Food, next to life itself, has become our greatest common denominator. Its availability, quality, price, its reflection of the culture it feeds and its moral and religious significance make it quite literally history's "staff of life." Today, in the never-ending worldwide struggle to determine who will control its production, quality and accessibility, food is no longer viewed first and foremost as a sustainer of life.
Rather, to those who seek to command our food supply it has become instead a major source of corporate cash flow, economic leverage, a form of currency, a tool of international politics, an instrument of power -- a weapon!
Alarmed over the future of the agricultural producers of our food throughout the world and that so-called free trade policies by the US and other major nations and corporations may further perpetuate such policies, a Building Sustainable Futures for Farmers Globally campaign is asking farm organizations and other civil society groups around the world to sign onto to "A Call For Action" in support of agriculture, trade and food policies that support a sustainable livelihood for farmers and assure food for all.
Further information concerning the campaign and the coalition can be obtained at www.globalfarmer.org or by contacting Patty Kupfer, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The coalition points out that market deregulation has facilitated growing market concentration in the agriculture and food industries while at the same time encouraging costly and unsustainable overproduction and dumping of strategic agricultural commodities onto world markets at prices substantially below the cost of production.
The result has pressured world commodity prices, has threatened farmers and farmworkers around the world since dumping of agricultural commodities seriously undercuts the ability of small farmers and peasants in developing countries to sell their goods at fair prices in their own domestic markets.
Such actions have only exacerbated artificially low prices by direct government subsidy payments to large farmers while farmers in developing countries are disproportionately impacted as their governments cannot afford such expensive direct subsidy payments to farmers.
At the same time, large corporate agribusiness firms are demanding that developing countries dismantle their remaining quotas and tariffs in the name of "market access;" despite the fact that such border controls are the only recourse developing countries have to shield their agricultural markets from below-cost imports.
At the same time rural communities are coming under severe strain due to low prices both in the US and throughout the world.
As the coalition's "Call to Action" emphasizes, "unless new farm policies are first put in place that provide fair prices to farmers from the market and curtail overproduction, eliminating US farm subsidies could in fact harm many smaller-scale family farmers in the United States and lead to further market concentration.
"As a result, the Building Sustainable Futures for Farmers Globally campaign advocates a broad platform to address the overproduction and low prices that are harming small farmers in the US and abroad."
Pledging their support for alternative agriculture and trade policies that will provide sustainable livelihoods for farmers in the United States and around the globe, the coalition will strive to ensure that global food corporations pay family farmers a fair price for their products in the marketplace and promote socially and environmentally sustainable farming.
They call for US agricultural and trade policies that:
Ensure food sovereignty. International agreements should be reached that respect and ensure the right of all countries to achieve food sovereignty by developing their own domestic farm and food policies that respond to the needs of their farmers, consumers and communities and advocate access to adequate and nutritious food for all people.
Curtail overproduction. Raise low commodity prices, and end dumping abroad and support a worldwide ban on dumping and work toward all countries taking immediate steps to develop and implement this ban. In the US, support the establishment of a price floor for commodities in conjunction with strategic food, crop acreage and grain reserves that will mitigate food emergencies, insure farmers against crop disasters, ensure energy security and meet environmental stewardship goals.
At the same time antitrust enforcement needs to be strengthened to reverse current trends towards the concentration of agricultural markets and further industrialization of our food system.
Advance sustainable bioenergy production. The production of energy from biomass feedstocks offers the potential to decrease US dependency on oil, while also decreasing dumping of corn and other commodities that hurt developing country producers. Support programs that would promote domestic production of sustainable biomass crops to meet growing demand; foster local ownership of and investment in processing facilities to benefit local economic development; and encourage sustainable agricultural production practices to ensure long-term ecological integrity for future generations of farmers producing biomass energy crops.
Diminish inequalities both among and within countries and support small scale, family oriented agriculture. Commodity-oriented, industrial agriculture support programs in many countries exclude small-scale, indigenous and minority farmers, especially women. Many of these farmers have also historically been denied land and credit. In addition, the current trend towards exploitative contract farming forces producers to sell at unfair prices and under unfair terms.
Support is needed for domestic and international programs that serve diverse and sustainable farms and ranches, and that promote ethnic and gender equity and the preservation of rural livelihoods both in the United States and abroad.
Transform US food aid policies to promote more flexible and comprehensive aid to developing countries. Rather than require food aid be sourced from US commodities, support for a transition to more flexible cash aid is needed so that food aid can be purchased and delivered at the lowest cost and greatest speed.
This would enable local farmers to become economically viable producers of their nations' own food supply. Participation of local governments and civil societies in decision-making on food aid and an approach to development assistance that addresses the root causes of food crises is also necessary.
Respect the rights of immigrants and farmworkers. The dumping of agricultural products in developing countries has resulted in the displacement of many small-scale farmers, forcing them to migrate in search of work. The Coalition supports comprehensive immigration reform that allows economic migrants a pathway to citizenship.
"In a just food system, farmworkers should have the rights to organize, to receive fair wages, to decent and safe working conditions and to basic labor protections. We support identifying mechanisms in the 2007 Farm Bill to assure that these labor rights and conditions are respected, and that the fundamental civil rights of immigrant workers are protected."
A.V. Krebs publishes the online newsletter, The Agribusiness Examiner, email email@example.com. He is author of The Corporate Reapers: The Book of Agribusiness.
Subscribe to The Progressive Populist