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The Rise of the Food Barons

A future in which agricultural production is digitized bodes well for some of the world’s largest companies, but it would leave many of the problems associated with industrialized agriculture unsolved. As agrochemical and agrotechnical firms amass more market power, farmers and workers will lose out.

BERLIN – The industrial-agriculture sector has long faced criticism for practices that contribute to climate change, environmental destruction, and rural poverty. And yet the sector has taken virtually no steps to improve quality and sustainability, or to promote social justice.

This is not surprising. Although there are more than 570 million farmers and seven billion consumers worldwide, just a handful of companies control the global industrial-agriculture value chain – from field to shop counter. Given the high profits and vast political power of these companies, changes to the status quo are not in their interest.

Moreover, market concentration in the agriculture sector is on the rise, owing to increased demand for the agricultural raw materials needed in food, animal feed, and energy production. As the middle class in southern countries has grown, its members’ consumption and nutritional habits have changed, boosting global demand for processed foods – and setting off a scramble for market power among multinational agricultural, chemical, and food corporations.

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