The Global Harvest Initiative, founded by agribusiness interests DuPont, Monsanto, Archer Daniels Midland, and John Deere, will meet today beginning at 9:00 am for a daylong symposium at which the focus is said to be on finding “ways to sustainably double agricultural output to meet rapidly growing global demand as anticipated by the United Nations.” Are big corporations finally seeking to do what is right by the nearly billion people who are currently food insecure in the world, or is this another instance of corporate green washing bought into by our politicians? Indeed, this so-called initiative needs a bit of parsing.
Hunger looks on the surface to be the most bipartisan policy issue on our collective plates. We can all agree that the fact that hunger persists today is a global tragedy and that something needs to be done about it. But from there the discussion diverges into two distinct schools of thought.
The thinking that has been dominant since Norman Borlaug was sent to Mexico with his hybrid wheat in the 1940s has been that hunger is related to a lack of food supply. Those who espouse this thinking believe that through research and technology taking place behind the closed doors of corporations, this crisis can be solved. But despite a lax regulatory environment, bucket loads of marketing that confuses the public on the issues, a revolving door bringing former private sector employees into positions of policy making, and control over the research of their techniques and products — corporations still have yet to find any long term solutions to our global hunger woes. In fact, more people are food insecure today than they were when Borlaug (who died just over a week ago) took up the hunger gauntlet, and the argument could be made that it was his work was a short term solution that directly contributed to growing the population, increasing and pushing off the inevitable suffering to the future.
The Global Harvest Initiative falls squarely into this first category. DuPont, Monsanto, ADM and John Deere realize the days of jaw-dropping profits are numbered if they don’t change tactics. So under the guise of humanitarianism, these giants have come together and invited receptive politicians like Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) with the distinct strategy of furthering their aims worldwide: to these corporations, the US has been conquered by industrial agriculture (it may be worth noting that 40 million US citizens are currently food insecure) — so now they must spread what isn’t working here abroad to continue to make ever larger profits.
The opposing ideology on creating food security in the world is to place the focus on equity — when food is first a right, not just a commodity, we stop thinking about it solely in economic terms. Therefore the focus shifts to creating the pathways for access to food — because right now there is enough food grown in the world to feed the world, it is just not getting into mouths.
By their own admission, these four companies are spending “$9 million a day in research and development.” After all the money that has been spent on shiny new technologies, we are still far from feeding the hungry. In addition, the USDA’s grants for research almost always require matching funds of 50% or more, meaning a grantee often goes knocking on the doors of the private sector, which is willing to invest in research that suits its interests. We must ask ourselves: has leaving research up to the big corporations historically resulted in an equal share of wealth?
A reliance on technology alone means that local, not-so-profitable means of addressing hunger are ignored. Most often, farmers in developing nations cite infrastructure, like new roads, and access to markets as the biggest barriers to food access. The Green Revolution assumed that genetically modified seed would save the day, but in fact it has only created the conditions that increased soil and environmental degradation, contributed to health issues in local populations, and produced more dependence on petroleum and corporate products. Is it fair for one country to come into another with the products of its economy and thereby create future dependence when there are more self-sufficient, locally adapted answers on the ground?
Maybe someday the public and politicians will see past the unfounded platitudes and faux-humanitarianism of Big Ag and see that it is instead destroying our environment, our rural communities, and our health. The only difference is that Big Ag affects ALL Americans (and millions of other people around the world), not just smokers. Hope I'm still alive when the big Monsanto class action lawsuit comes around.