Expert Agroecology Report: A Farm Justice Critique

INTRODUCTION

This is a Review of certain aspects of a major report on agroecology called “From Uniformity to Diversity: A Paradigm Shift from Industrial Agriculture to Diversified Agroecological Systems,” by IPES-Food’s, International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems.  It’s found here:  Executive Summary,  Full Report.

This is a critique based upon the alternative “Farm Justice” narrative and paradigm of the U.S. Family Farm Movement, as it’s been developed over the past 60 years, and as I and others have tried to update it for the 21st century. This paradigm as it has evolved in recent decades, emerged out of earlier experiences of U.S. agriculture going back another hundred years, and out of which the farm bill was formed.

Beyond that, in my judgement, it’s a paradigm rooted in the extensive experiences of rural people going back thousands of years. After 5,000 years of amazing success, agriculture became severely oppressed by the urban empires, (civilizations, “megamachines,” [Lewis Mumford, The Myth of the Machine, 2 vols.) over another 5,000 years. For those farming within the reach of these urban empires, crises of distributive economic justice and related social injustices, have long been overwhelming. Agriculture was been the wealth of ancient empires, and this story has re-emerged in authoritarian, globally dominating ways in our time.

Not surprisingly, then, the ethics of agricultural people around the globe have long centered on distributive economic justice, which is the focus of my review here.

There is much that’s excellent in this report, in it’s emphasis on ecologically adequate methods of farming. It has great value in those aspects. Unfortunately, those strengths are tainted by misunderstandings of how things have gone so severely wrong in agriculture. In the views of the reports “expert” writers, the problems have emerged on farms that have been overly rewarded. Though little if any evidence is offered in defense of that view, it’s a concensus, so the authors, and many of their audiences, seem to agree.

NOTE ON AGROECOLOGY IN THE LEXICON

Some of us have been reflecting upon the concept of “agroecology,” ever since the word has surfaced with major force in discussions where we participate, for example, in Iowa at the time of the 2015 Food Sovereignty Prize. There ,a presentation was made on agroecology by members of the US Food Sovereignty Alliance. One question was, how does it compare to “food soveriegnty.”

Narrative terms are important, and different sectors favor competing terms. Even the most basic of words, such as “food” (https://www.lexiconoffood.com/post/food-its-misunderstood-misused-term ) and “farm” (https://www.lexiconoffood.com/post/farm-term-problems-its-own ) can often be used in highly problematic ways.

I’m also reminded of the continuing debate between certified “organic,” “biodynamic” and “beyond organic.” Perhaps the worst case of this type is “rotational grazing,” which has had a long list of alternative names, often fiercely defended (i.e. from management intensive grazing to holistic resource management).

One reason for using “agroecology” seems to be that “agriculture” isn’t seen as a strong enough term. On the other hand, “agroecology” seems to be less political, (less about power,) than “food sovereignty,” for example, which, in turn, points less directly at ecological or environmental concerns. I suspect that academics prefer the term “agroecology, which lends itself to a focus on the technicalities of ecological farming systems. The problem with that, I argue, is that it leads to false conclusions about what has caused the problems in the first place, and what many of the effective solutions would then be.

SYNOPSIS

The problems I see in the report can be summarized as follows. Note that they’re about all anti-farmer, giving far too much away to the dominant agribusiness ideology.

[1.] It’s a huge mistake to think that we’re talking about a “food system.” We’re not. Were talking about a farming system combined with it’s input and output (including nonfood) sectors.

[2.] It’s a huge mistake to think that the problems are rooted in “industrial agriculture.” They’re rooted in the agribusiness input and output sectors, and in their exploitation of agriculture, including “industrial agriculture.” There are several major corollary myths related to this.

[3.] The fact that half of the hungry are farmers and another 30% are also part of the 80% of the hungry who are rural is not integrated into the thesis of the report about hunger. See also item [7.], below.

[4.] The evidence clearly shows that farmers, including “industrial farmers,” have been penalized, (net result,) and mostly run out of business. They weren’t “incentivized” into becoming more “industrial.” The claims here are not evidence based. They’re ideologically based.

[5.] Farmers subsidize everyone’s food, because our (US/global) agriculture is colonized by the agribusiness megamachine, which extracts “tribute” directly from farmers. That’s where any meaningful discussion of “cheap food” needs to start.

[6.] They’re not “agricultural lobbies” where “agriculture” wins. They’re anti-farmer, anti-agriculture, pro-agribusiness lobbies.

[7.] Coverage of the whole question of “export orientation” doesn’t ever really get at the huge political issues of farm justice & corporate exploitation. It’s treated as a technical (academic) issue. Ditto for the so-called “food price crisis,” (meaning too high prices,) where the hungry (the 80% rural food poverty that are dependent upon a farm economy for wealth creation,) are assumed to be hurt by paying farmers fairly for a change. It’s the reverse, 50 years of cheap prices, not 7 years of prices that are more fair for just 3 crops, (corn, soybeans and rice), that’s the cause.

[8.] In terms of the larger net results, research doesn’t “favor” farmers. Sure, you get greater yields, but farmers have usually been paid less for them (total amount). It’s the reverse. The mass of private research is subsidized (privately) by the ever cheaper prices, by the wealth taken directly from farmers, and by the destruction of our flexibility, our options to not buy the products, (as we’ve lost livestock and rotations).

[9.] Profitabilty for organic farms is a good sign, but the viability of organic farming is massively hindered by the other kinds of (ignored) problems I’ve been highlighting.

[10.] The really bad consequences from the invisibility (to these “experts,”) of the problems I’ve raised then leads to the risk of more bad consequences from their recommendations, starting in Recomendation 1. It’s a great idea to better focus costs and benefits on the public good, since such massive damage has occurred from penalizing agriculture, but since the report thinks it’s come from rewarding agriculture, it calls for further damage, such as cutting farm subsidies without doing anything about market management, (about fair prices, about eliminating the need for any subsidies). That would be devastating, (and it’s already happened in the 2014 Farm Bill, though almost no one knows it, as CBO projections show).

[11.] Point [11.], below, continues and expands upon the point in [10.].

[12.] On the question of a need to strenghten social movements, the bad consequences of the many problems I’ve raised again come to the fore. It’s exactly in the spreading of so much of the false (agribusiness) ideology (against the evidence) in the report, and throughout our various other sectors and their narratives, that we’ve been so severely divided and conquered. This can’t be fixed without fixing the myths I’ve identified (i.e. myths in the overall academic paradigm of agroecology?).

[13.] Here, in response to their Recommendation 6, I return to the issue of [8.], of the connection of farm markets as a whole, (farm prices,) to the funding of research agendas. As with other items, without fixing price, an “agroecological” research agenda is swimming against a tide that is much much stronger than the swimmer.

A REVIEW

The report is 96 pages, and it’s difficult to find the time to respond to reports of that length. What follows was first written on the basis of the Executive Summary, and then I did a number of content searches of relevant sections of the full report. The specifics that concern me are as follows.

[1.] First and generally, it’s not a “food system” (or “food only” system). That doesn’t exist and the major problems can’t be solved on that basis. Instead, the problems are made much worse if changes are attempted on a food only basis. This is seen especially in the problem of oversupply. It’s a really bad idea to emphasize food and debase nonfood, when we’re destroying the planet and starving people to death on the basis of oversupply. In particular, it’s abusive and unjust to bash farmers who grow something other than food. It divides and conquers our movement. Then we wonder why we’re losing. Should we call for the elimination of all jobs in society that aren’t sufficiently politically correct or high status, including those that the poorest among us have to do this work to survive? What then would we do with all of the unemployed workers. That’s exactly equivalent to the food-centric issue-gone-viral. It’s extremely unwise, and must be immediately and strongly opposed. (cf. https://zcomm.org/zblogs/national-farm-and-food-policy-response-to-bittman-et-al/ )

[2.] The focus of the report is primarily on “industrial farming,” not on the agribusiness complex that exploits “industrial farming. These farms are treated as if they’re huge, highly concentrated and rewarded thing, but certainly in the United States, in crop farming, that’s not true. Though plenty of very bad things have happened to farms, and farm size has increased a dramatically, with huge negative consequences, crop farms remain quite small relative to the incredible concentration of the agribuiness input, output CAFO complexes (or megamachines). You usually can’t show concentration in crop farming on the same chart with these other concentrations, as it’s too tiny to show up on the graph (i.e. the big 4 corn farms). Most formerly diversified farms have lost livestock to CAFOs, where more than half of ownership of livestock and poultry, (i.e. hogs & broilers,) involves just four corporations. The crop farming issue is not that at all huge and lucrative, at least relative to the other category that seems to be largely missing from the analysis of farming systems: the agribusines input and output complex.

On points like this the report specifically mentioned the cornbelt. I live here and the facts on the ground make it clear that there is nothing her remotely close to ownership of corn farming by just 4 corporations. What’s often missed, is that, in so massively looting our wealth from crop farming, (we’ve often been paid less per acre, even as yields for corn have grown to be 4 times greater,) and with the loss of value added livestock, farms have had to grow much larger just to stay the same economic size. This is hard to estimate, but in a number of scenarios I’ve run, the money you could make on a 160 acre diversified cornbelt farm in the 1940s might take a 600 acre farm today. Basically, when market prices (plus subsidies) are at these levels, the 600 acre farm is no bigger than the 160 acre farm. So most of the larger sizes are illusions. They exist much more in people’s imaginations, but than they do concretely, on the basis of the hard data, justly interpreted.

[2a.] To be honest, the industrial system has been created in part from the many advances that industrialism has brought in general, similar to indoor plumbing and health care, as seen in organic farming in the United States, which uses many of the benefits of industrialism. More to the point here, however, the industrial system of agriculture has been created primarily by penalizing the farmers who are doing it, (running most of them out of business,) not by rewarding them. There’s certainly no valid evidence that subsidies represent a net benefit to these farmers. The evidence clearly shows that we’ve been paid a lot less with subsidies (net result) than we were paid prior to subsidies, (even as these subsidies were radically reduced in the 2014 farm bill, should the cheap prices that are currently projected prevail). There are many problems with industrialism, but what we really live in is the mega-industrial age, where the input and output complexes are megamachines, each a “Manhattan Project. And it’s an authoritarian technology that takes tribute from the so called industrial farmers.

[2b.] While the data on the penalized farmers shows very clearly that they’ve had needs far greater than the benefits given, (as most have been run out of business,) the agribusiness buyers, (which are typically hundreds of times larger,) have had benefits many times greater, while not showing any needs for those benefits, but instead showing repeated record profits and returns on equity (http://www.nfu.ca/sites/www.nfu.ca/files/corporate_profits.pdf ).

[2c.] The myth of the gigantic size of “industrial agricuture” is strongly influenced by the farm subsidy myth, where the top 10% are imagined to be huge, while the bottom 80 persent are imagined to be “family-sized.” That’s gone viral, even though no valid evidence has ever been presented to support it. Those of us who are farmers living in farming regions know better. The evidence is all around us. We can look in the farm subsidy database, and we know these people and these farms. In my rough analysis the top 10% mark starts at roughly 200 acres for corn and soybeans, which is sub-full-time, while the bottom third is only about 2 acres (https://zcomm.org/zblogs/most-ewg-subsidy-recipients-are-too-tiny-to-be-farmers-by-brad-wilson/ ).

[3.] I don’t see how you can meaningfully discuss global “Hunger, food security and nutrition” without giving adequate attention to the fact that the “undernourished” are 80% rural, mostly farmers, and the fact that they’re grossly underpaid. While the full report (not the executive summary?) briefly mentions facts along these lines, these facts seem to have virtually no impact on the basic thesis. We need to “pay the world” and the 80% can feed themselves. The fact that this is politically caused seems to have been omitted from the report, which, I find, is common for agricultural academics, who seem to shy away from such issues. Overproduction has been a major cause of the poverty that causes hunger. What I see here is only mention of this production “reducing hunger,” not of it causing hunger. This is picked up again begining on page 7 under “‘feed the world’ narratives.” Here it says that “industrial agriculture continues to be seen as the solution,” which seems to imply that that’s who will be rewarded. It’s not mentioned that what that really means is that that’s who will be first penalized in these kinds of pro-output-complex solutions.

[4.] Yes, “path dependency” (p. 6 Exec. Sum.) is a huge problem, but it’s largely caused by penalizing farmers (net result), not by rewarding them. The mention only of “subsidies,” and not the much bigger value reductions from ever cheaper prices that have run most of these farmers out of business is severely invalid. The penalties of cheap prices from the output complex have led to the further penalty of loss of livestock to CAFOs, and farmers couldn’t afford to bring sons and daughters into the operation to do the labor anyway. This then leads to the further penalty of the loss of the most sustainable crop rotations, which rely on livestock feeds, (alfalfa, clover, grass). This then leads to the loss of options of what to raise, (resilience based on a diversity of crops and livestock,) and the loss of alternatives to chemical inputs from the input complex. This then leads to the loss of the infrastructure and infostructure for diversity, (sale barns, elevators that buy oats and grind feed, mainstream businesses that support farmer diversity). In sum, I don’t think there’s much mention of any penalties to “industrial agriculture,” as a cause of the trends that make industrialism worse.

[5.] It’s not a meaningful discussion of “cheap food” if it’s grounded in “consumer habits” and “expectations,” with no mention of how it’s caused politically, and how farmers subsidize everyone’s food, (net result, even with subsidies). To frame it as “clear signals” based upon “demand” factors, clearly suggests that extra opportunities have opened up for farmers to make money, thus causing the problem (of farmers being underpaid). Yes, read that sentence again. The argument is a contradiction, and surely tied to the subsidy myth, where everyone assumes that “industrial farmers” are doing well, (but without ever providing any valid evidence to support the view). Stewart Smith projected the farm share of the food dollar, (excluding both input and outout shares,) to be zero by 2020. That general trend is supported by a wide variety of major data sources (price levels, net farm income, net cash income, return on equity, return on assets, percent of parity).

[6.] To suggest that something called “Agricultural … lobbies retain a privileged position relative to other constituencies (e.g. environment, health,)” is to use a strange term-gone-viral, (or substitute “farm lobby”). The lobby they’re referring to is an agribusiness lobby. The idea that there’s an agricultural lobby lobbying for these changes really doesn’t much exist. These changes are not in the interests of “agriculture” proper. They’re in the interest of the agribusiness input, output, and CAFO complexes. Those representing authentic “agricultural” interests have no significant lobby at all, as the evidence clearly shows. To call agribusiness a “farm” or “agricultural” lobby is to radically misunderstand the long history and current status of farm and agribusiness politics. Maintaining that misunderstanding is in the interests of agribusiness, and is against the interests of agriculture proper. The report clearly suggests that the environmental and public health sectors are losers, while farmers are winners. That’s false. Farmers are losers, and the losses to the environment and to public health result from the losing of farmers, which results from the gains that farmers are forced to pay to the agribusiness output (including CAFO) complex, when then also leads to the gains of the input complex (i.e. farmers losing livestock and livestock pasture and hay ground, and therefore losing sustainable crop rotations,) which also occurs at the expense of farmers, (i.e. at the expense of flexibility, independence, and resilience).

If “agriculture” is so privileged in it’s “lobby,” then why have most of those who practice agriculture in the US been run out of business by cheap farm prices, (caused economically by the chronic failure of free markets for agriculture, and caused politically by our government since 1953, as market management programs were reduced and eliminated)? Why have we lost livestock (that we once had,) on most farms, and on the surviving farms that still have livestock, why have we lost ownership of most of our livestock? Why has each farm bill gotten worse and worse for those who specifically practice “agricuture.” And finally, why does the data on lobby and influence money show, for example, that just 20 corporations (in 2009) gave 60% of the $100 million that was spent, and none of them were farmer organizations, and none of them represented the interests of farmers, (as defined by the questions above)? They all opposed “agricultural” interests.

[7.] In the section on “export orientation,” p. 6, I don’t see any discussion of how giant exporters use exports to drive down internal prices in the U.S. and all around the world, pitting one country against another, even though there’s no need for the various farm products to be moved around. In other words, it’s a tool against farmers and farming countries. It’s framed instead (in the report) as a spread of “industrial agriculture” as if agriculture is a a beneficiary.

Related to this, a “food price crisis,” is mentioned, as well as “price volatility.” That’s supposed to mean that paying farmers fairly is a crisis for farmers and their regional economies (farmers make up about half of the “undernourished,” and rural people make up about 80%). Really, only 3 major farm prices went up, (corn, soybeans, and rice,) and they rose from the lowest in history (not mentioned in the report,) to somewhere close to the half way point for all time prices, but only briefly, over a 7 year period, (2007-2013). Corn and soybeans,for example, had 8 of the 9 lowest prices in history from 1997-2005, and other major crops were similar. To call being paid something closer to “fair trade” price levels a “crisis” is to not know much of anything about agriculture. To not know that the poverty that causes hunger for farmers (50% of the hungry) and other rural people (80% of the hungry) comes, in important ways, from decades of the dumping crisis is apparently to be come subservient to the dominant narratives of Cargill, ADM, Kelloggs, Tyson, Dean Foods, Kraft and Shuanghui International. Where, though, is there any mention in the report of the much bigger chronic (50 year) problem, chronic, stable very low farm prices. Export dumping has happened almost every year for more than 40 years for wheat, cotton, and small feedgrains, and corn, soybeans rice, sugar and dairy are not far behind, and all are projected to be low through 2026? This is an absurd misunderstanding of these very crucial issues, (and one widely shared, virally!).

It needs to be doubly emphasized that the whole idea of a “food price crisis,” which is accepted in the report, (and apparently also in it’s sources,) is a major false narrative that strongly complements “feed the world.” For agribusiness to pay farmers the more fair prices of 2007-2013 means, in their view, that the sky is falling (on their authoritarian domination of farmers). The report primarily supports this false agribusiness narrative, against the goals of agroecology. The real crisis is the ever cheaper prices paid to farmers (half of the global hungry, who are keys to global rural economies, where 80% of the “undernourished” live). This is the cause of the rural poverty behind most hunger. A few years of farm prices that are more fair would have been no big deal if global farmers had been paid fairly over the previous 55 years.

It should also be noted that exports have been especially important to the growth of organic farming in the United States, for example across the cornbelt and wheat belt, for example, exports to Japan. Without exports demand would have been much lower, premium prices would have been much lower, and the industry would surely have grown at a much slower rate, and would have received much less media and other attention. Much less of an infrastructure would have been developed. Surely this illustrates how the simplified, generalized discussion of exports in the report is inadequate. It’s based on too little connection with the realities of organic farming in the U.S. throughout it’s history.

[8.] Research comes up in a couple of places, as if that’s designed to favor conventional farmers who grow crop commodities. I think it would be more accurate to say that the research creates dilemmas for these farmers, where they lose out by moving in that direction in the long term, even as there are other (short and long term) penalties for not moving in those directions. For example, cheap prices penalize crop rotations and make farmers older, so if you’re old and using pesticides anyway, why not use lower labor GMO methods, even though it’s a more concentrated input complex. On page 7 it states: “Increasingly privatized agricultural R&D programmes remain focused on the handful of crop commodities for which there is a large enough market to secure significant returns.” It’s not mentioned that these are the crops where farmers are paid the least, even with added subsidies (i.e. compared to a list of major fresh and processed fruits and vegetables, as measured by percent of parity). It’s also not mentioned that the privatization of research is for crops where the market prices have been drastically lowered by Congress to massively subsidize the output complex against farmers, (thus HFCS & transfats). At the same time, in losing livestock, pastures and hay, (cheap feed subsidizing CAFOs,) there’s more dependency upon purchased inputs per acre, and more acres on which to put the inputs, thus fostering that kind of R & D as well. So this reference, “secure’s significant returns,” is not a return for “industrial agriculture” itself. It’s a return for those exploiting “industrial agriculture.” The same agribusiness corporations doing the research also lobby collectively and successfully for paying “industrial agriculture” as little as possible, and their investments on research are dependent upon further exploitation along these same lines. So that’s not really “for” the farming part of “the handful of crops.” It’s against the crops (at the farm level,) but for them at the factory level. This is Stewart Smith’s argument that the “farming” portion of the money has been taken away from farms and farmers and given to giant corporations, who do more and more of the “farming” in the factories, and then sell it back as a labor saving technology, (for which the factories, not the farms, get the added value).

[9.] It’s good to see the data on the profitability for organic farming related to conventional, but I’ve explained a wide variety of other factors that can work against those results. These include cheap feeds for CAFOs to compete with organic meat and milk, cheap prices to compete with any local or organic food, the increasing use of farmland for tax loss farming which raises land costs, cheap prices for tasty junk food ingredients, and the ways that the various penalties have produced a farming generation that is very old, and which is unlikely to switch to organic. Also relevant is the destruction of the entire infrastructure and infostructure for diversity, which has been happening massively across vast reasons, as a result of cheap prices, at the same time as an alternative infrastructure for organic has been growing, and being taken over by giant corporations. Since all of the injustice of all of these devastations has been the major focus of activism by conventional farmers in the US over the past 60 years, (i.e. a majority have favored fair Price Floors instead of subsidies,) then it’s a tremendous disservice and a massive failure of strategy to foster the division between the two kinds of “industrial” farmers, organic and conventional, as is fostered by the oversights of this report. The newer, younger Sustainable Family Farm Movement split off from the Family Farm Justice Movement during the 1990s over the issues of justice, and that was a mistake. Out of that, the broader Sustainable Agriculture Movement and then the Food Movement of the 21st century have never supported the kinds of Farm Justice concerns that I’ve identified here. They’ve all supported cheap CAFO feeds, junk food ingredents, and below cost commodity exports (dumping) in the Farm Bill, although unknowingly, at least for the urban advocates. Now, two decades later, as the big “megamachine” corporations have moved into organic, and the Food Movement has so often misunderstood livestock issues, and as the larger infrastructure continues to be destroyed, it’s clear that the time has come to say “enough already,” and to refuse to continue to be divided and conquered.

RECOMMENDATIONS

All of this has huge implications for the recommendations.

[10.] “Recommendation 1: Develop new indicators for sustainable food systems.” The general idea is great, bring out the costs of the bad things, and provide rewards for the good things. Unfortunately, since so much of the underlying theory in the report is wrong, as explained above, a lot can go wrong here as well. That is, since many of the bad costs come from penalizing farmers in the first place, then penalizing them further may not be the best solution! This recommendation refers to “food” systems, but these things cannot be fixed on a “food only” approach. That’s likely to make things worse. (See more on these points below.) See my proposal in #11.

[11.] “Recommendation 2: Shift public support towards diversified agroecological production systems.” Yes, but that involves paying conventional farmers more, not less, and the pay needs to be shifted away from the agribusiness input and output complexes. Farmers must be paid fairly, as greater demands are also made to pay for the hidden costs. In particular, incentives are needed to bring livestock out of CAFOs and back onto the land. Unfortunately, “What is already happening” includes green subsidies but not fair prices, so it means that CAFOs, junk food makers and export dumpers continue to have their full benefits from cheap prices, hurting all farmers, and continuing to destroy sustainable crop rotations and the infrastructure for diversity. So that’s all directly against my recommendation of shifting benefits away from these entities. In “What needs to change” this mistake is further fostered by also reducing subsidies to conventional farmers, thus setting the stage for a massive farm crisis and further concentration, loss of crop rotations, destruction of infrastructure, and spreading all of this globally, including global food poverty. Here in the United States these problems have been fostered for some time, leading to richer people owning the land, (since you can’t make money farming it, and using farm losses to write off their ever greater off-farm income (the massive increase in tax loss farming in recent years). So again, this section assumes that farmers have been beneficiaries, and it ignores the much bigger factor of agribusiness input and output complexes.

Issues of “access to land” and “young people” who “enter agriculture and adopt agroecological farming,” are huge, but can’t be adequately addressed if nothing is done about cheap prices and tax loss farming. It’s naive and abusive to bring in new young people, when so many of the young people with years of experience in diversified farming were not able to make it into their own family-owned operations. (https://zcomm.org/zblogs/farm-justice-for-beginning-farmers/ ) So it’s incredibly naive to misunderstand these historical realities.

PROPOSAL: Here’s the place to emphasize the restoration of the real farm bill, (market management: Price Floors & Ceilings plus supply management,) on a global basis, and in new, more sustainable ways, (https://zcomm.org/zblogs/brad-wilsons-farm-bill-proposal/ ) as a way to cover the full costs, including the hidden costs, while removing the massive incentives from the agribusiness input and output megamachines. We must fully shift the massive (nongovernmental, nonspending, nonsubsidy) benefits away from the real (but hidden to these experts,) beneficiaries, agribusiness, not agriculture. Farmers, including “industrial agriculture, are the ones who have been paying these benefits to agribusiness, and through them, to consumers, as cheap food. That’s what’s destroying the farm and food/nonfood system. That’s what’s been the biggest barrier to agroecology.

This is very different politically from competing over a zero-sum spending pie, as the benefits come from, (not to,) agribusiness, (and not from government taxes and spending). Market management can be used to pay farmers fairly and bring livestock back to the land, while ending subsidies. Mere subsidies reforms cannot do that, and tend to be much much smaller in impact, and tend to divide and conquer the sectors that need to be united for victory. The timing of implementation of changes of this magnitude, (a magnitude which we haven’t seen since the 1930s-40s, is very important. It takes time to adjust.

Of course, market management can’t at all be done on a “food only” basis.

[12.] “Recommendation 5: Strengthen movements that unify diverse constituencies around agroecology.” Everything I’ve written is relevant to this category. What I’ve argued is that we’ve generally approached this far too narrowly, and we’ve done the same thing in this specific report. By not knowing what the data really shows, (that we’ve penalized “industrial agriculture” far more than we’ve rewarded it, in that we’ve run most conventional farmers out of business). The report has thus defined most U.S. farmers as “industrial agriculture,” (while ignoring that the other, favored farmers also are very industrial,) and written them out of the movement. The particular concerns I’ve raised all were made possible, surely, from the exclusion of the knowledge base and paradigm U.S. farmers, who are represented by the Family “Farm Justice” Movement stakeholder group, (which supports paying them fairly, keeping them in business, and keeping livestock on their farms). In the U.S. this Movement alone has decades of experience in fighting agribusiness megamachines head to head. These days, these are the only stakeholders who can correct the kinds of misunderstandings that I’ve exposed here. It’s a group whose narrative has been honed over many decades, (and continues to need updating).

Globally, the US is the dominant agricultural exporter, the only country that has been able to manage global supply and set adequate global prices. Related specifically to that, these US farm justice advocates have had a “unique” (https://zcomm.org/zblogs/unique-us-role-in-fixing-the-ldc-food-poverty-crisis/ ) contribution to make, beyond that which African farmers and European farmers, for example, could make, (though African [https://zcomm.org/zblogs/wto-africa-group-with-nffc-not-ewg-by-brad-wilson/ ] and European [https://zcomm.org/znetarticle/impact-of-gatt-on-world-hunger-by-mark-ritchie/ ] leaders have also supported these kinds of changes, as has the global farmer organization La Via Campesina [https://zcomm.org/zblogs/via-campesina-with-nffc-support-for-fair-farm-prices-by-brad-wilson/ ]).

My recommendations here represent a very different paradigm, both politically and as movement strategy. It’s one which can radically expand the movement and the political support which it can generate, even as it shrinks the opposition. At root, that’s because it involves someone finally supporting farmers, and bringing farmers’ narratives of justice into the movement. That then will further greatly strenghten Recommendation 5. Short of making the U.S. Farm Justice sector visible, (i.e. to bring the kinds of macro concerns I’ve raised here into the debate,) Recommendation 5 looks like a bit like spin.

[13.] “ Recommendation 6: Mainstream agroecology and holistic food systems approaches into education and research agendas.” Again, as in #8 above, to adequately raise the price that agribusiness must pay, (for example, firmly connectd to higher requirments for farmers, to prevent hidden costs,) to thus bring livestock back to farms, with much greater economic viability for sustainable crop rotations, would work strongly against the massive amount of private sector research which has been based on massive “implicit” or free market subsidies taken directly from farmers and given to agribusiness exploiters. At the same time, fixing the major farm injustices also opens up large arenas for new private sector research supportive of diversity and sustainability. But yes, much help is needed, as in the recommendation.

CONCLUSION

Again, there are many many excellent things in the report, and I have hardly mentioned them at all. Unfortunately, these excellent things are significantly tainted by being set into a context that’s false over all, with regard to farm justice. The primary shortcomings come from not knowing the point of view of farmers themselves, especially the farmers who have been fighting against these trends over the generations, and especially in the United States over the past 60 years, with very little help from urban based NGOs or from academics. Farmers, farms, and US agriculture as a whole, including “industrial agriculture,” are the victims, not the beneficiaries of the major changes that have happened in agriculture, as a result of agribusiness domination. Until the false paradigm in which farmers are seen as winners and net beneficiaries is eradicated, little progress can be made on these issues, and the stage is set for well meaning “experts” to support further devastations of the overall farm and food-nonfood system.

DATA

I plan to add a slide show of data charts to supplement this report. When that’s done, I’ll edit this and add it as a direct link. (General link: Brad Wilson at SlideShare: http://www.slideshare.net/bradwilson581525/presentations )

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2 thoughts on “Expert Agroecology Report: A Farm Justice Critique

  1. Brad, where do you live? I would love to talk with you. I am very passionate about reforming the farm system and you seem like the person I would like to talk with. I am from Northeast Ohio.

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