Opinion: Solutions to Replace the Destructive International Neoliberal Agricultural System
By George Naylor
Life becomes more precarious day by day because of multinational monopolies’ priorities for cheap labor and raw materials. We farmers see industrial agriculture destroy biodiversity right before our eyes and our rural communities lose so much viability. Metropolitan areas sprawl with traffic gridlock and more and more of our citizens join growing populations of workers with low wages or no jobs at all. Inevitably, we are all inclined to dream of utopias that would be so much better. There’s nothing wrong with that. Each of us probably has a utopia that changes daily as we learn more and more about the history of humanity and the deadly trajectory we find ourselves in. Sharing our utopias and the wisdom of Indigenous peoples can open new vistas and will be vital education in itself.
But do we have time to agree on an ultimate solution, and won’t change come one step at a time? Given the potential for imminent chaos and growing authoritarianism, maybe preserving our rights to free speech and association to be defended by all our fellow citizens becomes our first priority. After all, the widespread debate must be the immune system of our democratic future. If “might make right” becomes the norm, how much longer will it take before we can no longer live in fear and resume our quest to make our planet a peaceful and safe home for humanity?
To make a difference and to concretely get us on track, we need to get everybody to see the big picture and to think BIG! The members of La Via Campesina grasp the big picture and know intimately how the current international economic and political system discounts the beauty of all human beings and cultures and the most basic ecological relationships we must rely on.
George Naylor at the IVth International La Via Campesina conference in Chiapas, Mexico in June 2004 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, edited for TNF
So, I’ll now offer my proposal for our first steps for everybody on the planet to see the big picture and to think big. Si se puede! We must demand an international treaty to immediately end the destruction of Indigenous peoples' pristine land, ecosystems, and homelands for any purpose, but especially for conversion to industrial agricultural production. At the same time that members of La Via Campesina suffer from low commodity prices and witness the usurpation of livestock production by corporations, we see on TV the Amazon rainforest being burned and bulldozed to produce more cheap corn and soybeans to feed corporate-owned livestock in inhumane feedlots and confinements. All the citizens of this planet will recognize this has to stop immediately!
We must also end neoliberal free trade and restore universal food sovereignty so countries can democratically design new agroecological farming systems to protect their natural resources, produce healthy, culturally appropriate food supplies, restore economic opportunity, and create food security reserves. Progressive movements like La Via Campesina must regain the lead in abolishing free trade, or reactionary movements will co-opt this issue with inauthentic right-wing opportunistic politicians like the situation in the United States.
The law of economic gravity in a market economy is as real as the physical law of gravity. The law of economic gravity dictates that over time, the buying power of wages and commodity prices will fall, fall, and fall unless we establish economic democracy to create laws guaranteeing fair prices for farmers and living wages and safe conditions for workers. These living wages and fair prices must be paid by employers and buyers of commodities, livestock, and fruits and vegetables rather than letting the government pick up the bill, which is only a subsidy to employers and food processors. The guaranteed prices and living wages must be indexed to inflation, or once again, workers and farmers will experience the hardships of declining standards of living.
In the US, minimum wages haven’t been increased since 2009 and are the lowest in real dollars since 1945! Prices for commodities in the US were supported and indexed to inflation from 1941 to 1952 because of workable policies established during President Roosevelt’s New Deal. Farmers in the US have suffered under a “market-oriented policy” ever since, which explains the evolution of US agriculture from diversified farms into mono-cropping of corn and soybeans to furnish cheap feed to corporate livestock operations and cheap feedstocks to biofuel production. The system of fair prices was called Parity. The thousands of Indian farmers protesting in recent years likewise demanded a minimum support price (MSP), which should be the demand of all farmers around the world. This also coincides with La Via Campesina’s Geneva Declaration, June 28, 2022: “We call upon governments to build public food stocks procured from peasants and small-scale food producers at a support price that is just, legally guaranteed and viable for the producers.”
Once food sovereignty and the guarantees of parity prices and parity wages are achieved, other reforms, including land reform, rural resettlement, local food systems, and reparations, will be possible. We can make agroecology the holistic basis of all our agriculture. The public will enthusiastically support efforts to bring young people and landless farmworkers back to the land, recreating rural communities with opportunities and meaningful work to be the foundation of our societies.
Our demands are simple and easily understood:
1. An international treaty requiring that every country stop, by whatever means, the destruction of land, natural ecosystems, and indigenous homelands used to profit from extractive industries including industrial agriculture.
2. The immediate end to free trade agreements and the tyranny of the WTO enforcing free trade rules designed to abolish nations’ sovereignty, particularly food, labor, and environmental sovereignty.
3. International commodity agreements to stop the relatively few major exporting countries from exporting commodities at disastrously low prices—disastrous for their own farmers, their environment, and, in fact, their own economies. US history shows how this can be achieved in every one of the major exporting countries by comprehensive parity policy, including parity price supports (not government payments), marketing agreements, supply management, food security reserves, and import controls. Since Big Data, robotic farm machinery, and land speculators are also eliminating “big farmers” in these countries, these farmers will support our transformation proposals so they can see a future that will end the treadmill of growing more and more for less and less.
La Via Campesina will lead a giant movement with the big picture in mind and new standards of democratic governance. Is there any other choice? Globalize the Struggle! Globalize Hope!
George Naylor, he/him, has been farming his family's farm since 1976, choosing to never raise GMO crops. George and his wife Patti began 7 years ago transitioning the farm to organic. Last year the family celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Naylor Farm. Their new farm project is an organic cider apple orchard. George was a member of the first Iowa Corn Promotion Board, was active in the 1980s Iowa Farm Unity Coalition and worked on a farmer team writing the Harkin-Gephardt Farm Bill. In the early 2000s, he served as president of the National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC) and was a lead plaintiff in a national lawsuit against Monsanto. He currently serves on the boards of the Center for Food Safety and Family Farm Defenders. This essay was published on the NFFC blog. contact - firstname.lastname@example.org