You’d think that the ‘Big Food’ industry would be busy scaling up the world food supply in a seriously big way. But you know the saying: never judge a dominating, greedy, pesticide-wielding junk food industry by its nickname. I think that’s how it goes, anyway.
The truth is, according to a report compiled by the nonprofit Grain, which works to support small farmers and social movements in their struggles for community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems, the world food supply is facing a major threat because farmland is being taken away from small family farm operations and being turned over to greedywealthy corporations.
Grain researchers utilized government data and statistics for its report, entitled “Hungry for land: small farmers feed the world with less than a quarter of all farmland.” According to data Grain obtained from the United Nations, small farmers grow an astonishing 70 percent of the world food supply, but their farmland is shrinking year after year “as mega-farms and plantations squeeze them onto less than 25% of the world's available farmland, the Guardian reports. “These mega-farms are less productive in terms of amount of food they produce per area of land.”
"Small farms have less than a quarter of the world's agricultural land – or less than 20% excluding China and India. Such farms are getting smaller all the time, and if this trend persists they might not be able to continue to feed the world," Grain’s report explains.
The Big Food industry relies on commodity farm crops—ones that are most often genetically modified in the U.S. such as corn, soy, canola, alfalfa, sugar beets and cotton. “The land area occupied by just four crops – soybean, oil palm, rapeseed [canola] and sugar cane – has quadrupled over the past 50 years,” reports the Guardian. These crops fuel the processed food industry, along with factory-farmed animal products, which have also taken up a huge chunk of farmland around the world.
"The powerful demands of food and energy industries are shifting farmland and water away from direct local food production to the production of commodities for industrial processing," the report says. More than 140 million hectares—the equivalent amount of farmland throughout the entire European Union—have been converted to plantations for Big Food crops, reports the Guardian.
From the Organic Authority Files
Yet despite the disparaging numbers, many large food and agricultural corporations insist that sustainability plays a crucial role in their business models. Even Monsanto has a sustainability mission despite the fact that it continues to sue small family farm operators for patent infringement on its proprietary seeds.
"What we found was shocking," said Henk Hobbelink of Grain. "If small farmers continue to lose the very basis of their existence, the world will lose its capacity to feed itself. We need to urgently put land back in the hands of small farmers and make the struggle for agrarian reform central to the fight for better food systems."
Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger
Related on Organic Authority