Towards world regulated agriculture
Famine, poverty, demography, public health, energy, environment … so many strategic stakes that humanity will have to face, making agriculture a major concern for the future.
And yet, the international decision-making tools and systems applied that should help decision-makers make adequate choices are ill adapted to the specific and strategic character of agriculture. The recent audit made by the World Bank underlining the “proselytism that it shows in favour of its own policies without explaining them sufficiently or expressing the appropriate scepticism” and the deadlock of the WTO international negotiations are good examples.
However, this does not mean that another way, reconciling liberalism, regulation and development is a pipe dream. It is the way recommended by WOAgri, and what
Christian Pèes , chairman of Euralis and founding member of WOAgri demonstrates. Below is an extract from his book entitled “L’arme alimentaire – Les clés de l’indépendance” 1(The food weapon – the key to independence).
“I am writing this book today because I believe in the future of agriculture. Contrary to the pseudo-Cassandres who prophesy the death of the farming community in Europe and African countries, I am convinced that there is new impetus ahead. The crisis that we are experiencing – demographic, energy – paradoxically, is an opportunity we must seize: it is always from crises such as these that major revolutions are born.
I have recently returned from a long worldwide study trip. My journey took me to every continent, from Asia to America, through various European countries. I saw the industrial boom in China – forests of cranes wherever I looked. A boom where agricultural ambition is just as rife: in Yinchuan, on the border of the Gobi desert, I saw thousands of hectares of sand transformed into irrigated arable land – resulting in the sad sight of a yellow river, no longer able to reach the sea in the dry season. I saw the ravages of deforestation in Brazil. But what I hardly ever saw in these regions was a piece of blue sky – there was so much smoke from burning trees and industrial waste that the horizon was obscured from view. All these countries are weighing more and more heavily on the organization of agricultural production in the world. Already, current trends are changing events – Brazil with biofuels, China with wheat and rice, not forgetting Bulgaria, the Ukraine, Russia…
The agricultural world is changing! Agriculture is conquering – sometimes without scruples – and redesigning the future of the planet. Without us. Because, everywhere, it is understood: for everyone to have enough to eat in the decades to come, manpower and land everywhere must be used. All the more so, because as luck would have it, demographic maps do not coincide with agricultural maps on our beloved Earth: there are areas weighed down by hundreds of millions of inhabitants covered merely by stretches of mountain and desert; others like in France, have fertile soil and a moderate climate, and only 60 million mouths to feed…. Added to this is the fact that agricultural land is decreasing in size, encroached upon by towns, motorways, railways and airports covered with tarmac and steel: if we do not put more energy into production or the equitable sharing out of resources, we are heading blindly towards world shortages, and therefore generalized chaos.2.[…].
Farmers, economists, a few of us today are sounding the alarm bell: unless there is a deliberate and concerted reaction in the near future, world agriculture is heading for a fall. Why? Because ill-adapted tools, ways of thinking, models and laws are being applied. Speculative excesses and price collapses, the concentration of agriculture in certain geographical areas, the disappearance of the farming world … these are the first results of this aberration commonly known as liberalism, which by virtue of generalized free exchange puts beauty products, dairy products, soy beans and Wonderbra all in the same boat, while forgetting that we can survive without beauty products, but that we die without dairy products. That it only takes a drought for there to be a shortage of soy beans on the planet… whereas nothing will ever stop the world production of the Wonderbra from doubling in size with just a click of the fingers. Finally, forgetting the congenital defect of liberalism, the “crisis” that will inevitably be caused by the sporadic readjustment to market conditions. And, in the case of agriculture, this crisis has a name: famine, accompanied by mountains of dead bodies.
No, agriculture is not a product like any other. It produces living products, vital for mankind. This is not the case for industry or services. This is why market laws that apply to all other products cannot be applied as they are to agriculture. They need to be adapted. Regulations. It is all very well brandishing economic models showing by a+b that with liberalization everyone will get rich because agricultural prices will drop. And the massive unemployment, and the desertification of the countryside that will result – what will be the human and ecological cost? And the dependence for food of one half of the planet on the other, what price the bloody wars and bribery that will be caused by all this? And then, the so-called low prices … will they well and truly remain so, when an epidemic or a climatic catastrophe has destroyed the products in an area specializing in poultry or in wheat? Will speculators of all kinds have a field day? So many unanswered questions, because these so-called wonderful OECD, FAPRI (Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute) or World Bank mathematical models do not take into account sociological, psychological or environmental parameters. And the reason is: they swear by statistics. For them, 100 million well-fed people plus 100 million starving people make 200 million people who have enough to eat! For them, but not for us. The following example is proof of this.
Imagine a cotton-producing country, whose only small advantage granted by nature is to be able to grow cotton on its land. By virtue of the market law, another country, which all things considered is quite prosperous, can calmly crush it, choke it under tonnes of cotton bales – under the pretext that its cotton, usually because of disguised dumping, is cheaper. Result: disaster for agriculture, uprooted farmers, a destabilized society. This is currently a daily occurrence in many African countries, such as Burkina Faso. Because of market laws, these countries not only lose their cotton, or their bananas or their peanuts. They also lose their processing industries, road infrastructures and schools. All development stops. They are condemned to eternal dependence, political chaos and war. Who could seriously dare to speak of “exchange” to qualify this assault on the freedom to produce one’s own riches, this condemnation to poverty without remedy?
During the Millennium Round, the WTO nonetheless included as one of its major priorities the fight against poverty… here is a taste of this hypocrisy supported by the above-mentioned mathematical models. “240 billion dollars will rain down on DCs as soon as agriculture is totally liberalized” the World Bank recently prophesized. A more recent revision reduced this sum to 25 billion dollars, which makes one dollar a year per inhabitant for ten years … is this serious?
Nobody can claim that the fight against poverty means pouring into countries that are struggling to become developed floods of products, that they can often produce themselves, at slashed prices. Is this however what the market law would like? It’s true. A conclusion is therefore called for: this law is therefore ill adapted to today’s world. Because, in this case, it has the “junior league” and the first-division champions playing on the same pitch – some doped and some not. However promising and gifted he is, a young child does not touch the ball if he is playing with Ronaldinho. Give him time to grow and he will perhaps become a champion goal-scorer by the time two or three World Cups have gone by. For the moment he must be taken out of the Stade de France and be given the champions not as an opponent but as a coach. The DCs need to go from feeding half-a-dozen mouths with a small quantity of manioc to an agricultural system that satisfies the needs of their population. They need to acquire techniques, skills and machine that are adapted to their needs. They will only then reach the decisive threshold of food independence. They will have become real partners, able to exchange with others on the world scene. Until then, the word “exchange” is an impostor, even an obscenity.
Don’t get me wrong: none of the “whistle blowers of which I am one, recommends the retreat of each country behind its borders. On the contrary we believe in the market economy, in competition, which encourages people to do better. We believe in the need for globalization. When we have 9 billion people on the horizon, on a planet that has a chaotic climate, and is confronted with the problem of diminishing resources, with all the instability that results from this, it is surely not the time to shut oneself away at home – as “Mr Alter” would like. The unprecedented crisis about to occur requires everyone in the world to produce as much as possible, for himself and for everyone else, while preserving the environment, which has already been damaged, as much as possible. How can we do this? Passively abandoning the reins to the market, leaving as the WTO suggests, a Darwinian selection, indifferent to all human considerations, to operate, is impossible as we have seen – unless we deny all value of human life.
But there is a third way: orientate, redirect this market more subtly in the direction of which we approve. Not by denying its rules as the “alter” movement does, but by adapting them to benefit humanity, instead of subjecting it to their cold logic. This third way, which resembles alterglobalism in its concern for the human race and liberalism in its respect of the market, is the way we recommend - a way of free and cautious exchange. It is the way WOAgri has chosen (World Organization for Agriculture), which was recently created after a meeting between members of the world of cooperatives and major French economists with the same vision. A cooperative gives all its members the opportunity to make a living by compensating the weaknesses of some with the strengths of others: in the same way, world agriculture needs a special system allowing all products to be produced and exchanged in harmony, with a shared view of competitiveness and solidarity”.
Christian Pèes , “L’arme alimentaire: Les clés de l’indépendance”, Publisher: Le cherche midi.
2 In 1990, there was 0.3 hectare of UAA (utilized agricultural area) per inhabitant, and it is estimated that in 2050, this figure will decrease to 0.2, even 0.1. “Our challenge will therefore be to double, even triple world agricultural yields”, concludes the economist Philippe Chalmin in Le Siècle des espérances (The century of hope) (Belin, Paris, 2005).