Recently a non-profit organization called GRAIN published a rather extensive report on global food production that offers a wealth of data and insights on how imperialist agribusiness and it’s concomitant land appropriation practices is dramatically changing patterns of agriculture production.
The report notes that:
- Small-scale farms and family farms produce the majority of the food supply particularly in Third World countries. Although variations exist between countries, the report shows that overall, the role of small farmers is vital to feeding the global population.
- Even with the greater resources and better land available to them, report finds that large-scale industrial farms actually have lower technical efficiency and lower overall production than small-scale farms. Not only are small-scale farms more productive, they are also more environmentally sustainable, contribute more to local economies, and provide more employment opportunities to local population than industrial commodity farmers. In fact, the report notes that much of the lower productivity of large industrial farms is attributable to “low levels of employment used on big farms in order to maximise return on investment”.
- Despite the important role of small farmers in global food production, the report finds that massive land grabs from corporate agribusinesses from advanced capitalist countries is threatening the future of small farmers. Small farmers only own about 25 percent of the global farmland and that percentage is shrinking rapidly. In 30 countries for which there was sufficient data the report finds that the situation is far worse with a staggering 70 percent of all farms being concentrated on less than 10 percent of farmland. A key factor in the reduction of land available to small farmers according to the report is the huge expansion in industrial commodity farms. (Note: The report finds that particularly in Eastern Europe the concentration of land in the hands of a few private enterprises occurred after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall)
One might wonder how does this phenomenon particularly impact women? The report notes in detail the following:
“In non-industrialised countries 60 to 80% of the food is produced by women. In Ghana and Madagascar, women make up about 15% of farm holders, but provide 52% of the family labour force and constitute around 48% of paid workers. In Cambodia, just 20% of agricultural land holders are women, but they provide 47% of the paid agricultural force and almost 70% of the labour force on family farms. In the Republic of the Congo, women provide 64% of all agricultural labour and are responsible for around 70% of food production. In Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, they are 53% of the active population in agriculture. There is very little data on the evolution of the contribution of women to agriculture, but their share would likely be growing, since migration is resulting in mostly women and girls picking up the workload of those who leave.
According to [Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN], fewer than 2% of landholders worldwide are women, but figures vary widely. There is broad consensus, however, that even where land is registered as family or joint property between men and women, men still enjoy much wider powers over it than do women. For example, a common situation is that men can make decisions about the land on behalf of themselves and their spouses, but women cannot. Another impediment is that in giving credit, governments and banks require women to present some form of authorisation from their husbands or fathers, while men encounter no such barrier. It is no surprise, then, that available data show that only 10% of agricultural loans go to women.
Additionally, inheritance laws and customs often work against women. Males tend to have priority or outright exclusivity in the inheritance of land. In many countries, women can never gain legal control over land, with authority passing to their sons if they are widowed for example. The data above support the contention that women are the main food producers on the planet, although their contribution remains ignored, marginalised, and discriminated against.”
The report overall indicates that the rapid increase of industrial commodity farming driven by the interests of global capital is placing hundreds of millions of people engaged in small-scale farming at risk of losing their entire livelihood. This process has disastrous implications for both men and women in the global peripheries. Yet the patriarchal relations of production that severely limit and restrict women’s ownership of land and property, places women in an especially precarious situation. Women not only currently bear the burden of producing most of the world’s agriculture under conditions of super-exploitation, but due to their lack of control over the lands they labor on, they have little to no formal or legal power to resist the massive land appropriation by the agribusiness industry.