[03/06/2007] MST Informa #129: Via Campesina’s Position on Agro-Fuels

Dear Friends of the MST,

The MST recently returned from the African country of Mali. We went as part of a delegation of 12 representatives from Brazilian rural movements and environmentalist groups, joining more than 600 leaders from every continent on Earth. There we met with scientists, environmentalists, women’s movement activists, and members from a spectrum of other organizations, discussing the many questions raised by the goal of establishing food sufficiency for every country.

This World Forum for Food Sovereignty allowed us to deepen the ongoing conversation about an important topic-- the need for social movements around the world to prioritize the struggle to defend food production and food sovereignty for every nation. The struggle means a broad fight against the offensive that the forces of international capital have launched in rural areas, especially with regard to the control of agro-fuels.

Why? An alliance has unified the interests of three great international capital sectors: a) oil companies; b) the transnational firms that control agricultural commerce and genetically-modified seeds; and c) automobile firms. The only goal is to maintain current patterns of consumption in the First World and high rates of profit for multinational corporations.

1. The Goals of the Transnational Corporations, and President Bush:

The objective: to convince governments in the Southern Hemisphere to use their territory for the production of energy, in the form of agricultural goods, in order to maintain the pattern of consumption associated with the “American way of life�? in the First World.

The plant-based energy found in grains (in the form of oils), as well as in trees, is ultimately solar energy captured through an agri-chemical transformation. Through conversion into vegetable oil or alcohol, it is turned into fuel. Transnational agribusinesses need the world’s “southern�? countries because of this. Many of these countries receive a greater-than-average annual incidence of sunlight, and still have large areas of fertile land available for growing oil-rich plants such as sunflowers, corn, soy, peanuts, sweet-beans, and African palms/ dendê—or for producing alcohol through sugar cane, corn, or trees.

At the same time these businesses hope to impose monocrop production. In the case of soy and corn, such production would be accomplished through genetically-modified seeds. This guarantees a market for the seeds and the (toxic) fertilizers sold by transnational corporations in question. It also opens the door for them to charge intellectual-property fees based on patents and royalty agreements.

These companies are after profit. They don’t care about the state of the environment, global warming, or the lives of people who work in the countryside. But their “production offensive�? in the area of renewable energy does allow them to loosen their dependence on oil imports from countries that now have nationalist governments, such as Venezuela and Iran.

Moreover, a number of the countries that supply energy to the United States and Europe are currently suffering from tremendous political instability, including Nigeria, Angola, and Saudi Arabia, for example. Not to mention, of course, the failed invasion of another such supplier—Iraq.

2. The Position of Rural Movements from Around the World:

We can’t call this a “bio-fuels program.�? We certainly can’t call it a “bio-diesel program.�? Such phrases use the prefix “bio-“ to subtly imply that the energy in question comes from “life,�? in general. This is illegitimate and manipulative. We need to find a term in every language that describes the situation more accurately, a term like agro-fuel. This term refers specifically to energy created from plant products grown through agriculture. We do realize, however, that the prefix “agro-“ itself remains too general. Our scientists are considering a more exact phrase.

We certainly agree that agro-fuel use is better for the environment than petroleum-fuel use. But this doesn’t get to the heart of the human problem in question: the current energy and transportation system, which continues to be based on individual vehicles. To address this problem, we support a radical substitution. The current model of individual transportation, marked by consumerism and pollution, should be replaced with collective transportation—trains, subways, bicycles, et cetera.

We do not accept an energy plan that takes agricultural products currently used to feed human beings – such as corn, soy, sunflowers, etc. – and turns them into energy for cars.

When it comes to producing the agro-fuels that we do need, we must produce them in a sustainable way. In other words, we are opposed to the current neoliberal system, which produces these goods through monoculture on large plantations. Monoculture on a grand scale endangers the environment and forces rural workers out of the countryside.

Monoculture also has an impact on global warming. It destroys biodiversity, disturbs the water cycle, and disrupts the rains, making it difficult for farmers to stay in equilibrium with the Earth. Moreover, it makes intensive use of agro-toxic fertilizers and machines.

We can produce energy. We can make fuel from agricultural products – as long as they are grown sustainably, on small and medium-sized farms, without disturbing the environment. These products can even allow rural workers to have greater autonomy over their energy as they supply the cities.

We vigorously reject the plan put forth by George W. Bush’s government. In the next few days he will visit the governments of Brazil, Colombia, and Guatemala in order to co-opt them. He hopes to seduce them into increasing the production of alcohol for export to the United States.

Along with this increase, US capitalists from the three great capital sectors are demanding the right to buy or build dozens of new alcohol factories throughout the Western Hemisphere. They recently proposed the construction of 100 such factories in Brazil alone.

In order to make this plan possible, the Bush government proposes the creation of a new category on the international market, “energy commodities�? (referring in this case to alcohols). Products in this category would not be considered agricultural goods, and thus would not fall under the current World Trade Organization (WTO) rules.

The White House is also proposing that Brazil, India, South Africa, and other countries negotiate a new common technology protocol for all ethanol, whether it comes from corn, sugarcane, or trees. This new, internationally accepted formula could have another effect—it might serve as the basis for a new OPEC-like group, dominating agricultural energy production in order to control the world market.

If the current US plan were implemented, it would be a tragedy for tropical agriculture. It would give huge swaths of our best land over to massive monoculture. It would annihilate even more of our biodiversity and sweep aside our food production. It would evict millions of workers from the world’s rural areas, sending them to the already-overcrowded slums in the cities. And all of this only to supply cars.

The discussion, and the struggle, are only beginning. We hope that civic groups will take action, and that the media will educate us on these issues. They will have a fundamental impact on the future of our people.

As a result, during the March 8th events, women who work in the countryside and in the city will stand together and fly a flag that reads, “Struggle for Food Sovereignty, against Agrobusiness.�? This flag represents a no to multinationals in the countryside, and a yes to workers and biodiversity. The number-one representative of imperialism, Mr. Bush, will arrive on Brazilian land in the next several days. This fact should encourage even more the struggle against neoliberalism.

-The National Secretariat of the MST