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Small number of huge companies dominate global food chain, study finds

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The dominance of a small number of big companies over the global food chain is increasing, aided by the rising use of “big data” and artificial intelligence, new research has found.Only two companies control 40% of the global commercial seed market, compared with 10 companies controlling the same proportion of the market 25 years ago, according to the ETC Group, an eco-justice organisation.Agricultural commodity trading is similarly concentrated, with 10 commodity traders in 2020 dominating a market worth half a trillion dollars.Food prices have risen sharply in recent months, after the disruptions caused by the Ukraine war, and the continuing impacts of the Covid pandemic, sending the profits of key commodity traders and grain producers soaring.Chinese companies are also coming to the fore, according to the ETC Group’s latest 141-page report published on Thursday.

The Chinese state-owned company Cofco is now the world’s second-biggest agricultural commodity trader, behind only Cargill of the US, with sales in 2020 of just over $100bn (£89bn), compared with $134bn for Cargill.The next biggest trader, Archer-Daniels-Midland, had sales of $64bn in 2020, according to the latest data on which the report is based.Syngenta, the seed, pesticides and biotech company, is now majority owned by the Chinese government through Sinochem and ChemChina.

The group controlled about a quarter of the global market in agricultural chemicals in 2020, with $15bn in sales, far greater than its nearest rivals Bayer and BASF.Two of the other Top 10 agrochemicals companies are also Chinese, as is the seventh big synthetic fertiliser company, Sinofert.ETC also pointed to increasing interest from the Middle East.

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