The Global Climate Talks are winding down this week in Bangkok and according to Minnesota’s Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policies (IATP), the diplomats have been unable to come up with a document of consensus. Instead, they have published “Non Paper 17.” The parts that are particularly contentious are bracketed. The document is largely so vague it is difficult to know what exactly they mean when they say they seek to decrease greenhouse gas emissions through technology by “strengthening conditions of access to and financing transfer of these technologies.”
One particularly important passage reveals what I suspect is a big obstacle to agreement between what is dichotomized in the text as developed and developing nations. After the text details that updating agricultural technology should focus on increasing productivity (a problematic goal in any case but particularly in developing nations where trade pressures push growers to abandon local crops and buy the Monsanto seeds and fertilizers), the brackets begin. Each bracket seeks to modify this insistence on efficiency with phrases like “in a sustainable manner,” “without harming the interests of small and marginal farmers,” and “taking into account traditional knowledge and practices.”
Within the text there are also several points where they have to work around other international protocols and agreements. I doubt, however, that any of those agreements include any of those brief bracketed statements about defending local farmers. And they need it. Against a World Trade Organization slow to even allow developing nations any significant say in regulation and a history of World Bank structural adjustment programs which provided loans only on conditions of privatization, leaving developing nations without a government able to support its farmers (even as the Western nations enjoy huge agricultural subsidies from their governments).
Clearly there is a need for further talks, further pushing but perhaps movements like Slow Food and organizations of small farmers (Terra Madre, for example) are a way forward. Some of these actions will be controversial, like Hugo Chávez’ Bank of the South/ Banco del Sur intended to be an alternative to the International Monetary Fund/World Bank but founded partly on Chavez’ strict control of his country’s national resources and somewhat self-serving notions of democracy. The first part is certainly getting informed, learning that these alternative solutions are out there and are being put to work. The order we fight against is already crumbling at the corners and in line with dependency theory those corners are bound up in/a condition of the center so what will it mean for that center?
What will it mean for our agricultural system and what should it mean?