By: Megumi Sugihara, PhD, AGRA Watch Member
“Food will occupy a special role in this historical drama, because how we produce and consume food largely determines how our society is organized… our food systems are pivotal sites for systemic social, political, and economic transformation.” — Ahna Kruzic and Eric Holt-Gimenez, Food First.
If you are like me, you might have felt pulled in many directions since the new administration took office in Washington, D.C. 100 days ago. After all, we want to protect our basic rights for healthcare, clean water, a safe environment, and public education; to name just a few. We also want to make sure our immigrant friends and colleagues are safe; and we certainly do not want any more war, nuclear or otherwise. But then, why is it still important for AGRA Watch to fight for food sovereignty and to challenge philanthrocapitalism in the times of the Trump regime and a Republican-controlled congress?
There are two reasons. First, as the Food First quote suggests, the work towards food sovereignty is an act of taking back our own independence from corporate-controlled food systems. Furthermore, this work is a solid building block for a truly democratic society. On a personal level, it is a concrete action we can take every day. Collectively, we can organize, educate, and collaborate for plentiful, safe, healthy, culturally appropriate food and its production in the US and around the world. This movement for food sovereignty has a potential to unite people despite differences, and galvanize heightened political awareness for overall social justice.
Secondly, challenging philanthrocapitalism equates to challenging corporate domination that clearly contributed to the making of the Trump administration and a Republican controlled-Congress. Some of the parts at play are:
These things and more have allowed the accumulation of wealth in the hands of few. Some of those who have benefited from this systemic corruption are in current political leadership, and others act as philanthropists who exert unchecked influence in the global arena under the guise of benevolent giving. So when AGRA Watch claims such giving is serving the capitalist interests of the giver more than the wellbeing of the recipients, and demands transparency and accountability for philanthropic practices, we are challenging the very structure of corporate domination. Ultimately, AGRA Watch is a nonpartisan entity who sees real issues with the policies and systems, not so much with particular politicians.
Some might say that AGRA Watch is doing nothing differently than what it has always been doing. In some ways that is correct. AGRA Watch is steadfast with the same struggle because deep down what we are fighting for has not changed. What has changed, is that the corporate domination that has taken hold of American society quietly (or not so quietly) is no longer in hiding. Thanks to the Trump regime and a Republican-controlled Congress, unabashed capitalism is now in broad daylight. While many Americans have been disturbed by certain recent executive orders, appointees in high governmental positions, and legislatures that seem to reverse certain progress, this political climate is presenting an unprecedented opportunity to stand up for what we believe and to make systemic transformation.
In particular, I believe AGRA Watch has two unique roles in this struggle for justice. One comes with our location in Seattle at the headquarters of one of the world’s most influential philanthrocapitalist organizations, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It is our imperative to keep close eyes on how the Gates Foundation influences global systems through its philanthropic “gifts” extended to research institutions, including Wageningen University and Research Center, Cornell University Alliance for Science, and the University of California Davis, as well as international developmental initiatives, such as such as the World Bank’s Enabling the Business of Agriculture project and the G8’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. AGRA Watch organizes to expose the Gates Foundation’s singular reliance on high-tech, market-oriented approaches to agricultural development combined with unparalleled influence in both global food systems and in governance.
Another key role of AGRA Watch is to cultivate partnerships with African farmers’ organizations. As is often the case, when the powerful make ill decisions, it is the most vulnerable who pay the highest price. In our global food system, smallholder farmers in Africa are among the most vulnerable (yet resilient and resourceful) groups of people. Our close collaboration with smallholder farmers organizations in Africa gives us an advantage in knowing how US politics are affecting African farmers and what we, as citizens of the global North, can do to ensure an environment where the local small farmers can practice their own solutions rooted in local wisdom and tradition.
Both Robert Reich and Noam Chomsky independently warned the general public to not to lose sight of our commitment in the smoke screen that Trump and Republicans have created by doing one shocking thing after another (see for example, some episodes of The Resistance Report and Democracy Now!). I do not mean to say those shocking things are insignificant. On the contrary, many are extremely important and require our immediate actions. But when we allow ourselves to be pulled into so many directions, we can lose our perspective. In order to keep clear sight in this political climate, we need to take an even stronger stance in our commitment than ever before. For AGRA Watch, our continued work for food sovereignty and our challenge to philanthrocapitalism is our commitment to the world. This is our resilience in these times of Trump and a Republican Congress.