People Should Control the Food System, Not Corporations

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People Should Control the Food System, Not Corporations

Why you should ditch the official EXPO and go to the People's EXPO instead

'At the People’s EXPO running this week, small scale food producers, farmers' movements, activists and researchers will discuss the real challenges of the current food system and the solutions: agroecology and food sovereignty – the right of people to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound methods.' (Image: expodeipopoli.it)

For those among us interested in how we can feed the world, we would recommend a visit to the alternative People's EXPO instead of the official Milan (Italy) EXPO 2015, a massive exhibition supposedly aimed at bringing the global community together to 'make progress on issues of international importance.'

Twenty million visitors are expected at the EXPO 2015 in Milan, a €1.3 billion exhibition themed around "feeding the planet, energy for life."

Giant food corporations like Nestle, McDonald’s and Coca-Cola are using this space to hobnob with governments and portray themselves as companies feeding the planet sustainably.

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But the picture painted at the EXPO is an unconvincing one.

The globalization of food production in recent decades – supported by unfair trade agreements – has led to corporate food monopolies. A small number of companies now dominate the supply of seeds, agricultural chemicals , processing, logistics and  food production. For example, in 2011 four retailers controlled 85% of the German national food market, and three retailers controlled 90% of the food market in Portugal. In 2009, just five retailers controlled 70% of the market in Spain.

Why is it a problem that a handful of multinational corporations control our food supply?

Because the social and environmental impacts of this concentration of power are devastating.

"We produce enough food to feed the world’s population today and in the future. What we need urgently is fairer distribution of resources and access to food dictated by need and not just by wealth and profit."

The corporate food system, heavily dependent on chemicals and fossil fuels, alongside cheap raw materials, makes a massive contribution to climate change – it is responsible for up to half of global greenhouse gas emissions. This cannot continue if we are to reduce greenhouse gases to safe levels for future generations.

Small-scale farmers and small food companies worldwide are driven out of business, while multinational companies drive a race to the bottom: their unsustainable production practices lead to the overexploitation and collapse of biodiversity and ecosystems. These market-dominating corporations routinely pay farmers below their costs of production; bully them into unfair contracts and can reject whole fields of produce at a whim whenever  the price is not right for them.

Some of the companies represented at the EXPO are key players in the push for even more corporate control and for trade agreements which would undermine food safety and standards. Leaked and published negotiating texts of the current EU-US trade negotiations, known as TTIP, provide a good example of how EU leaders are ready to trade away European food safety standards following intense lobbying from the corporate agribusiness sector.

Although no decisions will be taken at EXPO for the future of food and farming, a lot of resources have been used to give credibility to an industrial food system, based on monocultures, hybrid seeds, and chemical pesticides and fertilizers. This food system is promoted heavily by agribusinesses and some governments as the best way to feed the world, while in reality it benefits multinational corporations at the expense of people and planet.

Conversely, it is small-scale food producers that are feeding the majority of the world today, especially the most marginalized peoples. They produce over 70% of the world’s food supply, and have developed the model of 'agroecology' which is emerging as the best way to feed the world. Agroecology is a set of farming practices and a political movement that makes food production work in harmony with the natural world, and creates new models of food societies and economies for example by bringing farmers and consumers closer together. In February 2015 in Mali, representatives of millions of small-scale food producers from every sector came together to define agroecology and committed to map out the next steps to scale up agroecology in order to feed the world.  

At the People’s EXPO running this week, small scale food producers, farmers’ movements, activists and researchers will discuss the real challenges of the current food system and the solutions: agroecology and food sovereignty – the right of people to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound methods.

These are the people who know how to feed the planet now and in the future. In Latin America, 60 percent of farming, including meat, comes from small-scale farms. In Asia, the global rice powerhouse, almost all rice is grown on farms of less than 2 hectares.

The real challenge to feed the world is finding more ways to support sustainable, regenerative decentralized farming systems (pdf). We need more short supply chains, more local markets, and more systems that improve the well-being of small-scale farmers. We need more biodiversity of seeds, crops and animals, to make food production resilient to a changing and unpredictable climate – all themes being discussed at the People’s EXPO.

Friends of the Earth believes that we need to put agroecology and food sovereignty at the center of our food supply, with small-scale producers feeding local communities. Re-localizing the way we produce, process, and distribute food can help shift our economy so that it addresses the problems of climate change and biodiversity collapse, as well as the rising levels of social and economic inequality.

This means transferring power from companies and financial institutions to devolved democratic bodies like local food councils that give local people and communities a say. People should be in control of the food system, not corporations. There are many grassroots practical examples showing that this is possible.

We produce enough food to feed the world’s population today and in the future. What we need urgently is fairer distribution of resources and access to food dictated by need and not just by wealth and profit. EXPO 2015 will be a very expensive diversion to prop up the corporations and a failing food system that so desperately needs re-building.

Kirtana Chandrasekaran

Kirtana Chandrasekaran is food sovereignty program coordinator at Friends of the Earth International.

Stanka Becheva

Stanka Becheva is food and agriculture campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe where she coordinates  work on agroecology and food sovereignty. 

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