Companies and "Sustainable" Agriculture

Companies and

By Lilian Joensen

At first, industrial food production was sold as a way to combat hunger and poverty. But a few decades after the green revolution began, the consequences were, not only more poverty and hunger, but deforestation, desertification, pollution etc.

First of all, I want to thank this opportunity to tell our case. This is one of the few opportunities we have had, apart from our counter-conference against the Roundtable on Sustainable Soy in Brazil, this past March. I will try to explain here, in a very short way, how the transnationals are co-opting the terms: sustainable and organic referring to production in South America, to spruce up their public image.

At first, industrial food production was sold as a way to combat hunger and poverty. But a few decades after the green revolution began, the consequences were, not only more poverty and hunger, but deforestation, desertification, unemployment, evictions, pollution, health problems, along with the loss of food sovereignty and the privatization of seeds. , as well as dependence on agrochemicals and machinery.

The transnational companies behind the model of the green revolution, instead of recognizing the damages caused to societies and the environment and offering reparation, now invent what they call:

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). CSR is a marketing technique for companies to obtain a better image to sell their products. It is a mere instrument of propaganda for its products to a public that has become more aware of ecological and social issues and has become critical of industrial methods of agricultural production in the third world.

To maintain the facade of CSR, transnational companies support programs of Civil Society and Governments. They support voluntary actions by their own employees and managers. They develop marketing programs that involve seemingly social causes. To modify the public image of the companies, the latter do not carry out the programs themselves, but “collaborate” with the NGOs.

According to CSR, this collaboration has 3 phases, based on an Administration class at the University of San Andrés de la Pcia. Of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

During phase 1, the company makes donations to an NGO.
During phase 2, the company mobilizes its resources, helping its customers make donations as well. Meanwhile the NGO provides Brand Value, for example allowing the company to use its logo, easily recognized by the public. In this way, NGOs that have acquired public prestige can legitimize the company's business. The NGOs become market instruments of the transnationals.
Finally, phase 3 is when the relationships between the business sector and the NGOs become deep and intense. This is the phase called "Intregrative".
To validate CSR, "experts" from the industrialized world, with funds from the corresponding development agencies, banks and transnational companies, consult "experts" from NGOs from third world countries that best suit the interests of the world. neoliberal system.

Reports are produced that are continually improved with respect to language to appear more “progressive” and democratic. The common characteristics of these reports are the assertion that The Free Market is here to stay as industrial growth and the demand for raw materials supplied by the third world will increase somewhat during the next 15 years until 2020 (for example). Things are bad, but you cannot fight the economic power. The industry has misbehaved, but since growth will unfailingly continue at a certain percent, worst and best imagined scenarios are considered and compared. Round tables are recommended between NGOs, industry and representatives of government institutions from the South and North. They speak of the need for the "certification" of products as coming from "sustainable and responsible" resources, as well as the management and services of natural resources.

All this, of course, in the name of the poor and the hungry. And it is here where several of the northern NGOs are making a complete mistake.

It is in this context that the original philosophies behind organic production have been jeopardized by the collaboration of certain NGOs with agribusiness. By definition, organic production should be directed towards local production and consumption and refers to small plots where the tracts have “human dimensions”. Furthermore, trust is based and sustained on ethical conditions and processes.

The Certification or "third party testimony" if a parasitic phenomenon and comes from the distortion of the concept of organic production, when it begins to produce for the "market" and especially for "transoceanic markets". In this case, the origin of the production is far from the consumer. Then the additional costs of certification enter the system. Certification does not add value to the product, but it does add costs. And if the products are not certified, they are not legal for sale. Then the costs of transport, storage and handling of goods are also added. The consequences of all this is that organic production ends up being only available to the elites and those who can pay for it. Certification also bureaucratizes production and marketing processes by taking power from small farmers and giving it to agribusinesses.

In the southern cone of Latin America, soy is produced to feed animals in Europe and China. Transgenic soybeans were legally introduced into Argentina without prior public discussion or the democratic institutions of the government. Today more than 95% of the soybeans in the country are transgenic. In Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay, GM soy was illegally introduced and today, more than half of the soy in Brazil and Paraguay is GM. Some northern NGOs believe that to save Brazil from transgenic soy, it is important to promote the "certification" of conventional and organic soy.
Some NGOs in the North. For this reason, they hold round tables with agribusinesses and agribusinesses, believing that they will convince them not to switch to transgenic soybeans. They are concerned that by 2020, 22 million hectares of forests and savannas will be lost in South America to soybeans. For this reason, they propose unviable mechanisms of rotation between soybeans and livestock to reduce deforestation to 3.7 million hectares. This idea of ​​saving patches of nature is what is called: "sustainable soy production."

On the other hand, Lynn Clarkson, from Clarkson Grain, the largest supplier of organic soy for milk production, said during his visit to Argentina, towards the end of 2004, that Argentina has good potential to become a great supplier organic soy. How can this be, when Argentina has already turned completely towards transgenic soy? Quite simply, because we have so much virgin land that it will be easy to get certified for organic soy quickly. This idea involves the destruction of virgin lands to produce even more soybeans for organic markets.

All this is said, without taking into account the report of the Faculty of Agronomy of the University of Buenos Aires, presented before the Conference of Parties on Climate Change in Buenos Aires, in December 2004. In this report it is concluded that soy is the crop mainly responsible for the emission of greenhouse gases in our country.

Certification for organic soy exports also requires special ports. In Argentina, Cargill is the only company that has such facilities in the Timbúes area on the Paraná River.

The same concept of agrarian reform will be co-opted by CSR in the framework of the certifications. In it, land ownership is no longer important as land ownership, as long as agribusiness can decide what and where to produce. Subsistence farming is in danger.

On the other hand, industry and some NGOs are talking seriously about producing biofuels. This is another threat, since it means more monocultures of transgenic soybeans and sugar cane, with the consequent environmental contamination and the eviction of peasants and indigenous peoples.

Meanwhile, in Paraguay the violent evictions and massacres of peasants and organized indigenous people, to make way for new soybean fields, are taking place with the support of the police and the military forces. Paraguay has granted immunity to soldiers of the United States of America and its troops are installing in this strategic country that borders other countries rich in natural resources in Bolivia, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. This is part of the so-called "Low Intensity War." And of course, security reasons are adduced. In this context, it is important to mention another report on Latin America produced for the Government of the United States of North America "Latin America 2020: Discussing long-term scenarios." In it, the indigenous movements of several countries are considered a threat to the interests of the United States, given that “they could eventually converge with some non-indigenous movements, but radicalized, such as the Landless of Brazil, the Paraguayan and Ecuadorian peasants and the Argentine picketers ”.

In this way, the agribusiness and other “Socially Responsible Companies” are being protected, to ensure their access to our natural resources, such as land for soybeans and other export crops, water and natural gas, which are being courageously and seriously defended. for the indigenous people and peasants of the countries bordering Paraguay, of Paraguay as well, of course, and of all of Latin America, from Mexico to Patagonia.

In Brazil, the WWF partner in the round table on Sustainable Soy, the Governor of Matto Grosso and the largest unit producer of soy, Blairo Maggi, told the Financial Times on June 23 (2005) that: “Small properties in Matto Grosso they are not economically viable. This must be about an economy of scale, like the automotive one. One cannot plant wheat, soybeans or cotton without extensive properties that are competitive in the world market ”. It also emphasizes the vast areas that are still "available for (agricultural) production without destroying the Amazon."

The Nature Conservancy, funded by the British Embassy and with the support of Cargill, inaugurated a project to certify soybeans in Brazil on April 25, 2005.

These are some examples that demonstrate the fallacy of projects and round tables of collaboration between NGOs and industry. These are some examples to show the fallacy of the NGOs-Industries Sustainable Roundtables and projects.

The Southern Cone of Latin America should not be condemned to be mere forage producers to feed animals in Europe and China.

Contrary to the concern that some European NGOs have expressed, the Latin American peoples are making, and have been making for a long time, a serious struggle to protect our environment and our authentic organic production, against corporate corporate power. The peasant, indigenous and landless movements must be supported in their active struggle to defend the land where they live. NGOs should not argue with agribusiness companies and other companies about the certification and management of natural resources. The NGOs must not become marketing instruments of the Transnationals. NGOs should not compromise with the business world and promote their ideas.

The NGOs must put all their efforts in defending the peasant communities in their place, so that they are not evicted, not even with the so-called "prior, free and informed consensus" as promoted by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. It is, at least, extremely innocent not to realize that for agribusiness, the “prior, free and informed consensus” simply means new colored mirrors to free the land of their own peoples for greater industrial and tourist exploitation, threatening sovereignty food and habitats of native peoples and peasants.

True organic production and local development must be defended. And this cannot be done by agreeing with the condescending neoliberal terms represented by "Corporate Social Responsibility."

I want to thank Agronomist Adolfo Boy and Jorge Rulli, also from the Rural Reflection Group, for their advice and guidance for my participation in this conference.

* Lilian Joensen
Rural Reflection Group
Note: Paper presented by Lilian Joensen from the Rural Reflection Group of Argentina, which she presented at the Conference for a Sustainable World, which took place in London on July 15, 2005.