Benchmarking the Business of Agriculture: structural adjustment by another name
The World Bank has once again come under close scrutiny due to a report and campaign launched by the Oakland Institute. The Campaign is called Our Land; Our Business and criticizes the World Bank for developing an index to compare and rank countries based on the bank’s assessment of their agricultural economies. The index is called Benchmarking the Business of Agriculture (BoBA), and it is being developed in conjunction with major international aid agencies such as the Bill and Melina Gates Foundation and USAID as well as support from the Governments of the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Denmark.
The World Bank claims that BoBA will provide information concerning the “agribusiness landscape for family farms” which can be used as a tool for improving agricultural economies and achieving national food security. The Bank is currently collecting data regarding the economics of seeds, fertilizers, access to credit and land, transport, and markets in 10 countries, most of which are in the Third World.
We should not let ourselves be fooled, however, by the language of “family farms” and “food security” used to promote BoBA. A closer analysis reveals that BoBA is not about the survival and well-being of small farmers but about maximizing profits for international agribusiness corporations. For example, in its Snapshot on Access to Fertilizers the Bank argues that access to fertilizers is constrained primarily because fertilizers are produced from non-renewable resources. This is true for the industrial model of agriculture spread by the Green Revolution which devastated both land and rural livelihoods the world over, but it’s not true for small farmers using innovative and ecologically sustainable practices like agro-ecology and the System of Crop Intensification.
The World Bank ‘s agenda does not include preserving the livelihood, productivity, and sustainability of the world’s 500 million small farms. In fact, it is clearly against the survival of small and medium sized rural communities and local markets. With BoBA the Bank wants to convince countries to reorganize their agricultural economies so that they are profitable for international agribusiness.
Anyone who has lived through or read about Structural Adjustment knows that this is nothing new. In the 1980s and 1990s the Bank forced countries experiencing sovereign debt crises to restructure their economies in ways that benefited transnational corporations in agriculture and other industries. Many have hoped that the Bank had changed its behavior after over 20 years of victories against structural adjustment on behalf of social movements and Third World governments, but it’s now clear that those hopes are misplaced.
The Bank is developing BoBA as a new indirect tactic for structural adjustment, one that uses rankings to persuade countries to restructure their economies in the name of profit for the wealthy. This is quite different from the Bank’s older practice of forcing countries on the brink of economic collapse into structural adjustment agreements.
The victories that have been won so far have forced the bank only to change its tactics, not its goals.