Regenerating Mother Earth and The Food Barons of 2022
A round-up of interesting news and events on food and climate
Warning - this week’s Thin Ink is a bit short because of misplaced-paperwork-related panic I’m currently experiencing. Hopefully by the time you’re reading this, I’ll be snoozing on a transatlantic flight heading home and that would be the best outcome. So keep your fingers crossed for me please.
Regenerating Mother Earth
Slow Food’s Terra Madre Salone Del Gusto 2022 opened yesterday (Thursday, Sep 22) in Torino/Turin.
The theme this year is “Regeneration” and the event is being held - very aptly - at Parco Dora, a post-industrial park that used to house automotive factories up until the 1990s and which takes its name from a nearby river that has been flowing freely again.
A new report from the non-profit ETC Group, which monitors the impact of emerging technologies on biodiversity, agriculture and human rights, gives us an idea of how concentrated our food systems have become.
Food Barons 2022: Crisis Profiteering, Digitalization and Shifting Power examined the key players in 11 “agrifood” sectors including seeds, agrochemicals, commodity trading, grocery retail, synthetic fertilisers and farm equipment.
Some of its findings include:
Four firms (Sygenta, Bayer, BASF, and Corteva) control 62% of the world’s agrochemical market. If you add two more to the list, the market share rises to 78%.
Three global companies (EW Group, Hendrix Genetics and Tyson Foods) control 100% of commercial poultry genetics.
Two companies (Syngenta and Bayer) control 40% of the commercial seeds market. A quarter of a century ago, this share was controlled by 10 companies, according to another ETC report.
In the U.S. just three companies (Deere, CNH and AGCO) account for more than 90% of high-horsepower tractor sales. In India, Mahindra & Mahindra controls more than 40% of the country’s farm equipment market.
Three critical, multi-sectoral trends help these Food Barons maintain control - the digitalization of food and agriculture, the rising power of Asian (especially Chinese) Food Barons and horizontal integration, including asset management companies getting involved.
Many of the Food Barons, like those that control commodity trading, are privately-held or state-owned, which means they are not obliged to publicly disclose information about their finances. “The lack of transparency means that, in the absence of regulatory oversight, we can’t fully track assets or determine corporate market share.”
Not all of this is new, of course, but I don’t think it hurts to remind consumers just how much power is concentrated in the hands of a few corporations and the idea that consumers have all the choices in the world is just an illusion when it comes to many aspects of our food systems.
“In the midst of a global pandemic – combined with climate shocks, supply chain grid-lock, price spikes, increasing hunger, food and energy shortages, civil strife, racial violence and wars – these Food Barons made the most of the converging crises in order to tighten their grip on every link in the Industrial Food Chain,” the report said.
“In doing so, they undermine the rights of peasants, smallholders, fishers and pastoralists to produce food for their own communities and many others. The Food Barons exploit workers, poison soil and water, diminish biodiversity, prevent climate justice and perpetuate a food system structured upon racial and economic injustice.”
I’m still reading the report as I wrap up this week’s Thin Ink but it looks like an interesting one to pore over.
Big Food’s Big Billions at Risk
Speaking of increased profits for Big Food, many of them could see their value collapse by up to 26% or about $150 billion by 2030 if they fail to account for risks associated with agriculture, food and land use, according to a new analysis by the UN Climate Change High-Level Champions and the UN-backed Race to Zero campaign.
“Unlike one off cyclical shocks, this will be a permanent, non-cyclical loss if they do not act now to protect value,” warned the paper, which estimates the financial impact of a set of transition risks compared to a business-as-usual scenario.
These include, for example, the impact of specific policies such as carbon pricing, subsidies for nature-based solutions, due diligence obligations, and bans on deforestation.
Already, climate-linked disasters, whose intensity and frequency are increasing, have caused $108 billion in crop and livestock production losses in developing countries between 2008 and 2018.
Losses from transition risks range from nearly 15% for the agricultural inputs sector to around 4.5% for restaurants and food service sector, according to the paper.
However, only 26 of the world’s 350 largest and most influential food and agriculture companies have set emissions reductions targets aligned with the Paris Agreement, and major global food brands have failed to meet public targets to eliminate deforestation in their beef supply chains by 2020, it added.
But it is not all doom and gloom. There are billion dollar opportunities too, should the companies choose to take them. For instance, the biofertiliser and organic fertiliser markets are growing and expected to be worth $45 billion in 2030.
“Achieving net zero emissions will be undeliverable without a radical transformation in the food and agriculture sector, which contributes more than one fifth of global emissions.”
The 39-page report can be found here.
Pictures vs. Words
These are not exactly new but I just came across them and thought they were very neat.
The Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit’s John Lang came up with brilliant infographics summarising the supremely dense assessment reports of the IPCC. Obviously, as something befitting these humongous reports, the infographics are also fairly lengthy, but much easier on the eyes. At least I think so.
And if you’re one of those people who was rightly cheesed off by World Bank president David Malpass’s “I’m not a scientist” comment, well, you should enjoy this rejoinder from a scientist.