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Agricultural mega-mergers: who will decide what we eat

Agricultural mega-mergers: who will decide what we eat

By Silvia Ribeiro

These mega-mergers will have many negative repercussions in the short term: a notable increase in the prices of agricultural inputs, further reduction in innovation and varieties available to the market, greater limitations on public plant breeding, and an increase in pesticides in the fields - and therefore in food - for be able to continue selling transgenic seeds, even if they have caused resistance in dozens of invasive plants and it is necessary to increase doses and add mixtures with even more toxic agrochemicals. For these companies, their biggest business is selling poison, so if they don't stop them, this will be the course of action.

The mergers will also have strong impacts on peasant and family farmers' economies, although most of them use their own seeds and few or no chemical inputs, because the power of pressure of these mega-companies against governments and international bodies will increase with their size and for monopolizing the first links in the agri-food chain. They will increase the pressure for more restrictive intellectual property laws; to restrict or make illegal the exchange of seeds between farmers - for example with “phytosanitary” norms and the obligation to use registered seeds; so that the programs for the field and agricultural credits are conditioned to the use of their inputs and patented seeds; so that spending on infrastructure and other agricultural policies benefit industrial agriculture and displace peasants.

As if that weren't enough, there are other very worrying factors. The merger round will not end with those moves, it is just beginning. What is at stake in the medium term is who will control the 400,000 million dollars (mdd) ofeverybody agricultural inputs. Currently, the combined value of the global commercial market for seeds and pesticides is $ 97 billion. The rest, three times larger, is controlled by machinery and fertilizer companies, which are also consolidating. The four largest machinery companies (John Deere, CNH, AGCO, Kubota) already control 54 percent of that sector.

The machinery sector is no longer simple tractors: they have acquired a high degree of automation, integrating GPS and agricultural sensors to their machines,dronesfor irrigation and fumigation, unmanned tractors, as well as a massive accumulation of satellite data on soils and climate. In turn, Monsanto and company, the six great “genetic giants”, have also digitized and control a huge genomic database of crops, microorganisms and agro-ecosystems plants, in addition to other related databases.

There are already collaboration contracts between both sectors and even shared companies for the sale of climate data and agricultural insurance. Monsanto, for example, acquired the company in 2012Precision Planting, of instruments and monitoring systems for "precision agriculture", from sowing to irrigation and administration of agrochemicals. In 2013, he boughtThe Climate Corporation, for registration and sale of climatic data. John Deere subsequently agreed to purchasePrecision Planting Monsanto, but the antitrust offices of the United States and later Brazil, objected to the purchase, considering that John Deere would control a monopoly percentage of the sector. Although the sale was finally canceled in 2017, it is a sign of the trend. There are several other digital-instrumental companies (Precision Hawk, Raven, Sentera, Agribotix) shared or in collaboration between the transnationals of agricultural machinery with those of seeds-agro-toxins. See the document "Software versus Hardware" of the ETC group (http://tinyurl.com/y9dnpano).

Everything indicates that the large machinery companies will move to buy from the genetic giants, after the first round of mergers is finished. This second round has the objective of imposing a highly automated agriculture, with very few workers, that will offer farmers a package that they will not be able to refuse: from what seeds, inputs, machinery, genomic and climate data to what insurance they will have to buy, in addition that they will seek to make agricultural loans conditional on the acquisition of this new package, just as it is now done with seeds and agrochemicals.

It is essential to understand and report the impacts of mega-mergers now. Many organizations have mobilized to protest in the United States, Europe, China, and several countries in Africa and Latin America, even before antitrust offices, which at least has delayed their approval. Ultimately, it is about preventing agribusiness from taking over the entire field and food, also a way to protect peasant and agroecological production, the only way to eat healthy and for food sovereignty.

– Silvia Ribeiro researcher at the ETC Group

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