Eric Holt-Giménez is the executive director of FoodFirst/Institute for Food and Development Policy. Eric is the editor of the 2011 Food First book, Food Movements Unite! Strategies to transform our food systems, the author of the 2009 Food First Book Food Rebellions! Crisis and the Hunger for Justice.

Below is a keynote speech given by Eric Holt-Giménez at Terra Madre in Oct. 2014: 

 

This year’s Terra Madre/Salone del Gusto is being held during the United Nation’s “Year of Family Farming.” This is a wonderful way to celebrate good, clean, fair food produced by family farmers, peasant farmers, smallholders, fishers and pastoralists from around the world.

 

This event is more than a celebration of food and family farmers. It’s a celebration of the millennial culture of peasant and smallholder farming and of their importance—not just in the world’s food systems—but in our societies, our economies, our politics and, we hope, in our shared future.

 

We are here to celebrate all the incredible things that smallholder, family farmers do: They:

 

  • Produce 70 percent of the world’s food on 25 percent of the agricultural land;
  • Still maintain the largest in situ reservoir of GMO-free agrobiodiversity on the planet;
  • Are the practical knowledge base for agroecology—the people’s science of sustainable agriculture;
  • Provide the food for an infinitely diverse, nutritious and delicious cuisine;
  • Provide livelihoods for nearly a third of humanity;
  • Help cool the planet by capturing carbon in naturally-fertilized soils
  • And they do many other things both material and intangible that are too vast and diverse to list.

 

But we should also celebrate what small, sustainable producers don’t do: They,

 

  • Don’t make record profits while people go hungry (I’ve never seen a farmer let anyone go hungry);
  • Don’t spread superweeds and resistant pest populations by using GMOs (though their farms do get contaminated by GMOs and they get sued by Monsanto);
  • Don’t contribute 20% of the planet’s GHG or use up 80% of its fresh water;
  • Don’t invent or traffic in deadly agricultural poisons (though farmers and farm workers are systematically poisoned by pesticides and herbicides);
  • Don’t produce antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria (though, like you and I, they are vulnerable to resistant bacterial infections);
  • Don’t speculate with our food in global financial markets (though they suffer both when prices rise and when they drop);
  • Don’t speculate with land in global financial markets, either (though they are the largest private investors in agriculture in the global economy);
  • Don’t grab large tracts of land from others (though they have been massively displaced by the 86 million hectares of land grabbed in last 7 years by corporations and sovereign wealth funds—that’s an area five times the size of Italy).
  • No, peasant and smallholder farmers don’t do any of those things (but I suspect you can guess who does).

Ever since the food crises of 2008 and 2011 that sent over a billion people into the ranks of the hungry—even at a time of record global harvests and record corporate profits—and ever since the global financial crash—suddenly, peasant and family farmers have captured the interest of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, USAID, Bill Gates, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, John Deere, Cargill, ADM, Bunge, Monsanto, Syngenta, WalMart, Tesco, Carrefour and other agrifoods giants. Even Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street financiers are paying special attention to family farmers—or at least to their land.

 

These are the big planetary players of what some of us call “the corporate food regime” those international institutions and oligopolies that dominate the global market in inputs, seeds, agricultural commodities and food.

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How many times have we heard it?

"Organic food is great for those who can afford it, but not an option for most of us."

This simplistic adage is applied to most proposals that question the cheap, processed food that is the cornerstone of this country's epidemic of diet-related diseases. Arguing in favor of organic, a movable feast of foodies tells us that we simply have to learn to pay more if we want to eat local, organic, sustainably- produced food. In the United States that leaves at least 49 million food insecure people (and much of the middle class) out of luck.

Sorry, no healthy food for you.

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