Who has the Power in Today’s Globalised Agricultural System, and where is it Located?

Victoria Capoferri (2013)


This article examines the global agricultural system highlighting the presence of an oligopoly among agri-biotech TNCs, namely corporations in the sector of agricultural input supply (i.e. seeds and agrochemicals). I identify three major dimensions of power, the economic, the political and the epistemic; which together express the unprecedented control yielded by these companies. I finally discuss this phenomenon by illustrating the global policies and the legislative frameworks that permitted the corporatization of the agro-food system. The methodology adopted to gather the evidence has principally relied upon academic work, to explain the patterns of the corporate regime and to analyse the multiple facets of power. Additionally, in order to provide empiric examples and data, I have relied upon articles and reports available online, produced by independent research institutes (i.e. ETC Group; European Corporate Observatory) and non- governmental organizations (i.e. Greenpeace).


This article has provided a snapshot of the dimensions and the issues related to the immense power achieved by corporations in the agricultural sector. Evidently, consolidation of wealth in a set of few players has deeply impacted over the economic, political and social arena on a planetary scale. In the panorama of global agriculture, a series of problems has been identified. Concentration in the market impedes effective competition and results in farmers becoming price-takers and dependant on the products of these corporate giants. Corporate lobbyists have the power to set the agendas and to orient international policy; corporations can benefit from trade agreements and regulations which privilege their activities at the expense of small-scale producers and farmers in both developed and developing countries. Moreover, the international IPR regime further favours concentration, expropriating southern communities of their traditional knowledge.