Is it corporate control?

Examples abound of the harms of consolidation and corporate control: land grabs all over the planet; the treatment of farmland as investment and dispossession of communities from their historical lands to force land use changes; consolidation in ownership of the entire food chain (from seeds and inputs to production to processing) through horizontal and vertical integration. Though the corporate sector doesn’t necessarily grow the majority of the world’s food, it does control large shares of many agricultural and food markets and exhibits outsized political power.

Corporations are constitutionally dedicated to profit, not to people impacted by their business, nor the places where they operate. The movement of investment capital moves through borders more easily than humans do, and shapes the political responses of the political elites of a place more than the other way around. Additional political control of politicians, whether through overt corruption, campaign financing, lobbying, or the entrenchment of “violations of the democratic norm of inclusion”, results in the difficulty (near impossibility?) of citizen counteraction of corporate interests in the public sphere.

Considering the problems emerging from this issue of corporate control, some have considered that perhaps industrial food production models could still be good, if divorced from corporate control. Perhaps industrial laborsaving “advancements” could “liberate” the people from working the land (or sea) if they were owned and directed by “the people” directly (and not through corporations)? With this idea, would-be farmers could then concentrate on other human endeavors. Maybe we could keep the best parts of the industrial capitalist food system by getting rid of the main problematic part: corporate control?

Clearly, corporate control evolved alongside the industrial model, out of and in concert with capitalism and colonialism. Exploitation of the land has gone along with exploitation of people, and both pre-date the existence of corporations themselves. So it’s clear that corporate control itself isn’t the foundational problem. Furthermore, there are indications that industrial forms of agriculture can be harmful, even if their forms of ownership or management are not “corporate”. As an example, consider that many industrial grain and soy farms in the USA are owned and operated as “family farms” (only 3% of total farms are “not family owned”).

Besides the ownership of farmland and management of farms we also need to look at the method of production, which is why some point to industrialism and industrialization as the “real” problems to confront.