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Repression for land and profits



Over the past five years, at least two people from rural communities have been killed weekly in the struggles against land grabs, based on estimates by the Pesticide Action Network Asia Pacific (PANAP). More than eight are arrested and detained weekly, and more than two are harassed or assaulted.

On Sept. 2, Nigerian security forces and police arrived on a boat in the village of Agbede. They fired in the air to scatter the villagers and then burned at least nine houses.

On June 15, a violent confrontation between the Paraguay police and farmers in the town of Edelira ended with the killing of Édgar Centurión, a local farmer.

On June 12, the police arrested 91 people, including several members of a local peasant group, in Hacienda (a large estate or plantation) Tinang in a Philippine province. Eighty-three were detained and charged with trumped-up cases of illegal assembly and obstruction of justice, among others.

Systematic attacks

These attacks on rural communities are not isolated incidents of violence. They form part of the systematic repression of peasants fighting land grabs by big foreign corporations and the local elite.

The Agbede case, for instance, is tied to the ongoing land conflict between the local people and the Okomu Oil Palm Company (OOPC). The people claim that OOPC grabbed their lands and blocked their villages’ only public road. OOPC is a unit of the Socfin Group, a Luxembourg-based palm oil and rubber plantation operator notorious for its ruthless methods against local communities. Aside from Nigeria, Socfin units operate in Cameroon, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire, and Cambodia, among others.

Meanwhile, a land dispute between some 80 farming families and an agro-livestock firm is the backdrop of Centurión’s killing. Armed with shotguns, the local police destroyed the homes and crops of the settlement where Centurión lived to clear the land for the company. When the farmers resisted, the police opened fire, resulting in the 29-year-old farmer’s death.

The mass arrests in Hacienda Tinang happened amid a nearly three-decade dispute over 200 hectares of land between 236 peasant beneficiaries of the government’s land reform program and an influential political clan, which includes the incumbent town mayor. The farmers and their supporters were doing a collective farming activity as part of the assertion of their right to the disputed land when the police dispersed and arrested them.

Two killings a week

Over the past five years, at least two individuals from rural communities have been killed weekly in struggles against land grabbing, based on estimates by the PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP). More than eight are arrested and detained, and more than two are harassed or assaulted weekly.

Under its No Land, No Life! campaign, PANAP has been monitoring cases of human rights violations (HRVs) against farmers, farm workers, indigenous people, and land activists. From January 2017 to the latest available data (as of Oct. 20, 2022), PANAP has monitored 417 cases of killings that resulted in 610 deaths. Of the victims, 238 or 39 percent were farmers.

During the same period, there were 260 cases of arrests and detention, with 2,565 victims, and farmers comprised 45 percent of the total. For threats, harassment, and assault, PANAP has monitored 127 cases with 719 victims, of whom 60 percent were farmers.

As the village of Agbede, the farming settlement in Edelira, and Hacienda Tinang show, these numbers represent the lives and aspirations of rural peoples violently crushed by powerful forces with vested interests in their lands.

More alarming is that, as these particular cases of political repression against peasants show, state forces are often involved. Of the land conflict-related human rights abuses where reports or accounts identified the perpetrators, the police, military, and state-sanctioned paramilitary groups were implicated in 133 cases of killings, 258 cases of arrests and detention, and 49 cases of threats, harassment, and assault.

Greater unrest amid crises

Peasant repression in the context of land conflicts and struggles is a global phenomenon that intensifies amid the worsening crises of the world economy and politics, hunger and food insecurity, and climate and environment.

As global monopoly capitalism navigates its latest bout with an economic crisis lingering since 2008, the world’s wealthiest capitalists are looking for ways to protect their investments and make more money. The financialization of the global economy allows them to turn to assets such as farmlands, even when the likes of giant property holder BlackRock or mega-billionaire Bill Gates have no interest in producing food or engaging in agriculture but merely hedge their other investments or squeeze profits from the land’s value and rent. Through various financial firms, Gates has amassed almost 98,000 hectares of farmlands in the US alone, worth more than USD 690 million.

These financial groups and the capital they manage and represent invest in massive corporate plantations that concentrate lands, displace farmers, and commit violence against rural communities. For example, BlackRock and JP Morgan, along with other financial firms, have almost USD 13 billion in palm oil investments globally. Through his capital management firms, Gates also invests in palm oil, which one study shows is the commodity most exposed to land grabs.

These giant corporations even use the climate crisis they caused to justify more land concentration. They peddle so-called nature-based solutions (NBS) to address the climate crisis, such as through investments in biofuels, green finance, carbon credits, ecotourism, profit-driven conservation, and large-scale infrastructure supposedly for renewable energy.

PANAP has compiled 32 cases of NBS (ongoing or planned), which cover almost four million hectares, to highlight the extent of land grabbing and mass displacement among rural communities worldwide due to the supposed climate actions of monopoly corporations and their local agents. In just five of the NBS projects compiled from Cambodia, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Tanzania, the number of displaced or potentially displaced farmers and indigenous people could reach almost 300,000.

Land concentration is already very severe. In its 2020 report, the International Land Coalition noted that while small-scale farmers run 80 percent of farms, the largest one percent of farming enterprises manage more than 70 percent of farmlands worldwide.

With the wave of more monopoly capital pouring into farmlands through financialization and greenwashing, such concentration can only get even more intense in the coming years and fuel greater rural unrest. (RVO)

Original Source: Farm Land Grab

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A corporate cartel fertilises food inflation



Last year’s financial results from the world’s largest fertiliser companies are now in — and it’s a shocker. Given the sky high fertiliser prices of 2022, it was anticipatedthat their revenues would break records, but no one could have predicted this scale of profiteering. As the world grappled with a severe food crisis and farmers saw costs rise, the world’s largest fertiliser firms ramped up their margins and more than tripled their profits from two years ago.

Graph 1

Graph 1 shows the total profits of the big nine fertiliser companies over the past five years. They exponentially grew from an average of around US$14 billion before the Covid-19 pandemic to US$28 billion in 2021 and then to an astounding US$49 billion last year. International agencies like the World Bank blamed the spike in fertiliser prices on the Russian war in Ukraine, resulting in high natural gas prices (used to produce nitrogen fertiliser) from shortages and trade disruptions. But as can be seen in Graph 2, a major part of the story is the monopoly power of the fertiliser companies. These companies increased prices far beyond the increases in production costs and boosted their profit margins to a massive 36% in 2022.
Graph 2
There are signs that fertiliser prices are coming down from their stratospheric heights earlier this year, but the effects of the price spike are still being felt. The high prices and lack of supply in some countries caused farmers to cut fertiliser use, thereby reducing production levels and contributing to an alarming rise in global food insecurity. The high prices also pushed many farmers deeper into debt. Farmers from Cameroon to the U.S. say they are still spending three times as much on fertilisers as they were a few years ago. And in countries where fertilisers are heavily subsidised, the price spike has saddled governments with huge debts. In India alone, the central government’s expenditure on fertiliser subsidies last year surged from US$9.8 billion to US$17.1 billion. People are paying the price for the fertiliser industry’s price gouging.
The costs are also rising for the planet. Chemical fertilisers are a major source of environmental pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, with nitrogen fertilisers alone accounting for one out of every 40 tonnes of annual emissions. New reports from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation and Earth4All, a global collective of leading scientists and economists, make it clear that steep and immediate reductions in global fertiliser use are required to avert catastrophic climate change. Both recommend a near phase-out of nitrogen fertiliser consumption by 2050 (see Graph 3). The idea is not to recklessly crash production levels, but a planned transition toward more sustainable, agroecological farming systems that require less or no fertiliser.
Graph 3
It is increasingly clear that today’s food inflation is a product of both corporate greed and ecological breakdown. Obscene levels of profit-taking by corporations are happening across the food system, from fertilisers to processing to retail, and this is pushing up prices. But the way these corporations organise our food production and distribution is also driving climate change and, undermining the capacity for the global food system to deliver affordable and accessible food, now and over the long term.
Bold new approaches are urgently needed to reign in corporate power in the food system and turn the food crisis around. When it comes to fertilisers, policy actions like windfall taxes and price controls can help. But to deal with both profiteering and environmental catastrophe we need to transition food production to rely far less on chemical fertilisers. The fertiliser industry will be pushing for the opposite when it gathers for its annual meeting in Prague this week, yet around the world there are farmers and rural movements already leading a transition away from chemical fertilisers, with plenty of successful examples to learn from. What’s holding us back is the structural political change needed at all levels to address the excess profiteering from the fertiliser industry, and chart a new path toward more resilient food systems.

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The Black Sea Grain Initiative: When the United Nations Brokers Profits for Corporations, Bankers, and Oligarchs



“I am so moved watching the wheat fill up the hold of the ship. It was the loading of hope for so many around the world,” said United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, as a cargo ship was loaded up with Ukrainian grain in August 2022. Mr. Guterres was launching the Black Sea Grain Initiative, purportedly to prevent famines and a global food crisis by enabling food exports from Ukraine, amidst the Russian military blockade. USAID claimed that the “lifesaving deal”, which was renewed on May 18, 2023, “helps people in need across the globe by delivering desperately needed grains to lower income countries and bringing down food prices.” The European Commission celebrated the initiative as a “a critical step forward in efforts to overcome the global food insecurity caused by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.”

Mr. Guterres’ hope, loaded on the cargo ship, has however since gone missing at sea.

Despite the hype in political circles and the Western media that the Initiative was essential to secure food supply for those in need — particularly in Africa — data released by the United Nations offers a starkly different reality. As of May 2023, only 3 percent of the food commodities exported from Ukraine under the initiative has gone to low-income countries. Out of the 30.3 million tons exported, a mere 2 percent — 625,000 tons — went to the World Food Programme for food aid operations around the globe.

Charts showing grain exports from Ukraine by income group and country.

The top destination for Ukraine’s agricultural exports is the European Union, with China being second. Spain is the largest recipient in Europe. Instead of offering relief, Ukrainian exports are threatening the livelihoods of millions of European farmers — to the extent that Hungary and Poland banned imports from Ukraine in April 2023 to protect their farmers. As Ukraine and the European Commission pressured for the ban to be lifted, Hungarian and Polish farmers pushed back, asking the critical question: Who actually benefits from these exports?

The Oakland Institute’s report, War and Theft: The Takeover of Ukraine’s Agricultural Land, answers the question. It exposed that the producers exporting commodities from Ukraine are mostly large-agribusinesses and oligarchs, associated with European and North American financial interests. Furthermore, the report detailed how these producers are heavily indebted to Western financial institutions, in particular the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the European Investment Bank (EIB), and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) — the private sector arm of the World Bank. Together, these institutions are major lenders to Ukrainian agribusinesses, with close to US$1.7 billion lent to just six of Ukraine’s largest landholding firms in recent years. Other key lenders are a mix of mainly European and North American financial institutions — both public and private.

Renewing the Black Sea Initiative and maintaining the flow of exports from Ukraine has nothing to do with supporting the struggling Ukrainian farmers or the trumpeted goal to prevent a global food crisis — which has been largely triggered by speculation on global food markets. Food prices skyrocketed when global stocks of cereals were at historically high levels according to the World Bank.

Pretending their goal is to fight world hunger is appallingly deceitful, when, with the Black Sea Grain Initiative, the United Nations has become a business broker for agribusiness corporations. In violation of its values and the principles of the United Nations Charter, together with the Western banks and financial institutions, the United Nations is supporting large food trading companies, oligarchs, and their lenders and shareholders, to sustain export business and grow profits despite the carnage of war.


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Grain trader Cargill faces legal challenge in US over Brazilian soya supply chain



World’s biggest grain trader accused of ‘shoddy due diligence’ on deforestation and alleged rights violations.

The world’s largest grain trader, Cargill, is facing a first-ever legal challenge in the United States over its failure to remove deforestation and human rights abuses from its soya supply chain in Brazil.

ClientEarth, an environmental law organisation, filed the formal complaint on Thursday, accusing Cargill of inadequate monitoring and a laggard response to the decline of the Amazon rainforest and other globally important biomes, such as the Cerrado savannah and the Atlantic Forest.

The case, which was submitted under the guidelines of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, argues that Cargill’s “shoddy due diligence raises the risk that the meat sold in supermarkets across the world is raised on so-called ‘dirty’ soy”. ClientEarth says this breaches the international code on responsible business conduct.

The lawyers behind the complaint have stressed the urgency of the issue because Amazon degradation is approaching a tipping point, after which scientists say the rainforest will turn into dry grassland, emitting vast amounts of carbon dioxide. The Amazon’s sister biome, the Cerrado, has already lost half of its tree cover.

The lawyers say they hope the legal challenge will raise standards at Cargill – which is the biggest privately owned company in the US, with revenues last year of $165bn (£131bn) – and set an example across the industry.

Laura Dowley, a lawyer at ClientEarth, said: “Cargill has vast resources at its disposal to implement due diligence. The technology is already there. We aren’t asking it to do anything it doesn’t have the resources to do. We hope it will show leadership.”

Cargill has promised to be “deforestation-free” in the Amazon and Cerrado by 2025 and completely eradicate deforestation from all its supply chains by 2030. The company says it has put in place a sophisticated monitoring operation at ports, warehouses and other points in its supply chain. ClientEarth said it identified several shortcomings in this system, including a lack of environmental due diligence on:

  • Soya beans bought from third-party traders, which make up 42% of all Brazilian soya Cargill purchases.
  • Soya beans owned by other companies that passes through Cargill ports.
  • Indirect land use change.
  • Soya sourced from the Cerrado savannah.
  • Soya sourced from the Brazilian Atlantic Forest.

ClientEarth also cites reports alleging Cargill suppliers have been involved in rights violations of Indigenous, Afro-Brazilian and other forest-dependent communities.

Cargill told the Guardian it had not seen the full complaint but it had an “unwavering commitment” to eliminate deforestation and conversion in South America. In line with this, it added: “We do not source soy from farmers who clear land in protected areas and have controls in place to prevent non-compliant product from entering our supply chains. If we find any violations of our policies, we take immediate action in accordance with our grievance process.”

The company’s website notes: “Cargill is committed to transforming our agricultural supply chains to be free of deforestation by 2030. Our policy on forests lays out our overarching approach to achieving this target globally across our priority supply chains. It is founded on our belief that farming and forests can and must coexist.” A spokesperson added that Cargill was also “strongly committed” to protecting human rights in its operations, supply chains and communities.

However, journalists revealed last year that one of Cargill’s soya suppliers grows crops on land deforested and burned in the Brazilian biome. In 2020, the Guardian and partners uncovered evidence that Cargill supplied Tesco, Asda, McDonald’s, Nando’s and others with chicken fed on imported soya linked to thousands of forest fires and at least 300 sq miles (800 sq km) of tree clearance in the Cerrado savannah. Similar reports were broadcast this year by Sky News.

Source: The Guardian

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