Earth Workshops – The Problem of Market Access

27 Oct 2006

The second morning of Terra Madre was packed full of Earth Workshops, academic lectures and panel discussions that treat different aspects of the world food system. The workshops will treat the subject of food from every conceivable angle – from development economics and ecogastronomy to brewing techniques.

One such discussion that took place this morning addressed an issue that unfortunately affects many of the delegates present here. Namely, the production of quality food avails the producers nothing if they cannot secure a viable price for their goods. Among those gathered to discuss this issue of market access, in particular how it affects the developing world, was Vandana Shiva, founder of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, and a noted theorist of social ecology, the field she helped invent.

Shiva noted the brutal and often fatal irony of the current regulatory structure imposed on world food markets. Whereas corporations have largely succeeded in reshaping the state to serve their ends – through intellectual property laws, for example – smaller producers face severe regulation that often obliterates their livelihoods. The result is “laws of food safety written on the basis of industrial uniformity;” for example, milking cows by hand is illegal because it is considered unhygienic, whereas standardized, industrially produced foods of dubious health value enjoy much more lax regulation and, as a consequence, market dominance.

The result, argues Shiva, is that small farmers are being driven to extinction. This is not just a metaphor for the fact that their way of life is vanishing; more than a hundred thousand Indian farmers have committed suicide.

What we need, Shiva says, is a “food democracy” that will fairly regulate large corporations while allowing small farmers the freedom of market access and, thereby, a livelihood.

“It’s in our hands,” she concluded, “to reclaim democracy by reclaiming our food.”

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