“Here there was an open space, in the centre of which was a bonfire, a heap of embers, the remains of the tools mentioned above; surrounding it was heard a clapping of hands and stamping of feet, the tumult of a thousand cries of triumph and imprecation. Long live plenty! Death to those who starve us! Long live bread!”
Manzoni, The Betrothed, Chapter 12.
It was St Martin’s day, 11th November 1628. It was the second year of scarcity, and after the local authority suspended the regulations for a maximum price on grains, the price of bread sky rocked and bread riots took over Milan.
In his masterpiece ‘The Betrothed’, Manzoni describes a tumultuous crowd crying and claiming for affordable bread. 388 years after this tumultuous day in Milan, I am reflecting on the same issues of food security as they are being addressed at the Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Food insecurity has affected humanity in various periods of time through history. Society’s often violent response to unequal distribution of resources has seldom caused the radical change that would assure food affordability.
Competing interests in agriculture – of the farmers, of traders in agricultural business, of the Global North and South – are subjects to the ups and downs of market-based economy regulating the contemporary food regime.
On the other side, the international community is faced with a double challenge of ensuring adequate food supply for a growing world population that respects the environment.
It is a combination of food unaffordability, inadequate access to social services, unemployment and political tensions. These events point the finger to issues of inequality of resources redistribution, despite the constant increase of food productivity.
The challenge of food security consists not only of increased food production, but also equal redistribution of food. As food production has reached levels that would potentially feed all 7 billion inhabitants of the planet and end world hunger, 842 million people are still undernourished.
As Oxfam denounces, this monopoly of agro-corporations are setting the rules of food chains by controlling prices, costs and standards. A few hundred companies – traders, processors, manufacturers and retailers – control 70% of the choices and decisions in the food system globally, including those concerning key resources such as land, water, seeds and technologies, and infrastructures.
Oxfam also says that corporations exercise enormous power at the ‘input’ end of the food chain: the production of seeds and agrochemicals. Globally, four firms – Dupont, Monsanto, Sygenta and Limagrain – dominate over 50% of seed industry sales, while six firms control 75% of agrochemicals.
This huge power imbalance ends up marginalizing and exploiting farmers who cannot compete nor survive without depending on these corporations and firms.
GCARD3 is a major global event gathering stakeholders along the chain to discuss the future of global agrifood systems. Research institutes organizing this event (GFAR, CGIAR, ARC, FAO) are setting high standards by announcing the theme: ‘No one left behind: Agrifood innovation and research for a sustainable world’.
GCARD3 is about inclusion. However, there should be a critical reflection about how the agrifood system does not include everyone but rather has cultivated an international food regime that has reproduced global inequality across agrifood chains.
If no one is to be left behind, CGARD3 should acknowledge that what needs to be addressed is not taking ‘those left behind on board’. It is the structural problem of the very politic-economical system of international food production. In order to stand up to their goals, stakeholders at GCARD3 should call for a radical change in agricultural policy.
As long as corporate power is able to shape agrifood trade agreements between countries, smallholders will be constrained as tail-end of the supply chain. As long as the Global North is holding on protectionistic policies, agripreneurs from developing countries won’t be able to access the global market equitably. As long as corporate firms are allowed to control the seed and agrochemical markets, ensuring biodiversity and ecological sustainability will remain wicked challenge.
The power imbalance in agrifood chains needs to be addressed to ensure marginalization and exploitation will be tackled. GCARD3 has the means and power to deliver these messages and implement radical shift for ‘agrifood innovation and research for a sustainable world’.
Blogpost by Maya Turolla, #GCARD3 Social Reporter – maya.turolla2[at]unibo.it
Photo credit: A. Gonin, ‘Assault to the bakery’ -Ch.12 ‘The Bethrothed’, Manzoni
This post is part of the live coverage during the #GCARD3 Global Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, 5-8 April 2016. This post is written by one of our social reporters, and represents the author’s views only.