GRAIN: Challenging Corporate Power

GRAIN: Challenging Corporate Power

The current industrial food system, dominated by corporate interests, is leading us further down the path of more hunger, environmental destruction, climate change and eviction of rural and indigenous communities. The alternative exists and is being fought for. Food sovereignty implies a fundamental overhaul of the global food system, putting peasant farming, ecological agriculture and local markets centre stage.

~Henk Hobbelink, Coordinator

Citation for the Award

“… for their worldwide work to protect the livelihoods and rights of farming communities and to expose the massive purchases of farmland in developing countries by foreign financial interests.”

GRAIN is an international non-profit organisation that works to support small farmers and movements in their struggles for community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems. For two decades, GRAIN has been a key player in the global movement to challenge corporate power over people’s food and livelihood and to promote food sovereignty. In recent years, GRAIN has been at the forefront of documenting, and denouncing, the rapidly accelerating phenomenon of land grabbing.

History and Objectives of GRAIN

GRAIN’s work goes back to the early 1980s, when a number of activists around the world started drawing attention to the dramatic erosion of genetic diversity – the very cornerstone of agriculture. In 1990 GRAIN was legally established as an independent non-profit organisation.

GRAIN’s four objectives are to

  • stimulate public awareness, around the world, about the importance of biological diversity for people’s livelihoods and security
  • increase knowledge and understanding of the structural causes behind the destruction of biodiversity, particularly as it affects food and agriculture in the global South
  • promote activities and policies that lead to a more equitable and sustainable use of biodiversity in our food systems
  • support social movements and public interest groups concerned about biodiversity as a critical basis for sustainable agriculture and food sovereignty.

How GRAIN is Working

GRAIN's work towards these objectives can be broadly divided into two fields: information work and movement building. On the information side, GRAIN specialises in monitoring and analysing trends that are affecting farmers' and rural communities' control over their livelihoods. On the movement-building side, GRAIN has long been active in networking, capacity sharing, linking people up and supporting strategy development among organisations and activists. This work is crucial as it contributes to the empowerment of groups active on the ground. 

GRAIN is organised in a decentralised way. In 2011, it had four staff members with a regional mandate in Chile, Mexico, Argentina, and Benin, three working internationally from Barcelona, Montreal, and Paris, and one responsible for administration at the Barcelona office. GRAIN works actively with partners around the world and is governed by a Board composed of dedicated individuals from different parts of the globe. GRAIN’s work is financed by grants from foundations, NGOs and development agencies.

The Impact of GRAIN’s Work for Peasant-Centred Agriculture

GRAIN’s work has significantly contributed to

  • making biodiversity an issue of global public attention and civic activism
  • fostering public debate over difficult topics – such as intellectual property rights, genetic engineering, and corporate control over seeds – and creating an understanding that other more sustainable and socially just alternatives exist
  • stimulating cooperation among different actors to put a stop to the rampant spread of industrial agriculture models and policies, and mobilise support for ecological farmer-controlled visions instead
  • helping civil-society groups understand and keep abreast of the latest threats and developments in the field of corporate control over biodiversity and people’s knowledge, and empowering them in the process
  • providing data and proposals on how to reorganise the food system to combat the climate crisis
  • breaking the news barrier on a number of emerging global threats to biodiverse food and farming and offering relevant independent analysis of them: bird flu, swine flu, the food crisis and land grabbing.

Exposing the Global Farmland Grab

With the global economy in turmoil, with food prices persistently rising and fertile land becoming scarcer, a ruthless and alarming global trend has emerged in recent years: in what GRAIN calls “land grabbing”, investors have started to treat farmland as just another commodity. It has been estimated by the World Bank, the International Land Coalition, GRAIN and others, that ca. 60-80 million hectares of farmland in over 60 mostly poor countries – the equivalent of almost half the agricultural area of the EU – have been bought up or leased in just the last few years, with ca. two-thirds of this area being in Sub-Saharan Africa. Even public pension funds are now joining the race for farmland.

This massive rush is resulting in local communities being thrown off their land, natural ecosystems being destroyed and unsustainable farming systems being set up. GRAIN has shown that the farmland grab phenomenon is already driving poor farmers, who often do not have official land titles, into deeper poverty. 

One central problem with land grabbing is that there is no transparency. Investors negotiate with national or local authorities to get access to land, and local communities are not involved in the discussions. The first time that they often learn about it is when the tractors arrive to fence off their land. Similarly, social movements and NGOs often find it difficult to get information. 

To address this problem, GRAIN is documenting the purchasing of farmland on the website: The site contains news reports about the global rush to buy up or lease farmlands abroad, but it also highlights analyses and action from civil society on how to deal with the problem. The site has become an important resource for those who stand to be affected and those monitoring or researching the issue, particularly farmers’ groups, non-government organisations, and journalists. The World Bank has also relied on for its own studies on the issue. 

In addition to documenting the global farmland grab, GRAIN has also been working with partners and allies to mobilise resistance against it. For instance, GRAIN, La Via Campesina, the FoodFirst Information and Action Network (FIAN), and the Land Research Action Network initiated a process in 2010 that resulted in an open statement against land grabbing in which alternative policies for food sovereignty were proposed. The letter was co-sponsored by more than 130 organisations from over 100 countries across the world. A range of local, national and regional actions to stop these land deals are being waged by various groups co-sponsoring the statement in Africa, Asia, the Americas, and Europe.



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