FAO accused of “promoting the destruction of peasant and family farming”

FAO director-general José
Graziano da Silva.
(Photo: FAO/Ozan Kose)

Relevant environmental and peasant groups declared themselves “shocked and offended” because the heads of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) called on governments to embrace corporations as the “main engine” for global food production growth. In a collective statement, the civil society organizations said the FAO is abandoning its mission by “promoting the destruction of peasant and family farming” and the “land grabbing”.

The appeal to private companies for doubling their investments “in the land […], in machinery and seeds” in “a vast swathe of land stretching from Mongolia in Central Asia to Morocco in North Africa” was made by Jose Graziano da Silva, director-general of the FAO, and Suma Chakrabarti, president of the EBRD, in an article published by The Wall Street Journal on September 6.

“The simple truth is that the world needs more food, and that means more production. There is plenty of room for agricultural growth in the areas in which the EBRD operates […]. The private sector can be the main engine of such growth,” Da Silva an Chakrabarti wrote.

“The private sector needs to double investment in the land itself, and in machinery and seeds. Investment in storage, transport and trading infrastructure are the key not only to ensure that food reaches its intended destination but also to build buffers against adverse shocks and droughts. Some of the infrastructure investment could be done jointly with governments in appropriately structured joint ventures,” they added.

La Via Campesina, GRAIN, Friends of the Earth International (FoEI), Coordinadora Latinoamericana de Organizaciones del Campo (CLOC), the World March of Women, the ETC Group and the Latin American Articulation of Movements Toward ALBA warned in a joint statement that “the heads of these two influential international agencies make a clear call for a world wide increase in private sector investment and land grabbing.”

Da Silva and Chakrabarti said “that the private sector is efficient,” and, at the same time, they “dismiss peasants and those few remaining policies that protect them as burdens ‘holding back’ agricultural development that should be eliminated,” according to the civil society organizations.

In their article, the two officers had mentioned the case of Turkey, a country that “can do much more” if it addressed “issues that are holding it back”, such as “relatively high levels of protection, lack of proper irrigation, small and uneconomically sized farms and limited access to capital for modern production inputs.”

“Their article was published in the context of a joint FAO and EBRD conference in Istanbul on September 13th, which they describe as the largest and most important gathering of companies and decision-makers in agribusiness. Graziano da Silva and Chakrabarti make a number of biased claims […] that obscure the reality when it comes to agriculture and food. They point to Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan as successful examples of agribusiness that have transformed these countries from ‘the agricultural wastelands of the 1990s’ into ‘leading grain exporters.’ But at no time do they mention that the official statistics from all three countries show that small farmers and peasants are more productive than big agribusiness,” stated the organizations.

According to their evaluation, “peasants and small farmers, especially women, account for over half of Russia’s agricultural production but occupy only a quarter of the agricultural lands,” and “in Ukraine, they produce 55% of the agricultural output on only 16% of the land, while in Kazakhstan, where they occupy half of the land, they account for 73% of agricultural production. The fact is that these countries are fed by their peasants and small farmers.”

The groups pointed that this fact “is true the world over. Wherever offical data are available, as in the EU, Colombia and Brazil, or in the studies undertaken in Asia, Africa and Latin America, peasant farming is shown to be more efficient than large-scale agribusiness.”

“Contrary to what is claimed by the director-general of the FAO, those who really have the capacity to feed the world are the world's men and women farmers and peasants. The expansion of agribusiness has only exacerbated poverty, destroyed the potential for dignified rural livelihoods, increased pollution and environmental destruction, and brought back the scourge of slave labor and a series of recent food and climate crises,” warned the organizations..

“For social movements and the peasants and small farmers of the world, it is unacceptable and even incomprehensible for a director-general of the FAO to be promoting the destruction of peasant farming and an increase in land grabbing. It is particularly troubling for this to occur after three years of careful, hard work by La Via Campesina and other organizations in constructing the FAO's voluntary guidelines to protect communities against land grabs,” they added.

The groups remembered that “Da Silva had repeatedly assured farmers’ organizations during his campaign” to head the FAO “that he would promote and validate the importance of peasant agriculture and the critical role small farmers must play in food production.”

“The language used by Graziano da Silva and Chakrabarti” in their article “is offensive,” they said, and remarked “phrases like ‘fertilize this land with money’ or ‘make life easier for the world's hungry’.” Those appeals “call into question the FAO's ability to do its job with the necessary rigor and independence from large agribusiness companies and fulfill the UN mandate to eradicate hunger and improve the living conditions of rural people.”

When Da Silva agreed that the main obstacles to improve agricultural production are the “relatively high levels of protection,” the “lack of proper irrigation” and the “small and uneconomically sized farms,” he unveiled “the FAO's subservience to the demands and interests of greedy investors”, that “undermines all the work at conciliation that has taken place in recent years between farmers’ organizations” and the agency.

“Where, we wonder, will peasant families go if these plans to transform their lands into industrial megafarms are successful?” the groups asked.

“Beyond the issue of the FAO abandoning its mission, it is also of deep concern that the EBRD is playing such an active role in profitting from and promoting investments in land grabbing and the take over of agriculture by big agribusiness. The EBRD's stance is all the more dangerous now that its area of operation is expanding in North Africa,” reads the statement.

“What is needed for agriculture and the planet is just the opposite of what Chakrabarti and Graziano da Silva propose,” said the organizations. “Humanity and those suffering from hunger need the ‘agri-cultures’ of rural areas, which represent half the world’s population and make peasant farming possible, to be protected and promoted -- because peasant farming is more efficient and productive, because it produces at least half of the global food supply and most of the employment in rural areas, and because it can cool the planet,” added the groups.

“The livelihoods of peasants and indigenous peoples and their food production systems cannot be destroyed to create a new source of mega profits for a tiny group of elites. We need comprehensive and effective agrarian reforms that put lands and territories back into the hands of rural peoples. The commodification and grabbing of lands must be stopped and reversed. We do not need agribusiness; we need more communities and more peasant and indigenous families farming with dignity and respect. Small farmers feed the world! Agribusiness grabs it !” ends the statement.

Hungry for Investment (The Wall Street Journal): http://on.wsj.com/Spb9ti.
GRAIN: http://bit.ly/Rb4yBO