Timothy A. Wise dissects the dangers of agribusiness

Timothy A. Wise dissects the dangers of agribusiness

Emmanuel Jones


On a 104-degree day during October of 2017 in Maputo — the capital of Mozambique — crowds of well-dressed international experts and representatives from various African governments gathered in the Radisson Blue Hotel. Sheltered by the air conditioning, they commenced the African Union’s annual agricultural research conference. These conferences have been organized since 2006 by the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute to support the agricultural development of several African countries. The topic for the conference was “Climate-Smart Agriculture.” Timothy A. Wise recounted the conference as well as his meeting with farmers in the area in his new book, Eating Tomorrow: Agribusiness and the Battle for the Future of Food. 

Many governmental agricultural initiatives place corporate profits over the needs and well-being of the farming communities most directly impacted by them. Wise saw this trend amidst the 2007 – 2008 global food price crisis. 

Photo Courtesy of  Civil Eats

Photo Courtesy of Civil Eats

“The day before, I’d been with farmers in Marracuene, just 45 minutes up the coast from Maputo,” wrote Wise. “They weren’t embracing the experts’ climate-smart initiatives but rather defending themselves from them. They wanted no part of synthetic fertilizer, which was labeled climate-smart even though it came from fossil fuels. Small-scale family farmers often referred to such practices — and the ‘technology package’ of which they were a part — as ‘climate-stupid agriculture.’” He mentioned hoping the crisis would lead policy-makers to enact more policies in favor of small farmers; however, their failure to do so is part of what inspired him to start working on his book. 

Wise expressed that his interest in agricultural development first began when he was working towards his bachelor’s degree and studying abroad in Peru. He received his Bachelor of Arts in Latin American Studies from the University of Massachusetts, Boston in 1985. In 2005, he received his Master of Arts in Public Policy from Tufts Department of Urban and Environmental Planning. Back in 1991, Wise was appointed executive director of Grassroot International, a U.S. based aid agency; he served in this position until 1998. Since 2015, he has been a senior research fellow for the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst as part of their Democracy, Peacebuilding and Environment Program. He has also served as a senior researcher at the Small Planet Institute as part of their Land and Food Rights program as well as at Tufts University’s Global Development and Environment Institute with their Globalization and Sustainability Program, which he directed from 2000 – 2016. Wise, in the course of his 30-year career of researching agricultural issues, has written dozens of professional papers and journals on topics such as land and food rights, global governance, U.S. agricultural policies, and international development. 

In his new book, Wise primarily discusses two trends: the “devastating” impact of the North American Free Trade Agreement on small farmers, and the efforts by Monsanto and other big seed companies to receive government permission to grow genetically modified corn in Mexico. Wise’s voice rose as he warned against the dangers of industrial farming. “It’s forcing [farmers] to use seeds that they don’t want to use and that aren’t productive at all on their farms as a means of opening markets for companies like Monsanto,” he said. The efforts of the government of Malawi to modernize their agriculture business has worked to undermine sustainable farming and living practices for its citizens. As Wise noted, many farmers in Malawi have been growing a native type of orange corn which is very high in Vitamin A; however, under new policies, farmers would no longer be able to sell this corn because it is not government–certified. He also mentioned that many of the policies causing detrimental effects started right here in the U.S. and have spread to international communities. 

He addresses those policies in the section of Eating Tomorrow titled “The Roots of Our Problems.”  Wise does not want his audience thinking that government policies favoring big corporations over farmers are only an issue in developing countries. He noted that it is just as much of and possibly an even greater issue in places like Iowa.

Wise is visiting Whittier College to discuss his book, Eating Tomorrow: Agribusiness and the Battle for the Future of Food, on Wednesday, April 10, at 7:00 pm in Hoover 100.