Throughout the first part of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, thousands of pigs flew aboard chartered flights from U.K., France and Netherlands to China as Beijing struggled to deal with the effect of the African swine fever that had decimated China's pork industry. The spectacular airlift which has been recorded in the Food Barons Report unveiled on Thursday, supported the pig breeding economies such as U.K., France, Netherlands and Canada and displayed the enormous clout of China in the global food business where its state-owned entities such as the Syngenta Group has emerged among the handful of global agri business companies that control the global industrial food chain.
The report titled Food Barons 2022, Profiteering, Digitalization and Shifting Power records similar instances as the chartered flights for pigs and claims that the "geographic center of power of the food barons is shifting east" It reports that the Syngenta Group is now the world's largest agrochemical input firm covering seeds, pesticides and fertilizers. That apart, China's COFCO Group is the second largest agricultural commodity trader in the world after Cargill of the U.S.
"In decades past, industrial agriculture was overwhelmingly dominated by corporations based in North America and Europe, and focused primarily on meeting market demand in those regions. Today, corporate players in the global South, especially China, Brazil and India are reordering the industrial food chain, while adopting the same extractive model as their Northern counterparts," stated the report explaining the works of the agriculture and agri-machinery giants like U.S.'s Deere & Company and Mahindra & Mahindra of India that are manufacturing driverless or autonomous tractors that use AI, GPS and other features. Noteworthy that India has recently joined hands with the U.S., Israel and the United Arab Emirates to create food parks that would be using technology and Big Data under the I2U2 (India, Israel, U.S. and UAE) grouping. Indian officials had claimed that the strategy would boost income of Indian farmers.
The report has flagged that the tech-giants are becoming prime players in the food sector handling the data, networking and AI that supports the digitalised food chain. As example, it says Bayer’s ‘Field View’ digital platform extracts 87.5 billion datapoints from 180 million acres of farmland in 23 countries and “funnels it into the cloud and AI servers of Microsoft and Amazon” to create business strategies. The document cautioned that new strategies are geared at profiteering out of climate crisis, pandemics and even conflicts like the one raging in Ukraine. Such strategies are obstructing real competition and creating “extreme oligopoly” agriculture sector.
The report lays out the concentration of corporate wealth in agri business which it says is a "major factor" that is behind food price inflation. The report was researched over the past three years and ranks the largest food corporates all over the world dominating the $10 trillion commercial industrial food chain.
"At every 'link' in the commercial food chain major food corporations are ripping apart and remaking how the industrial food chain works under the banner of 'digital transformation'. This includes the deployment of AI, ag-robots, and drones in the fields," stated press release issued during the launch of the report highlighting that the new strategies are displacing farm-workers and takes "everyday decision making away from the farmers".
The issues raised in the report are expected to feature also in the October 10-15th UN’’s Committee on World Food Security.