Agrocommodities, or agricultural products produced at an industrial scale, are controlled by transnational corporations (TNC) that make empty promises of eradicating poverty and ending hunger but, in reality, are the key actors in a system that does the opposite. This same logic of exploitation used in the capitalist and patriarchal agribusiness model is also applied to women and natural resources.
The problem isn’t necessarily the products themselves but rather the system that brings together corporate power, governmental and institutional support, financing, technological innovation, and global supply chains to prioritise exports and profit. Meanwhile, land grabbing runs rampant, chemicals pollute the soil and waterways, human rights are violated, and women are once again pushed to the frontlines as a result.
The agribusiness model is a failed food system that is not fit for the purpose of ensuring that all people have access to nutritious food. Women are actively challenging this system by working to dismantle the corporations harming people in the territories where they operate, centring gender justice, and defending their water, forests, and ways and modes of food production. The alternatives they offer are based on the fundamental principles of a feminist economy and are essential to breaking the system by bringing its injustices and inequalities to the forefront of their struggle.
Transnational corporations and agrocommodities are harming people and planet
Food and food production in today’s agribusiness model is built to benefit TNCs and the national and subnational elites that enable them. This is done through the privatisation, commodification, and financialisation of nature which often entails territory-grabbing, environmental extraction, and the exploitation of peoples.
“This industry contributes to biodiversity loss and destruction, to the pollution and deterioration of water sources and the hydrological cycle, wherein both the quality and quantity of water is affected, and it clearly contributes to the hunger crisis.”Karin Nansen
REDES – Friends of the Earth Uruguay
Agricultural monocultures, tree plantations and industrial meat production are all parts of agrocommodity production of which land grabbing is not just a by-product of the model but a necessity. Access to land is therefore central to understanding and dismantling the model. Speaking to the impacts of agrocommodities, particularly palm oil, in Nigeria:
“People are forced to uproot themselves from their ancestral lands; because these companies are growing super-fast, they are looking for concessions that are growing, grabbing new areas. We also know that there is a lot of overdependence on pesticides. They kill pests and other types of ecosystems and animals that hugely contribute to the land and forest ecosystems.”Rita Uwaka
ERA/Friends of the Earth Nigeria
From farm to fork, the production of agrocommodities is all-consuming, leaving a significant share of the control over food access to corporations. Meanwhile, the same TNCs that are at the root of this broken food system, imposing monocultures and evading taxes, also promote themselves as socially responsible and environmentally sustainable. But the reality is very different. Communities lose land and territories; peasants are forced to migrate in search of employment; the use of toxic agrochemicals threatens human health and the environment and socio-environmental crises are exacerbated.
The agribusiness model violently affects life in territories but, above all, women’s lives and bodies. From the loss of food sovereignty to militarisation and labour precariousness, the effects of agrocommodities limit women’s autonomy and increase their vulnerability, workloads and care work. This aggravates existing gender inequalities.
For one, only 30% of rural women own agricultural land even though they’re responsible for 60-80% of agricultural production in non-industrialised countries. This, paired with limited access to decision-making processes, means that women’s access to land is especially threatened by agrocommodities. With the pressure to shift from food to cash crops also comes a heightened risk of men taking control of women’s lands, water and other productive resources. The expansion of agribusiness further jeopardises women’s independence and autonomy as they are increasingly exposed to situations of fear, violence, sexism and sexual harassment.
Yet, even in the face of such violence perpetrated in the name of greed, women are organising themselves to defend their water, forests, ways and modes of food production and, in turn, themselves and their communities.
Women and the struggle against agrocommodities
Historically, Indigenous Peoples and local communities have shouldered the sustainable management of soil, land, biodiversity and forests globally. These management practices range from agroecology to community forest management and traditional livestock and animal management practices that continue today but are threatened by the expansion of agribusiness. Women play a key role in these traditional methods. So, revealing, recognising and reinforcing the processes where they are leaders is essential to the struggle against agrocommodities and for gender justice.
Women hold specialised and highly diversified knowledge about agriculture, food, health, forests, care and more. Stemming from peoples’ collective history, this knowledge is traditional, scientific, historical, collective and important, especially in times of crisis. Defending and upholding their rights is therefore essential to the well-being and survival of the communities most affected.
A break from the dominant, patriarchal system that is at the root of agrocommodities will require alternatives based on the feminist economy. Doing so makes injustices and inequalities visible by upholding principles like the recognition of interdependence, eco-dependence and equity that call on us to defend territories, nature and collective rights. Women around the world are organising and inviting us to join them on this path toward transformational existence and struggle against the agrocommodities model.