February 23, 2024

Growing carbon is not like growing watermelons: the seductive trap of carbon farming and digital tech

Episode 4 of 'Who will control the food system?'
Food Barons report cover art showing peasants resisting corporate digital giants

Tune into the next episode in our latest podcast mini-series, Who Will Control the Food System, where we uncover just who's pulling the strings of industrial agriculture, dissect the latest corporate strategies, and take inspiration from the peoples and movements fighting back.


In this fourth episode, Zahra Moloo talks to Camila Moreno, an independent researcher who works with social movements in Brazil and across Latin America on the social and environmental dimensions of biotechnology and agribusiness expansion.

Camila presents Brazil as a huge agribusiness hub, well established as the centre of the “United Republic of Soybeans”, an expression she borrows from a Syngenta ad that references the whole southern cone of the Americas. 

In this podcast, she explains how the “war against climate change” is being manipulated by the financial sector and agribusiness to impose digitalization on Brazilian farms, big and small alike, at an even faster pace than in the US. Carbon is at the centre of this “new climate economy”, and it is digitalisation that is supposedly enabling invisible, intangible carbon to be measured and thereby transformed into a commodity that can be bought and traded.

This has been coupled with strong new corporate narratives about ‘regenerative agriculture’ and environmental markets 'resetting' nature. These so-called 'environmental services' are now established on global markets: carbon credits, biodiversity credits, water credits can all be bought and sold... 

This new trend is changing the very identity of farmers. Where they might have grown watermelon, some are now farming carbon. Farmers struggling to compete with giant corporate farms and supermarkets are being lured into carbon farming with the promise of a new stream of income combined with the chance of being part of a cool, ‘high tech’ economy, with sensors and apps. This is an image which is being heavily promoted by private companies, governments and even international institutions such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Even popular TV soap operas in Brazil are promoting the seductive power of drones in rural areas.

But far from the spotlight, we can see that carbon farming comes with many pitfalls and risks which need to be considered, including the involuntary integration of family farms into the Industrial Food Chain, the loss of farmers’ autonomy, new surveillance mechanisms and new reasons for land grabbing. 

Listen in as we explore these questions!

To find out more about the digitalisation of food and agriculture you can also watch our animation “Big Brother is Coming to the Farm: the Digital Takeover of Food” (available here in Arabic, Bahasa Indonesia, Bisaya, English, Filipino, French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Swahili – and with a version in Hindi on the way).



(Note that the transcript has been lightly edited to make it easier to read.)

The food we eat can go through a long journey before arriving on our tables, from farms and fields, to markets or supermarkets. And then to our homes, each stage in this journey can look very different, depending on who controls the process. On a farm, is it a small-scale farmer who plants and harvests your produce? Where do they get their seeds from? Do they share seeds amongst themselves as they have done for thousands of years? Or do they buy them from companies? Why, during the pandemic, did nearly a billion people go hungry while food and agriculture giants made exorbitant profits? In this podcast series, we will look at who controls our food systems and how those trends are changing.

We will investigate which companies are starting to take greater control of commercial seeds, of farm machinery and grocery retail. We will look at how and why big tech companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Alphabet, Google and Alibaba are moving into food. And we will examine new trends unknown to most people, like carbon farming and digital platforms. Join us as we take a look at who controls and who will control our food systems.

If you have been paying attention to discussions and policies around climate change, you may have come across terms like carbon markets and carbon offsets. Carbon offsetting is a response to the climate crisis that has enabled industrial countries and corporations to continue emitting carbon dioxide in one place by ostensibly taking carbon out of the atmosphere in another place, mostly in developing countries. An airline company can, for example, continue flying and emitting carbon because it has invested in a tree plantation which supposedly takes carbon out of the atmosphere.

Critics have often called carbon credits a licence to pollute that works to delay real solutions to the climate crisis such as reducing fossil fuel emissions. Beyond this, there is now increasing interest in reducing carbon emissions through carbon farming. But what is carbon farming? How does it relate to carbon offsetting and to digital agriculture?

I am Zahra Moloo. In this fourth episode of who will control the food system, I will speak with Camila Moreno, an independent researcher based in Brazil. Camila works with social movements in Brazil and Latin America on the social and environmental dimensions of biotechnology and agribusiness expansion.

I will speak to Camila today about the relationships between carbon farming and the digitalization of agriculture. Camila, thank you for speaking with me today on Who Will Control the Food System.

Let's begin with the food system landscape in Brazil and the Southern Cone of Latin America. So, as we know, Brazil is a stronghold of agribusiness companies. For instance, in meat production, you have companies like JBS that export meat globally. Can you give us a picture of what the food landscape looks like today in Brazil and the Southern Cone in terms of the peasant food systems or peasant food web and the industrial food chain?


Hi Zahra, it's a pleasure to be here with you. And so to start our conversation today, I think I'd like to strengthen the point that the Southern Cone that actually comprises Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Uruguay has been by design, since the late 90s, established as the United Republic of Soybeans. That actually was the claim of a late Singenta ad. And I think it's quite useful as a metaphor for us to understand the role of agribusiness in this part of the globe, functioning as a global hub of the world food web.

So currently in Brazil, we have for the 2024 harvest 45.3 million hectares of soybeans alone. More than 99.5% of this is GMO soy. For the people who are listening to have some sense of comparison, the size of Germany is 35 million hectares. So only in soy, we have more than Germany, we have 45 million hectares. Then we have 21 million hectares of corn, mostly GMO corn, and then 9 million hectares of sugarcane and 7 million hectares of eucalyptus. So these are the major monocrops in Brazil.

But most importantly, those industrial crops are the means through which we can push forward corporate controlled globalized diets. What we've been witnessing over the past 20 years, mostly since the legalization of GMO soy in Brazil 21 years ago, is the basis of the transition that is going on worldwide, for instance in China. In Asia, we are increasingly seeing this change in diet, and soy is the cement of all that.

Of course, if we're talking about the food landscape, Brazil has suffered a profound de-industrialization like in many other countries around the world. But currently, and especially now that Brazil enters into the green economy, the new progressive Lula government tries to foster a re-industrialization of the country. This re-industrialization is anchored in the transformation of the agro-food chains as the main driver for the digital transformations, including innovation and tech deployment as well as new financial products. So it's a very, very dynamic landscape.

This profound transformation of the global food and diets goes hand in hand with demographic changes (a growing urban population), and a drive towards frozen food, air fryers, ultra-processed products - the cheapest diet that the working class can have.

This process is very strong, compared to other countries in our region. Brazil has a very strong family farm constituency. We have strong public policies that were put in place since the early 2000s. They were dismantled under Bolsonaro, but they are now being rebuilt. They deal with national programs for buying food directly from those family farms and to include this food into school lunches, prisons, hospitals... So it's a kind of direct buying.

But of course, those schemes that aim to be like an alternative to the mostly dominated industrial agri-business are being targeted recently to be included into another topic that we're going to talk about. It is the new climate economy, the carbonization schemes, payment for environmental services, and the whole connection between carbon farming and the financialization of nature.


At ETC Group, we've looked at how digitalization has really transformed the food system with this introduction of digital technologies and business models, but also importantly relationships that have been forged between agri-business companies and tech companies. You mentioned digitalization as well, as part of the recent changes in Brazil. So what does digital agriculture or the digitalization of agriculture looks like in the context of Brazil and the countries you mentioned?


I think that we first have to understand the phenomenon, the rationality of it all. It's a triple phenomenon. We have the decarbonization pathways, plans and targets, and they cannot happen without the combination of digitalization and financialization.

First you have to understand that we are, in the world economy, bounded by this new economic rationale regarding climate and carbon. And this is an emergent new asset class. It's part of furthering the financial system, and the domination of the financial world over the real economy. In order to commodify and to transform carbon into an asset, you have to rely on digital technology because carbon is intangible: you cannot see, you cannot touch, you cannot hear, you cannot taste carbon.

So carbon only exists in the financial and economic world through the digital world.

Without digitalization, we cannot see, we cannot account for, and we cannot trade this carbon. Of course, the strong-paced and very advanced digitalization of Brazilian agri-business (I would say, more than the US itself), responds to this global trend. It also reinforces the role of Brazil, as I mentioned in the first question, as an anchor, because Brazil is like a vector around which the United Republic of Soybeans has been organized. The political logic of the soy trade to supply global markets has been organized and has been running the medium and long-term rationale of how we insert ourselves into the global supply chains.

So digitalization is the big trend that we have seen moving forward recently. Of course, it doesn't make any sense to develop an incredible app or a super capable drone elsewhere, let's say in the US or in the European Union, if you cannot use it. So you create this high value-added technology in first world countries. But to be able to collect the rent or to sell the rights to use those technological products, you need to implement it in the fields. And of course, the land that is currently mostly farmed in the world is our tropical land.

Digitalization has been coupled with a very strong new narrative about regenerative agriculture: the power of environmental markets to actually reset a global economy that has gone wrong, to produce the regeneration, to bring back biodiversity, etc. Of course, we will see that what is marketed doesn’t work in reality. But it is a very strong narrative and it captures the imagination and it gives the illusion that this is a technology for good.


It's interesting you mentioned the carbon and decarbonization and climate aspect of the push towards digitalization. But can you break this down for those who are not familiar with carbon? I mean, what exactly is carbon farming and how does it relate to digitalization? What's the relationship here?


First, the relationship is the rationality of how the actual reproduction of capitalism is functioning. So the main rationality about how profit is created and how over-concentration of corporate power, financial power and military power is working is through the climate narrative. This is an early warning here: it's not to deny the climate crisis, but to present a critical perspective on how the hegemonic climate narrative is instrumental to this process.

So first, to understand the current accumulation dynamics, we need to go back in time. One landmark event is 1994, the approval of the TRIPS agreement, on trade-related intellectual property rights. This is the basis for a new phase in the commodification of intangibles.

These intangibles are data itself, which is now a new layer of what is being farmed in the heavily mechanized and technological agribusiness sector. At the same time, it allows the extraction of environmental services because those environmental services need to be uploaded to the global environmental markets that are being established. So they are new assets, a new asset class in this new frontier of natural capital.


Can you clarify what you mean by environmental services?


We can buy and sell biodiversity credits, habitat credits, water credits. So all are those new things that people don't find in supermarkets or shopping centers, but you can actually buy those things. You are buying into a narrative above all that nature itself is part of a market rationality. So nature becomes a new sector of the industrial world itself.

We are bringing new streams of revenue, of rent, at farm level because farms - including family farms - are being presented as a piece of land that produces food, that can produce fibre, agribusiness products, but that can also produce carbon, water, or diversity.

And this works of course for the big agribusiness farmers. Farmers today present themselves like this: “Oh I'm here doing environmental services for the people who live in the city. I should be paid for it. I should receive an allowance or a monthly or yearly payment. I can offer my land to offset some pollution that has been done elsewhere”.

So this is more and more the way of life in the countryside, it's not apart from global industrial and financial logic.


But in that sense, if we think about how much carbon emissions are produced from industrial agriculture and how serious the climate crisis is, one might say that this kind of policy of encouraging regenerative agriculture or trying to store carbon, or to encourage carbon to be a kind of service like water or biodiversity might actually be good for the climate crisis.


First of all, in principle, those schemes only function if you accept that carbon, water and biodiversity can be privately owned because you are generating carbon rights. We are generating carbon credits but also carbon rights. Private property rights. So they are not considered as public goods. They can be owned and they can be traded, because this is the logic beyond the national borders.

I just want to make a point zero in this debate regarding what's the problem, the whole issue with carbon emissions: from my point of view, the very problem is this ultra reductionist approach of the climate crisis as being reducible to a “carbon logic”.

First because carbon is an element of the periodic table. There is nothing wrong with carbon. Carbon is an element of life. By the way, you can have carbon in everything that is alive.

So carbon dioxide - CO2 - is not carbon. It is wrong to reduce climate to the fossil fuel that has been burning since the mid 19th century, but especially since the 20th century, when actually, it fully entered into the bloodstream of the global economy. But from a truly ecological point of view, this rationality, this carbon reductionist rationale, intrinsically denies the complexity of nature and the web of life.

It's anti-ecological because you are based on an abstraction that actually wants to expand economic financial capitalistic logic to the natural world.

So you pick up and name this universal fungible unit: carbon. We need this equivalence because we are building a new market, the global market for carbon. It relies on carbon as a new financial asset. This is according to the World Bank and the IMF. It's being built towards becoming a kind of a new gold, like gold functioned for the world economy before the seventies. Carbon is seen as the ballast of the economy of the 21st century.

I've heard a lot of discourses regarding how we are going to substitute the dollar hegemony (or the dollar as a universal exchange value) by a carbon-based universal exchange value in the near future.

Of course, this can only work if we deepen this new digital economy. So in my view, and this is maybe the main point of my critique, the reduction of carbon emissions to solve the climate crisis, it's an absolutely simplistic and mechanistic view of the climate. And this idea that you can put a price on carbon (carbon markets, carbon tax…), this all feeds into this overall hegemonic discourse that builds a new financial architecture.


Can you give an example of exactly how a carbon farming scheme could work? I mean, you say that it's sort of a privatized model where you're quantifying the amount of carbon or carbon dioxide that's taken out of the atmosphere, a logic that is in itself quite problematic. But how would it work? Let's say if you're a farmer, how do you end up becoming part of a carbon farming scheme and which companies are involved in this? Can you just paint a picture of how the whole thing works?


To get carbon farming schemes up and running, one must first possess belief. This belief hinges on the notion that the complex ecological crisis can be reduced to a singular issue: carbon. Furthermore, the primary global response to this issue is the creation of a vibrant, robust carbon market. To make this work, this approach fundamentally relies on the concept of private property rights.

For a farmer to receive payments or royalties for carbon, there must be a nation state that recognizes this as a legal transaction between individuals. High-level decisions at the UNFCCC are not of any help if nation states do not implement the necessary laws and regulations to make the buying and selling of carbon credits and biodiversity offsets a legal activity. It's not something that comes about by the hand of corporate power only.

This new legal architecture has been put in place over the past decade. This was the condition of paving the way for a shift in the global financial architecture. As I mentioned before, this comes in a context where more and more nation states do not have any public budget to finance agriculture, but health, education and housing, because we're getting deeper into this neoliberal order and austerity measures.

First you put a cap on what the nation states can spend and can contract a debt for. Of course this is what is being preached through the World Bank and the IMF, but this is not what the US or the European Union do.

So first you create the conditions and then we approve a legislation that says: Okay, we don't have any public budget to subsidize family farming for instance, that would allow it to transition towards ecological agriculture, or to access institutional markets, or create schemes where food production is not aiming to generate profit, but to feed its own population. We get rid of those policies and we open to market forces. Then we create legislation that allows private companies, pension funds or sovereign funds to invest into carbon farming, regenerative agriculture or offset schemes.

So you open the door to private money that arrives legally on the farms, big or small, organized through public policies that favour public private partnership schemes. Farmers on the ground cannot compete in terms of selling their produce to the corporate control chains that supply big supermarkets where the food is mainly consumed nowadays.

Farmers are given the alternative to just leave the farm and stop farming, or to add a revenue stream so that they can make money and pay their debts. Farmers are highly indebted because they have to acquire more and more updated machinery, buy software licences, buy insurances, including climate insurance.

So farmers can add a new stream of revenue on the farm selling those things that they don't understand very well what it is. “Oh, we are selling carbon. Okay, but carbon is not watermelon. What does carbon look like?” Then it's explained to them that it is something that people pay for in the cities because they want to have a healthy environment, because they want to cool down the climate. So, someone has to do this work.

Then again, there is this idea of a new kind of work that the countryside can provide. This leads to the emergence of a new identity for peasants and farmers. Now they refer to themselves as producers or providers, even suppliers of environmental services. For indigenous people and traditional communities, another terminology is used like “guardians or stewards”. But this really means something else.

In this context, farmers are not like an autonomous self-determined population anymore. They become part of an economy that integrates you. And this is also important in terms of the big talk of our civilization today: climate. So everybody wants to have an identity that is part of the solution. Nobody wants to be part of the problem.

For me, the main perversion is that we create this whole hype around the cloud, the 4.0 revolution, the digital world and dematerialization. But even Microsoft Azure-based schemes can only become profitable once they are anchored somewhere in some land. So the motto “as above, so below”, has never been so true.

The system tricks you to think that all is dematerialized, that everything is in the cloud and that everything is actually bits circulating in Starlink-like scenarios in big satellite constellations, with signals and sensors. But those sensors need to be grounded somewhere. They need to have a life on the ground and they have to capture land, preferably tropical land. So it covers in a very surreptitious way the new land grabbing schemes that are currently going on.

And if I can add something, the whole idea of a farmer becoming part of the carbon farming schemes resonates with the widespread idea that we are in the stage of the world economy where we can all somehow live out of rentism, of passive income, of monetizing the forest, monetizing the farm. This is something that we have been hearing more and more because people are exposed, of course, to social media, to YouTube: there are now all kinds of new ways of earning money. This mechanism is now reproduced in the farms.

There is another issue that is connected to the issue of selling carbon. It goes with authorizing surveillance for compliance. The surveillance part is essential to selling something as invisible as carbon. This fact is excluded from the public debate because I think this would be the most tricky part of it. If you had to say: “Okay, I'm going to sell the carbon from my farm, but then I'm going to allow surveillance” - because this is what the legislation foresees, there is a mechanism in the legislation that says that the buyer, the owner of the carbon asset, has the right to oversee the place where this carbon is being produced or where it's being kept. So again, it is nation states, intermediating and favoring this new surveillance order that is becoming normal in the countryside.


Okay, so there's a whole number of aspects linked to the actual development of carbon farming. You've mentioned the legislation, the conditions that have to be created first, the austerity measures that governments take, which then allow for other actors to move in. But when it comes to the farmers, the way you've described it is as if farmers were sort of conscripted. Not necessarily out of their own choice, but as a way of being part of the supply chains that provide food to the supermarkets that provide food to consumers. Is that correct? Are farmers sort of forcibly conscripted into these schemes or do they see any benefits from it? Is there any sort of compelling reason for them to voluntarily sign up to these kinds of schemes?


I like it very much that you use the term conscript. I think it's because there is a war against climate change, that we are in a militarization process that has historically been key in the accumulation process. The difference now is that we present it as a “good war”, a holy war against climate change, against fossil fuel.

When you ask if farmers sign in voluntarily, we have to understand how the violence is being symbolically perpetrated when we expropriate peasants of their traditional meaning and their traditional identity. And this is what we are offering them back: “Okay, it's okay to be a farmer or a peasant in the 21st century, into this AI world that we're walking into.

You can remain a peasant if you submit to this new re-signification of what it means to be a peasant. So it's a peasant that is providing a service that is useful because of this utilitarian logic. It's not that you are a peasant because it's a mode of living and you're autonomous. No, it's because you are useful to this decarbonization global effort.

This is also targeting the younger generations because one real challenge for the peasant movements and small farmers and family farmers movement in the region has been social reproduction. Peasant youth are exposed to social media and to the digital world the same way as people in the cities. And they aspire to this way of life. They don’t see themselves in society as a peasant. The aspiration is to be an influencer and to live out of passive income and all those things, and to have a channel that is monetized.

Then how can you aspire to work in the land with your hands, sweating or even using some light machinery? It's not something that is glamorous or has meaning in the current cultural repertoire. So one of the strategies that the FAO, for instance, is mobilizing in a very articulated way to address this real issue (how do we reproduce a new generation of young people working on the land?) is to bring gamification schemes to the farm. This is how to seduce the younger generations telling them : “Okay, you can still be on a farm and it's cool to farm. It's cool to be a peasant. But to do this, you are going to be provided with those VR glasses, virtual reality glasses, iPhones, iPads and drones”. Drone is like the object of desire number one, every boy - and even every man - wants to play with drones.

So it's something very seductive that even enters telenovelas, the soap operas that play at nine o'clock in the evening in Brazil. It still is where the national consciousness is forged. There is a pedagogy everyday, telling how the system works, how you fit in and how you comply with the system. Every other soap opera deals with agribusiness, of course, because our country is this big, huge farm. And in the soap opera that just finished, that went on for almost a year, there was this super hot guy, operating a drone and seducing the girls in the countryside with the drone. He even gave a drone to his girlfriend. Yeah, it's incredible how they mobilize this.

If you look at the brochures of Embrapa, which is the national research agency and even of the Ministry of Agrarian Development, the Extension Services and the Cooperation (the international cooperation with Germany, with Norway, with France), they all portray young people with technology, the technology that every kid desires to farm. But actually it's a fake farm, it's a farm that can be in a short while replaced by vertical farms, by robotics.

So back to when you said “conscript”, it's maybe the most correct term to describe the process of being seduced by technology, seduced by something that is appealing, something that you can film and post, that makes you become part of the global conversation. You are not seen as some outdated or anachronic subject of the 20th century, but as someone that has stepped fully into the 21st century. You become one food soldier in this army of decarbonization, towards this global common effort of reaching zero emission. So it gives meaning, it gives sense, it gives a historical sense of direction. This is the logic that informs even the social movements. In order to survive, you need to update yourself, you need to update your system, download the newest version, and this is what's going on. Movements are downloading, there's a new updated version of what it is to be a peasant in the 21st century, and if you just deny the rules of the hegemonic games, you are out.


It's very interesting that you use the word “seduction” as the main process that's actually convincing young farmers to adopt these schemes. If seduction is what's going on, and if they do feel seduced to be part of this process of modernity and to be modern young farmers, should we not respect the agency of the farmers themselves if they wish to be part of these schemes?


Let’s first talk about “seduction by technology”. We have to also acknowledge that we are entering into a very critical naive debate about the aims and means of technology. We are talking about technologies by design: you don't discover technology, you design it, you search for, and you engineer this technology because you want not only to understand the world - as it was in the early days of science-, but you want to assert power over the world. We should not simply acknowledge that people are being seduced, but it's for the common good. If we say that people are agents, this would exclude out of our conversation the fact that social engineering is being deployed, and we are being steered.

There are very sophisticated mechanisms of creating and forging consensus and driving people to accept something that they have not been fully informed of, that they do not deliberate upon, but that is being offered to them in crumbs in the front of them while they are being nudged from behind. And this path - that is now a "one and only" path - the whole thing about leaving no one behind, is the antithesis of what was the early days of the critique to globalization, and I identify myself with this process. We were against the neoliberal globalization, we didn't want this “one world solution”. We were, as the Zapatistas, for a world where many, many worlds could be held within. We wanted diversity, not only biodiversity, but a diversity of ways of living, of modes of thinking, of choosing our values, choosing our diets, choosing our food, and of deciding if we wanted to produce, to sell, to export… You could reach the point where you could decide to have self-sufficient, autonomous, independent economies.

Why are we forcing everyone to become more and more dependent on a global system controlled by financial forces that have shown to us - and I think 2008 has been the latest and most stringent example - how dangerous it is to force towards full integration and interconnection. We are told that we need to preserve the system, because if the system fails, you fail with the system.

For example in Brazil, since the 2016 coup and impeachment that ousted President Dilma and brought in the conditions for the election of Bolsonaro, the country agri-business opened up more and more to external foreign, private and institutional investors. As a consequence, the state lost the capacity to define its own agricultural policy and a big shift occured where everybody could invest in the agri-business. Even a housewife, a student, or an Uber driver can now invest in agri-business.

As a result, we don’t see the agri-business corporate control as something that is responsible for 45 million hectares of GM soy in our country, as something that needs to be dismantled, because it's a vortex of consuming agrochemicals, GMOs and pesticides, a cause of deforestation, of extreme simplification of ecosystems, of monoculture, etc. Now, we see it instead as something that provides me with a rent. I'm part of the monetization process of this whole thing. I can be driving my Uber, and instead of thinking about how precarious my conditions of work are, how fragile my social protections are, I see myself as an entrepreneur, as someone that is investing in agri-business. So this whole thing about selling a narrative, of strengthening the imaginary vision of “you're not a worker anymore, you are like an entrepreneur in the making”.

This is also part of the way we are being steered into those new schemes. People are not fully informed about the likely consequences of just abandoning the social safety nets that we had. Those safety nets are being erased as something that doesn't belong to the 21st century. We are dismantling many structures that were traditional, and we are stepping into this new way, where we are atomized individuals, with our own profitability or renting or monetizing schemes. How are we going to survive this way? When you become part of those individualized schemes, there's a profound erosion of the cohesion of what would lead to common struggles. The payment goes to yourself as an individual. If you behave well, if you're a farmer who is well surveilled, well monitored, and who is doing your carbon farming correctly, you receive your payment. So what's the point in organizing yourself in a union or in a movement, or going to a march, or joining a strike?


So this process of capturing people's imagination is leading to the creation of neoliberal farming subjects that are strengthening the larger corporate concentration of the food system. Is there any pushback in Brazil or other countries in the region to these kinds of schemes for the financialization of nature? Is there any pushback by activists, by farmers or groups against carbon farming?


I think yes, there is. Social struggles are not on a continuum, sometimes there are ebbs and flows. But I think social movements, at least at the leadership level, understand a lot of the bigger picture. But again, you need to be pragmatic and realise that countries like Brazil have a continental size territory. No single solution will work for all. Let's say that for a farmer that is in the Northeast, in another climate, in a semi-arid context, is not in the came conditions as a farmer in the South of Brazil, where people are mainly descendants of the German and Italian immigrants that came here in the 19th century. So it's different ways of agriculture.

It can be the same social movements, but the regional logics are different, and politics is very complex. Sometimes the resistance is more in the ideological and discourse level, but when you go in a granular level on the field, sometimes people from the movements are entering into those schemes, because they don’t have much choice: it's that or you have to leave the land.

You sometimes have people adhering to the schemes because they believe that this time, it is going to be different, and the people that came to explain the scheme were really good. Don’t forget the Jesuits were a very strong part of the colonization process. Now we have the new faith, and you have the “Jesuits” and the “catechesis” of science who go to the countryside with anthropologists, forest engineers and sociologists. They explain that, carbon is social carbon, and farmers are going to have a seat on the board, and they set up youth groups, etc… until the people sign the contract. But when they have signed the contract, they see the restrictions on their ways, the surveillance routines, and the payments that do not materialize. Then social movements and local unions and organizations call human rights lawyers and organizations that are working critically on those schemes to try to review the contract.

But this is a time consuming process diverting movement’s energies, it is a damage control reaction against schemes that from the beginning were not in favor of farmers and that were doomed to fail. 


Okay, well, thank you so much, Camilla. That concludes our fourth episode in our podcast mini series, Who Will Control the Food System. To find out more about agriculture and big data, please visit ETC Group's website, www.etcgroup.org. ETC Group also has an animation which breaks down the digitalization of agriculture, called Big Brother is Coming to the Farm, which you can find on our website. You can find all our podcast episodes on the ETC Group website or on Spotify on ETC Group podcasts.

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