Agricultural megamergers: who will decide what we eat

It is a question of preventing agri-business from taking over the whole countryside and food supply, and protecting peasant and agro-ecological production, to be able to eat healthily.

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The future of food is definitely not what it used to be. At least where industrial agriculture is concerned. Monsanto, the best-known villain of transgenic agriculture, could soon disappear under this name from the scenario, if their purchase by Bayer is authorized – even though its intentions would be the same. The mergers Syngenta—ChemChina and Dupont—Dow are still under the scrutiny of anti-monopoly authorities in many countries. If they succeed, the three resulting companies will control 60 per cent of the world market of commercial seeds (including nearly 100% of GMO seeds) and 71 per cent of agrotoxins globally, with levels of concentration that amply overcome the monopoly rules of any country.


These megamergers will have many negative repercussions in the short term: a notable increase in the price of agricultural inputs, a reduction of innovation and varieties in the market, greater limitations to public phyto improvement and the increase of agrotoxins in the fields – and hence in food supplies – in order to continue selling GMO seeds, even though this has provoked resistance in dozens of invading plants and increased dosages, with the adddition of even more toxic agro-chemicals. For these companies, their biggest business is selling poisons, so if they are not prevented, this course of action will continue.


The takeovers will have a strong impact on the peasant economy and family farming – even though most of them use their own seeds with little or no chemical input – because the power of pressure of these mega-enterprises on governments and international authorities will increase with their size and due to their monopoly control over the first links of the agri-food chain. The pressure will increase to obtain more restrictive intellectual property laws; to restrict the interchange of seeds among campesinos or make it illegal – for example with “phytosanitary” norms and the obligation to use registered seeds–; for the programmes for the countryside and agricultural credits to be conditioned on the use of their inputs and patented seeds; for infrastructure expenses and other agricultural policies to benefit industrial agriculture and displace peasants.


As if this were not enough, there are other worrying factors. The wave of mergers will not end with these movements, rather it has hardly begun. What is at stake in the medium term is who will control the 400 billion dollars of agricultural inputs. At present, the total value of the global commercial market of seeds and agrotoxins is 97 billion dollars. The rest, three times bigger, is controlled by machinery and fertilizer companies, which are also consolidating. The four biggest machinery companies (John Deere, CNH, AGCO, Kubota) already control 54% of this sector.


The machinery sector is no longer a question simply of tractors: there is a high degree of automation, integrating GPS and agricultural sensors to their machines, drones for irrigation and fumigation, self-driven tractors, as well as a massive accumulation of satellite data on soils and climate. Meanwhile, Monsanto and company, the six huge “genetic giants” have been digitalized and control an enormous of genomic database on crops, microorganisms and plants of agro-ecosystems, in addition to other related databases.


There are already contracts of collaboration between these two sectors and even shared companies for the sale of climate data and agricultural insurance. In 2012, Monsanto, for example, acquired the company Precision Planting that produces instruments and monitoring systems for “precision agriculture”, from sowing seeds to irrigation and administration of agro-chemicals. In 2013, they bought up the Climate Corporation, to register and sell climate data.  John Deere later moved to buy Precision Planting from Monsanto, but the antimonopoly offices of the United States and later Brazil objected to the sale, considering that John Deere would come to control a monopolistic percentage of the sector. Although the sale was finally cancelled in 2017, this is an indication of the trend. There are several other companies of a digital-instrumental base (Precision Hawk, Raven, Sentera, Agrobotix) that are shared or in collaboration among the transnationals of agricultural machinery and those of seeds and agrotoxins. With respect to this see the document “Software contra Hardware” of the ETC group (


Everything indicates that the big machinery enterprises are moving to buy the genetic giants, once the first round of mergers is finalized. This second round pursues the goal of impose a highly automated agriculture, with very few workers, which will offer farmers a package that they cannot refuse: from what seeds, inputs, machinery, geometric and climate data, to what insurance they will have to buy; moreover, these companies will seek to condition agricultural credit to the purchase of this new package, as now occurs with seeds and agrochemicals.


It is fundamental to understand and to denounce now the impacts of the mega-mergers. Many organizations have mobilized to protest in the United States, Europe and China and various countries of Africa and Latin America, including to the anti-monopoly offices, something that at least has delayed their approval. In the end, it is a question of preventing agri-business from taking over the whole countryside and food supply, and also a way to protect peasant and agro-ecological production, which is the only way to be able to eat healthily and attain food sovereignty.




(Translated for ALAI by Jordan Bishop)


- Silvia Ribeiro is a researcher with the ETC Group:
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