December 11, 2016

Globalising agriculture is not sustainable

India and China are committing “one of the greatest crimes in history” in agreeing to allow Western agricultural produce into their markets, says Edward Goldsmith, founder of The Ecologist magazine and a celebrated pioneer of Britain’s environment movement since the sixties.

Original title “Opening markets is not sustainable”.


LONDON, August 26, 2002 (IPS)

“Opening up of these markets to highly subsidised food from the West will make up to two billion people destitute around the world,” Goldsmith told IPS in an interview on the eve of the World Summit on Sustainable Development that began in Johannesburg Monday.

The push to these policies is coming from giant multinational companies with the backing of the U.S. government, Goldsmith said.

“The WTO (World Trade Organisation) agriculture agreement specifies that the third world open up its borders to food from the EU and the U.S.,” Goldsmith said.

“But opening up markets to subsidised food from the rich countries will throw small farmers out of business. India alone has some 500 million small farmers, China some 900 million. Most of them will inevitably seek refuge in the slums where there is no land to plough, no jobs and little or no government aid.”

British officials have spoken of pushing ‘reforms’ in the estimated 350 billion dollars of subsidies paid annually to farmers in developed countries. But Britain is looking to change subsidies, not to end them, Goldsmith said.

“Like the other countries of the EU, it is looking at the U.S. system of subsidies, where small farmers are made to sell to big grain merchants like the Cargill Corporation at a price that is below the cost of production. This will enable the grain merchants to ruin the agriculture of third world countries.”

In Britain the income of farmers has fallen 90 per cent in the last 10 years or so, he said. “The government wants to get rid of the small farmers, for big corporations to take over,” he said.

In California 70 per cent of the food produced comes from farms with no farmers – farms which belong to big corporations.

In Britain the Blair government pleads for importing all food, arguing that agriculture in the country is not economic. “This is suicide,” says Goldsmith. “With climate change the U.S. corn belt is drying up, so is the Australian wheat belt. We now have less than 15 million acres of arable and 15 million acres of grass land in Britain to feed nearly 60 million people.”

The last land utilisation survey done in 1977 came to the conclusion that in 2157 no agricultural land will be left. But since then the loss of farming land has accelerated. “Blair wants new airports, a network of super highways, more nuclear plants, more incinerators, four million new houses. That will eat up much of what is left. Unless we rethink these policies totally, the discussions in Johannesburg make no sense at all.”

The decisions are being made by multinationals, Goldsmith says. “So long as this remains the case we cannot solve any of our real problems. What is more, they will unquestionably take over whatever institution we set up to control them. This must make us seriously consider whether humanity can survive [the] global economy, which by its very nature must be controlled by multinationals. A sine qua non of survival is a return to much smaller companies catering for a local market.”

Goldsmith does not believe that the developed countries will seriously set out to control consumption. In the U.S., consumption accounts for about 75 per cent of Gross National Product. One of the devices resorted to create the economic boom was to persuade people who saved about 9 per cent of their income to spend it all on consumer goods.

This has made the U.S. totally dependent on foreign investments, including capital flight from third world countries rendered bankrupt by the World Bank, IMF and WTO policies. “This capital flight adds up to more than five times the money third world countries get for development aid. If American consumers, and the same is largely true of British consumers, save more, the economy will in the immediate term correspondingly suffer – GDP will fall. Are governments willing to accept this?”

The U.S. economy depends on capital flows, and the U.S. needs inward investment of two billion dollars a day to pay for its current account deficit.

Meantime at Johannesburg, U.S. plans to block all major initiatives to help poor countries survive, he says. This includes a move to halve the number of people without access to safe water, reform of the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO whose policies are a disaster for third world countries, the move to reduce volatility in capital flows, to stabilised commodity prices, which is essential to the third world, to reduce the debt burden, let alone to allow poor countries to play their full part in world economic decisions.

“The reason is simply that it is not in the best interests of U.S. multinationals to do these essential things,” he says.

The oil companies are the major multinational force within the U.S., Goldsmith says. “And so the only agenda for the U.S. is to maximise all the advantages it can for its corporations,” he says.

The first step in combating climate change is to phase out oil and other fossil fuels, but this is not possible in the U.S. where the oil industry no longer even has to lobby the government, for it is the government.

The real object of development is to transform the third world into a market for the West’s finished products, and a source for cheap labour and raw materials, Goldsmith says.

“It has nothing to do with making the third world a better place. It is nothing more than economic colonialism which is incredibly more effective and less visible than the older kind of colonialism, which sought to do exactly the same thing.” Sustainable development “is just a euphemism for corporate growth,” he says.

There is talk of more aid, but “aid is above all a subsidy for Western exports,” he says. “Bush now wants to give four billion dollars for health and development aid. What he does not tell us is that healthcare is to be privatised worldwide and will soon be one of the U.S.’s biggest industries, while development activities are not in the hands of the poor but in those of the corporations.”

The World Bank has been referred to as a machine for creating debts. “Once third world countries are in debt, the West can control them and force them into the global economy.”

Privatisation is high on the agenda in Johannesburg, Goldsmith says. “The Johannesburg summit has nothing to do with preserving the environment. It’s about how best to allow the multinationals to destroy the environment to their heart’s content in the name of ‘sustainable development’, that is, corporate growth which we are assured is the only means of combating growing world poverty. It is a confidence trick.”

(END)

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