Partner Reports and Publications

  • At the bottom of the food chain: Small operations versus multinational corporations in the food systems of Brazil, Mexico and South Africa

    This report examines how the food systems in South Africa, Brazil and Mexico are dominated by a small group of MNCs of both foreign and national origin that play a significant role in agricultural inputs and production, processing and manufacturing of foodstuffs, procurement, storage and transportation, retailing and consumption. 

    Many studies of the food system track individual commodities, such as staple food items, in order to understand MNC dominance. However this approach carries the risk of underestimating the ownership and market share of conglomerates, and to their privileged access to information, capital, and political power, which operate and are dominant in more than one commodity chain. This report has therefore combined a review of the pathways of economic and political influence of MNCs in the food system with a value chain (VC) analysis as the lens through which to gauge the footprint of these so-called “stateless corporations” operating across the different nodes of the food systems in these three countries, and analyses the resulting impacts of this footprint. 

    The report begins by situating MNCs within the context of globalisation, discussing the broad policy landscape which has enabled MNC dominance in the food value chain, so that many now have greater economic power (and political ‘clout’) than some states. It then discusses the local responses of each of the three countries to these global economic processes and to the centralisation of power and economic dominance of a few large food and agricultural MNCs. Through a series of case studies the report demonstrates how each node in the food system in South Africa, Brazil and Mexico is structured in similar ways – highly centralised, with each segment being dominated by the same small group of large local and foreign companies - Monsanto, Cargill, Syngenta, Nestle, Coca-Cola, Wal- Mart, McDonalds, amongst others. 

    The overall conclusion of the report is that food security is not simply about producing enough calories. The food system needs to allow these calories to remain wholesome, affordable and easily accessible, in foods with sufficient protein and micronutrients. More than just agricultural intervention, there needs to be regulation of actors in the food value chain and economic policies (such as subsidies and taxes) to make unhealthy foods more expensive and healthy foods cheaper. Effective poverty reduction strategies, safety nets and rural development programmes are a priority in order to tackle food insecurity in a sustainable way.