Who feeds the poor?

The following is an excerpt from the article ‘Global agribusiness: two decades of plunder’, published by GRAIN.

The programmes that Bill Gates and other donors are currently pursuing… put the private sector in charge of the seed supply. The implicit (and rarely stated) intent of these programmes is to supply seeds to a new class of medium-scale and large-scale farmers in Africa and elsewhere who can pay for the seeds. There is no interest in supporting seed systems that are controlled by and that serve peasant farmers producing for their families and communities.

The situation today with seeds is like a form of apartheid. On one side, there’s the so-called formal sector: the private companies, the national and international research institutes and the governmental agencies pursuing the development of varieties for an industrial model of agriculture completely at odds with the needs of small farmers and local food systems. This side has lots of money and is supported by all kinds of laws (intellectual property rights [IPRs], seed regulations, investment protections, and so on), and it also has all the access it needs to the biodiversity developed by farmers and now stored in gene banks. On the other side, there are farmers’ seed systems, which still provide food for much of the planet, but which receive almost no support from governments, who instead are increasingly repressing and even criminalising them.

Nevertheless, the corporate food system is not entirely ubiquitous. In fact, most seeds are not sown for it, most farmers are not part of it, and most people are not fed by it. Around the world, the foundations for entirely different food systems are still in place, and movements are emerging and gaining force everywhere to revitalise them and roll back the corporate food order. If capital is pushing so hard to take over agriculture, it is only because so much of it still functions outside corporate chains of production; so much of it remains in the hands of peasants, fisherfolk, and indigenous people, and within local cultures and the circuits of local markets.