In 2009, the ETC group published a report that showed that 70 percent of the world's population is fed by the production of peasant networks and other small-scale food providers. The data caused surprise and sometimes denial, because the transnationals that dominate the industrial food chain have taken it upon themselves to make us believe that they are essential and that without them the population could not be fed, which is totally false.
In the new revised and enlarged version, published in 2017, it is reaffirmed that more than 70 percent of the world population goes to the peasant network for all or a large part of their food, although this network only has less than 25 percent of it. land, water and fuels used in agriculture. The publicationWho will feed us? The peasant network or the agro-industrial chain? It can be downloaded at http://www.etcgroup.org/.
On the other hand, the agro-industrial food chain occupies more than 75 percent of those resources, but only feeds the equivalent of 30 percent of the world's population. At the same time it is a source of health and environmental problems, and it is the main generator of greenhouse gases that cause climate change, according to data from Grain (https://tinyurl.com/yda3vp3z).
What in ETC we call the peasant network includes peasants and indigenous people, shepherds, gatherers, hunters, fishermen and artisanal fisherwomen, as well as one billion urban peasants who maintain backyards, raise small animals and vegetable gardens in urban areas, in total it adds up to more than 4.5 billion people. Most of them carry out one or another of these activities at times, in addition to alternating with urban jobs for economic reasons.
We define the industrial food chain as a linear sequence of links that go from agricultural inputs (plant and animal genetics, pesticides, fertilizers, veterinary medicine, agricultural machinery) to what is consumed in households, passing through the processing chains, packaging, refrigeration, transportation, storage, sale in bulk, retail or restaurants. From seeds to supermarkets, the chain is dominated by a score of transnationals, to which are added large banks, investors, speculators and politicians.
The negative impacts of this powerful chain are broad, both on local and national economies and on health and the environment, even beyond what we know of.
For example, for every peso that consumers pay for products in the industrial chain, society pays another two pesos to remedy the damage to health and the environment that they cause. According to 2015 data, 7.55 billion dollars are spent per year on industrial foods, but of this amount, 1.26 billion is food consumed in excess, causing obesity, diabetes and other diseases and 2.49 billion is food that is wasted . In addition to the amount paid directly when buying products, the company pays another 4.8 billion dollars for health and environmental damage. Therefore, of the total expenses related to industrial food (12.32 billion dollars annually), 70 percent is counterproductive!
The amount paid for damage to health and the environment is based on official data, which only reflects a part of the health expenditures. Yet that figure is five times the world's annual arms expenditure.
The agribusiness food chain produces much more food than is eventually fed to the population. Where is all that production going then? To begin with, the level of waste from industrial agriculture to households is enormous: according to FAO it is 33 to 40 percent. If agricultural production is measured in calories - a poor measure, since it does not show the quality of energy, but it is what is available - 44 percent is dedicated to feeding livestock (but of this only 12 percent goes to food human), 15 percent is lost in transportation and storage, 9 percent is used for biofuels and other inedible products, and 8 percent goes to household waste. Only 24 percent of the calories produced by the industrial chain go directly to feeding people.
There is much more data in the 24 questions posed by the document, which is a collective work designed to be accessible to the majority, based on hundreds of sources from the United Nations and academic and independent research organizations. Among other conclusions, it is clear that the discourse on the food system, vital for the survival of all, is riddled with myths to favor the industrial chain, transnational companies and the financial interests that profit from it. But it is the peasant networks, which despite the enormous injustice in access to resources, feed the majority of the world's population, taking care of animal, plant and microbial biodiversity, the environment and health. On November 16, a presentation of the report will be made at the Autonomous University of the State of Mexico (More information: https://tinyurl.com/ybgxalkp).
By Silvia Ribeiro, ETC Group Researcher