In 2016, six companies controlled 60 percent of the global seed market and 75 percent of the global pesticides market.These were Syngenta, DuPont, Dow, Bayer, BASF SE, and Monsanto. Then, there were three mega mergers in the agriculture sector. ChemChina acquired Syngenta, Dowand DuPont merged, and Bayer absorbed Monsanto. The agricultural inputs market is now controlled by these three and BASF SE. The Big 6, thus, changed into the Fat 4.

Concentration in corporate ownership is growing not only in agrochemicals, seeds, fertilisers, and farm machinery, but also in agricultural commodity trading – a process that has meant increasing alienation of small-scale farmers and food producers from the food production chain.

This problem is further exacerbated by the digitalization of genetic resource information. Digitalization is not only fortifying the move towards vertical integration in agriculture, but also creating new enclosures. In an interview with Bot Populi, Elenita Daño of the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC Group), emphasizes the need to be vigilant about the ways in which new and emergent technolgies marginalise certain local and indigenous communities, the corporate drivers behind these technologies, and their control over people and biological resources.

Companies in both developed countries and big developing countries are digitalising genetic information, which results in dematerialization and delinking of physical assets from the local and indigenous communities who are the rightful owners of these resources. Once this genetic information enters cyberspace, existing laws, regulations and frameworks that are currently only designed to address physical aspects of genetic resources, no longer apply, she points out.

Comparing this to a ‘Wild West’ situation, Daño advocates that digitalization in agriculture be based on recognition and respect of peoples’ collective and individual rights.

Elenita Dano is the Asia Director of the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC Group) based in Davao City, southern Philippines.