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Entries tagged "Agribusiness"

This Week in OtherWords: A Genetically Engineered Food Special Edition

October 10, 2012 ·

This week, OtherWords is running three commentaries and a cartoon regarding the growing number of genetically modified foods that land on our plate whether we realize it or not.

In her debut guest column, Jill Richardson challenges big food companies to boast about their penchant for these modified crops if they're so wonderful. Wenonah Hauter introduces readers to the latest newfangled food making a stir: an apple that doesn't brown when it's sliced long before it's eaten. Jim Hightower discusses the ruse maintained by General Mills, Kellogg, and other huge food companies that have bought out tiny organic outfits and tried to not let consumers know.

Any of these commentaries could accompany Khalil Bendib's Snow White cartoon, which depicts a witch handing her a new kind of poisoned apple. And all three address California's upcoming referendum on a new state rule that would require the labeling of genetically modified food. Known as Proposition 37, this requirement would have national ramifications for the industry because of California's huge market.

As always, I encourage you to subscribe to our weekly newsletter. If you haven't signed up yet, please do.

  1. Consumer Choice: As American as Apple Pie / Wenonah Hauter
    The creation of a new genetically modified apple highlights once again the need for clear labeling of this kind of food.
  2. Iran in the Campaign's Crosshairs / Chris Toensing
    Mitt Romney is playing the same cynical game as Benjamin Netanyahu.
  3. The Problem with Craig Romney and his Padre / Jason Salzman
    Mitt's Latino "ambassador" may speak Spanish, but he can't talk about real policies.
  4. The Corporate Court's War on Women / Martha Burk
    So far, not so good.
  5. Apparently, Suite Crime Does Pay / Sam Pizzigati
    The executives responsible for the financial industry's pervasive fraud are paying no personal price.
  6. Big Food Fight / Jill Richardson
    If the products they sell us are as great as they say, what are General Mills, Kraft, and other processed food behemoths hiding?
  7. Big Food Behemoths Embarrass their Organic Offshoots / Jim Hightower
    Big Food's mobilization against California's right-to-know law is making more green-minded consumers aware of the companies that own their favorite brands.
  8. Just Don't Let the Other Side Vote / William A. Collins
    Texas won't accept your student ID for voting, but your gun permit will do just fine.
  9. Poisoned Apple, 2012 / Khalil Bendib (Cartoon)

Poisoned Apple, 2012, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Playing Banana Monopoly: Agribusiness in Cameroon Threatens Independent Farmers

August 5, 2011 ·

The next time I’m at the grocery store and I see bunch of Dole bananas, I’ll think twice before picking them up and plunking down my 69 cents per pound.

As discussed in the film, “The Big Banana,” multinational corporations can wreak havoc on local communities, especially when governments collude with companies against the interest of their own people. In the Littoral region of Cameroon, on the west coast of Africa, a food company has been participating in government-supported land grabs since the early 1990s.

Traditionally, indigenous groups in Cameroon shared their land and lived from it in community land-sharing arrangements. From the late 1800s, Cameroon was a colony of Western European countries — first colonized by Germany, then after World War II, divided between France and England. During this time, land was the property of the crown or privatized. In 1959, the laws were revised to include provisions for “customary” land holders. Indigenous groups were allowed to register their land if they had lived there consecutively for five years or more.

When Cameroon became independent in 1960 and unified as one country in 1972, the government faced intense pressure from the West to encourage foreign investment and development. According to the Forest Peoples Programme's report, the state added more requirements for registering land that included Western-style buildings and “improvements.” Since then, the semi-nomadic peoples of the country have been largely excluded from the rights to land they have inhabited for centuries, and now they must either adapt to Western settlements or farm on rented land to survive.

The REseau de LUtte contre la FAim (RELUFA) explains that “Land is the main ‘employer’ in Cameroon. It allows the farmers to take care of their family and lead a decent life. But ever since its installation, the banana export company Plantations du Haut Penja has obtained as much land as possible, at times to the detriment of the rights of the local population, and with complicity of local authorities.”

In 1993, the government granted a land lease to Plantations du Haut Penja, a local banana mega-plantation, when the local land cooperative went bankrupt. The plantation is a supplier for Compagnie Fruitiere, a French subsidiary of Dole Food Company. Since then, the plantation has been forcing the farmers and families off their land using corrupt practices. Company officials claim to offer fair compensation for the crops, but in reality they modify contracts and refuse to fulfill their agreements. Farmers often remain indebted in spite of their hard work and often lose their land in dishonest deals.

The only alternative for small farmers is to work directly for the plantation company for a wage that is not suitable for feeding a family. RELUFA visited and interviewed farmers from the area starting in 2005 and produced a report on the financial situation of the farmers and their relationships with the plantation.

The report describes an untenable situation:

“They then were invited by [the plantation] to come to the sub-prefect, where they were met by the police commander and special commissioner, and received at most a third of what they expected to get in compensations for the crops in their fields. Afterwards, the sub-prefect proclaimed to have handed out an amount up to $100,000 for each of the farmers and $30,000 for the community of Bonandam. But based on the numbers he himself produced, less than $80,000 had actually been distributed.”

“Aware that their compensations were insufficient and baseless, the farmers went to the judge in chambers of Mbanga, for a judiciary expert on oath to be assigned to them to make an inventory of the crops and assess their value according to the law. As soon as [the plantation] was summoned and the courts had agreed to go to the site for the requested inventory, [the plantation] went with tractors and caterpillars to the terrain and destroyed the crops. With this act, the company made the court's decision useless and destroyed any proofs.”

Cameroonian filmmaker Franck Bieleu led the production of a documentary about Plantations du Haut Penja titled “The Big Banana.” The documentary was banned in Cameroon in April 2011. But the Institute for Policy Studies is hosting a screening of the film in Washington DC this Thursday, August 11, 2011. (See event listing.) The screening will be followed by a Q&A session with the filmmaker. In addition, the program “Africa Now” on Pacifica Radio’s WPFW (89.3 FM) will air a segment of the film and feature an interview with Bieleu 11 AM on Wednesday, the day before the screening.

The Big Banana illustrates in painful, personal detail the injustice that is inflicted across communities and nations when profit of multinational companies is put before the interest of people. Plantations du Haut Penja and their parent company Dole are only interested in Cameroonians as a resource to exploit for the growth of capital. Powerful international companies have no problem with plowing over the health of local families and villages to expand their agricultural empire. We have to remember that the 69 cents per pound we pay at the grocery store is nowhere near the whole cost of our food. We must work together to build societies that aren’t sustained by the suffering of others.

Christopher H. Bartlo is a communications intern at the Institute for Policy Studies and a student at George Mason University.