Family Farmers - They Really Do Feed The World
In October of last year, World Food Day celebrated ‘Family Farming:
Feeding the world, caring for the earth’. According to the UN Food and
Agriculture Organization’s website, the family farming theme was chosen
to raise the profile of family farming and smallholder farmers. The aim
was to focus world attention on the significant role of family farming
in eradicating hunger and poverty, providing food security and
nutrition, improving livelihoods, managing natural resources, protecting
the environment, and achieving sustainable development, especially in
Family farming should indeed be celebrated because it really does feed the world. This claim is supported by a 2014 report by GRAIN, which revealed that small farms produce most of the world’s food.
Around 56% of Russia ‘s agricultural output comes from family farms
which occupy less than 9% of arable land. These farms produce 90% of the
country’s potatoes, 83% of its vegetables, 55% of its of milk, 39% of
its meat and 22% of its cereals (Russian Federation Federal State
Statistics Services figures for 2011).
In Brazil, 84% of farms are
small and control 24% of the land, yet they produce: 87% of cassava, 69%
of beans, 67% of goat milk, 59% of pork, 58% of cow milk, 50% of
chickens, 46% of maize, 38% of coffee, 33.8% of rice and 30% of cattle.
In Cuba, with 27% of the land, small farmers produce: 98% of fruits,
95% of beans, 80% of maize, 75% of pork, 65% of vegetables, 55% of cow
milk, 55% of cattle and 35% of rice (Braulio Machin et al, ANAP-Via
Campesina, “Revolucion agroecologica, resumen ejectivo”).
In Ukraine, small farmers operate 16% of agricultural land, but
provide 55% of agricultural output, including: 97% of potatoes, 97% of
honey, 88% of vegetables, 83% of fruits and berries and 80% of milk
(State Statistics Service of Ukraine. “Main agricultural characteristics
of households in rural areas in 2011″).
Similar impressive figures are available for Chile, Hungary, Belarus, Romania, Kenya, El Salvador and many other countries.
The evidence shows that small peasant/family farms are the bedrock of
global food production. The bad news is that they are being squeezed
onto less than a quarter of the world’s farmland and such land is under
threat. The world is fast losing farms and farmers through the
concentration of land into the hands of rich and powerful speculators
The report by GRAIN also revealed that small farmers are often much
more productive than large corporate farms, despite the latter’s access
to various expensive technologies. For example, if all of Kenya’s farms
matched the output of its small farms, the nation’s agricultural
productivity would double. In Central America, it would nearly triple.
In Russia, it would be six fold.
Yet in many places, small farmers are being criminalised, taken to
court and even made to disappear when it comes to the struggle for land.
They are constantly exposed to systematic expulsion
from their land by foreign corporations, some of which are fronted by
fraudulent individuals who specialise in corrupt deals and practices to
rake in enormous profits to the detriment of small farmers and food production.
Imagine what small farmers could achieve if they had access to more
land and could work in a supportive policy environment, rather than
under the siege conditions they too often face. For example, the vast
majority of farms in Zimbabwe belong to smallholders and their average
farm size has increased as a result of the Fast Track Land Reform
Programme. Small farmers in the country now produce over 90% of diverse
agricultural food crops, while they only provided 60 to 70% of the
national food before land redistribution.
Throughout much of the world, however, agricultural land is being
taken over by large corporations. GRAIN concludes that, in the last 50
years, 140 million hectares – well more than all the farmland in China –
have been taken over for soybean, oil palm, rapeseed and sugar cane
By definition, peasant agriculture prioritises food production for
local and national markets as well as for farmers’ own families. Big
agritech corporations take over scarce fertile land and prioritise
commodities or export crops for profit and markets far away that cater
for the needs of the affluent. This process impoverishes local
communities and brings about food insecurity. The concentration of
fertile agricultural land in fewer and fewer hands is directly related
to the increasing number of people going hungry every day and is
undermining global food security.
The issue of land ownership was also picked up on by another report last year. A report by the Oakland Institute
stated that the first years of the 21st century will be remembered for a
global land rush of nearly unprecedented scale. An estimated 500
million acres, an area eight times the size of Britain, was reported
bought or leased across the developing world between 2000 and 2011,
often at the expense of local food security and land rights.
A new generation of institutional investors, including hedge funds,
private equity, pension funds and university endowments, is eager to
capitalise on global farmland as a new and highly desirable asset class.
Financial returns, not food security, are what matter. In the US, for
instance, with rising interest from investors and surging land prices,
giant pension funds are committing billions to buy agricultural land.
The Oakland Institute argues that the US could experience an
unprecedented crisis of retiring farmers over the next 20 years, leading
to ample opportunities for these actors to expand their holdings as an
estimated 400 million acres changes generational hands.
The corporate consolidation of agriculture is happening as much
in Iowa and California as it is in the Philippines,Mozambique and not
least in Ukraine.
Imperialism and the control of agriculture
Ukraine’s small farms are delivering impressive outputs, despite
being squeezed onto just 16% of arable land. But the US-backed toppling
of that country’s government may change all that. Indeed, part of the
reason behind destabilizing Ukraine and installing a puppet regime was
for US agritech concerns like Monsanto to gain access to its agriculture
sector, which is what we are now witnessing.
Current ‘aid’ packages
contingent on the plundering of the economy under the guise of
‘austerity reforms’, will have a devastating impact on Ukrainians’
standard of living and increase poverty in the country.
Reforms mandated by the EU-backed loan include agricultural
deregulation that is intended to benefit agribusiness corporations.
Natural resource and land policy shifts are intended to facilitate the
foreign corporate takeover of enormous tracts of land. The EU
Association Agreement includes a clause requiring both parties to
cooperate to extend the use of biotechnology. Frederic Mousseau, Policy
Director of the Oakland Institute states:
“Their (World Bank and IMF) intent is blatant: to open up
foreign markets to Western corporations… The high stakes around control
of Ukraine’s vast agricultural sector, the world’s third largest
exporter of corn and fifth largest exporter of wheat, constitute an
oft-overlooked critical factor. In recent years, foreign corporations
have acquired more than 1.6 million hectares of Ukrainian land.”
Chemical-industrial agriculture and the original ‘green revolution’
has proved extremely lucrative for the oil and chemical industry and has
served to maintain and promote US hegemony, not least via the uprooting
of indigenous farming practices in favour of cash crop/export-oriented
policies, dam building to cater for what became a highly water intensive
industry, loans, indebtedness, dependency on the dollar and the
corporate control of seeds, etc.
Whether through ‘free trade’ agreements, commodity market price
manipulations, loan packages, the co-optation of political leaders or
the hijack of strategic policy-making bodies, corporate profits are
being secured and food sovereignty surrendered to the US, which has
always used agriculture as a tool with which to control countries.
(The GMO issue has to be regarded within such a geopolitical
framework too: it has less to do with ‘feeding the world’ and more about
controlling it (see this
While celebrating of the role of the family farm in feeding the
world, rich speculators and powerful US agritech corporations continue
to colonise agriculture and undermine the existence of small farms and
global food security.
Choosing to ignore the research, however, much mainstream thinking
rests on the fallacious assumption that uprooting small farms and
displacing rural populations is a good thing. This assumption stems from
an ethnocentric mindset that legitimises the plunder we are witnessing
across the globe.
Environmentalist Vandana Shiva sums it up as follows:
“People are perceived as ‘poor’ if they eat food they
have grown rather than commercially distributed junk foods sold by
global agri-business. They are seen as poor if they live in self-built
housing made from ecologically well-adapted materials like bamboo and
mud rather than in cinder block or cement houses. They are seen as poor
if they wear garments manufactured from handmade natural fibres rather
This is an ideology that fuels the myth that the ‘poor’ are poor due
to their own fault and must be lifted up by the West and its
corporations and billionaire ‘philanthropists’. It is the ideology that
attempts to legitimise imperialism and economic colonialism, which
causes economic devastation and ecological destruction in the first
place. From Africa to India and beyond, the disease is being offered as
Imagine the end of capitalism when the world is organised according to a whole different set of priorities. When the workers of the world, the people of the world, make the decisions about the structure of their lives in all the many different areas, when all are free to contribute according to ability and to have access according to need, when we have the possibility to build our own communities as we decide. To achieve it we must first conceive it: imagine!