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

private_land_gado

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

479825085896e068098e56e09d878cd7

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.