August 2, 2018

Last month, we wrote a blog post highlighting the Trump administration’s hostility to the right to food, to international development for agriculture, and to international institutions and international cooperation to solve global problems.

Not even a week after we put out that blog, the Trump administration announced that they had nominated Kip Tom, a farmer-turned-agribusiness mogul from Indiana, to be the U.S. nominee to the UN agencies in Rome, which include the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Food Program, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, and the Committee on World Food Security.

Tom farms almost 20,000 acres in Indiana and in Argentina, where he is one of the largest suppliers of GMO seed for Monsanto-Bayer and Dow. He is a major producer of corn for ethanol and soybean oil for biodiesel and is on the board of Growth Energy, a major agrofuels trade association and lobbying firm. He also advises hedge funds and other investors on agribusiness operations throughout the Americas, and he has close ties to the technology sector and to efforts to push for more mechanization, data, and technology in agriculture.

To say that he will continue the Trump administration’s work to undermine food security, international development, governance, and human rights is an understatement. The record suggests that he has every intention of dismantling the international approach to the human right to food and toward supporting small-scale farmers. While the Trump administration will say they have nominated a farmer to this important ambassadorship, it’s as if both big ethanol and Monsanto-Bayer were named to this post.

Around the world, one in three people work in agriculture, which is full of risk, from bad weather to market fluctuations. Without national governments and international organizations like the UN agencies in Rome that fund programs and put policies in place that ensure a safety net and provide support, many farmers would go into debt during a bad year, where they would be forced to sell their farm or pushed to take their own life.

However, Tom is a firm believer that free markets are the best for agriculture and agribusiness should be able to do what it wants. In 2013, he told former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack: “You need to get the hell out of our way. Let private industry do what it does best: conduct business.”

Even now, as U.S. farmers face a crisis of overproduction and global hunger is on the rise, making public policies that support farmers and ensure food security more important than ever, Kip Tom actually said that his goal as ambassador would be “to work ourselves out of a job so we don’t have to have these organizations.”

He doesn’t mean to work himself out of a job by ending poverty or hunger though. He just wants to cut budgets. He said that the UN would have to “do more with less,” including closing country offices of the World Food Program in countries that are not currently facing a hunger crisis.

Tom seems to not understand that our goal should be to prevent hunger crises in addition to providing emergency humanitarian relief (which is also easier and more efficient if an office on the ground is ready to act when a crisis hits).

And perhaps most troubling is the fact that Tom continues to advance the myth that the world needs to produce more food to avoid hunger. Hunger is caused by poverty, as well as discrimination, land grabbing, and depletion of natural resources by agribusiness, but not because of scarcity. Today the world produces more than enough food for 10 billion people, but still more than 2.5 billion people face hunger and malnutrition.

Instead of acknowledging that the big issues confronting Africa’s smallholder farmers are lack of control over their seeds, their land, and their water, as well as dealing with global competition and multinationals that try to squeeze them, Tom instead focuses on Africa’s growing population. This tells you a lot about how he misunderstands the problem.

“We know that the population of Africa is going to nearly double over the next 32 years,” he said, “so whatever we can do to help development of the 5 or 600 million smallholder farms around the world is going to be an important part of that development.”

While it may be true that the population of Africa is increasing, that is not the biggest threat facing African people. Agribusiness and its allies are using the fear of overpopulation to justify its single-crop plantation model of agriculture.

Tom is not offering to support public investment in agroecology or to protect land tenure rights for family farmers. The “solutions” he’s advancing – like introducing high-cost, pesticide-intensive GMOs, high-tech machinery, biofuels, and more neoliberal free trade – will wreak havoc on the environment and often end up pushing smallholder farmers off their land. These technologies are also incredibly expensive and will therefore only be accessible to better-off farmers, increasing inequality and the gap between rich and poor. This will only make hunger and poverty worse.

This agenda that Tom and the Trump administration are pushing is also completely at odds with what other governments and policy experts are advising. José Graziano da Silva, the Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization recently called for healthier and more sustainable food systems. During his opening remarks at the 2nd International Agroecology Symposium in Rome in April, he said agroecology can contribute to such a transformation:

“Today, the world still produces food mainly based on the principles of the Green Revolution. Most of this production is based on high-input and resource-intensive farming systems at a high cost for the environment. As a result, soil, forests, water, air quality and biodiversity continue to degrade. And this focus on increasing production at any cost has not been sufficient to eradicate hunger, despite the fact that nowadays we produce more than enough to feed everyone. In addition, we are seeing a global epidemic of obesity.”

“This situation is unsustainable. We have reached an inflection point. We need to promote a transformative change in the way that we produce and consume food. We need to put forward sustainable food systems that offer health and nutritious food, and also preserve the environment.”

The model of agriculture being pushed by corporate figures like Tom through the Trump administration is anything but sustainable. It is certainly not going to end hunger. This destructive model of agriculture needs to be rejected in Rome – and everywhere else. We know – and experts are increasingly acknowledging – that we need a different model of agriculture in order to weather climate change and ensure that communities can produce enough food and ensure rural livelihoods for the future. The nomination of agribusiness mogul Tom poses a grave threat to that vision and ultimately to the right to food.