In Eating Tomorrow, author Timothy Wise explains how farmers in Malawi and Mexico are resisting the reach of big agribusiness by employing sustainable farming practices and growing local varieties of their cash crops. He also talks about the methods those same agribusinesses, particularly Monsanto, to pressure governments to implement policies that would favor big businesses at the expense of the small farmers, the environment, and the country’s biodiversity. This is an ongoing story, and one case he discussed was still being fought over in the Mexican court system when this book was being published.
Wise begins by recounting what he learned over several trips to Malawi. The country is known for having a monoculture focused on maize, and Monsanto controls a significant percentage of the market. Local farmers have faced pressure to switch to Monsanto’s hybrid seeds from the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa’s (AGRA), which has lobbied the Malawi government to loosen regulations on genetically modified seeds under the guise of climate change preparedness. While this increases profits for the big businesses, the more expensive seeds and the fertilizers and pesticides they require cut into the farmers’ profits, and there are no subsidies for irrigation, making the crops susceptible to drought and other extreme weather. However, after a series of bad crops that left people hungry across the nation, the Malawi government decided to switch its focus to wide-ranging subsidies that benefited farmers rather than businesses. Between these new subsidies and farmers adopting more sustainable practices like intercropping, as well as growing native, hardy varieties of maize, Malawi began to see improvements. However, after a few years, it became clear that these subsidies were not a perfect solution, and more steps need to be taken to combat the repercussions of climate change.
In chapter seven, Wise discusses a similar situation in Mexico, the home of maize. Monsanto, along with several other large seed companies, has been trying to get their GMO seeds into Mexican farmland for several years. Unlike in Malawi, the big companies focus on profit and productivity rather than climate change. Another difference is the resistance the companies have faced from the government, farmers, and consumers. Though Monsanto initially won some allowances for their GMO seeds, genes from those plants were soon discovered in some of the hundreds of local varieties. This, along with some tortilla companies mixing GMO maize into their recipes, sparked outrage in the general public and set off a class-action lawsuit to preserve the biodiversity and agricultural sovereignty of Mexican maize. Though the agribusinesses are still fighting to get into the Mexican market, their opposition has the support of the new president and a large organization of farmers, and the fight does not seem to be letting up any time soon.