Consumers vs. the Consumed: The Grocery Store

'If you want produce grown on the farm down the road you'll have to go to Kuala Lumpur.'

In my past few blogs I have discussed different environmental based development practices, which negatively impact small farmers and local peoples across the globe.  While I have touched upon the role consumers play in the exploitative agricultural system, I have avoided diving more deeply into the matter.

The politics of blame vs. responsibility is crucial to understanding the role consumers play.  It is easy for consumers to shift the blame to larger and more powerful actors.  I mean it appears as if consumers have relatively little sway over the system, but in reality consumers are fueling the system.  Even though big agribusinesses, multinational corporations, and state governments are making most of the development decisions consumers still walk into the grocery store every day and buy into the system.  In order to break down the exploitative system consumers need to take responsibility for their actions, step up, and speak out.

When consumers walk into the grocery store they are presented with thousands of different options.  I live in Massachusetts, yet when I walk into the grocery store I can buy pineapples, mangos, and bananas year round.  I’m no botanist, but I am pretty sure pineapples don’t fare well in the snow.  As consumers we demand this variety in our diet, but we often disregard where this food comes from.

The rise of grocery stores in the United States and other developed countries encouraged the demand for foreign foods.  To meet the demand for foreign foods development practices have shifted to favor produce desired by consumers.  It is no coincidence that I discussed monoculture, GMO seeds, and land grabs in my past blogs; they all tie directly into the food system driven by consumers.

Each of the practices mentioned above promoted an easier way to streamline foreign produce to consumers in different regions of the globe.  In India traditional farming is no longer economically viable and farmers would profit more by transitioning to high-value crops; however, for many farmers the transition is hindered by high initial investment costs and environmental degradation (Gandhi 1).

On top of that, even if small farmers are making more money growing high-value crops the transition still predisposes them to food insecurity.  A Kiel Institute policy report found that in Ghana the standard pineapple market is dominated by multinational corporations; however, small farmers can enter the market by growing organic pineapples (Kleeman 6).  So small famers have a chance to become profitable, that’s good news right?

Yes and No

  • Organic agriculture looks like a path to success for small farmers, but in the long run small farmers will be unable to compete in the competitive global organic produce market (Raynolds 181). Jumping to conclusions and avoiding future predictions are dangerous in the development world, historically causing avoidable problems.
  • When looking at this situation it is important to understand that small famers in Ghana only have to change their agricultural practices because of the system forced upon them in the first place. Large corporations and state governments created situations in which small farmers were marginalized and then left to find their own way back to success.  These corporations are essentially sponsored by consumers demanding foreign produce.

Grocery stores are stocking their shelves with high-value crops because that is what consumers are asking for.

If consumers ask, grocery stores will give.

If grocery stores give, small farmers are consumed.

The global food system is an incredibly complicated, but the base structure of the system is crystal clear.  So this presents the question as to why consumers are not concerned with the current system?  I mean organic is the new fad right?

The answer to this question may lie in what parts of the food system are particularly concerning to consumers.  While climate concerns, environmental degradation, animal treatment, and farmer rights are important in the minds of many, health concerns usually hold more sway in the minds of consumers (Haspel 1).  This highlights the nature of privileged consumers to think only of themselves.

Is there a way to change the mindset of Americans and other prominent consumers?  If there is one, I don’t know it.  The most I can do is educate those who are willing to listen and participate in movements working to combat the corrupt food system.

Citations

Gandhi, Varun. “The Real Shoots of Economic Revival Lie in Agriculture.” Hindustantimes. Hindustan Times, 10 Aug. 2014. Web. 15 Apr. 2016.

Haspel, Tamar. “The Surprising Truth about the ‘food Movement’.” The Washington Post. The Washington Post Food, 26 Jan. 2016. Web. 15 Apr. 2016.

Kleemann, Linda. Organic pineapple farming in Ghana: A good choice for smallholders?. No. 1671. Kiel Working Papers, 2011.

Raynolds, Laura T. “The Organic Agro-Export Boom in the Dominican Republic: Maintaining Tradition or Fostering Transformation?.” Latin American research review 43.1 (2008): 161-184.

Consumers vs. the Consumed: Oh So Benevolent Land Grabbing

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Land grabbing, a hot new development trend is the rage in developing countries.  Spreading advanced and better agricultural methods to improve the well being and wealth of all those in need is without a doubt the most benevolent gesture ever made by wealthy governments and corporations.  Using their superior knowledge, the civilized person is sharing their privilege with peoples across the globe.

Yikes, writing that made me feel like a terrible person.  I mean who actually believes that crap?

Oh yeah that’s right, countless national governments and an expanding list of corporations.

Before I get into the juice of this blog post and dissect what I have said thus far, I want to clarify that land grabbing may have developed a slightly new connotation, but is in no way a new development concept.  Land grabbing spans back centuries and has occurred across the globe.  Most notably during the age of imperialism when Western powers seized control of land on almost every continent.  Even here in the United States, a country that prides itself as being the land of the free and the home of the brave, over 1.5 billion acres were taken from America’s indigenous peoples by treaty and executive order (Ehrenfreund). http://knowmore.washingtonpost.com/2014/06/19/watch-the-united-states-238-year-land-grab-from-native-americans-in-87-seconds/ Now over 300 million people live in the Untied States with millions claiming right to private property that they can call their own.  Do we, as Americans, even have the right to call this land ours?

This is a question that can be asked of any national government or corporation, which seizes control of land once controlled by local peoples.  Do they have a right?  What are their justifications?  Do they realize the implications of their actions?

The modern concept of land grabbing refers to “the purchase or long- term lease of vast tracts of land from mostly poor, developing countries by wealthier, food-insecure nations as well as private entities to produce food for export” (Daniel 1).  The economic crash in 2008 caused a spike in global food prices and the emergence of the modern day concept of land grabbing.  Initially the concept was seen as a way for food-insecure nations to develop a reliable food source, but it quickly became apparent that the primary driving factors of land grabs were natural resource allocation and profit gains.  Land grabbers come not for marginalized land, but land rich in nutrients.  Beyond displacing local farmers land grabbers use methods I have mentioned in previous blogs, such as GMO seeds and monoculture, which further hurt the environment and small farmers.

As with any development concept there are positives and negatives.  Yes, there are legitimate arguments for land grabs and there are circumstances in which local peoples benefit from them; however, these positives are uncommon.  Residents in Neemana, a small farming village in northeastern India, have willingly sold most of their agricultural land to a private corporation with the promise of jobs, infrastructure, and community development (Lakshmi 1).  While this village may see the benefits they were offered many people in the same situation elsewhere will not.  False promises are the fuel that keeps the land grab concept going.  As long as people have hope of a better future compliance is easy.

If people refuse to comply with land grabbers demands their land can be taken by force both legally and illegally.  People are pushed off of their farms and in many circumstances left jobless with no reliable source of income.  A Transnational Institution policy report found that even those who are incorporated into the new workforce, generated by large farms, are often left to struggle on their own because their voices are squashed and their labor is exploited (TNI 1).

The important take away here is that regardless of whether or not local peoples comply with land grabbers, the belief remains that local people need to change their agricultural practices and develop society.  This belief asserts that there is one way to life, the Western way.  Who are Western’s to say that the culture of another people is undeveloped and therefore inferior to Western culture?

Rather than coming in, grabbing land, and telling locals that all is for the best, land grabbers should be incorporating the voices and wants of those in the community.  “The public, and particularly the people likely to be affected, must be given due opportunities of information and hearings, and allowed to examine all aspects of the project, including the ‘public purpose’, and also the possibilities of achieving the same objectives through non-displacing or less displacing alternatives” (Saxena 1).  Land grabbing can be beneficial towards the community, but so can other development measures that place more power in the hands of local farmers.

This is where consumers join the land grabbing story line.  While consumers cannot directly control the food that appears in grocery stores they can choose where to shop.  The reason grocery stores have such a wide variety of food is because the food comes from farms around the globe.  The odds that the food comes from small farmers are slim, more likely the food comes from large monoculture agribusiness that often participate in land grabbing.  Consumers in developed nations of the privilege of variety, but we need to wake up and realize that we play a role in land grabbing, our privilege allows us to consume small farmers around the globe.

 

Citations

Daniel, Shepard. “Land grabbing and potential implications for world food security.” Sustainable Agricultural Development. Springer Netherlands, 2011. 25-42.

Ehrenfreund, Max. “Watch the United States’ 238-year Land Grab from Native Americans, in 87 Seconds.” Know More. The Washington Post, 19 June 2014. Web. 8 Apr. 2016.

Lakshmi, Rama. “High-Tech Revolution Remaking Rural India.” Washington Post. The Washington Post Foreign Service, 01 Oct. 2007. Web. 8 Apr. 2016.

Saxena, NC. “Solution Lies between NAC and Govt’s ‘CAN'” Hindustantimes. Hindustan Times, 28 June 2011. Web. 8 Apr. 2016.

TNI. “The Global Land Grab.” Policy File. Transnational Institution, 11 Oct. 2012. Web. 8 Apr. 2016.

Consumers vs. the Consumed: Seeds of Life

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Genetically Modified Organism or GMO for short, the new concept that strikes panic in the minds of shoppers at the grocery store.  I mean we don’t even know what is in the bananas we eat!  The bananas could be contaminated with all sorts of contaminants. WRONG

While not much is known about the science behind GMOs or the possible long term effects they could have, this is not where major concerns should lie.  Yes, continuing to study the science behind GMOs is important, but there is relatively little evidence to support the belief that GMOs are scientifically harmful.  On the other hand, there is significant evidence to support the beliefs that GMOs often negatively effect small farmers around the globe.

The creation and implementation of GMOs has brought about a new system of agriculture.  Corporations can now produce GMO seeds and claim intellectual property rights over these seeds.  This new concept of biological ownership has led to numerous cases of biopiracy; the stealing of biological knowledge.  In 2001, PureWorld Botanicals “received a U.S. patent for exclusive commercial distribution of an extract of maca’s active libido-enhancing compounds that it branded as MacaPure” (Vecchio 1).  Even though the Quecha Indians have grown the maca root in Peru for hundreds of years, their intelligence and contribution hold no significance in the new agricultural legal system.  In addition to biopiracy, the new paten system takes advantage of scientific and technological advancements to manipulate GMO seeds, in order to meet the wants of the corporation.  Essentially, in an effort to make a larger profit many GMO seeds are made to be…

  • Single generation (meaning farmers cannot use prior years crops to produce new seeds)
  • Reliant on certain pesticides, and
  • Reliant on certain fertilizers

These seed manipulations combined with the corporate ownership of the seeds impoverishes farmers around the world.  Small farmers have to repeatedly purchase seeds and the fertilizers and pesticides that go along with them.  In India, the current administration is working to promote greater self reliance and has made claims stating that Monsanto has “misused its near-monopoly to to jack up rates” (Reuters 1).  Even though farmers are spending more money on cultivating their crops, they are not receiving returns on their investments.

The simple out would be not purchasing GMO seeds in the first place; however, this is much easier aid than done.  Small farmers have a much harder time competing in the market without them.

On top of that, even if farmers choose the non GMO route, there are many situations in which they have been sued for the use of GMO seeds that have been found in their fields, simply by natural processes.  Corporations such as Monsanto don’t like to play nice and have no problem violating peoples’ human rights in order to make a profit.  In the Untied States, even though politicians preach concern for small farmers, they owe their political careers to corporations that harm small famers, damage the environment, and disregard the natural biosphere (Wolf 44).  If politicians in the United States are unwilling to protect their own constituents, then they are certainly do not care about small farmers outside of the United States.

There are current arguments surrounding the labeling of products containing GMOs, both in the Untied States and elsewhere.  An Information Technology and Innovation Foundation report states that most of the GMO labeling battles have been unsuccessful, as anti GMO advocates lose ground and support; however most of the battles being waged focus on the scientific harm GMOs bring, rather than the social harm (Giddings 11-12).  It is easy to ignore the entire debate out of disinterest and place the blame elsewhere.  However, this mindset only furthers the exploitation and suffering of small farmers around the globe.  Protecting small farmers and preventing the violation of their human rights is only possible if the current focus of the debate changes.

Consumers need to be held accountable for their actions, my self included.  The next time you go to the grocery store to buy food, I challenge you to think critically about the food you are purchasing and the role you play in the global agricultural system that harms local peoples and farmers around the globe.  Even if you are not actively involved in the debate you need to be actively involved in the purchasing decisions you make.

 

Citations

Giddings, Val. “A Policymaker’s Guide to the GMO Controversie.” PolicyFile. Information and Technology and Innovation Foundation, 23 Feb. 2015. Web. 1     Apr. 2016.

Jain, Rupam, and Mayank Bhardwaj. “India ‘not Scared’ If Monsanto Leaves, as GM Cotton Row Escalates.” Hindustan Times. Reuter, New Delhi, 16 Mar. 2016. Web. 1 Apr. 2016.

Vecchio, Rick. “Peruvian Root in Bioprospecting Dispute.” The Washington Post Business. The Washington Post, 5 Jan. 2007. Web. 1 Apr. 2016.

Wolf, Robert. “Industrializing Agriculture”. The North American Review 285.1 (2000): 43–48.

Consumers vs. the Consumed: The Gift of Monoculture

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In my last blog post I noted that the consumed are in shackles, but I failed to explain who was responsible for their shackling.  Looking into the past provides a clear image of those responsible for shackling the consumed people of the Global South, white imperialists.  With the perceived idea that those living in the Global South were uncivilized, Westerners swarmed into areas of the Global South to bring order to uncivilized societies.  With this oh so gracious goal in mind imperialists bestowed uncivilized people with the glorious gift of monoculture.  Obviously the fad of sustenance farming was out; food insecurity and poverty were the new cool.

Imperialists did not just colonize new lands for the purpose of bringing about change, they colonized new lands for the purpose of making money.  This hunger for profit was largely achieved through changing agricultural practices.  As Westerners gained control of land in the Global South monoculture slowly replaced small sustenance farming.  Unlike sustenance farming, which is the cultivation of a variety of different crops, monoculture is the cultivation of a single crop in a single area.  As more of the land in the Global South was consumed by imperialists and monoculture local peoples faced two problems.

Problem 1: As monoculture became more prevalent in the Global South small farmers could no longer make enough money off of their produce in order to survive.  A Human Development Report found that, “the risks and benefits of agro-exporting are far from evenly shared out, while the state does nothing to try to give the small farmers more bargaining muscle (Marañón 4).  Essentially, the people of the Global South were being pushed into a state of impoverishment and there was nothing they could do about it.

Problem 2: As farmers in the Global South slipped into poverty they turned towards monoculture as a solution.  In order to make money they had to rely on the cultivation of a single cash crop.  Reliance on single cash crops created food insecurity across the Global South.  Rather than growing food that supported a sustainable diet farmers were growing crops that did not support a sustainable diet.  In 2008 alone, “FAO reports indicated that another 40 million people were pushed into hunger, primarily due to higher food prices” (Shepard 30).  It is hard not to correlate this disturbing statistic with the rise in monoculture based agriculture and impoverished farmers.

While the past few paragraphs are written in the past tense by no means has the exploitation of local peoples ended.  If anything, since the dawn of imperialism and monoculture in the Global South agribusiness has caused a spike in exploitation.

Agribusinesses are large commercial farming corporations that utilize monoculture, advanced technology, and other harmful farming techniques to make a large profit.  As Huffington Post journalist Evaggelos Vallianatos noted, “Brazilian agribusiness is financially healthy, but its footprint has been very unhealthy on Brazil and the world.”  In this statement he is referring to the mass destruction of the natural environment in the pursuit of profit.  And which demographic of people does the destruction adversely effect?  Local peoples and farmers in the Global South. These large businesses are not just forcing small local farmers off their land and into poverty, they are harming marginalized peoples across the globe.

Now many of you may be asking what you can do about these large corporations harming local farmers if you live so far away.  The better question you should be asking is what you are already doing.

If I walk into any given grocery store in the Untied States available to me is produce and food from around the globe.  A majority of the produce I can buy isn’t produced by small farmers in the Global South, if that was the case prices would soar through the roof.  In order to meet the needs of mass consumers in the Global North agribusiness in the Global South becomes more and more prevalent.  A branch of Walmart based out of India sells baby corn for 200Rs/kg, but the farmers who grow the corn only get 4% of the high price that consumers pay (Sharma 1).  Clearly the farmer is not the actor benefiting from this consumer driven supply chain.  While the creation of agribusiness created a new market for foreign goods in the Untied states consumers are responsible for fueling the demand for foreign food and the continued development of agribusinesses.

Consumers are driving the need for monoculture, which fosters the growth of agribusinesses.  We, as consumers may not have placed the shackles on the consumed peoples of the Global South, but we certainly have contributed to making those shackles tighter and heavier.

 

Citations

Marañón, Boris. Tension Between Agricultural Growth and Sustainability: The El Bajio Case, Mexico. No. HDOCPA-2006-40. Human Development Report Office (HDRO), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), 2006.

Sharma, Divider. “Leaving Farmers to Reap the Bitter Harvest.” Hindustantimes. HT Delhi, 20 Jan. 2014. Web. 25 Mar. 2016.

Shepard, Daniel. “Land grabbing and potential implications for world food security.” Sustainable Agricultural Development. Springer Netherlands, 2011. 25-42.

Vallianatos, Evaggelos. “Food Power in the Unpromised Land of Brazil.” Huffington Post. HuffPost Green, 9 May 2015. Web. 25 Mar. 2016.

 

Consumers vs. the Consumed: The Beginnings

Today Americans consume food like there is no tomorrow.  We eat and eat and eat without a thought to where our food comes from and how it ended up on our plates.  While most of the food Americans eat travels long distances before it reaches the mouths of consumers “as much as 90 percent of Americans could eat food grown within 100 miles of their home” (Ferdman 1).  This privilege is the result of the United States being the global developed super power that it is.  While many Americans don’t think about where their food comes from, many people living in the Global South have watched their food disappear.

Diving deep into the tangled and confusing web of the agricultural world is no fun matter and may make you think twice the next time you sit down to eat a meal.  However, developing an understanding of how agriculture has changed to benefit consumers in developing worlds is a must for anyone who advocates for human rights.  For this reason, my blogs will explore agriculture from different lenses in order to highlight the exploitation of farmers and peoples in the Global South, both in the past and the present.

The concept of agriculture has existed for thousands of years.  Different cultures and peoples developed their own way of growing and producing food in order to survive.  Essential to agriculture is land, which is “fundamental to the lives of poor rural people since it is a source of food, shelter, income, and social equity” (Behnassi and Yaya 4).  Most importantly, agriculture was often the focal point of communities; it was the starting point that people would build upon.  However, the age of imperialism sparked a change in agriculture that forever altered the way people grew crops around the world.  Imperialism laid the foundation for the development project and globalization, the results of which can still be seen today.

Global and local changes in agriculture have drastically increased the global production of crops, but mostly at the cost of those living in the Global South.  In India, nutritional inequalities appear to be widening for vulnerable demographic groups, furthering gender and income disparities in the region (Pritchard and Rommohan 1).  The emergence of monoculture, genetically modified organisms, pesticides, and new legal systems are a few of the key issues that have negatively impacted millions of farmers in India and around the world.  Debriefing these key issues will allow me to shed light on the exploitative methods of agribusinesses, governments, and transnational corporations.

While it is important to be aware of the actors involved in exploitation I will also emphasize the views of the exploited.  The rationalization of agricultural development has changed throughout history, but the disregard of locals’ opinions and ways of life has always been a constant in the discussion.  A 2008 Human Development Report found that even though export-oriented agriculture can benefit subsistence-oriented farmers, greater involvement in the international economy can hurt the same farmers who don’t have the necessary tools to succeed (O’Brien and Leichenko 11).  However, this significant fact is often ignored in the developing world.  For this reason, I hope to incorporate the opinions and voices of those less heard; the voices that really matter.  As one of the many privileged Americans, I cannot experience the exploitation I can only share others accounts of it.

In order to amplify these voices, I will use local papers based in the Global South.  The Hindustan Times, based out of New Delhi, and Brazill, based out of Brazil, will provide current insight on how agriculturally dependent societies have faired during the global changes to the agricultural system.  Rather than projecting Western opinion onto a foreign matter, the locality of these papers will present stories of exploitation from the victims rather than the privileged.

The scholarly book, Sustainable Agricultural Development, edited by Mohamed Behnassi, Joyce D’Silva, Shabbir A. Shahid, will provide me with academic views of how agriculture has developed and changed throughout the course of history.  The book is composed of many scholarly articles that I can use to explain different aspects of agricultural imperialism and development and how each relate to the exploitation of local people.

As mass consumers Americans hold sway in the powerful agricultural system, but in order to release the consumed from their shackles Americans need to open their eyes and educate themselves.  Including research from major western papers such as The Washington Post will give me an understanding of what current attitudes and perceptions Americans hold on the matter of agricultural development in the Global South.

Even though I am not personally effected by the exploitative agricultural system, I am most certainly part of the problem.  However, I am only one of millions living in developed nations across the globe.  Even though this blog will only reach the eyes of a few I hope that my research and writing throughout the next few weeks will open my eyes to what I do not already know.

 

Citations

Behnassi, Mohamed, and Sanni Yaya. “Land resource governance from a sustainability and rural development perspective.” Sustainable Agricultural Development. Springer Netherlands, 2011. 3-23.

Ferdman, Roberto A. “As Much as 90 Percent of Americans Could Eat Food Grown within 100 Miles of Their Home.” The Washington Post. The Washington Post, 5 June 2015. Web.

O’Brien, Karen, and Robin Leichenko. “Human security, vulnerability and sustainable adaptation.” Human Development Report 2008 (2007): 1-2.

Pritchard, Bill, and Anu Rammohan. “How India’s Food Security Question Can Be Answered.” Hindustantimes. Hindustan Times, 15 Oct. 2013. Web.