New book looks at how corporate power is destroying agriculture — and how it can be changed

Monday, April 24, 2017

Sustainable Agriculture vs Corporate Greed: Small farmers, food security & big business
By Alan Broughton & Elena Garcia
Resistance Books
104pp, pb
$15.00

This new book is vital to understand the desperate state of farming in Australia and the world. The foolish thinking behind the way world leaders propose to manage sustainable food production is clearly exposed.

In Sustainable Agriculture vs Corporate Greed, published by Resistance Books, farmers and socialist activists Alan Broughton and Elena Garcia explore the world of survival.

Broughton has enormous experience and knowledge about sustainable farming. He has worked in or studied experiences in Venezuela, Thailand, Tanzania, Uganda, Cuba, South Korea and Italy. He also designed and taught the first organic farming diploma course in Australia.

Broughton exposes the actual numbers of farmers suffering due to the policies of Australian governments. He examines the way agriculture is designed in the United States invariably leads this area around the world. His writing is rich with facts and figures about the companies that gain enormously from exploiting the small farmers with the help of governments.

The book is a weapon to argue against farming policies designed with the help of large corporations. It allows activists and interested people to understand that there is no dichotomy between workers, farmers and environmentalists.

Broughton establishes that we are all victims of this agricultural system, and that we need to cooperate to fight it. He offers information to help improve understanding of rural issues, and points out that rural and urban communities share common interests — we all eat and food is a common and important issue.

The book informs us that farmers have no influence over the price of their products. Large corporations and others along the distribution chain extract enormous profits from the produce, while farmers’ income is constantly undermined.

The percentage of income obtained by farmers has fallen dramatically over the past century. This is especially the case since the establishment of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and “free trade” agreements in recent decades that have strengthened large agribusinesses. The resulting despair has caused a spike in farmer suicides globally.

Free trade is supposed to advantage farmers and increase exports, but it has only increased the rate of framers being driven off the land. It is supposed to increase intellectual property rights for farmers, but in reality it has weakened protection for farmers and increased protection for large corporations.

Collusion among large companies and governments, and lobbying by corporations have contributed to the shaping of agriculture across the world. In the US, agricultural corporations write the food policies that are followed by government agencies. Add to this the interests of corporations that produce pesticides, fertilisers and insecticides, who are also pushing policies in their own interests.

The casualisation of labour has added to the woes of the farmers and workers. In Australia, we now have the taxation of fruit pickers.

Other partners in crime include energy companies and banks. Energy policy in Australia is written by the energy corporations.

Broughton offers a rich source of information at almost all levels to enable readers to grasp the plight of farmers. He also cuts through divisions among working people. He succeeds in establishing that all workers, including farmers, are at the mercy of large corporations.

Environmentalists have much to gain by reading this book, as it joins the dots to make us understand that a united people benefits the environment. People who are fighting for the poor in developing countries, too, can get an understanding about the importance of sustainable food production.

Broughton says that, contrary to widespread claims, there is not actually a crisis in food production. The problem lies with food distribution and accessibility. Food insecurity is unnecessary, given that the world already produces enough calories to feed 12-14 billion people.

He exposes the huge network of large corporations that influence global organisations. He says four corporations control 90% of the grain trade.

Africa is the latest continent to be attacked by corporate power on the food front. Global agribusiness is gaining a foothold there while people starve.

Broughton covers agricultural research and technology to include the latest developments, including who controls these areas and who benefits. He points out how science is usually used to sustain vested interests.

He explains the value of small farmers, showing how small farmers are more efficient than large agribusiness. To this end, he points to “La Via Campesina”, an international group involving 200 million small farmers.

It has radical policies for solving the issues facing farmers, including: abolishing the WTO and free trade agreements; increasing farmers’ input into research and new technology; implementing ecological farming systems; and dispensing with large corporations.

Garcia, an organic cattle farmer, discusses the recent milk price crisis in detail and the hypocrisy of the governments and large corporations.

She says that Australian agribusiness is dominated by companies like Coles, Master Foods, Golden Circle and SPC, which are now owned by US corporations such as Heinz and Coca-Cola Amatil. Almost all food processing plants have moved overseas for cheaper labour, except for SPC, which uses minimal services in Australia.

Garcia also discusses carbon emissions and its links to cattle farming. She says one-third of such emissions come from bushfires that are not included in the Kyoto protocols. She points out that water usage is strictly monitored for farmers, but is unrestricted for mining companies and the coal seam gas industry.

She also explains that the farming industry creates wealth and jobs that remain in Australia, while the large corporations send their profits offshore and of course pay minimal or no tax. Land use for mining and its devastation is also well described.

Garcia discusses the legal measures that allow large corporations to rake in profits. She criticises the government for introducing such measures that allow attacks on small farmers and at best, bankrupts this industry to the advantage of global giants who bring little or no benefit to Australians and the environment.

She goes into detail about these manipulations of laws. In particular, she criticises the two major parties for placing the interests of multinationals above farmers and the community.

Garcia says this failure has opened space for the rise of right-wing parties such as One Nation. Rural and farming votes amount to 11% of the electorate, meaning the urban-rural divide has to be closed for the issues raised, of importance to all Australians, to be resolved.

Garcia addresses crucial issues, such has how to save small, family-run farms and manage weeds and pests. The high point of her contribution is her proposal of a manifesto on sustainable farming in Australia.

The manifesto ranges from protecting clean water, building alternatives to supermarkets, animal welfare, environmental protection, democratic community agricultural policy formation systems, and creating a rural bank.

This book is full of fantastic ideas for the benefit of ordinary people, both rural and urban. A key galvanising point is the proposal for cooperation between cities and rural communities to understand the common interests they have to save the land, make food accessible and eliminate rural and urban poverty by addressing wage issues for all.

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