The list of the world’s largest 500 companies by turnover contains a huge number of firms engaged in agriculture and food. And the trend continues towards a further concentration of power. Agrifood corporations are driving industrialization along the entire global value chain, from farm to plate. Their purchasing and sales policies promote a form of agriculture that revolves around productivity. The fight for market share is achieved at the expense of the weakest links in the chain: farmers, and workers.
A growing number of people are organizing themselves and are changing their buying habits to recreate diversity in the value chain. But that is not enough to end hunger and poverty or to protect the environment. The withdrawal of government from economic intervention is a major cause of the colossal environmental and climate damage and the global injustice that we see today. It is high time for a socially and politically oriented regulation of the agrifood industry. The Agrifood Atlas serves facts and shows why and how the road to a socio-ecologically oriented agricultural and nutritional industry must be taken.
The Agrifood Atlas is jointly published by Heinrich Böll Foundation, the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, and Friends of the Earth Europe.
Table of contents
- The corporations mentioned in the Agrifood Atlas
- History: Supersize me
Wether protectionism or deregulation – the agrifood industry keeps growing. Mergers are making firms bigger all the way along the value chain.
- Mergers: One group to rule them all
A single private equity firm, 3G Capital from Brazil, controls some of the world's biggest food and beverage corporations. The company's aggressive takeover strategy is just the tip of the iceberg.
- Plantations: Modern-day landowners
New corporations have emerged that buy or lease vast areas of farmland in developing countires. They grow monocultures to feed the industralized agriculture.
- Agricultural technology: Digital manoeuvres – when tractors go online
Precision farming promises to revolutionize farm management. But it will only benefit large landholdings and capital-intensive agro enterprises.
- Fertilizers: Chemicals for the soil
Synthetic fertilizers increase agriculture's productivity, but do not improve soil quality. Manufacturers want to sell more – despite the high energy and environmental costs.
- Seed and pesticides: From seven to four – growing by shrinking
Mergers galore: Bayer wants to buy Monsanto and become the world's largest producer of seeds and agrochemicals. All top rivaling companies are pairing up.
- Animal genetics: In the beginning was the patent
Genetically modified livestock are prone to disease and are difficult to market. But many labels are developing methods to further industrialize animal production.
- Crop genetics: Juggling genes
In the coming years, seed companies plan to use genome editing to produce crops with new characteristics – and market them without having to state that they are "genetically modified".
- Commodities: Agricultural traders' second harvest
Four Western corporations dominate the global trade of agricultural products. Now a Chinese firm has joined them.
- Manufacturers: Brands dominating marktes
Fifty manufacturers account 50 percent of global food sales in the industry. The big companies are growing fastest and are rapidly increasing their market share.
- Retailing: Expanding aisles
Food shoppers in the developed world let the cash registers ring at the likes of Wal-Mart, Lidl, Carrefour and Tesco. The supermarket revolution is now expanding throughout the developing world.
- Feeding the world: Chemical sprays, but hunger stays
Industry says it can feed the world. But total food production is not the issue; access to food is. The key solution is to fight poverty.
- Meat: Herd instinct
They are largely unknown to the public, but they dominate the world’s meat supplies. Much of the beef, pork and chicken we eat is controlled by just a handful of big firms.
- Alternatives: Looking for a new way
Agroecology is a successful concept which promotes farming methods that are attuned to local ecosystems. It is already used for growing rice worldwide.
- Capital markets: Investors care about growth – not about the growers
Speculators are increasingly placing their bets on agriculture. Capital flows into stock exchanges are exacerbating price fluctuations in agricultural commodities – to the benefit of funds and banks.
- Working conditions: Pile it high, sell it cheap
Labels on supermarket packaging trumpet all kinds of concerns for people and nature. But most have little impact on the miserable conditions endured by farm and plantation workers.
- World trade: In control, not under control
International trade deals reflect the interests of the industry. Agrifood corporations want to keep a grip on the steering wheel.
- EU Lobbying: Big business in Brussels
The crowds of industry lobbyists trying to infl uence European Union policy often find they are pushing at an open door. They combine legitimate lobbying with underhand methods such as hiring government insiders and publishing quasi-scientific studies. The EU must recognize such tactics for what they are.
- China: Public and private companies are reaching out
The world’s new economic powerhouse is located in China. Its land investments in Africa and Latin America have attracted headlines, but Southeast Asia is where it is making its influence most felt.
- Rules: Market power and human rights
Again and again, corporations fail to respect human rights. Voluntary measures are not enough: we need binding rules.
- Resistance: Protests, boycotts and resistance
In many countries, people are resisting agrarian and trade policies that boost the power of the multinationals. Individual companies also come in for criticism.
- Authors and sources for data and graphics