As the agricultural hysteria further peaks and as we so dearly subscribe to the fallacies and the fantasies of agriculture, the centre and focus of the attention and discussion have been on the amusing and mouth-watering prospects and fantasies of the market.
The agriculturally ignorant yet so termed, self-claimed and “nationally” celebrated influencers have refused to be left behind in this agricultural expedition. They, too, have opted to jump into the agricultural bandwagon and fetishism, as they have taken it into a rather personal and entrepreneurial endeavour, mission and task to brand the sector.
The current amplified trend and emphasis are geared towards #MakingAgricultureSexie; less attention has been dedicated towards the actual agriculturalists (the small-scale farmers) and the real aspects that contribute to the hard work of ‘feeding the world’ such as the small-scale farmers’ rights on land and seeds.
The major talk and concern amongst mainstream agricultural fanatics have been highly focused on reaping the financial benefits of agriculture – the end product of the agricultural value chain. But what is agriculture without the seeds and the farmer (let alone the land)?
In the course of attending to the notion of the food crisis and altogether promoting the aspects of food security, or even in dealing with any agricultural crisis, the global, regional and national “experts” have always offered a one-size-fits-all solution that is agribusiness.
In simple terms, agribusiness refers to the absconding of subsistence farming and adopting the business model and aspects across and throughout the agricultural value chain.
The agricultural lobbyists thus propound and strongly argue that the agribusiness venture provides a transformative perspective that assures improved and sustainable livelihoods. Isn’t this lovely?
A shallow outlook of agribusiness simply relates to individuals and companies venturing into agriculture, investing their money in a particular component of the value chain, and engaging in the respective component commercially as they seek to benefit from their investment.
In an actual sense, however, agribusiness is a market-oriented model dedicated to channelling and amassing the profits and wealth generated from agriculture to a designated few individuals who aspire to and eventually control the means of production and dominate the agricultural market.
As of effect, this particular model concentrates the entirety of the remaining population, in their resounding numbers, into the locks of dependency and reliance on their fate and livelihoods into the designated few.
Agribusiness is another facet of capitalist ventures, as it is set in the fundamental capitalist economic pillars and foundations of control and domination. Hence this being the case, is agribusiness still the solution?
Agribusiness and seeds
Seeds, like land, pose as a means of production, for without seeds, there is no food; thus, seeds, within the logical and strategic business and social lenses, are a significant component in agriculture. Whereas the agribusiness agenda loomed and gained pace, it was thus financially sound and necessary to invest in the seeds component of agribusiness.
By the late 1990s, the ETC Group, an international organisation dedicated to the conservation and sustainable advancement of cultural and ecological diversity and human rights, reported that the top 10 companies controlled 40 per cent of the global commercial seed market.
However, the 2022 Food Barons Report now points out that only two companies control 40 per cent of the world seed market. The report further says that four top firms – Syngenta Group (Chinese Company based in Basel, Switzerland), Bayer (Germany), BASF (European Multinational Company) and Corteva (US) – control half of the world’s commercial seeds.
As the race for domination and control persists through mergers and acquisitions, the giant seed companies have been at the forefront of advocating the agribusiness agenda. Such mega and transnational companies have made massive investments dedicated to appropriating the rights, market and control of seeds from the farmers.
These capitalist ventures have influenced legal and policy regulation of farmers’ rights to save, produce, multiply and exchange seeds. They have also manipulated seeds as they seek to get rid of our natural seed heritage.
Also, they have highly hoarded the agriculture supply business, as they have tied the seed sub-sector to other production processes such as plant protection, soil fertilisation, and post-harvest management, from which a range of products are made and traded worldwide for profit maximisation.
Despite their extraordinary financial muscles and resources, commercial seed companies are still facing significant constraints in the market. It is reported that 80 per cent of the seeds used in agricultural activities in the African region come from the Farmers Managed Seeds System – FMSS, with the remaining 20 per cent coming from commercially produced seeds.
To bridge this gap, these mega companies have embarked on a global propaganda and campaign which brands their seeds with phrases of formality, modernity and resilience. On the other hand, farmer-managed seeds have been associated with informality, poverty and backwardness.
Moreover, the elites have been employed by these transnational seed companies to denounce the farmer-managed seeds by propagating that the same pose as the main hindrances of the agricultural revolution, the society’s transformation and our natural and local seeds are now labelled as the enemy of sustainable development.
The respective elites have cherished this task in their political, economic and social capacity. They are successfully making significant strides in developing huge interests and obsession amongst the farmers and communities to abandon their seeds and adopt the newly imported and developed seeds.
Elsewhere, the capitalist seed ventures, in securing and promoting their interests for profits, have been facilitating the reforms in different national and regional legal processes and systems.
These measures intend to harmonise the seed laws to ease the business of the corporate seeds owned by a handful few. In the process, they criminalise the farmers-managed seed systems, which offer the smallholder farmers affordable, accessible and appropriate seeds that appeal to their political, cultural, economic, social and even environmental settings.
In his 1984 address at the 39th General Assembly of the United Nations, the revolutionary leader of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara, perfectly and accurately warned against the danger of seed dependency.
“It is natural that he who feeds you also imposes his will,” he said. “He who does not feed you can demand nothing of you.”
Whereas there are ongoing celebrations and campaigns to embrace dependent and hegemonic production, processing and distribution of commercial seeds under the ambit and claws of monopoly capital, these words of Sankara resonate with this very period and in this particular context.
Surprisingly, we are today advocating for the antics of agricultural transformation and revolution by trading and disposing of our freedom and dignity. Almost four decades later, the pleading of the revolutionary leader of Burkina Faso on food justice, stressing that a country that cannot feed itself inevitably risks losing its independence and dignity, is still being ignored.
However, unlike the elites and the ruling class, Sankara’s views and assertions are embraced and shared amongst a huge segment of the actual and ordinary farmers.
Similarly to Sankara, Apolo Chamwela, a smallholder farmer from Kiteto District, Manyara region, and national chairperson of the network of smallholder farmers in Tanzania (MVIWATA), in the representation of the perspectives of his peers, eloquently highlights that “seed is a source of life, cultural heritage and a form of identity.”
Whereas slavery is associated with restricting one’s liberty and expropriating one’s dignity, what is thus of liberty and dignity today if one’s right to life, primarily determined by the right to food, is completely left at the mercy and hands of the designated few?
It is thus about time we either opt to thrive by subscribing to seed sovereignty advocated for through the farmers-managed seed system, or we instead perish by submitting ourselves to the eternal shackles of imperialistic reliance and dependency on commercialised seeds.
“Where is imperialism?” Sankara asked one during a speech to his people. “Look at your plates when you eat; the imported rice, maize and millet – that is Imperialism!”
The authors have introduced themselves as food and seed sovereignty activists. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. These are the writers’ own opinions and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of The Chanzo. Do you want to publish in this space? Contact our editors at firstname.lastname@example.org for further inquiries.