A study done by Oxfam finds that large agricultural companies are displacing small farmers in Latin America, creating food insecurity and hindering community development.
Latin America is a region rich with fertile land for crops. Enough food is produced every year to ensure each individual has enough to eat, but the crops are not reaching the hands of its hungry farmers.
The central-west region of Brazil produced 78.5 million tons of soybeans and maize in 2013, a record for the country. Most of the crops, however, did not return to those who farmed them, but were exported to produce biofuels.
Agribusiness has not only had a negative effect on Latin America’s hungry, but also on the environment. Natural resources are contaminated and soil is becoming infertile. As a result, food prices have increased.
Agroecology is emerging as an answer to the problems agribusiness creates. Defined by Agroecology in Action, it is “concerned with the maintenance of a productive agriculture that sustains yields and optimizes the use of local resources while minimizing the negative environmental and socio-economic impacts of modern technologies.”
In other words, agroecology is an interdisciplinary approach to agriculture that takes into account communities, social conditions, environmental health and production. At its base are small farmers, a sector agribusiness has ignored.
The largest supermarket chain in Ecuador decided in 2002 to make a shift from 2,500 small producers to 250 large producers. This move has caused many families who hold small farms to suffer.
“I used to work in a big farm, applying pesticides,” says Emilia Alves Manduca, a farmer in the central-west region of Brazil, “I had to go to the hospital twice because of the side effects.”
Manduca spoke at an agroecology conference, where she shared the success story of her community, Mato Grosso. By moving away from the monoculture design of big agriculture business, and growing more than 30 types of crops with no pesticides, Mato Grosso became a self-sufficient community and brought itself out of poverty in six years.
As the Guardian writes, “the problem of hunger [in Latin America] is not due to lack of food, but a lack of access for the poorest.” Agroecology ensures that land and healthy agricultural practices are accessible to all levels of society, including the poorest. The result will be more communities like Mato Grosso.
“Agroecology is the only viable option to meet the region’s food needs in this age of increasing oil prices and global climate change,” says Miguel Altieri, professor of Agrecology at the University of Berkeley.
– Julianne O’Connor