become more and more concentrated as the richer farmers buy out those who are in debt, and that the seed houses, chemical companies and fertilizer manufacturers now hold farmers in their thrall.
Promoting farm mechanization has had similarly disastrous social consequences. In many areas, the introduction of farm machinery has changed the very economic and social basis on which farm-work is traditionally organized. Tasks which previously required the cooperation of farmers can now be performed by a machine: those who are able to buy the machinery can pick and choose their labour force regardless of social obligations, and are often able to take over land from the poor due to the increased control over production which mechanization brings them. Independent peasants are thus transformed into farm labourers, whose working conditions and rewards are increasingly determined by "market" forces. In this context, displacing labour through mechanization can only further marginalize peasants, thousands of whom are cast out to join the growing ranks of the rural unemployed. In a buyer's market, and without effective legal or trade union protection, real wages for labourers have declined in many Third World countries, making the survival of the poor even more precarious.
Mechanization, the creation of a pool of landless labourers, the introduction of non-traditional crops and the availability of fertilizer have enabled wealthier farmers to expand the size of farms, either because they are no longer constrained by labour shortages or because the new machinery and inputs enable them to cultivate previously marginal land. One result has been to raise the value of land, fuelling land speculation, triggering rent rises, squeezing peasant farmers and encouraging rural violence. In some cases, farmers have simply sold out; in others they have been forcibly dispossessed by hired gunmen. In both cases, it is the hand of the largest landowners which has been strengthened at the expense of the poor.
The Corporate Stranglehold FAO's die-hard commitment to promoting export crops has further compounded the social and economic fallout of agricultural intensification. In some countries, almost all the best agricultural land is used for export crops — including non-food crops, from carnations to cotton. In Guatemala, the area of land under coffee production rose by almost a third between 1950 and 1977, whilst that under cotton leapt from 5,000 hectares in 1948 to 89,500 in 1967. In the Philippines, half the country's prime agricultural land is used to grow export crops. Vast plantations have displaced thousands of peasants, forcing them to cultivate marginal, less productive lands with predictable ecological consequences. The beneficiaries have been multinational corporations and the elites of the Third World. The further intensification of agriculture can only tighten their stranglehold on the production and distribution of agricultural produce.
FAO has never satisfactorily explained how encouraging export crops is in any way compatible with its avowed goal of "eliminating hunger and rural poverty." By definition, food that is exported cannot be eaten by local people. This may seem obvious but it has not deterred FAO from encouraging farmers in the poorest and most famine-stricken countries in the world to grow crops for export. In 1973, 36 of the nations most seriously affected by hunger and malnutrition exported food to the US — a pattern that still continues. Indeed, the Third World as a whole exports more food to the industrialized world than it either imports or receives in food aid. How can you possibly hope to feed those starving in the South by exporting their crops to the already well-fed populations of the North? Nor is it just their food that is exported: the biomass of the crop is also lost to them, and with it a major source of soil fertility.
The Global Supermarket Similarly, the policy of forcing peasants into the cash economy — or, as you put it, transforming agriculture into "a dynamic sector" — has only served to intensify the plight of the poor. In the global supermarket which your policies have helped create, people earning perhaps 25 dollars a year — if they are lucky — must compete for the same food with people who earn 25 dollars an hour, or even 25 dollars a minute. In such circumstances, food can only go in one direction — towards those with the money to buy it. Only those who have the income to translate their biological needs into "effective demand" get to eat — and such people constitute a smaller and smaller proportion of the world's population. Not surprisingly, study after study has shown that when peasants enter the market, their nutritional status declines, principally because they do not have hard cash to buy the food they once grew for themselves.
You seem unconcerned by this. So long as a country can satisfy the "effective demand" for commerciallygrown foodstuffs, such as wheat, you judge it to be "self-sufficient". On that basis, you proudly proclaim even India to be a success story — blithely ignoring the fact that many tens of millions of Indians are malnourished and that many of the foodstuffs you use as indicators of self-sufficiency are not staple foods for the mass of the population. It is a telling example of your blinkered approach to the problems of hunger.
More of the Same We could go on. We could detail the environmental devastation caused by your policies (see Vandana Shiva, this issue), we could point to the number of people killed and poisoned by pesticides (see Barbara Dinham, this issue), and to human rights abuses that have resulted. The question, Mr Saouma, is why you refuse to reassess those policies? Why you so strongly opposed a serious and independent review of FAO
The Ecologist, Vol. 21, No. 2, March/April 1991 proposed by Norway at your 1987 Conference and insisted on engineering a whitewash for your policies? Why, despite all the evidence of their destructiveness, your only response is to push ahead with these policies still more vigorously? You now want to extend the Green Revolution to Africa. You want farmers to embrace biotechnology. You want governments to be more aggressive in promoting a free market in agricultural goods. You want them to endorse the new GATT proposals under the Uruguay Round — proposals which would make it "GATT-illegal" to ban imports of cheap foods even when such imports undermine a country's agricultural base; proposals which would also make it illegal to prevent exports of food, even in times of famine. How can such policies help the poor? (For a discussion of the new GATT proposals see 'Special GATT Issue', The Ecologist Vol. 20, No. 6, 1990).
Sustainable Development? The only concession you seem to be prepared to make to your critics is to cloak your policies in the fashionable but vacuous language of "sustainable development", even describing your latest policy document — World Agriculture: Towards 2000 — as providing a "transition to sustainable agriculture" (see Edward Goldsmith, this issue). But what is sustainable about a policy that seeks to extend cultivation onto land which you admit to be be highly vulnerable to erosion and desertification? That seeks to increase the amount of land under perennial irrigation by 20 per cent, when irrigation is already depleting water sources at a rate far above recharge? That seeks to increase fish production from seas which you admit are grossly overfished? That seeks to increase the number of cattle on rangelands which you admit to be overgrazed? That seeks to "protect" forests by intensifying their commercial use and clearing them for agricultural land? What is sustainable about encouraging farmers to adopt crops that require high inputs of water in an age when water scarcity is likely to be a major constraint on production? That seeks to increase the dependence of farmers on fossil fuels when this can only add to global warming? And where will the 1500 billion dollars needed to implement your programme be found? You tell us that it can be raised through taxing farmers. How will this help those who are already crippled by debt? How will this sustain their livelihoods?
Food Security You will no doubt respond that in an increasingly populated world, we have no option but to increase agricultural output through intensification. But there is little to be gained by increasing production if those who produce the food do not get to eat it or if their environment is degraded in the process. The issue is not how to maximize output, Mr Saouma, but how to
maximize food security. It is surely time you learned the difference.
Throughout the Third World, local people already know the value of food security. Indeed, they have evolved numerous different agricultural strategies for achieving precisely that end [see pp.86-98) — strategies that are fine-tuned to local environmental conditions and which reflect the inventiveness, vitality and dynamism of local people in meeting the challenges that agriculture has always posed.
You will say that such systems are unproductive and outdated, that they cannot meet the needs of the modern age. But whose needs do you have in mind, Mr Saouma? Certainly they have little to offer the manufacturers of pesticides; or the manufacturers of tractors and other farm machinery; or those who would construct large-scale irrigation works; or the political elites in the developing world whose allegiance you rely upon. But they have everything to offer those who are starving, those who have been marginalized and impoverished by the development process. The problem, Mr Saouma, is not that such strategies are outdated but that they are being systematically undermined by the policies you are promoting.
Indeed, ensuring food security requires an approach to agriculture that is, in almost every respect, the reverse of FAO's present policies: • Instead of encouraging the spread of
monocultures, it requires encouraging systems that grow a diversity of crops — thus protecting genetic diversity, minimizing pest infestations without recourse to pesticides and safeguarding farmers against the vagaries of climate (see Miguel A. Altieri, this issue); • Instead of encouraging resource-intensive,
capital-intensive and bureaucratically-managed agricultural systems, it demands farming systems that put the control of inputs and decision-making in the hands of local people, not middlemen or distant government officials; • Instead of encouraging export crops, it would
encourage growing food for local people and letting them plant what they want to plant, rather than what international markets dictate; • Instead of encouraging trading patterns that
favour the developed countries and Third World elites at the expense of the world's poor, it would encourage trading patterns that encourage local self-reliance; • Instead of encouraging the concentration of
land in the hands of those who have no obligations to feed local people, it would encourage the devolution of control of local resources to those who depend upon them.
Fighting for Farmers We have no doubt that there are powerful lobbies
The Ecologist, Vol. 21, No. 2, March/April 1991