Saturday, January 21, 2012

What are some of the systemic implications of a power analysis of global agriculture?

A recent work called the 'Power in Agriculture Report', commissioned for the 2011 Oxford Farming Conference, and undertaken by the Policy Research Unit at the Scottish Agricultural College, raises a number of interesting systemic insights.

As Tara Garnett of the Food Climate Research Network (FCRN) observes: 'The political power relevant to global agriculture is still concentrated in the hands of the USA, major EU countries and some other economically powerful countries within the G8 coalition' but 'in the coming decades, EU countries may have to confront increased pressure to allow greater access to their markets'.  Competition is 'likely to come from emerging economies – like China, India and Brazil..'

From within Australasia the rhetoric seems to imply that Australia and NZ have more power than this analysis reveals.  This analysis raises significant uestions about  Australia's focus on WTO/GATT arrangements and other policies led by idealogical commitments to economic theory rather than the hard work of 'real politik'.  It also raises questions about whether Australia's pursuit of free trade agreements have been helpful.  In the power index devised by the report's authors Australasia comes in at less than half that of the EU and USA and on a par with Brazil.  Perhaps surprisingly it is also less than the UK.

Power now and in the future is likely to be concentrated in the hands of TransNational Corporations (TNCs) who are moving (really, have already moved) to incorporate emerging nations into their networks of power.  Consider the following findings:
  • four companies account for 75-90% of global grain trade;
  • 10 companies represent over 40% of the global retail market
  • seven companies control virtually all fertiliser supply
  • five companies share 68% of the world's agrochemical market
  • three companies control almost 50% of the proprietary seeds market
 And where are these predominantly based ? The US and EU of course!  The authors did note, however, that: 'in some cases civil society organisations and farmer groups have had a significant impact in countervailing or balancing corporate influences'.

In what is decribed as a 'potentially grim picture' one of the reports conclusions is that: ' population growth, depleting mineral reserves and the impact of climate change will all put increased pressures on natural resource availability and it is clear, as evidenced through the process of ‘land grab’, that control of natural resources will become increasingly important as they become more scarce.'

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