Tuesday, September 8, 2009

CARIBBEAN FOOD SECURITY:
The struggle for an end to food dependence
The Food and Fuel Forum presented the paper published here at a Call for Papers conference hosted by the National Trade Union Center entitled DEVELOPING A CARIBBEAN WORKERS’ TRADE UNION AGENDA FOR THE 21ST CENTURY held at the Chaguaramas Convention Centre, Trinidad and Tobago 14- 16 May 2009. The paper is entitled CARIBBEAN FOOD SECURITY: The struggle for an end to food dependence.

The conference was attended by eleven trade unions from Trinidad and Tobago, six from the Caribbean region and two international organisations.

PRE-COLUMBIAN FOOD SECURITY
Food dependence is a major drawback in the effort of Caribbean peoples to develop independent, self-reliant societies. This food dependence is historically determined and is an inherent part of the plantation economy that had developed across wide areas of the Americas as an integral part of the international capitalist economy.
In pre-Colombian times, the Taino people who settled many of the Caribbean islands developed a system of food production based on the conuco system, supplemented by house gardens and fishing. They developed a system of large scale agriculture based on small family gardens located away from their villages. They cleared and prepared land, including burning and the use of animal and vegetable fertiliser.
This system produced starch and sugar based foods. They engaged in polyculure using roots, seeds and vegetables and were well versed in land management techniques. Cassava was their staple. They planted different types of cassava and the planting/harvesting cycle ensured that staples were available at all times. Cassava was roasted and made into flour. It could grow in different soils and climates; it had a higher calorie yield than maize, had a high starch content and stored easily in humid conditions.
They also planted sweet potato, yam, tannia, peanuts, arrowroot, maize, peppers, and beans. They understood the nutritional value of different foods and co-ordinated planting/harvesting seasons. The system of food production has been described as ecologically balanced and protective of land use. House garden were built, birds and animals were kept in yards, pigs were reared, and fruit trees were planted like paw paw, hog plum, guava, sour sop, cashew and pineapples were also grown.
They hunted doves, pigeons, iguanas, and deer. They bred pigeons, doves and parrots. They fished in the rivers and in the sea: catfish, mullet, eels, shellfish and turtle. They fished for Green Turtle and possessed a deep understanding of their feeding and hatching behaviour. They also used the turtle eggs. Fishing was central to their nutritional needs. These pre-Columbian Caribbean people used a side variety of meats, vegetable and fruits, rich in starch, protein, sugar and fats using a sophisticated system of food production.
Their production was finely calibrated to their nutritional needs. They controlled the land resources, developed the technology and produced food for themselves. Food was for nutrition and was not part of a commodity chain that placed their nutritional needs on a subordinate level to the accumulation of capital and the needs of the market. They, thus, enjoyed a food secure existence and exercised, in the modern jargon, sovereignty over their access to food, determined how and under what conditions their nutritional needs were met; utilised appropriate levels of technology and systems of social organisation to meet them.
PLANTATION SYSTEM BASED ON FOOD DEPENDENCE
The plantation system based on slavery replaced the system of Taino production. The situation was reversed. The plantation was an externally propelled, total institution that monopolised land resources in order to produce an agricultural monocrop for export and not for the nutritional needs of those who toiled. Indeed, it is a cliché, but no less true, that Caribbean plantation societies exported what they produced and imported what they consumed. This pattern, of course, persists in the modern Caribbean.
The great Jamaican economist, George Beckford, in his classic book Persistent Poverty says: “Plantation agriculture is certainly not geared to supplying the food requirements of plantation economy, but it influences this supply by diverting resources away from domestic-oriented production”
Post-emancipation domestic-oriented food production always remained subordinate to the imperatives of the plantation system. The relationship between the two sectors was based on the access to land resources, which access was determined, in the case of Trinidad, by the colonial state which decided who got access to large swathes of land gratis and who was hampered, obstructed and diverted from acquiring access to land through legislative and bureaucratic measures.
The neo-colonial state still decides in T&T today who enjoys land security and who doesn’t. In Trinidad the vexing question of under what conditions land is to be accessed and by whom is looming as a central question in developing a food secure environment.
It is clear that the problem of developing a secure food environment goes way beyond the agricultural sector and involves a fundamental restructuring of the economic, social and political relationships which have come into being to shore up the externally driven plantation model and are characteristic of small island peripheral states which are articulated into the international capitalist system as settlements of exploitation. This model is based on foreign ownership, monopolisation of land resources, lack of integration between the “offshore economy” and the domestic oriented economy, labour compulsion and a political authoritarianism, which has its origin in the military government which followed British conquest and the crown colony system which followed, thereafter.
The lack of food security evident in this system of production was cruelly exposed during periods of war in the Caribbean. During the American War of independence, food imports were severely disrupted and there were many casualties throughout the Caribbean. During natural disasters like hurricanes the situation became dire. Rita Pemberton, in her article The Roots of Survival: Agriculture in Trinidad and Tobago During World War Two, published in In The Shadow of the Plantation says of food import disruption events: “Though they always produced panic in the colonies, such experiences were not translated into a practical policy for local food production...there was an underlying assumption that such crises would be temporary.”
Pemberton analyses the measures used during World War Two to grow more food to offset the uncertainty of supply of food imports and describes the measures implemented by the colonial government to bring more land into domestic food production. Although 15,000 workers abandoned agriculture for jobs on the US military bases, the GROW MORE FOOD CAMPAIGN tried to make each district as self-sufficient as possible through the use of incentives like the provision of lands, the development of demonstration gardens, and the involvement of the primary schools. Poultry production was stimulated through the formation of juvenile clubs; selected breeds were distributed to the clubs and to farmers and government farms also increased poultry production and rice production increased by 25%. Laws against hoarding of food were implemented.
Intense propaganda and education efforts were instituted so that people could be mobilised to participate in the campaign. There were house to house campaigns and the radio and newspapers were used to get the message across. Public property was planted with food crops and flower gardens switched to food production. The law mandated that all sugar estates plant short term crops like peas, sweet potatoes and beans. Oil companies were encouraged to invest in food production to help feed their employees. Government nurseries increased to ensure an adequate supply of planting materials. Food production costs, profit margins and selling prices came under close control; Subsidies were offered to encourage the conversion of cocoa land into provision gardens.
Pemberton concludes:”the war revealed to which the colony was dependent on imported food...But the crisis threw the colony back on its own resources and caused it to devise local food-production strategies that were largely successful. For the first time urgent attention was given to the problems which the peasantry faced. Peasant agriculture, therefore, enjoyed a boom during the war period. Unfettered by the controls which the rival plantation sub-sector normally exercised over the colony’s resources and the competition from imported foods, peasant agriculture thrived.
The response to the call to grow more food indicated that this could be done with the appropriate stimuli...but this was given on the understanding that it was a temporary measure....These arrangements, then, would end when the situation returned to normal...The structure of agriculture had not changed since the inception of the sugar industry”.
The experience of the war demonstrated that it was possible to go a long way toward achieving food security given the right mix of incentives and the mobilisation of popular participation. These lessons may serve is in good stead today as we face a persistent capitalist crisis which treats food as just another commodity to be speculated on and in which we are even more dependent upon the international food supply system. The uncertainty and volatility characteristic of the production, distribution and credit systems suggest that we are once again in a war of survival in the face of agribusiness monopolies which see food as a commodity and which treats he efforts toward food security of peripheral countries as a constraint on profitability and capital accumulation.
WHO CONTROLS FOOD SUPPLY?
How then does the international food supply system operate? Who benefits, who loses? Contrary to what popular perceptions may suggest, there is no shortage of food in the world today. As the Food First Institute points out, “abundance, not scarcity, best describes the supply of food in the world today.
Ian Angus, author of Climate and Capitalism, writing in Socialist Voice May 11th 2008 states: “According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, enough food is produced in the world to provide over 2800 calories a day to everyone — substantially more than the minimum required for good health, and about 18% more calories per person than in the 1960s, despite a significant increase in total population.” Yet, interestingly “the most commonly proposed solution to world hunger is new technology to increase food production.”
The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, talks about developing more productive and resilient varieties of Africa’s major food so that small-scale farmers could produce larger and reliable harvests. The International Rice Research Institute talks about increasing production through the introduction of hybrid rice technologies. The World Bank promises developing countries access to technology and science to boost yields.
While scientific research is important to the development of agriculture, as Angus says: “the fact that there is already enough food to feed the world shows that the food crisis is not a technical problem - it is a social and political problem”.

Instead of concentrating on increasing production when so much food is available we should be asking “why are over 850 million people hungry and malnourished? Why do 18,000 children die of hunger every day? Why can’t the global food industry feed the hungry?”
The motive force of the global food industry is not to feed hungry people but to maximize profits for corporate agribusiness and to increase the levels of concentration and accumulation in the industry. In other words, the global food industry is just another capitalist industry controlled by a handful of transnational corporations.
According to GRAIN, an international non-governmental organisation which promotes the sustainable management and use of agricultural biodiversity based on people's control over genetic resources and local knowledge (April 2009): “Last year, at the height of the global food crisis, many of world’s largest corporations had just finished reporting their financial results from 2007. With people in many parts of the world protesting in the streets because they could no longer afford to eat adequately, one agribusiness giant after another shamelessly came forward to announce record profits. For grain traders like Cargill and ADM, seed and pesticide companies like Syngenta and Monsanto and fertiliser companies like Potash Corp and Yara, there was never a better time for their bottom lines.
Now another financial year has passed. As the food crisis continues, with over a billion people suffering acute hunger, and as the financial crisis wreaks havoc on the solvency of companies in other sectors, the agribusiness corporations that control the global food supply are getting even richer. For many firms, their 2007 record profits pale in comparison to what they made in 2008.
Cargill, the world’s largest grain trader, reported an increase in profits of nearly 70 per cent over 2007 – a 157 per cent rise in profits since 2006.

Profits for ADM, the world’s second largest grain trader, declined slightly in 2008, partly because of its heavy investments in the sinking US ethanol market, but the company’s profits were still 41 per cent higher than they were in 2006. Wilmar International, one of the largest palm oil producers and traders in the world, saw its profits jump from US$288 million in 2006, to US$829 million in 2007, to US$1,789 million in 2008 – a greater than 6-fold increase in two years. Wilmar, in fact, made more profit in the fourth quarter of 2008, when commodity prices were supposed to have fallen, than it did in the whole of 2006. Asia’s largest agribusiness corporation, Charoen Pokphand, which is by now the world’s top animal feed and shrimp producer and second largest poultry producer, had a similar banner year. In the fourth quarter of 2008, CP’s net earnings doubled, with profits for the year up 145 per cent.
The suppliers of agricultural inputs may be the biggest winners from this crisis. With their quasi-monopoly control over seeds, pesticides, fertilisers and machinery, they were able to maximise the squeeze on farmers. The profits for these companies in 2008 were nothing short of obscene, especially for the fertiliser industry. Mosaic, partly owned by Cargill, saw its pre-tax profits shoot up 430 per cent in 2008.
Also reaping large benefits were “the food processors and the retailers, who run their own quasi-monopolies… Nestlé’s profits for 2008 were up an impressive 59 per cent, and Unilever’s surged ahead by 38 per cent. On the retail side, Casino’s profits for 2008 rose 7.3 per cent and Ahold’s 12.2 per cent. Profits in the fourth quarter of 2008 for the world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart, dipped slightly, which is not surprising given the deep recession in the US. It still raked in US$3.8 billion during that period.
Some reports…show large increases in prices at the farm gate and increases in overall farm revenue, but any potential income gains for farmers were gobbled up by higher prices for inputs and other costs of production… rising input costs… explain why in Canada the net operating income for the average farm was down 5 per cent in 2008. Net farm income in the US is forecast to be roughly where it was in 2007. In the US, production expenses for farmers have increased by US$100 billion in the last five years and now eat up 77 per cent of gross farm income. Since 2002, the price of fertiliser has risen by 191 per cent and the price of seed by 71 per cent…the current global food system is designed to leave many hungry and make a few very rich”.
Six companies control 85% of the world trade in grain; three control 83% of cocoa; three control 80% of the banana trade. ADM, Cargill and Bunge effectively control the world’s corn, which means that they alone decide how much of each year’s crop goes to make ethanol, sweeteners, animal feed or human food.
The agribusiness and food corporations control the cost of their raw materials purchased from farmers while at the same time they keep the price of food at high enough levels to guarantee large profits.
NEO-LIBERALISM AND THE INTERNATIONAL FOOD SUPPLY SYSTEM
Since the 1980’s, with the triumph of the neo-liberal model of development, agribusiness companies have profited from a radical restructuring of global agriculture. With the support of imperialist governments and the World Bank, IMF and World Trade Organization, they have changed the way food is grown and distributed. This has resulted in greatly increased profits, greatly increased global hunger and persisting food crises.
Today’s food crisis doesn’t stand alone: it is a consequence of a farm crisis that has been building over time. The debt crisis in the early 1980s led to a political transformation in the approach to international economic policy. State policy was made secondary to ‘getting prices right’. Import substitution was abandoned and developing countries were dragged into the free markets. Ironically, the central capitalist powers developed their agriculture and industry behind very high tariff barriers. Developing countries were to be plunged straight into the cauldron of international competition. The countries of the Capitalist centre forced open markets in the South, flooded those markets with subsidised food, and devastated Third World farming.
US Secretary for Agriculture, John Block, said in 1986 at the beginning of the Uruguay Round of Negotiations of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade that: “the idea that developing countries should feed themselves is an anachronism from a bygone era. They could better ensure their food security by relying on US agricultural products, which are available, in most cases, at much lower cost.” Of course that lower cost was because of the large subsidies given to the industrial production of crops within the US and European Union.
In the article already cited Angus argues: “...southern countries were convinced, cajoled and bullied into adopting agricultural policies that promote export crops rather than food for domestic consumption, and favour large-scale industrial agriculture that requires single-crop (monoculture) production, heavy use of water, and massive quantities of fertilizer and pesticides. Increasingly, traditional farming, organized by and for communities and families, has been pushed aside by industrial farming organized by and for agribusinesses.
...The focus on export agriculture has produced the absurd and tragic result that millions of people are starving in countries that export food. In India, for example, over one-fifth of the population is chronically hungry and 48% of children under five years old are malnourished. Nevertheless, India exported US$1.5 billion worth of milled rice and $322 million worth of wheat in 2004 ... farmland that used to grow food for domestic consumption now grows luxuries.... Colombia, where 13% of the population is malnourished, produces and exports 62%...Kenya was self-sufficient in food until about 25 years ago. Today it imports 80% of its food — and 80% of its exports are other agricultural products”. Local rice production Ghana in 1998, accounted for over 80% of domestic consumption, by 2003, that figure was less than 20%.
Angus continues; “The shift to industrial agriculture has driven millions...off the land and into unemployment and poverty in the immense slums that now surround many of the world’s cities. The people who best know the land are being separated from it; their farms enclosed into gigantic outdoor factories that produce only for export. Hundreds of millions of people now must depend on food that’s grown thousands of miles away because their homeland agriculture has been transformed to meet the needs of agribusiness corporations.
Industrial farming in the Third World has produced increasing amounts of food, but at the cost of driving millions off the land and into lives of chronic hunger — and at the cost of poisoning air and water, and steadily decreasing the ability of the soil to deliver the food we need. Contrary to the claims of agribusiness, the latest agricultural research, including more than a decade of concrete experience in Cuba, proves that small and mid-sized farms using sustainable agroecological methods are much more productive and vastly less damaging to the environment than huge industrial farms.
Industrial farming continues not because it is more productive, but because it has been able, until now, to deliver uniform products in predictable quantities, bred specifically to resist damage during shipment to distant markets. That’s where the profit is, and profit is what counts, no matter what the effect may be on earth, air, and water — or even on hungry people.” The deepest irony is that such changes are summoned under the language of the ‘level playing field’

Genetically modified seeds have been imposed on farmers by a handful of biotech conglomerates under the pretext of “food aid”. These seeds could not be replanted without paying royalties to Monsanto, DuPont et al. Farmers discovered that the seeds would harvest only if they used the farm inputs including the fertiliser, insecticide and herbicide, produced and distributed by the biotech agribusiness companies. The agricultural cycle, which enables farmers to store their organic seeds and plant them to harvest has been breached the consequence being the ongoing destruction of the farming community both in the North and, particularly, in the South and of course egregious profits for the transnational corporations.

Famine is the result of a process of “free market” restructuring of the global economy which has its roots in the debt crisis of the 1980’s. Famine is not the consequence of a scarcity of food but in fact quite the opposite: global food surpluses are used to destabilise agricultural production in developing countries. This where Henry Kissinger’s dictum stands out in bold relief “Control oil and you control nations; control food and you control the people.”
There is a lot of talk about the logic of the market place, the imperatives of the market making globalisation inevitable and the demands of the market, but, in reality, market restructuring is neither the result of the blind force of History or the divine will of the Gods but a result of policy decisions. Competing “demands” between classes linked to different markets is the result of superior political and military organisation of those social classes linked to global markets. The “imperatives of the market” do not emanate from an abstract, virtual world market, but from the boardrooms of transnational corporations and government ministries linked to them.
The “market” does not “demand”. Only specific people organised in social classes (corporate executives) and economic institutions (directors of IMF, World Bank etc.) “demand” in the name of the “market”, economic policies favourable to their interests. The “market” is a code word for capitalists. The “world market” is a codeword for capitalists linked to transnational corporations and Banks. The behavior of markets is a political issue ultimately resolved by state policy. There is no single set of commands arising from a single source. Globalisation of production and exchange emanates from exporters and financiers dictating a particular type of insertion into “free markets”. The logic of capital must be located to the role of politics, ideology and state policy in setting the parameters and conditions for capital accumulation.
The corollary of this understanding is that if food security is to be achieved, the policies that have militated against it, particularly over the last three decades of neo-liberalism gone wild, must be changed. To ensure food security over the long term, the structure of the economy, which has persisted since the European conquest must be revolutionised. It must be removed from the shadow of the plantation.
CONSEQUENCES OF LIBERALISATION
Raj Patel, Fellow, Institute for Food and Development Policy and the author of the highly acclaimed book Stuffed and Starved dealt, at length with the structure of the Food industry and the need for reform in his testimony before the United States’ House Financial Services committee on Wednesday May 4th 2008.Among other things he said that global food prices rose 83% over the last three years and the FAO cites a 45% increase in their world food price index “… As of March 2008, wheat prices were 130% above their level a year earlier, rice prices were 66% higher, and maize prices were 38% higher. Yet incomes for the poorest have stagnated and, in some cases, fallen. The consequence of soaring prices and creeping income growth has been catastrophe, particularly for those who spend more than half of their daily income on food”.
Dealing with spate of food riots sweeping the world at that time he said: “In all of these countries, as throughout history, these protests are both demands for food, but also demands for democracy. The citizens on the streets are all too aware that the current crisis is both a failure of entitlement, and a failure of government accountability”. The food riots have both short- and long-term reasons. The recent short-term increase in the price of food has been the result of a confluence of factors, a ‘perfect storm.’ These short term price increases have created an entitlement gap in developing countries, where the ability to pay for food falls very far short of daily calorie needs…Atop these increases, the longer term capacity of governments to weather and adapt to the price shocks has been compromised.
The manner of this compromise has a great deal to do with the architecture of international development assistance. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, has recently said that despite the fact that the price rises are recent, “we are paying for 20 years of mistakes.” Dr De Schutter’s assessment is correct and, further, he is correct in his identification of the agents of those errors in naming the World Bank and International Monetary Fund as particularly culpable. The solutions to the current crisis require a structural transformation in the Bank’s approach to development policy, in both substance and in procedure. Unfortunately, the Bank itself insists on policies that have been proven failures over the past three decades, and which are likely to stymie rather than enable a change for the better in securing food supplies in a way that promotes democracy, accountability and sustainability in a growing world”.
Patel argued that financial speculation has been an important contributing factor in almost every major famine since WWII. He cited senior development economist Amartya Sen’s observation in his seminal study of famine in Bengal in 1943, there was enough food to feed the hungry. The reason that millions starved was because of hoarding and subsequent speculation on the future price of rice.
He also argued that there are legitimate concerns about the existence of price collusion among producers. In the United Kingdom, Spain and South Africa, competition regulation authorities are investigating the price of eggs, milk, bread and chicken. The European Commission had recently found that the price of certain food commodities in the EU increased three times more than might be explained by the changes in agricultural markets. With incomes stagnating or increasing only slightly, and the price of food undergoing such dramatic rises, hunger is the consequence.
He goes on: “The current context of high prices is, however, only part of the reason why protests around food are so prevalent. The longer-term factor is the absence of mechanisms to protect populations from these high international food prices, and the lack of domestic food-production capacity. Over the past thirty years, large numbers of developing countries have been subject to ‘structural adjustment policies’ and their subsequent variants, as demanded by international financial institutions, the World Bank group foremost among them. It is these policies which bare (sic) a considerable share of the responsibility both for developing countries’ inability to meet the challenges of the current crisis, and for the promotion of unaccountable governance within.
Products and marketing costs rose rapidly, fertiliser prices and transport costs increased and labor costs plummeted: “This liberalization has been a prerequisite for loans from the Bank. In accepting the conditions, however, countries were effectively forced into culling domestic policies and institutions that might have been bargaining tools in multilateral trade negotiations. The World Bank group, for example, required that the Nicaraguan legislature approve the controversial Central American Free Trade Agreement as part of its Poverty Reduction Support Credit. Broadly, the adoption of these structural adjustment policies put developing countries in yet a weaker structural position for negotiating outcomes favourable to agriculture and, in particular, the rural poor”
PERSPECTIVES ON FOOD SECURITY
While Patel demonstrates the gravity of the situation and does propose reform measures, they are based on reform of the policies of the international economic institutions and, more so, on the lending and conditionality policies of the World Bank, institutions which were established to buttress the operation of the international capitalist system and which are under the control of the transnational corporate executives and international bankers.
The international food industry cannot be restructured, separate and apart from the restructuring of the international imperialist economic, political, cultural and military system. While, in the real world, the restructuring must begin in some particular sector of human endeavour, we are talking here about deep, thorough going revolutionisation of the structure of modern society, a titanic struggle to free the productive forces from the strangling effect of capitalist economic relations.
There are certain perspectives that must be borne in mind when approaching the restructuring of the international food system. Even, the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) project, a World Bank-commissioned initiative recognises some of the more important ones.
The IAASTD stresses the need for increasing access by small-scale farmers to land and economic resources in order to increase local value added and value accruing to small farmers. Re-distributive land policies should be encouraged as a tool for increasing food security and alleviating poverty. The IAASTD encourages the maintaining of local expertise and germplasm so that the capacity for further research resides within the local community. Farmer-managed local seed systems could help ease the food crisis, combined with cultivars adaptable to site-specific conditions.
The IAASTD reports that “the use of patents for transgenes introduces additional issues. In developing countries especially, instruments such as patents may drive up costs, restrict experimentation by the individual farmer or public researcher while also potentially undermining local practices that enhance food security and economic sustainability.” The IAASTD identified suggests investment in low-input and organic systems, biological substitutes for agrochemicals, site specific easily adaptable cultivars, local seed systems, and reducing the dependency of agriculture on fossil fuels. These suggestions evolve from an already existing body of recognized best practice, most recently codified by the Food and Agricultural Organization.
Patel concludes, in referring to the IAASTD report: “These policies are part of a comprehensive agrarian reform strategy necessary to support smallholder farmers. It involves not a turning back of the clock to some bucolic past, but serious investment, serious science, and the spread of democracy and liberty in rural economies…and substantial investment in sustainable and ecologically sound locally-owned science.”
Food security may be defined as: the availability of food in sufficient quantity and adequate variety and quality at prices affordable to the working and poorest people in a society, so as to ensure a reasonable standard of health and physical well being.
Based on this definition, we, in the Caribbean, have not enjoyed food security for the entire period of colonialism and neo-colonialism. There is an argument that to attain food security, one must be able to exercise food sovereignty which may involve:

· Sustainable livelihoods for family farmers
· People centred, small scale diversified agriculture
· Agrarian Reform, including land reform
· Sustainable Agricultural Practices: organic farming, polyculture, use and development of indigenous varieties of crops.

In response to the globalisation and liberalization of food and its resultant impoverishment of farmers, peasants and re – colonisation of nations dependent on agriculture, the Via Campesina peasant and small famers’ organisation was formed. It proposed an alternative approach to resolving the problem of hunger, particularly in the Third World. This is what gave rise to the concept of food sovereignty.

In an article posted on May 9th 2008 on the website Food First called Small farms as a planetary ecological Miguel A. Altieri President, Sociedad Cientifica LatinoAmericana de Agroecologia (SOCLA) says:“... farmers need land to produce food for their own communities and for their country and for this reason (La Via Campesina) has advocated for genuine agrarian reforms to access and control land, water, agrobiodiversity, etc, which are of central importance for communities to be able to meet growing food demands. ... in order to protect livelihoods, jobs, people's food security and health, as well as the environment, food production has to remain in the hands of small- scale sustainable farmers and cannot be left under the control of large agribusiness companies or supermarket chains.”

“Only by changing the export-led, free-trade based, industrial agriculture model of large farms can the downward spiral of poverty, low wages, rural-urban migration, hunger and environmental degradation be halted. Social rural movements embrace the concept of food sovereignty as an alternative to the neo-liberal approach that puts its faith in inequitable international trade to solve the world’s food problem. Instead, food sovereignty focuses on local autonomy, local markets, local production-consumption cycles, energy and technological sovereignty and farmer to farmer networks”.

“... the functions performed by small farming systems still prevalent in Africa, Asia and Latin America—in the post-peak oil era that humanity is entering—comprise an ecological asset for humankind and planetary survival. In fact, in an era of escalating fuel and food costs, climate change, environmental degradation, GMO pollution and corporate- dominated food systems, small, biodiverse, agroecologically managed farms in the Global South are the only viable form of agriculture that will feed the world under the new ecological and economic scenario”.

Altieri argues that while 91% of the planet’s 1.5 billion hectares of agricultural land are increasingly being devoted to agro-export crops, biofuels and transgenic soybean to feed cars and cattle, millions of small farmers in the Global South still produce the majority of staple crops needed to feed the planet’s rural and urban populations.

In Latin America, about 17 million peasant production units produce 51% of the maize, 77% of the beans, and 61% of the potatoes for domestic consumption. “Africa has approximately 33 million small farms, representing 80 percent of all farms in the region. Despite the fact that Africa now imports huge amounts of cereals, the majority of African farmers (many of them women) who are smallholders with farms below 2 hectares, produce a significant amount of basic food crops with virtually no or little use of fertilizers and improved seed.

In Asia, the majority of more than 200 million rice farmers, few farm more than 2 hectares of rice make up the bulk of the rice produced by Asian small farmers. Small increases in yields on these small farms that produce most of the world´s staple crops will have far more impact on food availability at the local and regional levels, than the doubtful increases predicted for distant and corporate-controlled large monocultures managed with such high tech solutions as genetically modified seeds”.
He goes on to say that contrary to conventional wisdom, research shows that small farms are much more productive than large farms if total output is considered rather than yield from a single crop. “Integrated farming systems in which the small-scale farmer produces grains, fruits, vegetables, fodder, and animal products out-produce yield per unit of single crops such as corn (monocultures) on large-scale farms. A large farm may produce more corn per hectare than a small farm in which the corn is grown as part of a polyculture that also includes beans, squash, potato, and fodder. In polycultures developed by smallholders, productivity, in terms of harvestable products, per unit area is higher than under sole cropping with the same level of management. Yield advantages range from 20 percent to 60 percent, because polycultures reduce losses due to weeds, insects and diseases, and make more efficient use of the available resources of water, light and nutrients”

Small farms, he argues, being multi-functional, are more productive, more efficient, and contribute more to economic development than do large farms. Communities surrounded by many small farms have healthier economies than do those surrounded by depopulated, large mechanized farms. Small farmers also take better care of natural resources, including reducing soil erosion and conserving biodiversity. In terms of converting inputs into outputs, society would be better off with small-scale farmers. Building strong rural economies based on productive small-scale farming will help to stem migration. As population continues to grow and the amount of farmland and water available to each person continues to shrink, small farm structures may become central to feeding the planet, especially when large- scale agriculture devotes itself to “feeding car tanks”.

The persistence of thousands of hectares under traditional agricultural management documents a successful indigenous agricultural strategy. These microcosms of traditional agriculture that have stood the test of time, and that can still be found almost untouched after 4 thousand years in the Andes, Central America, Southeast Asia and parts of Africa, offer promising models of sustainability as they promote biodiversity, thrive without agrochemicals, and sustain year-round yields even under marginal environmental conditions.

“Recent research suggests that many small farmers cope and even prepare for climate change, minimizing crop failure through increased use of drought tolerant local varieties, water harvesting, mixed cropping, opportunistic weeding, agroforestry and a series of other traditional techniques. This demonstrates that a re-evaluation of indigenous technology can serve as a key source of information on adaptive capacity and resilient capabilities exhibited by small farms...”

...scientists found that considerable crop genetic diversity continues to be maintained on farms in the form of traditional crop varieties, especially of major staple crops. In most cases, farmers maintain diversity as an insurance to meet future environmental change or social and economic needs. Many researchers have concluded that this varietal richness enhances productivity and reduces yield variability. For example, studies by plant pathologists provide evidence that mixing of crop species and or varieties can delay the onset of diseases by reducing the spread of disease carrying spores, and by modifying environmental conditions so that they are less favorable to the spread of certain pathogens.

...Although there is a high probability that the introduction of transgenic crops will enter centers of genetic diversity, it is crucial to protect areas of peasant agriculture free of contamination from GMO crops, as traits important to indigenous farmers (resistance to drought, food or fodder quality, maturity, competitive ability, performance on intercrops, storage quality, taste or cooking properties, compatibility with household labor conditions, etc) could be traded for transgenic qualities (i.e. herbicide resistance) which are of no importance to farmers who don’t use agrochemicals .

...Maintaining pools of genetic diversity, geographically isolated from any possibility of cross fertilization or genetic pollution from uniform transgenic crops will create “islands” of intact germplasm which will act as extant safeguards against potential ecological failure derived from the second green revolution”

Altieri further argues that industrial agriculture contributes directly to climate change through no less than one third of total emissions of the major greenhouse gases — Carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O), but small, biodiverse organic farms have the opposite effect by sequestering more carbon in soils. He claims that small farmers usually treat their soils with organic compost materials that absorb and sequester carbon better than soils that are farmed with conventional fertilisers. Researchers have suggested that the conversion of 10,000 small- to medium-sized farms to organic production would store carbon in the soil equivalent to taking 1,174,400 cars off the road.

“Further climate amelioration contributions by small farms accrue from the fact that most use significantly less fossil fuel in comparison to conventional agriculture mainly due to a reduction of chemical fertiliser and pesticide use, relying instead on organic manures, legume-based rotations, and diversity schemes to enhance beneficial insects. Farmers who live in rural communities near cities and towns and are linked to local markets, avoid the energy wasted and the gas emissions associated with transporting food hundreds and even thousands of miles”

Ii clear that no proper food security can be had, given the constraint exercised by capitalist production relations on the food supply system, unless it is based on the active development of food sovereignty.

In all Caribbean and Latin American cultures, markets arose where locally produced food was traded. This was a self regulated, sustainable system of food production and marketing. Most of this food was produced and sold fresh. Locally produced fresh food is always BETTER AND CHEAPER than any processed food whether domestic or imported. It is true to say that in the Caribbean while such a system did arise and was very efficient; it was never, in post Columbian times, the dominant form of food production, and distribution. The plantation paradigm was always the dominant one and constrained and restricted the impact of local oriented food production. In the post emancipation era, these constraints and restrictions were operationalised through the state controlling access to land and pigeon-holing peasant producers as “squatters” utilising legislative and bureaucratic means.

In 1839, one year after emancipation, stipendiary magistrates were empowered to evict squatters of less than one year’s standing. Within fourteen days of conviction, if they did not remove themselves and their crops they could be jailed for up to six months. It was clear, then, that any effort to resist the plantation paradigm would be dealt with through legally-backed, punitive means. Although there were vast acreages of crown land that could have been brought into production in a relatively empty land, as T&T was in immediate post-emancipation days, ex-slaves who wanted land had to come up against land policy that was inherently hostile to their aspirations.

British policy, enunciated by the Secretary of State had as its main plank:
v The impeding of squatting
v Prevention of occupation by those not in possession of proprietary title
v Fixing the price of crown land to put it out of reach of those without capital
v Fixing a minimum acreage which could be bought by the ex-slaves.

Despite all the difficulties, peasant producers still found ways to control land and engage in food production. Small plots of private land were bought at high prices. The government, at first, set a minimum acreage of forty acres and when this still did not faze potential food crop farmers raised it to a minimum of six hundred and eighty acres. Without going into all the twists and turns of land policy it is sufficient to say that the struggle between peasant production and state-sanctioned agricultural production was antagonistic and continues to be so to this day, even though peasant production has never been eliminated, thanks to the persistence and the capacity to undergo pressure of the food crop farmers.

The colonial state operated an iniquitous system of dispensing land grants to the plantation sector, while working overtime to throttle and destroy the system of small farming. This situation continues today, in Trinidad and Tobago, and is manifest in the struggle of small food crop farmers for security of tenure on the land which they work, and which, in certain areas, their families have worked for generations. This struggle has been taking place for as many generations as there have been independent small farmers. This can be contrasted with the alacrity with which the Caroni land grab is being pursued, with the state showing a clear policy preference for the so-called mega farms than in providing the ex-Caroni workers with the means to pursue small farming. The central question in T&T in terms of developing a modern small farming sector that can serve as the basis for food sovereignty is the settlement of the land question.

Liberalised markets have seen the supermarkets take over to the extent that today 90% of all food in Caribbean supermarkets are imported and despite poverty and lack of access to sufficient, nutritious food by a significant sector of Caribbean people, the large conglomerates that own the food in the supermarkets are the multibillion dollar corporations.

The Caribbean is, most likely, among the area with the highest percentage of food dependence in the world. The structure of the agricultural sector is not facilitative of the kind of transformatory mechanisms required to shift the situation in favour of food sovereignty. Let us look at the state of play using Trinidad and Tobago as the society examined.

Except for Vegetable Production and minimal rice and chicken, Trinidad is totally dependent on imports for its food supply.

A cursory scrutiny of the average grocery basket of the average consumer reveals

§ ALL our grains/legumes are imported. This includes ALL beans: red, lentil, peas, black eye peas, lima beans, dhal, channa and corn.
§ ALL canned meats are imported: sardines, corn beef, mackerel, tuna, and all sausages.
§ ALL flours, which constitutes a basic staple.
§ ALL vegetable oils: corn, soya, olive and grape seed.
§ Over 80% of beef, mutton, hatching eggs
§ ALL animal feed, medicines.
§ Although vegetables are produced locally, all seeds are imported, also all fertilizers, all pesticides, fungicides, herbicides.
§ All equipment, tools (even the simple cutlass despite our 40 year old steel industry) are imported.

Trinidad and Tobago is still a Food Dependent Nation after more than five hundred years of colonialism and 47 years of Independence.

Agriculture in Trinidad and Tobago is totally neglected. Food prices have been rising rapidly so much so that about 30 % of the population is unable to meet its nutritional needs or lack basic food supplies.

The majority of our farmers are squatting and many farmers are under the threat of EVICTION. Infrastructure, access roads and irrigation are conspicuous by their absence in all food crop farming areas. Domestic markets where they exist are in sore need of upgrading. The CARONI lands Project is a fiasco.

With the shutting down of Caroni, the opportunity arose to engage in transformation of the sector, but because the government remained wedded to the neo-liberal paradigm, a golden opportunity is slipping away. The Food and Fuel Forum made the following observations on its BlogSpot (foodandfuelforum.blogspot.com)

“The handing over of prime Caroni lands to selected companies certainly raises cause for concern about the government’s agricultural policy and who benefits from it. Small farmers all over the country have been fighting for thirty, forty and even fifty years for security of tenure. It is the most crucial issue facing farmers today and is the main obstacle in farmers’ effort to produce abundant food for the nation. How come, then, four companies could be facilitated so quickly after they applied for licenses to set up mega farms? What about regularising farmers in areas like Garden Village, Felicity, Couva, Biche, Plum Mitan, Bois Bande Village, Bamboo…

The great grab for former Caroni lands is on. It is clear that those who work the land and have a proven track record of supplying the nation with food are being shoved aside as the government, as it usually does, rushes to fix up the capitalists in their quest to maximise profits even if it means gouging out the eyes of the population with high prices.Blue Waters and PCS Nitrogen got into the act early. Now we have among others: Caribbean Chemicals owned by the Pires family; SuperMix Feeds which already dominates the poultry sector and pays factory workers less than the minimum wage and refuses to deal with the National Union of Domestic Employees (NUDE) even though the union won recognition legally. Food and Fuel Forum understands that there are 11 more commercial farms to be established.
What is mind blowing is that the government has decided to adopt the agribusiness, mega farm model that is responsible for the high prices and artificial shortages that swept the international food market last year. This model sees food as just another commodity to be speculated on, the supply of which can be manipulated to make super profits… and sidelines farmers who have developed generations of expertise on the land. These agri businessmen will enjoy the infrastructure that Caroni (meaning the taxpayers) put in over the years (electricity, access roads, drainage) while farmers bawl every year when they lose their crops to flooding and are not compensated. It seems some are more equal than others in this country!These agri businessmen seem to be going into direct competition with small farmers when the real challenge should be import substitution and the application of research and technology to cultivating legumes - split peas, channa, lentils, nuts, red beans – and crops like potatoes, carrots and onions. While the mega farms compete with small farmers in vegetable and traditional root crop production the food importers make a killing….

The class bias and discrimination at the heart of the government agricultural policy is clear. It has nothing to do with feeding the nation. It is really a land grab on the part of the capitalists supported by their agents in the government. The agri businessmen had their licenses speedily processed; the 7,800 former Caroni two acre farmers went through and are still going through red tape torture for years in a bid to get control over their land. The mega farms inherited areas set aside especially for them like Picton, Edinburgh, Jerningham and Caroni. The two acre farmers inherited a nightmare.

According to a study done by Persad, Rampersad and Wilson called Soil and Water Management Strategies for Two Acre farms on Caroni (1975) Limited Lands in Trinidad 67% of the land suffered from poor drainage; 88% suffered from inadequate irrigation facilities; 57% displayed high soil acidity with pH less than 4.5, mainly in the North and Central. These lands have low levels of plant nutrients.

Before the government proceeded to distribute lands, they should have instituted a soil amelioration programme through heavy lime application to improve the pH and the application of phosphate and organic matter. In the South much of the lands suffer from erosion and slippage; 76% of the land displays low nutrient availability; 94% of the lands needed clearing and levelling.

These farmers have to engage in rain-fed agriculture, yet the dry season is the best season for vegetable and food crop production: higher photosynthesis, less pest and disease problems. The emphasis therefore should have been on solving irrigation challenges. The two acre farm scheme was no land reform; it was just a smokescreen to cover up the great land grab that is underway. What we are witnessing is the wholesale privatisation of land to the capitalists and their conglomerates and transnational corporations...The future of small food crop producers is under threat. The Food and Fuel Forum urges small farmers to fight for an agriculture policy that puts the small farmer at the centre of the process by ensuring that the question of security of tenure is dealt with once and for all.

The policy must involve a food security programme based on reducing the costs of agricultural inputs (seeds, fertiliser, equipment etc.); guaranteeing decent prices to farmers, creating a system of agriculture intelligence, developing a network of access roads, instituting appropriate irrigation systems, land preparation and maintenance, proper extension services, re-activating research facilities and programmes involving the development of seed banks, plant plasma research etc. The agribusiness firms are organised and are politically powerful. If small farmers are to survive they must also organise themselves and move to protect and secure their interests by putting pressure on the government…. It is now a question of survival.

Another critical question in the transformation of the agricultural sector is the question of land use. As far back as 1987, the National Food Crop Farmers’ Association in a bulletin published on 1987.01.05 entitled Environmental Management for Food Security stated: “the use of our land resources should be based on scientific principles... Land...which has the potential to be developed should be developed for agriculture...Land which is not so qualified...should be used for non-agricultural purposes...there should be proper land management.”

While this may sound as if it should be taken for granted, subsequent history bears out the irrationality of the system. There have been numerous struggles to stop state agencies from building houses and utilising for other purposes lands designated for agricultural purposes. Some that spring readily to mind include the Ramgoolie Trace project and the Spring Village project where class1 River estate Soil has been diverted away from agriculture and crops bulldozed to do so.

According to a bulletin published by the Food and Fuel Forum dated May 2008: “government ... talk(s) about securing the food and nutrition future and yet allow HDC to violate and destroy crops and authorise house building on Class I River Estate soil in the Spring Village/Lower St. Augustine/Freeman Road area! Class I (River Estate Soil) lands, comprise 3126 hectares located in Tucker valley, Diego Martin, Westmoorings, Maracas Bay, Las Cuevas, Grand Riviere, Caura, Santa Cruz, St. Joseph and the area between the Northern Range and the Caroni River (Barataria/Beetham; Aranjuez/El Socorro; Curepe/Valsayn/Bamboo/Mt Hope; Pasea/Tunapuna).

Most of the Class I soil, the best soil for agriculture, has already been alienated into residential, commercial and infrastructural use. Only 24.5% of the most fertile land in the country is still under agricultural production. The Curepe/Valsayn area is the largest remaining location of Class I soil in the country, yet the HDC rushes in to alienate a sizeable portion of that land away from agriculture”.

Some of the major tasks we must carry out in T&T, if we want to make assured steps toward the goal of food sovereignty are:

v Providing those who work the land with long term security of tenure
v Sticking to a rational land use policy
v reducing the costs of agricultural inputs (seeds, fertiliser, equipment etc.);
v guaranteeing decent prices to farmers
v creating a system of agriculture intelligence,
v developing a network of access roads, instituting appropriate irrigation systems, land preparation and maintenance systems
v providing proper extension services,
v re-activating research facilities and programmes involving the development of seed banks, plant plasma research etc.
v providing at all levels, at every opportunity, information which needs to be sourced and disseminated about the markets, prices, what the transnational corporations are up to. This a conscious effort to facilitate informed participation in the transformation process by those involved in the small farming sector
v understanding what is good wholesome food thus promoting healthy eating habits
v building the farmer consumer alliance at individual and institutional levels
v using indigenous technology to develop foods that would assisting n breaking the stranglehold of the grain suppliers in the spirit of the research that was pioneered almost a generation ago by people like Dr. George Moonsammy
v moving from export oriented production (monocrop) to Caribbean self sufficiency (polyculture)
v moving towards organic agriculture as far as possible
v developing on and implementing the numerous ideas and studies that have promoted the development of an integrated Caribbean food sector. Many of the plans are workable, what is missing is the political will to transform a sector which provides such lucrative returns for a parasitic import and distribution sector and which implicitly repudiates the domination of the transnational corporations. Individually small islands are unable to become self sufficient because of land space vis a vis growing populations, however, between the Spanish speaking Cuba and Venezuela lies a vast land and sea resource including: Cuba, Jamaica, St. Vincent, Grenada, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Suriname, Belize etc.

While the above is not an exhaustive list of tasks that must be performed, they certainly will provide Caribbean people with a base upon which they can build the structures and institutions necessary to achieve food sovereignty.

There is going to be resistance from vested interests every step of the way: from the local food importers and distributors; from the transnational companies; from the governments of the developed countries; from the dominance of old thinking that reflects an acceptance of our subordinate position in the international system. But if we relied upon an informed, mobilised people who are convinced of the necessity and urgency of the task we can be successful. During the Second World War, when we understood how critical the situation was we did grow more food.

Today, we must appreciate that we are as much in a war now as we were then, that the international capitalist system is in a period of disintegration, that to a great extent, now more than ever, if we make the right policy choices, our fate is in our own hands. It is up to us and nobody else to transform the agricultural system to achieve food sovereignty which is a critical part of our struggle to liberate ourselves from the stifling clutch of a dying capitalist civilisation which seems determined to destroy that which it cannot control.

Glen Ramjag
Norris Deonarine
Gerry Kangalee

On Behalf of the Food and Fuel Forum

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