Editorial and full issue

by GRAIN | 30 Oct 2008

The “global food crisis”, as a hot topic, has disappeared from the headlines of most of the world’s press. Now that speculators have made a killing, prices are falling from the heady heights they reached at the beginning of 2008. Back to business as usual, it might seem. But this is not the case. Because the crisis was erroneously defined in most of the world’s media as being a “crisis of production” (when it was in fact largely caused by speculation and the deregulation of world trade), the World Bank, the European Commission, the United Nations, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Red Cross and others are falling over themselves to fund programmes to “boost production”. And the way to do this, say these bodies, is to bring in from outside “modern” and “productive” hybrid seeds (and, further down the line almost certainly, genetically modified seeds). As we argue in our introductory article, this is not the way forward. Bringing in seeds from outside undermines local seed systems, erodes seed diversity and creates dependency. Moreover, big corporations use seed aid as a means to gain a foothold in a new market. Yet again a crisis is being used to further the interests of agribusiness.

What happens to small farmers when they have an alien system forced upon them is spelt out in detail in an important article on the former “homeland areas” of Transkei and Ciskei in South Africa’s Eastern Cape, where the Green Revolution, new-style, has been in operation for five years. The programme, drawn up without consultation with local communities, has been a resounding failure. Farmers have been compelled to implement foreign technologies and farming systems. They have been told that their seeds and their knowledge are worthless. They have exposed themselves, their livestock and their soil to damaging chemicals. They have been trapped in debt. Not surprisingly, many farmers believe that they have no option but sit it out until the government tires and they can go back to the way they farmed before. There are really important lessons to be learnt from this experience. But will the agencies and the authorities listen?

In this struggle to preserve local knowledge and local communities, all opportunities have to be grasped. One such chance has arisen with the collapse of the World Trade Organisation’s Doha round. With this, the negotiating mandate for theproposed amendment on the patenting of life under TRIPS got “washed away” too. This amendment, proposed by several developing countries, didn’t challenge the concept of patenting life, but merely modified it, so that developing countries would gain some financial benefit. We have long argued that it is the principle itself that is wrong. As we say in the short article, social movements and activists now have another chance to put pressure on their governments to oppose the “privatisation of life”.

Over the centuries communities have developed a strong attachment to the ecosystems they inhabit. Their relationship with local biodiversity is saturated with magic-religious beliefs. In our interview in this edition, Ulrich Oslender, a political geographer from the University of Glasgow in Scotland, UK, talks of the culture of the Afro-Colombian communities that inhabit Colombia’s extraordinarily diverse Pacific coast. For them the forest is inhabited by mythical figures and spirits, including the tunda and the riviel. It is this rich culture, just as important in its way as the biodiversity, that gets destroyed when paramilitary gangs invade the region and clear the communities off the land to make way for large-scale mining and farming projects.

But agribusiness and mining corporations are not having it all their own way, as is clear from this interview and other articles in this edition. Peasant farmers in Benin are developing their own dignified and calm form of resistance by quietly carrying on with their traditional way of life, despite the sales onslaught from multinational corporations. And in Bangladesh farming families are developing new ways of protecting their local biodiversity, particularly chickens and goats, while increasing their incomes. Here, too, it is not just a question of defending their livelihoods but also of fostering ananda – the joy of living.

In the home page of this edition, we have a short article on Biodiversidad, our sister Spanish-language publication. As Carlos Vicente, in charge GRAIN’s information work in Latin America, explains, the magazine is expanding and evolving, in response to the demands of a highly politicised continent. It is a clear example of the way in which GRAIN, working in many different regions of the world, is changing and adapting, just like the ecosystems and communities with which it works.

Author: GRAIN