The global farmland grab in 2016: how big, how bad?

GRAIN – Thursday 14th June

A new report, published by GRAIN, documents the continuing and still growing practice of ‘land-grabbing’ across the world. This practice, in which land is taken by corporations or governments from individuals and communities which own or have rights to it, has been a devastating problem for people in the developing world. In the fight to acquire the land, harassment, intimidation and sometimes violence is used.

GRAIN has been tracking nearly 500 land deals over the past ten years which constitute land grabs amounting to 30 million hectares across some 78 countries. GRAIN states that this research evidences that “the global farmland grab is far from over. Rather, it is in many ways deepening, expanding to new frontiers and intensifying conflict around the world.” Land grabbing is a fundamental inhibitor of food justice and sovereignty, disenfranchising large numbers of people from a food system that they have access to and control over. It is also supporting the further intensification of agriculture, especially through the developing world.

There is now growing awareness of the practice and significantly more media attention paid to it – a change which has happened over the past eight years. Land grabs are now frequently met with organised resistance and diverse groups of people are uniting against them. This has led to an increase in the failure of these deals. But land grabs remain “difficult and dangerous” to oppose. Further, the tactics employed are becoming ever more insidious.

Working within government frameworks and voluntary good practice guidelines has given rise to the semblance of what is termed ‘responsible investment’ but which ultimately continues the process whereby the interests of the many are turned over to the hands of the few to make a healthy profit. With climate change becoming a live issue for agricultural corporations, this consolidation is unlikely to abate.

Obesity boom ‘fuelling rise in malnutrition’

BBC News – Tuesday 14th June

The 2016 Global Nutrition Report finds that 44% of countries are suffering from ‘very serious levels’ of malnutrition. What’s remarkable about this, is that this startling figure doesn’t just come from those who are starving in the world – it also, and significantly, comes from people who are overeating: eating a lot of calories doesn’t mean the calories are nourishing you. While in many countries, malnutrition from undernourishment is diminishing, malnutrition related to overeating is growing fast. As a result, the report argues that being malnourished is the ‘new normal’, a deeply disturbing turn in global health.

This issue further highlights the desperate need to make headway on the obesity epidemic and the report throws its weight behind this. Further, it is critically important to recognise that being overweight is another form of malnourishment, with health impacts as severe and destructive as starvation.

A map of where your food originated, may surprise you

NPR – Monday 13th June

The roots of your food may not be where you think. Thai chillies didn’t develop in Thailand, but originally came from Central and tropical South America; potatoes and tomatoes came from the Andes. Many of our cereals originated in the area of the Middle East known as the Fertile Crescent, but over time, these crops have migrated around the world and today, a recent study argues, we have broadly globalised crop species.

The problem with this is that as crops become globalised, they also become less genetically diverse. What’s important about their point of origin, is that it is marked both by the presence of wild plant relatives and by more plant varietals developing in that place.

Foreign crops that no longer grow in their place of origin, now make up the bulk of what we eat and grow, so we mostly eat and grow plants which have come from somewhere else. Paradoxically,  the US diet is organised around crops originally from West Asia and the Mediterranean, while the US is the point of origin for sunflowers which are mainly eaten and grown in other places in the world.

This globalisation of our food also means that we are growing and eating less and less diverse species. Because of this, we need an ‘interdependent’ global food system where our crops species and varietals are shared widely among regions and countries, engendering greater biodiversity. This is especially true as the impacts of climate change become more strongly felt. At the moment, this sharing isn’t happening despite The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture which should ensure the right of countries to have access to the diversity they need. But sharing seeds isn’t coming naturally to the countries of the globe and politics often impedes access. So seed biodiversity continues its decline and along with it, one of agriculture’s critical tools for combatting climate change.

CAP must become ‘Common Sustainable Food Policy’, to be relevant in 21st century, new report suggests

Farming UK – Thursday 9th June

The Food Research Collaboration is calling for a ‘Common Sustainable Food Policy’ to replace the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, in a briefing paper titled Does the CAP still fit? The paper pushes for a broader systemic policy that addresses the food system as a whole, instead of looking at agriculture alone. With farming now just a component of a much larger food production system, the report’s authors claim that “politicians and policy makers seem unable to grasp the enormity of what needs to change.” The CAP must change “radically” for it to make a meaningful impact on the food system.

Leaving aside the question of whether the UK will be part of the EU in a few days, as well as whether, if it leaves, the Government will have any interest in the sustainability of the UK’s food system, we can no longer think about agriculture and farming independently of wider food system issues of public health, environmental concerns, food waste and food justice. Similar calls are being made in the US, with influential voices including Michael Pollan advocating for a US national food policy, under which farm policies would support “public health and environmental objectives”. It is becoming increasingly important to consider the whole of food production and distribution in relation to sustainability, rather than just how to make agriculture more sustainable. Sustainability needs to permeate all aspects of our food system.

Photograph: McKay Savage

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