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Control over food and agriculture

The agrochemical TNCs emerged from the leftovers of World War II: a deadly progression from war chemicals to commercial agrochemicals for modern-day agriculture. The monopoly control, integration, concentration and expansion of the agrochemical TNCs were the result of a long process that began with their emergence after the Second World War.


The Green Revolution

Since the mass introduction of pesticides into agriculture 70 years ago, control over the knowledge and tools needed to grow food has been shifting from farmers to laboratories and marketing divisions of multinational corporations. Under the guise of the Green Revolution, the agrochemical TNCs made inroads into national policies, especially the developing countries, through Structural Adjustment Programmes imposed by WB, IMF, and later on the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) which became the WTO.

The agrochemical TNCs supplied the external agricultural inputs for the Green Revolution High Yielding Varieties (HYVs), which were also manufactured and sold by the very same TNCs. The Green Revolution technologies were promoted by providing initial free supplies of chemical pesticides, seeds and synthetic fertilizers as well as incentives, loans, and subsidies to ensure that peasant farmers used these inputs. By the 1990s, an estimated 40 percent of farmers in the South were using Green Revolution seeds, primarily in Asia followed by Latin America.


Intellectual Property Rights on Genetic Resources

After corporate control over agricultural practices such as the use of external inputs like pesticides and fertilizers became entrenched agrochemical TNCs moved towards controlling access to living organisms and their genetic material.

These same TNCs control an increasingly alarming percentage of seeds and germplasm, the first link in the food chain, through intellectual property rights (IPRs), such as patents, and plant variety protection and seed laws. In fact, genetic engineering in plant breeding is expanding patent monopolies and, through a combination of genetic engineering and patents, the agrochemical TNCs are entrenching their monopoly ownership of the global food system.

The restrictions on the use of seeds, brought about by IPRs, force small food producers into dependency on purchased seeds while wantonly driving up the prices of these. In addition, the licensing contracts between farmers and corporations ensure that these seeds are not saved or shared, since these are the property of the TNCs. Such patents and licensing contracts have serious ramifications for farmers’ seed saving, selection and breeding which are important sources of plant varieties. Meanwhile, farmers’ (particularly women’s) local knowledge, skills and innovation are being ignored and lost as is their selfsufficiency and ability to control their costs.


Cooperative Strategies and Collusion

This unprecendented control is further aided by cooperative strategies between the TNCs. They engage in cross-licensing structures for joint research and development efforts like the development of new traits through genetic engineering. They are also part of CropLife - an industry organisation ironically promoting toxic products or genetically-engineered (GE) crops as safe but also essential in food production and now trumpeting their products to mitigate impacts of climate change.

Collusion with governments, international institutions or agencies take many forms - from bribery to private-public partnerships and ‘revolving doors’. Revolving doors is the common practice of appointing agrochemical lobbyists and representatives in important government decision-making posts. They move in and out as federal regulators and directors, commissioners and scientists at the companies they are supposed to regulate.