A new place for agriculture – IV

Image: Tom Fisk


Which the place of agriculture, in particular family agriculture, in the Brazilian economy and society in the future?

In previous articles I tried to present the reality of family farming (FA) in Brazil and its evolution in recent times, as well as to analyze how public policies influenced this evolution. In this article I will discuss what should be or what should be the place of agriculture, in particular AF, in the Brazilian economy and society in the future.

The current role of agriculture and PA in the economy and society:

Agriculture is the most important economic activity worldwide. We are not discussing its importance as a vital element for the survival of humanity, but the trillions of dollars moved by the capitalist agro-food system in the world. No business has this scope, nor the exploration, refining, distribution and use of fossil fuels.

This system is governed, obviously, by the logic of capital. Issues such as the impact on the environment or the health of consumers are only taken into account if the public authorities impose them. And the companies that participate in this agri-food complex are constantly fighting to remain outside any control.

The agrifood system (AFS) is globalized and dominated by a small number of companies, many of them interconnected. The SAA defines which and how agricultural products must be produced, processed and consumed. The adopted model is known as agrochemical, motor-mechanized and genetically manipulated, with the incorrect and annoying nickname of “Green Revolution”.

The inputs needed for production are controlled by a handful of multinationals:

in the chemical fertilizer sector, one of the least concentrated, the three largest companies control 21% of the market and the 10 largest control 35% of a market of 128 billion dollars.

in the pesticides sector the four largest companies control 62% of the market and the six largest control 78% of a market of 63 billion dollars.

in the seed sector the two largest companies control 40% of the market and the six largest control 58% of a market of 45 billion dollars.

in the machinery sector the four largest companies control 44% of the market and the six largest control 50% of a market of 128 billion dollars.

in the pharmaceutical sector the four largest companies control 61% of the market and the six largest control 72% of a market of 34 billion dollars.

Processing and marketing, both wholesale and retail, follow this pattern of concentration in a few multinational companies:

in the commodity trading sector, the top ten companies control 40% of a $1,33 trillion market.

in the food, feed and beverage processing industry the top four companies control 18% and the top ten companies control 34% of a $1,3 trillion market.

in the food and beverage retail sector the top two companies control 5% and the top ten control 12% of an 8,3 trillion market. In this case, concentration seems insignificant, but it hides large oligopolies in specific national markets, especially in more developed countries.

It is important to note that large investment funds hold a significant share of shares in companies throughout the whole agrifood system, on average 25% of each sector.

The system has very high direct costs and depends on subsidies from national states to survive. And it has even greater indirect costs, which are borne by humanity as a whole. Yes, the global SAA is responsible for just over half of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, including emissions from deforestation and burning, fertilizer use and livestock emissions (burping and flatulence and manure), fuel use fossil, organic waste emissions derived from the consumption stage. I will not expand on the set of environmental impacts of the SAA because it is too long, but it is important to remember the inherent vulnerability of the adopted production model, especially with regard to the high energy cost, dependent on fossil fuels throughout the chain.

SAA is a globalized system where inputs and products circulate around the world due to the relative economies of the parts that will compose the final product. A can of ready-to-eat pasta produced in Europe or elsewhere can contain wheat from the US, tomatoes from Mexico, black pepper from Malaysia, salt from Peru, etc., and be distributed on all continents. The mileage traveled by each SAA product and by the final product tends to be huge, involving land, sea and air transport. And all this to offer a diet of poor nutritional quality, lacking in fiber, vitamins, mineral salts and with an excess of salt, sugar and countless chemical products (preservatives, dyes, thickeners, flavorings, etc.).

In the capitalist world, the only thing that matters is the profitability of the enterprise, and in this big dog fight, the primary producers (agribusiness or AF) are minor actors. The large transnationals of inputs, transformation and wholesale trade have much more weight.

In the future, much closer than many (including our current government) imagine, the prices of transport, inputs and energy will implode or explode SAA and all its large companies.

The world will have to radically recycle itself and the economy will have to prioritize the production of essential items for the survival of humanity, where food will be a key factor. Properly feeding a population that should stabilize at 10 billion inhabitants on planet earth will be a huge challenge and the issue is not posed, as it is today, only in the total volume of production. The location of this production will be a central element of humanity's survival. SAA will have to be replaced by decentralized production as much as possible to contain transport costs. Agricultural production will have to cut large-scale mechanization, as well as the use of soluble chemical fertilizers and pesticides, for the same cost reasons.

The agriculture of the future will have to be zero-carbon and even capable of taking carbon out of the air. It will have to produce in a diversified and intensive way, with high soil productivity, even sacrificing labor productivity. It will have to make room for an intensive reforestation movement, the only large-scale operational form capable of reversing the global warming process. And it will have to face the challenge of producing diversified foods for a nutritionally adequate diet for human health. All of this points to a basic fact: a new SAA cannot be governed by the laws of capitalism and be guided by the pursuit of maximum profit. And this will condemn agribusiness to disappear, hoping that it will happen before it destroys the environment and leaves us all subject to conditions of extreme hardship.

The agriculture of the future will have to be taken over by AF, on scales that today we would call micro, mini, small and medium. And, due to the intrinsic conditions of the appropriate model for the situation described, everything indicates that only agroecology, applied by family farmers, will be able to respond to the set of problems caused today by the SAA.

This combination of agroecology applied by AF in a diversified way and seeking to shorten the distance between rural production and the consumer as much as possible is the medium and long term objective of any political and social force that is aware of the deep crisis in which we are plunged and sinking us deeper and deeper.

The new place for agriculture is that of producing essential goods for humanity, the responsibility of family producers in a much larger number than there are today. Food production will essentially have to be taken over by national producers, since the movement of world trade in commodities will be dealt a fatal blow by transport prices.

As seen in previous articles, AF is, in Brazil and in the world, being displaced by agribusiness, a major member of SAA. In a future without agribusiness, the production of food for the population as a whole must be the goal to be achieved. Changes will have to be made in the diets that prevail in the country today, limiting the consumption of products that are poorly adapted to our agricultural environments. Luckily, we have a country with a wide range of diversity and many possibilities for regional diversification of adequate diets. Of course, wheat products will have to be limited, such as beef and spiced fruits. The 168 million hectares of native or planted pastures will have to be greatly reduced, although intensive sustainable grazing methods allow the fall in the supply of cattle meat not to be as high as that of the pasture area. Corn and cassava bread will take the place of wheat bread and Italian pasta. But the potential exists for us to produce enough in quantity and quality to properly nourish our population, something that SAA has never offered throughout our history.

There are 360 ​​million hectares in properties registered in the 2017 census. 280 million are occupied by agribusiness, on varying scales, but with a high concentration in properties of more than a thousand hectares. The AR that will lead us to overcome the current agricultural production model will have to guarantee land for 20 million AF, with a national average area of ​​18 ha, although this average implies large differences according to regions and products. This movement back from the peasantry will have to happen and the role of these neopeasants will be much greater than that of the current 3,8 million residual AF, survivors of years of privileges for agribusiness.

Society will have to review its values ​​and accept that an important part of the wealth produced should be retained by this category, simply because it will guarantee everyone's food security, as it will play an important role in containing and eventually reversing the process of global warming. This in addition to ensuring water savings and its quality, now threatened by pollution from pesticides and chemical fertilizers.

Society, here and in the rest of the world, has become accustomed to looking at the rural world in a distracted, not to say disparaging, way. Food prices must always be lower, this is the reflection of urban consumers and politicians. That this is reflected in gigantic indirect costs (environmental, health) is of little importance. This is going to have to change because we are entering a new era, that of the rationalization of consumption, which will force humanity to choose between essential and superfluous goods. Food will be at the center of future life and with all its dimensions: nutritional, health, cultural, religious. Yes, the future will force us to choose between the individual car and public transport, and to limit long-distance travel, especially by air. But in food there are no possible choices that do not imply valuing agricultural producers. The power balance between urban and rural areas will be radically altered. And this population of neopeasants will have the full right to aim for a standard of living as good or better than that of urban dwellers in remuneration for their essential services to humanity.

This enormous displacement of population and income distribution, partially reversing what we experienced between 1950 and 1980, will have beneficial effects for the whole, since all international analysts point to the total unsustainability of large urban concentrations. Faced with the permanent risks of new pandemics driven by deforestation and global warming, the decentralization of the population and the emptying of megacities will be a great relief.

In conclusion, the new place for agriculture will be to provide healthy food and other agricultural products in a sustainable way, with great savings in the use of fossil fuels, without impact on the environment and contributing decisively to the removal of carbon from the atmosphere. , decentralizing the distribution of the population in order to deflate the ongoing mega-urbanization.

The planning of public policies in the coming years must be aligned with these strategic objectives, a subject for the next issue of this series.

*Jean Marc von der Weid is a former president of the UNE (1969-71). Founder of the non-governmental organization Family Agriculture and Agroecology (ASTA).

To read the first article in this series click on https://aterraeredonda.com.br/um-novo-lugar-para-a-agricultura/

To read the second article in this series click on https://aterraeredonda.com.br/um-novo-lugar-para-a-agricultura-ii/

To read the third article in this series click on https://aterraeredonda.com.br/um-novo-lugar-para-a-agricultura-iii/

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