[10-16-08] MST Informa #154: Food Sovereignty and Agriculture

The United Nations Organization for Food and Agriculture (FAO) announced that the number of people that go hungry in the world rose from 850 million to 925 million this year. What caused this? The increase in the price of food. And the poor are the hardest hit by the crisis.

The price of staple grains, such as corn, rice and soy, doubled from the crop of 2006 to today. This year the price of beans rose 168%. The Interunion Department of Statistics and Socieconomic Studies (Departamento Intersindical de Estatística e Estudos Socioeconômicos, or Dieese) estimates that to buy the basic food basket takes up 52.8% of the minimum salary. And it points out that the poorest have had to cut back on basic food staples at home, registering a 6% fall in the purchase of food.

Meanwhile, each month large transnational agribusinesses celebrate record profits. There exist around 30 large businesses, with headquarters in the United States and in Europe, which control nearly all of the production and commercial agriculture in the world. This year, the profits of Monsanto more than doubled relative to last year. Syngenta, Cargill, Bunge, Nestle, and others also do not have to complain: their profit margins have only grown since the crisis that tightened the belts of citizens worldwide.

And why does this happen? Because the model of agriculture based on agribusiness makes large investors speculate on the price of food, transforming our rice and beans into a commodity, as a way to make money. This model began in the decade of 1960, with the lie called the “green revolution,” that had the excuse of increasing food production, but that was, in reality, a way to promote an industry of toxins, fertilizers, and machines for large farmers. Since then, hunger has increased, a few businesses have come to dominate the market, and poverty in the countryside and city has multiplied.

Now, to make the situation worse, the Brazilian government is prioritizing the production of agro-fuels, setting aside agricultural lands for the production of ethanol. And the high price of petroleum directly reflects our costs of production, increasing the price of fertilizers and transport. There does not exist a crisis of production, what exists is financial speculation about the price of food. The world produces a sufficient amount to feed 12 billion people, double the planet’s population.

The government continues believing that agribusiness is the correct policy. An ironic mistake: agribusiness generates commercial surplus, but at the cost of the degradation of the environment, and it does not solve the problems of the Brazilian population. The government announces daily new incentives for agribusiness, releasing credit, and forgiving debt. While the family farm, responsible for the majority of the production that supplies the food on the tables of Brazilian families— 70% according to data of the government itself— does not receive proper investment from the State.

This crisis exposes the fragility of the agribusiness model. It produces, but it does not feed. It pollutes the environment, destroys biodiversity, contaminates the water, and alters the climate. The way out of this crisis is Food Sovereignty, the capacity for each people, country, region or municipality to produce their own food.

Therefore, on this Day of October 16th, International Day in Defense of Food Sovereignty, we of the MST, together with other organizations of the countryside and of the city, take to the streets to defend a different model for Brazilian agriculture. We struggle so that each nation can define its own agricultural and food policies that protect biodiversity, produce healthy food, and respect nature and local culture.

And this can only happen with an Agrarian Reform that distributes land, guarantees production, education, and the implementation of agro-ecology as policy for the countryside. Only with this will we have the conditions to produce cheaper and healthier food, with dignified conditions for the entire Brazilian population.

National Coordination of the MST