Food Systems Build More Corporate Wealth Than Fill Larders Essay

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Global Food System

Multinational agribusiness is thriving, yet nearly 40 developing countries urgently need food to feed their starving populations (Lean, 2008). Food security is being held hostage by giant food and biotech companies (Lean, 2008). Profits take priority over solutions for the expanding global food crisis, and farmers in the developing world are not benefitting from their labors (Lean, 2008).

The profits and earnings of giant agribusinesses have increased dramatically, pleasing shareholders commodities traders across the globe (Lean, 2008). Few programs of scale sufficient to assist hungry people are established and implemented by agribusiness. Programs that are developed are a step in the right direction, but are too small to have much impact -- many critics see these programs as a form of public relations to ease the collective conscience and to signal corporate social responsibility. Many highly profitable companies engage in Fair Trade practices that ensure farmers in developing countries are fairly compensated for their labor. Agribusinesses and biotech corporations need to step up the plate -- the dinner plate -- and establish or meaningfully contribute to Fair Trade programs.

Conservation International & Starbucks Alliance

Conservation International is a large multinational nonprofit organization focused on environmental issues. In the interest of promoting practices that would protect endangered habitats on small coffee growing farms, Starbucks entered into an alliance with Conservation International (Austin & Reavis, 2002). Motivation for this alliance was a product of several variables: Starbucks' social responsibility policies and practices, Starbucks' strategy for coffee procurement, and pressure from NGOs focused on habitat protection in coffee-growing regions (Austin & Reavis, 2002). Starbucks began a project in Chiapas, a southern section of Mexico, which introduced shade-grown coffee into the coffee products line (Austin & Reavis, 2002). At the time of this initial project, coffee prices were falling precipitously causing coffee producers to experience an economic crisis, so conditions were ripe for the development of coffee farmer cooperatives (Austin & Reavis, 2002). Simultaneously, Fair Trade nonprofit organizations were squeezing coffee roasters to pay higher prices to farmers. The alliance between Starbucks and Conservation International is a good example of an industry in which both supply side and demand side function in a global context (Austin & Reavis, 2002). The coffee procurement practices adopted through the alliance's activities emphasize economic, environmental, and social sustainable practices (Austin & Reavis, 2002).

The alliance between Starbucks and Conservation International is a viable exemplar for agribusiness and biotech corporations to utilize as a basis for changing their practices (Austin & Reavis, 2002). Ensuring that farmers in developing countries are fairly compensated for their labor is robust step toward ensuring the food security of the food growing segments of the populations in these rural target areas (Austin & Reavis, 2002). The economic health of rural food growers impacts food security in rural areas and in cities, as people residing in urban and more populated areas depend on the augmentation of food production by the efforts of farmers in rural areas (Porter, et al., 2014).

Rural Food Value Chains

The variables influencing sustainable coffee production practices were quite well understood as this has been an area of multidisciplinary research for decades (Graef, et al., 2014). The same high-level analysis of rural food systems is only recently coming to fruition, and much work remains to be done (Graef, et al., 2014). Research focused on food security for poor and vulnerable people can be conducted at many levels, including "participatory action research that considers the entire food value chain" (Graef, et al., 2014). Graef, et al. (2014) propose a research framework that is employed for all the components of food systems that primarily serve poor and vulnerable people (Graef, et al., 2014). This means that the research framework addresses food security by first identifying and prioritizing strategies, then testing, adapting, and upgrading the strategies (Graef, et al., 2014). Such a research-based approach is comprehensive, addressing food consumption, natural resources, food production and processing, food markets and distribution, and waste management (Graef, et al., 2014). Joint participation in the research project using the framework developed by Graef, et al. (2014) addresses the potential for enhanced food security across temporal and spatial measures. This means that information about scalability and sustainability are integral to the research being conducted in Tanzania as a test case for Sub-Saharan countries (Graef, et al., 2014). The collaborative project conducted by scientists and policy makers encompasses stakeholders at local, regional, and national levels, and is designed to cover all relevant activities that are conducted in many different food sectors to ensure the most robust application of the research framework (Graef, et al., 2014).

Food Value Chains in Cities

With food scarcity so acute and chronic in rural areas, most of the research on food systems has emphasized the situations of rural poor populations (Porter, et al., 2014). Since people living in cities do not have the self-provisioning capacity to meet the demand for their own supplies of food, they engage in food trade to ensure that they achieve food security (Porter, et al., 2014). The local agro-ecosystems of cities -- and often even of rural areas -- are insufficient to adequately supply food for their own consumption (Porter, et al., 2014). With wealthier populations, food flows extend internally and externally to the jurisdiction of their states, reaching areas of food production in areas quite remote from their own locations (Porter, et al., 2014). In their research, Porter, et al., (2014) studied the food security of capital cities with considerable wealth and other resources: Canberra, Australia; Copenhagen, Denmark; and Tokyo, Japan. The Porter, et al. (2014) study examined the food sources and traded volumes from those sources for the three capital cities in the study. Productivity was calculated for regional and non-regional ecosystems providing food for each of the cities and, from this, estimates of the land area utilized for food production was calculated (Porter, et al., 2014). The researchers found radical differences in the food production areas utilized by and depended upon by the cities (Porter, et al., 2014). In addition, considerable differences were found across the cities with respect to the degree of their self-provisioning capacities (Porter, et al., 2014). The overarching trend for all three sample cities has been a substantive reduction in the percentage of food demand met by local agro-ecosystems, and increases in the global land area utilized to produce and export food to these cities to meet the demand of their growing populations (Porter, et al., 2014). Trade patterns have also shifted in the years since 1965, with trade of services within the ecosystems now ranking as important to food security as market access and trade (Porter, et al., 2014). This means that the ecosystem services, such as pollination, soil fertility, and water, are embodied in the actual trade of physical food commodities -- although without this type of analysis, the utilization of the ecosystems services might not be so apparent (Porter, et al., 2014). The Porter, et al. (2014) study clearly illustrates the need to research both self-provisioning capacity and food security across a broad range of rural, poor cities, and rich cities by identifying the global locations of the ecosystems that are engaged in the provisioning. The researchers assert that an important underlying question for future research is whether and to what degree various governments across the globe will stay committed to open policies for the trade of food, and particularly when political unrest that results from food shortages is evident and recurrent (Porter, et al., 2014).

The food system has been called dysfunctional because "it does not serve the better interests of the environment, peasants, family farmers, or low-income people of color" (Holt-Gimenez & Wang, 2011). However, in view of the fact that the global agricultural-food monopolies -- which include grain traders, retail operations, seed suppliers, and input suppliers made record-breaking profits during the 2008 food crisis and during 2010, it is not accurate to say that the food system is broken (Holt-Gimenez & Wang, 2011). If the objective is to have an inclusive, safe, and predictable food chain, then expansion of the Fair Trade movement is rational and socio-economically urgent.

Conclusion

Contemporary food systems are capitalist vehicles that create and concentrate wealth through "market expansion, compound economic growth, technological innovation, and, increasingly financial speculation" (Magdoff and Tokar, 2010, as cited in Holt-Gimenez & Want, 2011). The fundamental flaw in the food systems that are fed by coordinated efforts of corporate agriculture-food giants is that the power these enterprises have over regulatory government agencies and multilateral organizations (Holt-Gimenez & Want, 2011). Thus, the rules, regulations, policies, and practices that support the corporate agriculture-food giants protect the labor, property, technology, and trade utilized to maintain the structural, advantageous status quo (Holt-Gimenez & Want, 2011).

Fair Trade arrangements need to consider the entire food supply value chain and not just the impacts on the producers (Banco, 2010). Fair Trade is proven approach to supporting small farms, farmers, and agricultural workers, and a good way for consumers to know the foods…[continue]

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