Globalization of Industrialized Agriculture

Globalization and the process of integrating national economies on a worldwide basis have created a global exchange of agricultural commodities and goods in the belief that the path to peace and prosperity is through the marketplace. Aided by information and communication technologies, there has been increased linkages and concentration at almost all stages of the food production and marketing chain. From a purely market-based and capital-growth measurement, globalization is an unprecedented success for those with enough economic power and influence to profit from its realization.

But the development of industrialized agri-food production on a global scale must be placed not merely at the service of corporate profits, but at the service of authentic human development. For those left on the margins of this new world economic order, globalization has left national and local governments and economies often ceding fundamental sovereignty as their regional agricultural production becomes increasingly subject to larger international entities. Unable to compete due to their disproportionately diminished ability to participate in markets, many local food producers are forced to abide by the demands of larger, foreign, international entities, whose regard for local traditions and customs are rarely considered. This situation leads to disenfranchisement of local producers, economic dislocation, rural-to-urban migration, and the inability of governments to properly regulate capital flows and enforce environmental protections.

In theory, globalization and international economic policies can have positive effects, such as competitive pricing and efficient distribution, but these possibilities are often not realized in practice. Large-scale, industrial agricultural enterprises can sometimes be undertaken without regard to the needs of and implications for local communities, leading to the potential abuse of the regional lands, animals, or the dehumanization of the peoples called upon to work in such environments. Many of these abuses are also identified in The Vocation of the Business Leader, Terra e Cibo, and Laudato Si. Faith-filled agricultural leaders are charged with a special task to face such challenges with honesty and hope as the consequences of globalized agricultural operations are often left unexamined.

The pressures from globalization on a larger scale have left many small-scale producers vulnerable to volatile international market conditions and international competition. According to the International Assessment for Agriculture Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, the globalization of agriculture has been accompanied by concentration of market power away from multiple producers into the hands of a limited number of large-scale trade and retail agribusiness companies. Corporate concentration appears to have taken over every link in the the agri-food value chain. Some believe this creates a more efficient flow of food; others see it as a chokehold on farmers and consumers alike. The evidence is compelling that globalization and trade liberalization have been uneven in benefit for the many kinds of farmers and farm operations around the world, notably worse for the family and peasant farmers, particularly those struggling to emerge from rural poverty.

The agricultural leader is called to see that the life of faith entails the fundamental obligations to justice and equity. Markets must be understood as ordered to the integral development of peoples, not merely as venues or exchanges for the sake of profits alone. It is not consistent with one’s life in Christ to ignore the total context of decisions and their impact on communities, especially the poor.

So we reflect:  Do I recognize that my work plays an essential role in the building up of the common good of the human family? Am I convinced I am an essential contributor in God’s plan of justice for the human family?


[Continue to next section: Financialization of Commodity Production.]