Rising food prices — as USDA has planned for 2022 – may sound like a good thing for farmers.
After all, who wouldn’t like to see a little more money? Farmers, like everyone else, have been through a lot lately. Years of flat or declining farm income in many ways, alongside the stagnant wages of so many Americans. The COVID-19 pandemic has sent shockwaves through our supply chain, driving down agricultural prices and disrupting markets.
But the story is not so simple.
Entrances – therein lies the problem. Whether it’s fertilizer, seed, machinery or fuel, farmers have to pay more to grow our country’s food. The war in Ukraine has led shortage of fuel and fertilizeranother component of soaring input costs.
Obviously, corporations are also abusive price. With all aspects of farming tightly consolidated, it’s easy for companies to do whatever they want because only four companies control more than 60% of our seedsfour others determine what happens with 75% of fertilizers in the United States., and four others set the conditions for more than 75% of grain sales. Meanwhile, some companiesinstead of allowing farmers to repair their own machines, forces them to seek expensive company-certified technicians in the event of breakdowns.
Agribusiness controls the food system, racking up profits while farmers and consumers dance to their beat.
So what is the answer, who should we turn to in times like these?
Peasants, who are they? Peasants actually produce food for their families and communities, not commodities for the global economy.
Most American farmers probably think it’s laughable to look up to peasant farming as a model. American farmers are told they feed the world, while peasants work small acreages and think in terms of food diversity and food sovereigntynot monocultures and global markets.
Yet peasants have the potential to prosper, as well as help tackle our climate change crisis by practicing low-input agriculture. Meanwhile, American farmers are chained in debt as they struggle to make a living in a corporate-dominated system.
For those who doubt why peasant agriculture holds promise, they should consult the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants (UNDROP)). Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in 2018, 121 countries voted in favor of adopting UNDROP, 54 chose to abstain and 8 voted against (yes, the United States voted against, joined by Australia, GuatemalaHungary, Israel, New Zealand, Sweden and United Kingdom).
Like other resolutions passed by the General Assembly, UNDROP does not exist as a law that states must pass. Yet UNDROP has power, especially in explaining why peasant agriculture is an aspirational ideal for our food and agriculture system.
To begin with, UNDROP tells us that a peasant engages in small-scale agricultural production for subsistence and/or for the market, relies significantly on family or household labor, and has a particular dependence and an attachment to the land (article 1).
One word may come out of this definition – “subsistence”.
According to the statement, subsistence production is not only for own consumption, but may include sale in the market. It also means a dignified life, producing enough to afford the things farmers need, unlike the American system where few people seem to care if the people who grow our food go bankrupt.
Does it seem so bad to orient food production around the needs of one’s family, perhaps one’s community and region? For countries like the United States, where farmers regularly face pressure overproduction and receiving low pricesit was enough to oppose the signing of the declaration.
The United States also opposes UNDROP because the declaration calls on states to partner with peasant groups to develop public policies that advance the right to adequate and nutritious food (article 15).
To declare food as a human right diverts agriculture from the pursuit of corporate profit. Supporting UNDROP in this way would push our government to keep small farmers in business, in part, by ensuring fair prices for what they sell. Consumers should also benefit, as the UN declaration guarantees them access to adequate and nutritious food. Additionally, the agreement states that farmer/peasant associations should partner with government to develop policies, ensuring those directly involved in growing our food have a place at the table, not corporate elites.
Overall, peasant agriculture runs counter to the very idea ofgrow up or outbecause he promotes policies that aim to create more small farms, not fewer. To make this a reality, we will need to work on land access policies for young farmers and women, as well as migrant workers who now do most of the work in every corner of America.
On the contrary, as farmers grapple with rising input costs, trying to be more self-reliant seems pretty good these days. Instead of having to buy fertilizer, why not diversify our operations with livestock so that the manure comes from the farm and the animals can graze again rather than live in confinement? Rather than buying patented seeds owned by the company, we can grow, at least some of them, ourselves.
Food production should not be thought of only in terms of large or small farms. Anyone can be a farmer. In Wisconsin, some of our local food traditions could be further encouraged through the promotion of peasant agriculture. Planting a garden, in your backyard or as part of a community garden, is one example. For seeds, distributors who work with Seed savers in Decorah, Iowa, or the Open Source Seed Initiativean organization that has formed with links to the University of Wisconsin-Madison both challenge corporate control over seeds. from Wisconsin pickle bill allows people to sell their produce at select public events and canning and freezing your excess produce allows you to eat local and in season all year round.
Unfortunately, that is not what the United States wants to see happen. We have to ask ourselves the question, does our government want us to feed our families and build our rural economies, or do we continue to serve the needs of Wall Street?
While American farmers may not think of themselves as peasants, maybe they should. Admittedly, it will not be easy to create local and regional food systems based on environmentally friendly small-scale farms that grow nutritious food at a fair price. Yet rejecting peasant agriculture also diminishes our chances of controlling our food system. If what appears in the UNDROP makes sense, then being a peasant is something to aspire to, a goal towards which all of us who care about agriculture should strive.
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