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21 July 2009

Fixing our Global Food System

Food Sovereignty and Redistributive Land Reform

Peter Rosset resides in Chiapas, Mexico, where he is a researcher for the Center for the
Study of Rural Change in Mexico (CECCAM), and co-coordinates the Land Research
Action Network ( He is also part of the technical support
team of La Vía Campesina, the global alliance of peasant and family farmer organiza-
tions (, and is an associate of the Center for the Study of
the Americas (CENSA) in Berkeley, California.

The recent world food price crisis highlights what many have thought
for a long time: the world’s food and agriculture system is broken. Few
winners remain in the aftermath of the severe crisis, in which prices for
basic food commodities (corn, wheat, rice, soybeans) increased
dramatically in 2007 and 2008, only to fall rapidly in the second half of
2008. Although down from their high points, commodity prices are still
about double those of the early 2000s. Consumer prices in all countries
have remained high, while farmers failed to benefit much from the price
hikes, due to high prices for agricultural inputs such as seeds and
fertilizers, and they are now hurt by falling crop prices.1 The real people
in the system, whether family farmers or peasants, or the rest of us who
just consume food, can’t ever win, it seems. It is always the middlemen—
an ever smaller array of global corporations—that “make the killing” in
terms of windfall profits.

When we bring this system down to earth, literally to the land that
is farmed around the world, and the question of who farms it, what we
find is a clash of two models of agricultural production. The dominant
model, which generated the recent crisis, consists of industrial
monocultures produced by agribusiness, whether in Iowa in the United
States, Brazil, Mali, Spain, India, or Thailand. Unfortunately for local
consumers in any of these countries, agribusiness does not typically
produce food for local populations, rather, agribusiness has an export
vocation. Either commodities are produced for export markets, or biomass
is grown to produce ethanol or biodiesel to feed cars instead of human
beings. Thus Brazilian agribusiness, for example, is far more likely to
feed cattle and cars in Europe, than it is to feed Brazilians in Brazil.

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