Magazine article New African

Corporate Profits and Africa's Food Security

Magazine article New African

Corporate Profits and Africa's Food Security

Article excerpt

The new Goal 2 of the forthcoming Sustainable Development Goals is to "end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture", But as Haidee-Laure Giles argues, this will remain a futile aim as long as the status quo of corporate profit dictates the agriculture and food systems in Africa.

In the last decade, under the pretence of improving agriculture and food security in Africa, a series of public-private partnerships have thrived: the Alliance for a Green Revolution (AGRA) set up by the Gates and Rockefeller Foundations in 2006; the New Vision for Agriculture launched by the World Economic Forum in 2009; followed in 2011 by Grow Africa, an initiative involving the latter and the African Union. In reality, these so-called aid initiatives have been geared towards helping giant corporations access prime resources and bring about policy change to facilitate corporate expansion in Africa's agriculture markets--with little or no rewards for the millions making a living from agriculture on the continent.

In some cases the initiatives involve multi-billion dollar investments aimed at forming "African Agricultural Growth Corridors", served by a large new infrastructure. They connect prime agricultural land and major natural resources (coal, gas, precious metals, rare earth metals and timber) to global markets for agricultural commodities (animal feed, food, fibre and fuel) via coastal ports. Although the land is often described as empty or underused--apparently waiting for exploitation--in reality, the initiatives favour the most fertile and water-fed areas in the countries concerned.

Within this framework, family farmers are forced into switching from low-cost, sustainable traditional agriculture to intensive industrial farming with heavy use of water resources, chemical fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides and corporate-owned seeds. These costly inputs need to be bought every season. Over time they deplete soil fertility, deepening the farmers' reliance on the inputs in order to maintain production. As the corporate promise of increased yields does not materialise, farmers are locked into a never-ending dependency on toxic chemicals to drive production, while getting further into debt.

Mega corporations on the other hand reap substantial benefits from these "aid" projects by accessing new markets, taking advantage of the vast infrastructure being built, and controlling which crops are produced and how.

Seeding corporate control

The latest initiative, the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, launched in London in June 2012, goes further by directly impacting on the policy environment within each country to favour corporate interests. It brings together the eight wealthiest global economies, the African Union, ten African governments, multilateral financial institutions and the private sector. The UK government, as one of the major supporters of the programme, is investing more than 600 million [pounds sterling] of taxpayers' money through the World Bank under the guise of development spending.

Under the cooperation agreement, African partner countries are requested to change their land ownership and seed laws to facilitate companies' land tenure and control over the national seed market. This is resulting in massive corporate land grabbing throughout the continent and the enactment of seed laws which criminalise the ability of farmers to freely preserve their own native seeds year on year and exchange them against other varieties to mitigate risks.

Agrochemical corporations have long had their gaze fixed on the seed market. …

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