The industrialization of agriculture

The industrialization of agriculture

By Agroecological Studies Group (GEA)

The development of industrial agriculture has produced GMOs as an inevitable result. This control endangers the security and food sovereignty of peasants, consumers and all of humanity.

The adoption of industry parameters by agriculture begins with industrial deployment in the 19th century. But the industrialization of agriculture as "modernization" is usually identified with the use of hybrid seeds and agrochemicals [2], as if it were the defining feature of industrial agriculture. For this reason, industrial agriculture is usually called chemical agriculture. The IMF and the World Bank make development loans conditional on structural adjustment plans that require the “modernization” of the countryside and agriculture and their incorporation into international trade.

The promotion of the industrialization of agriculture and food in the EU begins with the CAP [3] whose agricultural policies consist of aid to direct agri-food production to the world market and to modernization and based on agrochemicals and other technological developments.

The transformations in agriculture and livestock have been oriented to the urban and global market. Its main objective is to increase yield (volume produced per hectare or animal) and productivity (volume produced per unit of work), disregarding, beyond the immediate economic benefit, the problems for farmers, agricultural workers [4] and fertility from the earth. The results of these transformations have been: a) depletion and contamination of land, water, seeds and animals; b) elimination of work in the fields and forced emigration to the cities; c) concentration of land ownership in fewer owners; d) growing need for capital and land to gain competitiveness and, therefore, ruin and emigration of small farmers; e) uncontrolled consequences in the ecosystem of the incorporation of industrial technologies and methods in agricultural production; and f) increased dependence and spending on technological solutions in the hands of multinational producers of seeds, machinery, fertilizers and phytosanitary products.

INDUSTRIALIZED AGRICULTURE is defined as “that form of natural resource management that generates a process of artificialization of ecosystems in which Capital makes partial and successive appropriations of the different peasant labor processes, to later incorporate them as artificialized production factors industrially, or as commodified means of production. (…) For the capitalist system, agriculture has to be considered, like industry, as a business and therefore, it has to follow the "rational schemes" that the industry's business has followed: the industrial company and the company agrarian constitute two moments in the process of commercialization that the logic of profit introduces in the productive processes. (…) Technological development and its applications in the economy of advanced societies reveal a new type of rationality: scientific-technical rationality and, with it, the scientification of man and nature. This means that industrialized agriculture can artificialize nature by reproducing it through science. (…) Modernization can reproduce nature and recreate what it destroys with its scientific technology; fleeting destruction, since it does not need to maintain natural reproduction mechanisms since it can, through science, reconfigure something that previously destroys. Science has no limits: it is the god of modernity and it is necessary to sacrifice the peasant on its altars. " [5]

The biggest problem in industrial agriculture comes from the fact that the only factor that he considers rational is the intensification of production. The proposed solutions are exclusively technological and externalize problems out of the production process and into the future, aggravating them instead of solving them. On the other hand, it forgets that this intensification does not seek to solve the needs and problems of farmers and farm workers and the food needs of the city, but rather the articulation of agriculture with industry and dependence on the market for supplies and to sell what is produced, with the sole purpose of obtaining economic benefits. The needs of rural families, to be satisfied, have to go through the market. The solutions to its "technical" problems depend, increasingly, on the profit of the agrochemical industry. And the new responses, in a circuit of growing dependence, come again from the agrochemical industry, now agro-chemical-biotechnology.

Intensive and extensive agriculture

The term "intensive agriculture" is commonly used as a synonym for industrial agriculture, but they are not the same. The concept of intensive agriculture makes sense as opposed to extensive agriculture as two different strategies to obtain greater production. Intensive agriculture achieves this by increasing productivity per unit area. The garden is a good example of intensive agriculture. On the contrary, extensive agriculture relies the higher production to increase the extension of the crop, obtaining the advantage of specialization in a single purpose (for example the cereal steppes) or of the alternation of uses throughout the year (the dehesa allows various livestock uses).

Traditionally, the increase in productivity is associated with the soil and the conditions of the land on which it is cultivated. In intensive agriculture, the increase in productivity was provided by the ability, high dedication and knowledge of the peasants about weather conditions, soil fertility, seed adaptation, water use and the relationships between the different productive factors , mediated by their own intervention to enhance the positive effects and cushion the negative ones in each agroecosystem. The improvement of natural conditions depended, above all, on an intensive use of highly qualified labor accumulated in a wisdom handed down by previous generations of peasants. Extensive agriculture, having a larger area does not require so much work or such elaborate strategies. Landowners and peasants employ different strategies. The first, extensive agriculture, having no land limitations to cultivate. The latter require greater productivity to compensate for the lack of land with their work.

Neither intensive nor extensive agriculture had, in principle, a high employment of Capital. With the development of industrial agriculture, the achievement of higher productivity becomes autonomous from the soil. It is grown in soils that are not very fertile, on sand or even without soil, and immediate productivity is sought. Crop productivity is more independent of soil fertility because technology promises to remove all limits.

Capital-intensive technological resources are used such as improved seeds in the laboratory, chemical fertilization, pesticides, irrigation -even computerized-, greenhouse or protection under plastic. Labor-intensive technological and cultural resources such as selected seeds from the previous harvest, protection of soil fertility, beneficial association of crops, rotations are relegated. The yield of the crop is associated with the increase in labor productivity in the double aspect of reducing its quantity and simplifying the required human skill. The placement of productivity and competitiveness in the command post, ends the traditional division between intensive and extensive agriculture. The separation of agriculture and livestock that introduces industrial agriculture seeking maximum benefit, has converted semi-stacked and intensive livestock for family consumption (chickens, hens, some pig) into industrial intensive livestock. To develop without being associated with a nearby land from which to extract livestock feed, intensive industrial livestock farming needs large industrialized tracts of cereals, soybeans and forage plants, located in places where their production is cheapest. The development of this dietary model provides the cheap animal protein that drives the consumption of meat in our diets.

In traditional agricultural systems, the distinction between extensive and intensive agriculture is associated with landowners and small producers respectively, and has to do with the different intensity of the work used and the greater or lesser surface of the agricultural or livestock exploitation. However, once agri-food production has incorporated the paradigms of industry, productivity and competitiveness - "intensive" and "extensive" - ​​are two forms of production that are only apparently different. Both have as a shared purpose the production of merchandise and not of healthy and sufficient food for the population itself.

Continuing to use the "intensive-extensive" dichotomy within industrial production hides the competitive and productivist logic they share. Intensive agriculture and livestock appear as the genuine result of industrialized agricultural activity and, its consequences, as the cost necessary to feed a growing population. This concealment seeks to stop the term "extensive" from being used for monocultures and to apply it to traditional agriculture and livestock, only affordable for large owners, presented as the true sustainable model of agricultural production.

Integrated agriculture

Subsequently, various attempts to mitigate the damage of industrialized agriculture in impoverished countries appear under the expression “low external input agriculture”. Faced with the high import costs of foreign technologies that ruin and poison peasants and their lands, some international organizations try to redirect, in the most depressed local communities, the forms of industrialized agriculture. They do so by promoting lower-cost local technologies and reducing pesticides that are already banned in the most advanced economies for their proven health damage. Faced with the brutal imposition that characterizes the Green Revolution, low-input agriculture promotes forms of participatory rural development.

A version adapted to Western societies of this form of agriculture is Integrated Agriculture or Integrated Production. The definition of Integrated Production made by the International Organization for Biological Control (OILB) is more “ambitious” than its own practices: “Integrated Production is an agricultural system that produces food and other high-quality products through the use of resources and regulatory mechanisms to replace polluting products and ensure sustainable agriculture. The emphasis is on: a) in a holistic systems perspective that considers the entire farm as a whole; b) in the central role of agrosystems; c) in a balanced nutrient cycle; and d) in the welfare of all species of livestock. The preservation and promotion of soil fertility, a diversified environment and the observance of ethical and social criteria are essential components. Biological, technical and chemical methods are carefully weighed taking into account the environment, social requirements and profit making. "

In practice, "Integrated Agriculture tries to reduce pollution caused by industrialized agriculture, combining the use of biological and chemical pest control and optimizing the use of chemical fertilizers." In other words, "it is about mitigating the ecological problem caused by industrialized agriculture, without taking into account the local, participatory dimension and the underlying ethical problem, reducing this approach to a simple reduction of inputs". [6]

In fact, the definition that Fertiberia collects on its website, alluding to the OILB's concept of Integrated Production, is the following: “Integrated Agriculture is a production method that provides for the adoption of techniques compatible with the conservation of the environment and food safety. , through the minimization of the use of synthetic chemical products and the complete control of the production process. "[7]

The regulation of certification of integrated production in Spain does not respond to the content of the OILB definition. All it seeks is a rationalization in the use of chemicals. Instead of making preventive treatments against pests as before, their need is evaluated. This saves costs for chemical treatment but increases the costs of technical advice which, in integrated production, are mandatory. Only the most toxic chemicals are substituted when agrochemical companies have developed biological or less toxic alternatives. Soil fertility management is not required: chemical fertilizers continue to be authorized without leading to organic fertilization, which is optional. The development of antagonistic insects that keep pests in balance is only a recommendation. Finally, as to avoid erosion, tillage is prohibited, the result is an increase in the use of broad-spectrum herbicides. Some of them, -Paraquat [8] -, are among the most toxic and dangerous. Integrated Production does not eliminate hazardous chemicals, nor does it reduce farmers' dependence on multinationals and their "technical advice." However, Integrated Production is being developed in the EU as the “true” way to reach organic production, following the dictates of the agro-bio-technological multinationals.

Chemical agriculture and pollution

Intensification does not seek to solve the food needs of the population, but rather the articulation of agriculture with industry and with the large international markets. The needs of rural families have to go through the market and the solutions to their production problems depend increasingly on the agrochemical industry. The use of chemicals in fertilizers and in treatments to "solve" problems for crops and livestock is a feature of food industrialization. This use extends later to processing, storage and conservation. The use of chemicals makes farmers increasingly dependent on technological developments and the capital needed to implement them.

The use of pesticides has grown in parallel with the production of chemical substances. Chemicals in today's agriculture and livestock pose a threat to our health and that of the ecosystem. In 1945, pesticides were hardly used in agricultural production. Sixty years later, 2.6 million tonnes are used per year, of which more than 40,000 are dispersed in Spanish fields and more than 300,000 in the EU. Only the USA uses 500,000 tonnes [9]. Spain is one of the European countries with the highest consumption, along with France, Germany and Italy, although in density per hectare we are surpassed by the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Italy.

In Spain, according to the figures managed by AEPLA [10], it has gone from 92,000 tons in 1997 to 112,000 tons in 2003. In terms of volume of product used, more fungicides [11] (28%) than herbicides (25%) and insecticides (20%). These substances are applied with special intensity in the Mediterranean arc and in intensive crops.

Between 1992 and 2000, the consumption of fertilizers and their application per hectare increased: in nitrogen fertilizers it went from 56.9 to 78.1 tons / hectare; in phosphates, from 28 to 35 tons / hectare; and in potash from 20 to 29 tons / hectare. The costs of applying pesticides in horticultural crops in the open air and in the greenhouse, accounted for 8.65% and 11.58% respectively of the total in 2001. Fertilizer application costs were, in turn, 11.12% and 10.69% of the total.

The problems of insect and herb resistance to pesticides are increasing, forcing more expenses and new chemicals. The prolonged use of chemicals deteriorates the conditions of the soil, prevents it from maintaining its fertility and hinders its defense against viruses and fungi that weaken the plant. The destruction of organic matter prevents a better use of the water that is wasted when infiltrating, contaminated by chemicals, to the lower layers of the soil. The spiral is becoming more and more unsustainable, demanding higher expenses in chemical applications and "technological" solutions, reducing economic margins. This mechanism stifles smaller farms, forces them to increase productivity and to compete more fiercely. Said costs, which are increasingly high and less efficient in the face of crop problems, do not take into account occupational diseases, health problems of the surrounding population or consumers of these products. Neither does the ecological deterioration of soils, water and air.

The consequences on human health and the ecosystem due to the introduction of pesticides give a main rank to this dimension of industrial agriculture, to the point that it may seem that eliminating chemicals solves all the problems caused by this production model and food distribution.

At the beginning of the nineties, it was well known that the damage caused by exposure to pesticides affects not only the people who apply them in the field and in the disinfection of buildings, but also the rest of the exposed workers, their families, neighbors and the general population, including children sired after contact or ingestion of the pesticide. It is also known that babies, children, adolescents, the elderly, the sick, pregnant women and mothers or those exposed some time before pregnancy and male parents are especially sensitive. Damage occurs even at lower doses than authorized.

The factors that aggravate the risk have to do with the physical conditions of the person: crucial stages in hormonal development, a higher intake in proportion to weight (in childhood, especially in the smallest ones), a state of weakness or previous illness ; but also with the prolonged use of an increasing number, in quantity and diversity, of pesticidal substances throughout the planet and for more than 50 years, whose extension and accumulation in water, air, soil and fatty tissues of animals and beings humans, constitutes a generalized pollution situation to which new emissions are contributed every year and at an increasing level.

Transgenic agriculture

The development of industrial agriculture has produced GMOs as an inevitable result. Colloquially we call genetically modified organisms (GMOs) transgenic. The multinational that produces it, requests a patent [12] on the new genetic material and also intends to commercially develop the sterilization of seeds, until now blocked by a moratorium. This control endangers the security and food sovereignty of peasants, consumers and all of humanity.

With a discourse that aims to overcome the problems created by industrial agriculture, transgenic foods are a "solution" radically oriented to increase productivity that is presented as the solution to hunger in the world. However, what threatens food security is the difficulty of access, if not the theft or expropriation from peasants, to productive resources such as land, water, seeds and other means of production. In other words, what threatens food security is the freedom of movement of multinationals.

The transgenic seeds that are grown in the world [13] have been manipulated to be resistant to certain chemical herbicides, which contributes to the increase in their use. They have also been used to secrete the Bt toxin against the worm in corn and cotton, but these worms have already begun to become resistant. Lastly, multinationals incorporate genes into transgenic seeds and plants that disable the effects of antibiotics, which implies that, in the medium term, the antibiotics used with these seeds will be useless as medicines for people and animals.

In a vicious circle, transgenics exacerbate the problems they promise to solve: abuse of agrochemicals, growth of pests, resistance to products that fight pests, increased contamination of water and soil, loss of soil fertility, lower yields of crops. They increase the inability of farmers to solve their "technical" problems and, with it, their dependence on "agrobussines". The relationships between the new genes and the old ones are not predictable because they have never interacted with each other in the same organism. We cannot determine what will happen to future generations of these organisms [14]. One of the recognized problems is the instability of the implanted genes. It is inevitable that transgenic crops, in the case of corn through cross-pollination, transfer the new genes from one plant to another, from one field to another and along the food chain. This increases the risks to the health of people and the ecosystem itself, of which farmland and livestock are part.

Although the propaganda of the biotech industry simulates the opposite, GMOs are the necessary development of chemical agriculture in a more complete form of industrial agriculture deployment. Compared to the parameters of chemical agriculture, they are presented as the alternative [15] to some of the problems generated by it (contamination by chemicals, salinity and soil erosion, resistance of pests to pesticides, loss of crops, etc. .).

The conception of "chemistry" and "transgenic" as forms -before and after- of the same agriculture and industrial food, in its process of development of the global market, allows to better identify the problems of agriculture and current food and the need to address them From agroecological perspectives: a) tendingly independent of the technology of multinationals, b) that incorporate traditional peasant knowledge, c) more accessible to small farmers and poor peasants and d) based on dialogue with nature , food security and sovereignty of the entire population.

We cannot face the problem of transgenics outside of chemical agriculture. Much less, to seek a respectful, responsible, ecological and agroecological agriculture, without facing the problems of industrialized food. At the same time, the reduction of the GM debate to "coexistence" makes us increasingly powerless to solve these problems and reduces the defense of our food security, present and future, to the provision of evidence of their risks and damages. , one by one. One way to avoid this impotence is to show the limits of our current approaches and articulate, at the same time, strategies to promote agroecological and responsible agriculture and food outside the global market, which include awareness and the participation of individuals and groups to engage in more than rhetorical rejections of GMOs.



[1] Source: Galindo, P. (Coord.) “Agroecology and Responsible Consumption. Theory and practice." Ed. Kehaceres. Madrid, 2006.

[2] The chronological sequence is as follows: from 1930 in the US, from 1950 in Europe and from 1970 in the rest of the world.

[3] PAC: Common Agricultural Policy, begins in 1958 with the Treaty of Rome, for the 6 member countries of the EEC: Belgium, France, Holland, Italy, Luxembourg and the Federal Republic of Germany.

[4] The increase in yields and productivity has not had any benefit for day laborers and farm workers. The landless peasants are those who contribute to the cost savings of modernization. The higher productivity of the land or of labor is equivalent to a reduction in laborers and wages, as there are more unemployed laborers.

[5] Guzmán Casado, G .; González Molina, M. and Sevilla Guzmán, E. (2000) “Introduction to Agroecology as sustainable rural development”. Mundi-Prensa, 2000. p. 32-36

[6] Guzmán Casado, G .; González Molina, M. (2000). Op. Cit. 64.

[7] Fertiberia is a company based in Spain whose business is the production and sale of agrochemicals. It defends Integrated Production as true sustainable agriculture, precisely because without ceasing to use chemical products, its alternative is biological control products, also manufactured by agrochemical multinationals, thus increasing the dependence of farmers on products, research and advice from these companies to replace some products with others. What it seeks is that the producers depend, not only on their damages but also on their “remedies”.

[8] Paraquat is a neurotoxic herbicide, fatal if poisoned and with no known antidote. It is included in the so-called "Dirty Dozen" which is the list of the most dangerous pesticides, prepared by the (International) Network of Alternatives to Pesticides (RAP). Although it has been included in the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) for its elimination, the EU continues to authorize it, after a controversial review that culminated in 2003. However, Sweden appealed against this decision and the Court of First Instance of the European Communities agreed with him by annulling the authorization in judgment 11/07/2007 (case T-229/04 Kingdom of Sweden / Commission of the European Communities) htm

[9] These figures are low, compared to those provided by Spanish industry itself, but they are more general and are provided by the Commission Document to the European Council, Parliament and Economic and Social Council. "Towards a thematic strategy for the sustainable use of pesticides" COM (2002).

[10] Spanish Association of Pesticides.

[11] Chemicals to fight fungi.

[12] Exclusive property rights over the new organism or the procedure used, which oblige farmers and researchers to pay for using the transgenic seeds or plants for cultivation or research.

[13] At the moment, corn, soybeans and cotton. In the case of the European Union, corn. Although there are many other crops in open field experimentation.

[14] Research on human health risks due to ingestion of organisms with genetically modified genes is very scarce and is reduced to tests with animals in the laboratory carried out, precisely, by biotechnology multinationals interested in the commercialization of transgenics.

[15] GMOs do not eliminate the use of chemicals. Although multinationals claim that transgenics reduce the need for some herbicides and insecticides, to date this is not true. Furthermore, the use of genes resistant to some herbicides supports precisely the opposite thesis. In other words, transgenic agriculture increases its use.

Video: Mass industrialization of agriculture Converted (May 2021).