Profiting from hunger

Popular resistance to corporate food systems
Popular resistance to corporate food systems

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More than a decade has passed since the publication of War on Want’s 2011 report, ‘Food Sovereignty: Reclaiming the Global Food System’, which illustrated how corporate capitalism is driving global hunger; through the control of agricultural production, large-scale global trade and the widespread sale of agricultural ‘inputs’ such as genetically modified seeds and chemical fertilisers. Since then, many of these problems have intensified and – at the same time – complex new challenges have emerged. The consequences of the 2008 financial crisis, with its austerity measures imposed by international financial institutions on governments around the world, have exacerbated poverty and inequality in many Global South countries and increased their debt, deepening their economic crises. Meanwhile, mounting militarisation around the world has heavily impacted food and nutrition, disrupting food supply chains and destroying harvests. 

On top of this, the world is now in the grip of the climate crisis, which is already having severe impacts particularly on countries of the Global South, causing frequent and intense climate disasters which are devastating the lives and livelihoods of millions of people. The level of disruption to global food production is one of the many challenges deeply connected to the worsening climate crisis and illustrates how unsustainable the current global industrial food system is.

1.5°C of global heating risks crop failure of staple crops in major food-producing countries. While increased heatwaves, droughts and floods from climate breakdown are already exposing millions of people to acute food insecurity.1
At the same time, the industrial model of food production, a legacy of colonialism extended further through the Green Revolution and neoliberal policies, is among the primary drivers of the climate crisis: between 21% and 34% of global greenhouse emissions are related to this rigged system of food production. 

The recent Covid-19 pandemic represents another shock to the economic crisis that has been unfolding across the last decade. This structural crisis of neoliberalism is at the root of the economic and debt crisis of the countries in the Global South: it has caused widening inequality between countries and within countries. These worldwide macroeconomic and structural injustices are having concrete impacts on the most marginalised communities around the world, affecting the cost of primary goods such as food, fuel, and energy. 

Today, the corporate food system, the same system responsible for approximately one third of global greenhouse emissions, is a major promoter of damaging false climate solutions, so-called ‘nature-based’ or ‘nature positive’ models. Multinational agribusinesses are peddling the concept that only through technological fixes, the digitalisation of agriculture and the acquisition of land for carbon markets, we will be able to come out of the climate crisis and stay below 1.5°C. 

What is really being proposed by corporate agriculture is the further concentration of land into the hands of a few; and the continued dispossession of peasants, Indigenous peoples, fisherfolk, and other food producers in the Global South. If allowed, this could lead to new colonial-style land grabbing under the guise of climate solutions. All the way through the production chain, from seed to plate, the global food system is inextricably connected to the climate crisis, and tweaks to the current dominant model of food production will not meet these challenges. In fact, if left, multinational agribusinesses will continue to dominate and control climate responses to further their own agenda: radical alternatives are urgently needed.

However, there is hope. A growing movement of peasants and food producers around the world are reclaiming an alternative food system based on the principles of food sovereignty:

Quote mark The fundamental right of all peoples, nations and states to control food and agricultural systems and policies, ensuring everyone has adequate, affordable, nutritious and culturally appropriate food."

The food sovereignty movement not only provides a response to poverty, hunger, and inequality, but a real solution to cool the planet.  

Food sovereignty can take different shapes: from struggles for the right to land and agrarian reform in the face of land grabbing and displacement, to the fight for the right to use peasant-owned and traditional seeds. It can take the form of peasant agroecology – a science, a social movement, and a way of life – to local and low-cost climate adaptation and mitigation strategies. It has meant intensive work for the recognition of a UN framework and legal instrument to defend people’s rights over their land, seeds, water and other natural resources; and daily struggles for better working conditions for farmworkers in export-oriented farms in the Global South, and in poultry factories in the Global North.  

War on Want has been at the forefront of the fight against poverty, hunger, and inequality since its founding more than 70 years ago. Today, we are still working with our partners around the world to bring forward a different model of food production and distribution, based on the principles of food sovereignty.  

The right to food is a fundamental human right, which protects the rights of all people to live in dignity; free from hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition. Yet, the current model of food production is failing to deliver this right, because although enough food is grown to feed the world’s population twice over, it is done so to maximise profits for the corporations which control the supply chains. Grain sits rotting in agricultural silos while people go hungry. 

Meeting the challenge of keeping global heating to 1.5°C means a transformation of our global systems, including the food system. War on Want is at the forefront of advocating for a radical Global Green New Deal to transform our global economy away from systems of limitless extraction and exploitation, towards those of care and repair. A radical Global Green New Deal for food means a transition to the model of food sovereignty as the only pathway to keep global heating to within 1.5°C, respect planetary boundaries and undo historical injustices rife within the global food system. 

‘Profiting from hunger: popular resistance to corporate food systems', will cover some of the most important changes and challenges of this decade. It will show the alternatives that peasant movements around the world are building — those who produce 70% of the world’s food on less than 30% of the world’s arable land — in response to the intersecting crises of climate, neocolonial corporate control, poverty, and inequality.  

Food is not a commodity, and land is not a financial asset – both are fundamental human rights we must defend. 

Asad Rehman

Executive Director, War on Want

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Profiting from hunger

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  • 1IPCC, “Climate change: a threat to human wellbeing and health of the planet. Taking action now can secure our future”