Textbook Notes (369,137)
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Sociology (561)
SOC 808 (89)


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SOC 808
Dr.Michelle Szabo

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3/25/2014 CSOC808, Module7- Topics andLearning Objectives Topics and Learning Objectives Topics The Canadian farm crisis Historical changes in agricultural systems Positive and negative consequences of global industrial agriculture Learning Objectives By the end of this module, you should be able to: List some reasons why Canadian agriculture is in crisis. Outline ways in which capitalism and the profit motive has influenced agriculture. Explain some of the criticisms against globalized industrial agriculture and the motivations behind the food sovereignty movement. Reading Reading Critical Perspectives in Food Studies, Chapters 6 and 10 Warm Up In the two required chapters for this module, you read about the development of agriculture historically. Here’s a poll question to get you thinking about this more deeply. Poll: Considering the technological advances in farming over the past several generations, have the lives of Canadian farmers improved, worsened or stayed the same since the 1920s? Keep your initial thoughts in mind over the next few pages. Perhaps you will find a few facts about farming surprising. Global Industrial Agriculture: Introduction Before the mid-term, we looked mainly at issues in food consumption: how people buy, prepare, and eat food, and the myriad factors influencing these food decisions. Beginning with this module, we turn to issues in food production. Although consumption and production are always intertwined, and it’s difficult to speak about one without considering the other, our starting point from now on will be production. A good place to start our investigation of food production is to “pan out” from our food habits to look at how most of our food is made in the age of global industrial agriculture. We will also look at some important political https://de.ryerson.ca/de_courses/templates/des/?c=C02F9DE3C2F3040751818AACC7F60B74 1/14 3/25/2014 CSOC808, Module7- Topics andLearning Objectives economic relations and government policies that underpin this agro-food system. Plummeting Farmer Incomes Figure 7.1: VHS case for 1973 animated film, Charlotte’s Web, based on the 1952 novel. Source: Wikimedia Commons, Troydevinny546, 2012 Many of us grew up with idyllic images of agriculture, from nursery songs like “Old McDonald had a Farm” to the children’s book (and now movie franchise) Charlotte’s Web (Figure 7.1). We might even imagine farms as peaceful, happy places where humans and livestock work together in beautiful nature to create food for others. Indeed, food industry marketing tries to re-create these traditional, pastoral images on purpose. The reality of farming in Canada and elsewhere is in stark contrast to these images. As you read in Chapter 10, we are now facing a “Farm Crisis.” But what is the crisis? Take a look at Figure 7.2, below. What were the net incomes, per farm, in 1926? What about 1976? What about from 2001 to 2005? https://de.ryerson.ca/de_courses/templates/des/?c=C02F9DE3C2F3040751818AACC7F60B74 2/14 3/25/2014 CSOC808, Module7- Topics andLearning Objectives Figure 7.2: Farm net incomes in Canada, 1926 –2005. Source: National Farmers’ Union of Canada, The Farm Crisis and Corporate Profits (p. 1), 2005 You no doubt observed that farm incomes these days are less than zero! In other words, not only are farmers not profiting from their farms but they are even losing money. Most Canadian farmers are only able to survive because of off-farm income (other jobs) and government farm aid (NFU, 2012). Many others are simply going out of busines— Canada has lost two-thirds of its farmers since 1941 (NFU, 2012). Further, young people are not entering the farming sector. The average age of Canadian farmers in 2011 was 54 (NFU, 2012). Clearly, this is a dire state of affairs that, of course, affects our access to food. How did this come to be? To understand the situation, we need to back up a few years to the post-war period, which we will explore on the next page. Changes in Agriculture Post World War II As you read in Chapter 10, there have been many changes in agricultural technology over the years, with the most rapid changes happening since World War II. In this period, crop researchers began to develop high- yielding crop varieties (e.g., wheat) that produced many more tons per hectare. However, these new varieties were dependent on agricultural chemicals. In fact, they were often more productive because they were bred to absorb more chemical fertilizer than older varieties. Also, since the new varieties were grown in monocultures (large areas of the same crop), they were more vulnerable to pests and needed chemical pesticides. On page 157 of the textbook, Wiebe describes in detail the dramatic rise in chemical use on Canadian farms because of these changes. Ask yourself: How does this relate to the current farm crisis? The cost-price squeeze Wiebe introduces the important term cost-price squeeze. Table 7.1 illustrates this term well. Take a close look at the numbers: What do you notice about farming expenses as a percentage of gross revenues over time? https://de.ryerson.ca/de_courses/templates/des/?c=C02F9DE3C2F3040751818AACC7F60B74 3/14 3/25/2014 CSOC808, Module7- Topics andLearning Objectives Table 7.1. Average Canadian Farm Revenues, Expenses, and Incomes, 1950 –2000s Decade Gross Revenues Expenses Incomes 1950s $31,428 $16,703 $14,725 1980s $101,875 $95,497 $6,78 2000s $134,406 $139,921 $-6,987 Source: National Farmers' Union, "Farmers, the food chain and agriculture policies in Canada in relation to the right to food," 2013 Click-n-Reveal: What has happened to farmer expenses as a percentage of farmer gross revenues over time? (What were expenses as a percentage of revenues in the 1950s compared to in the 1980s and 2000s?) In other words, farmer incomes are decreasing despite the increasing revenues because their expenses (often called “inputs”) are so high. This explains the cost-price squeeze. It’s also useful to remember the definition (below). The cost-price squeeze is the difference between the cost of farm inputs (e.g., agro-chemicals, machinery, seeds, antibiotics, etc.) and the price farmers receive for their products. The cost of inputs is continually rising, while the cost of farm products has remained fairly constant or have even fallen in the past 50 years. (Take note of Wiebe’s examples of this on page 162.) The result of the cost-price squeeze is that many Canadian farmers are going out of business. Those that remain dedicated to farming resort to: Off-farm income (mentioned above) Borrowing money This is why Wiebe mentions “killer debts” among farmers. Government Policy and Legislation Government decisions also contribute to the farm crisis. As Wiebe notes, while some government decisions can be helpful to farmers, many actually benefit agro-chemical companies to the detriment of small, family farms. One good example of this is plant breeder's rights legislation in Canada. Farmers have been saving seeds from the previous year’s crop for the next year’s crop for generations. This practice, along with that of exchanging and selling seeds within the farm community, has meant that farmers could reduce costs and have a degree of self-sufficiency. https://de.ryerson.ca/de_courses/templates/des/?c=C02F9DE3C2F3040751818AACC7F60B74 4/14 3/25/2014 CSOC808, Module7- Topics andLearning Objectives Figure 7.3: Harvesters in a wheat field in Alberta, 1928. Source: Wikimedia Commons, 1928 With the new legislation, this practice has changed. How? What does Wiebe say? Click-n-Reveal: What is the consequence of plant breeder’s rights legislation for farmers? There is also the issue of government farm programs (aid). As Wiebe points out, government agricultural policy is focused on increasing crop yields for food export. The idea is to simultaneously make Canada competitive on the world market and help farmers survive by encouraging them to increase their farm size and productivity. For these reasons, the majority of farm program money goes to large farms. Meanwhile, small, family farm— including farms that attempt to use sustainable pra—tireceive less government aid, with many going out of business. Farmer Share of the Food Dollar You may have heard in the news that the cost of food is rising. In fact, food prices have gone up dramatically in the past five years (Brogan, 2013). Does this help address the farm crisis? https://de.ryerson.ca/de_courses/templates/des/?c=C02F9DE3C2F3040751818AACC7F60B74 5/14 3/25/2014 CSOC808, Module7- Topics andLearning Objectives Not really. This is because farmers receive a small percentage of the price you pay in a typical grocery store or restaurant for food. The rest of the money goes to the all of the other actors in the food system that are involved from the farm gate to your plate. Can you guess how much farmers receive from the price you pay for food? Click-n-Reveal: What percentage of the food dollar do Canadian farmers receive? Below is a visual representation of all of the other actors in the food system that take a cut. The image represents the U.S. case, but the Canadian case is similar. Figure 7.4: Food system actors and their share of the food dollar. Source: Canning, Patrick. (2011). A Revised and Expanded Food Dollar Series. Washington, DC: USDA Economic Research Service. This partly explains the recent interest among Canadians in farmers’ markets. The idea is that when you buy directly from farmers (and cook more from the raw ingredients that farmers sell rather than buying packaged or restaurant food), farmers receive a greater share of your food dollar. The First Great Food Revolution (15,000 to 5,000 BCE) As you read in Chapters 6 and 10 for this week, farming has undergone great changes since the advent of agriculture. In Chapter 6, Albritton talks about two great food revolutions. In this module, we will concentrate on what he calls the “Second Great Food Revolution.” https://de.ryerson.ca/de_courses/templates/des/?c=C02F9DE3C2F3040751818AACC7F60B74 6/14 3/25/2014 CSOC808, Module7- Topics andLearning Objectives To provide some context, let’s do a quick refresher from Chapter 6. Test Yourself What happened during what Albritton calls the “First Great Food Revolution”? a. The advent of cooking. Humans began to apply heat to food. b. The advent of agriculture. Humans began to grow plants and raise animals rather than just gathering and hunting. c. The advent of food preservation. Humans began to use salting and smoking techniques to preserve food rather than eating what was hunted and gathered right away. Verify Answer This revolution was important because it created a surplus of food. One farmer created more food than could be eaten in his or her own household. This meant that some people didn’t have to farm. The time that was freed up for those who weren’t involved in farm labour could then be put to other uses. This led to the development of class stratification (e.g., farmers versus merchants versus land owners). It also contributed to the development of government and the state. The Second Great Food Revolution (1945 to Present) What Albritton calls the “Second Great Food Revolution” was much more recent, occurring in the post-war period. Test Yourself What happened during what Albritton calls the “Second Great Food Revolution”? a. Canadian farmers began exporting food for the first time. b. Farmers began using artificial fertilizer. c. Capitalism took over food production in general. Verify Answer This means, more specifically, that companies began selling products to farmers that farmers used to provide themselves. Answer the following questions based on the readings and/or by making an educated guess. 1. During the Second Great Food Revolution: What were horses (which could be bred from one generation to the next) replaced by? What was manure (provided by farm livestock) replaced by? What was the farming practice of saving seeds from one year’s harvest to the next year’s replaced by? What was natural pest control (e.g., planting a variety of different crops rather than monoculture) https://de.ryerson.ca/de_courses/templates/des/?c=C02F9DE3C2F3040751818AACC7F60B74 7/14 3/25/2014 CSOC808, Module7- Topics andLearning Objectives replaced by? (Check your answers on page 95 of the text.) In other words, control and profit in agriculture gradually moved from farmers to corporations. Test Yourself Albritton uses the term “revolution” to talk about the capitalist take over of agriculture because he sees it as a positive change. a. True b. False Verify Answer Industrial Agriculture: Proponent Views Some commentators argue that capitalism’s take over of agriculture (what we will from now on call “industrial agriculture”) has been generally beneficial. They note that the development of more advanced crop varieties and agro-chemicals has meant that farm yields are much higher and harvests more predictable. The International Food Policy Institute, for example, suggests that because of these changes, “most industrial countries achieved sustained food surpluses by the second half of the 20th century, and eliminated the threat of starvation” (Hazel, 2002, p. 1). This claim is also made in relation to countries in the global South (i.e., developing countries), where a so- called Green Revolution took place, albeit later in time. The Green Revolution In the post-war period, countries in Latin America and Asia (e.g., India, Mexico) faced hunger and malnutrition and, in some areas, widespread famine. In the late 1960s, the American Rockefeller and Ford foundations launched an international agricultural research program that aimed to bring new agro-chemical products and technologies from the global North (i.e., developed countries) to these poorer nations. The increase in agricultural yields in these countries that resulted from the American intervention prompted then Administrator of the US Agency for International Development, William Gaud, to announce in 1968: Record yields, harvests of unprecedented size and crops now in th
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