to defame my character, painting me as if I were a terrorist. This is try to undermine my credibility with the people. They are very conservative business leaders who are really only interested in making profits and increasing their wealth but they don’t see the dire poverty of the family farmers, the campesinos, and farm workers in Honduras.”

He said large corporations want to control not only their land but also their forests,  mining industry, and water.

“It’s really grave for our country. The large-scale foreign investment interests are pressuring the government and the government’s response is to put up for public auction all of our natural resources for sale to the highest bidder in order to cover both our internal and external debt. The external debt for a small country like Honduras is already is more than $4 billion and the internal debt is $50 billion.”

via OpEdNews – Article: Food Sovereignty Activists: Stop World Bank’s Support for Corporate Land Grabs.

If we rely on corporate seed, we lose food sovereignty


It has become crucial to defend seeds. In the past 20 or 30 years, what was once seen as normal – peasant farmers growing, selecting, saving and exchanging seeds – has come under attack from corporations seeking to control and commodify the very basis of agriculture.

This was the subject of the session at the World Social Forum in Tunis on Peasant Seeds jointly organized on March 28, 2013 by La Vía Campesina, GRAIN and the ETC Group.

There are four pillars of agriculture, says Nandini Jairam, a member of La Vía Campesina and a peasant farmer from Karnataka, India, “these are soil, water, seeds, and peasants.”

“A seed is miraculous. A seed has life – you sow one and you reap hundreds. And the skilled knowledge of peasant farmers is equally important. It is knowledge transferred down through generations by farmers that guides the selection of the right seeds to plant and to save. Farmers in India know how to preserve seed for two or three years without using pesticides.  And they barter seeds; they give them freely to each other, returning a part of the harvest.”

“It’s peasant seed that feeds us,” said Via Campesina‘s Guy Kastler from France.  “And this is a catastrophe for companies.”

Corporations want farmers to buy industrial seeds – and the fertiliser and pesticides necessary to grow them. So they need to prevent peasants from continuing to develop, produce and exchange their own seeds.

Now the world is heading into a climate crisis. By 2070, says ETC Group’s Pat Mooney, we’ll be facing growing conditions that have not been seen before in the 10,000 year history of agriculture.

The same half dozen companies control two-thirds of seed production, 70 percent of pesticide production, and 75 percent of private agricultural research budgets, far outstripping any government’s resources.

“But in the past 50 years, peasant agriculture has donated 2.1 million varieties of 7,000 crops to gene banks around the world. In the same time, seed companies have contributed just 80,000 varieties.”

And the contributions of peasant farmers are vastly superior, says Via Campesina’s Kastler. “A plant is a living being. It adapts to where it grows, and peasants select them carefully according to their needs.”

Industrial seeds are selected to work in uniform conditions, they are not adapted to local realities; they’re produced in laboratories and grown in test plots with chemical fertilisers.

“Away from the test plots, in farmers’ different fields, these seeds won’t grow without machines and fertiliser. The plants get sick, then you have to look after them with insecticides, fungicides, pesticides – poisons. Industrial agriculture is a science – a science of death,” says Kastler.

The world’s top six agribusiness companies are focusing their research on just a dozen crops. “They are putting the future of the world’s food supply into 12 crops. That’s no way to ensure the future,” Mooney says.

Despite the vastly greater resources available to industrial agriculture, peasants grow 70 percent of the world’s food.

“The industrial farming system has put peasant agriculture at risk. Do we trust industrial agriculture to save us, or should we instead assume that it is peasant systems have the resilience and creativity to answer the crisis?” said Mooney.

Agribusiness exists not to feed people, but to create and dominate/sustain markets.

The flagship “Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa” (AGRA) is a clear illustration. A huge project, backed by the Gates Foundation and others, it claims its intent is to help small farmers produce more, says GRAIN’s Henk Hobbelink.

But AGRA is not driven by the needs of African farmers. It is focused on commercial farming, with agro-dealers at the heart of a strategy to transform into small farmers into businessmen, operating in a globalised market of corporate seed, fertiliser and distribution.

Crucial to the vision behind AGRA are commercially-owned seeds, such as GMOs.

“But GMOs don’t feed the world, they throw farmers off their land,” said Hobbelink. Ninety percent of GMO crops are maize, soya, canola and cotton, destined for textiles, animal feed and agrofuels.

GMOs are said to produce higher yields – but the evidence is that the opposite is true. The more seed has been manipulated, the more difficult it is to sustain high yields.

GMOS are also promoted as reducing the use of toxic agrochemicals – the evidence again points the opposite way, towards increased use. In Argentina, use of fertilisers and pesticides as increased 20-fold along with the growing use of genetically-modified crops.

What is the alternative?

First, says Kastler, peasants, locally, collectively, should save their own seed and organise themselves to select and safeguard them. “They must be autonomous in terms of seed.”

The aim should not be to create a global market. The sharing of seed is also the sharing of knowledge between peasants.

Second, we must fight against the laws that are stripping peasants of their rights regarding seed.

Third, we must stop GMOs: we must prevent their cultivation and resist and overturn laws that allow their expanded use.

Peasants must be present as equals in the debate over seeds. Peasants must secure recognition of the right to reproduce seed, to exchange seed, and to take an equal part in decision-making over the food system.

Kastler conludes that “If we rely on corporate seed, we lose food sovereignty. If we lose food sovereignty, we lose political sovereignty.”

via If we rely on corporate seed, we lose food sovereignty.

via If we rely on corporate seed, we lose food sovereignty.

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