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Food and Farmers: When Public-Private Partnerships Become Corporate Takeovers

The G8's New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition pushes African countries to change their policies in exchange for aid money. This will help agribusiness but will it help the hungry?
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A tea plantation in Kenya. Photograph by Chris Nener.

In recent weeks, the G8 has been making the headlines as Russia’s membership is threatened by its grab of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine.

But the G8 club of rich countries is itself responsible for enabling another kind of takeover. A report released this week by the World Development Movement has exposed how the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, a project launched by the G8 in 2012, is supporting a corporate scramble for Africa.

An example of the latest kind of public-private partnerships (PPPs), the initiative requires African countries to change their policies to facilitate the expansion of agribusiness in exchange for aid money from G8 countries and commitments from multinational companies to invest. The scheme was launched with claims that it will lift 50 million people out of poverty within a decade.

For companies like seed giant Monsanto and tax-dodging brewer SABMiller, which are looking for new sources of raw materials and markets for their products, the New Alliance promises clear benefits. But claims that the initiative will create a win-win situation are at best misguided. The New Alliance will strengthen the hand of such companies at the expense of the small-scale food producers who currently feed most of the continent. As a result, we can expect increased inequality and rising poverty among farmers.

Land-grabbing is a major threat to small-scale food producers, with female farmers often the worst affected. Million of hectares of African land have been sold or leased to foreign investors in recent years, yet as part of the New Alliance, African countries have been pushed to amend their land laws, making it even easier for big companies to take over land.

In addition, African governments are being told to reform their trade systems, committing to not restrict exports even at times of food shortage among their own people. African countries are also being pushed to curtail the ability of farmers to save and exchange seeds that they have bred themselves, forcing them instead to buy seed produced by one of a shrinking number of global seed companies.

Corporate takeover

That the New Alliance is driven by the interests of corporations is clear from the countries it has targeted. So far, ten countries are involved: Benin, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal and Tanzania. These countries are appealing places for agribusiness companies to expand, with estimated economic growth rates averaging 6.7% in 2012, compared to an average of 4.9% for sub-Saharan Africa as a whole. Most are also coastal countries, meaning easy access for imports of fertilisers and pesticides, and exports of agricultural produce.

However, only one of the countries involved − Ethiopia − features amongst the ten African countries with the worst problems of hunger. Meanwhile, landlocked countries such as Burundi, the Central African Republic and Chad, all in the bottom ten in terms of hunger, have also been ignored.

This is not the first time rich countries have dreamed up schemes that benefit themselves and attempted to pass them off as beneficial to Africans. The projects being promoted as part of the New Alliance bear a striking resemblance to the 19th Century colonial takeover. Zones known as agricultural growth corridors are being demarcated for the expansion of industrial agriculture, with infrastructure such as ports and roads mirroring (and sometimes literally building on) colonial-era railways constructed to extract resources from the continent. Such schemes are already underway in Mozambique and Tanzania, supported with aid money channelled through the New Alliance, and there are plans for similar projects in other countries including Kenya.

This time round, the justification is the need to ‘feed the world’. But the link between food production and levels of hunger is weak. The world can produce enough food for 12 billion people, yet around one billion of the seven billion people currently on the planet go hungry. In sub-Saharan Africa, food production has been rising more than the population has grown, yet undernutrition has affected more and more of people. I n the 20 years leading up to 2011, per capita food production rose by 10%, while the number of people going hungry increased by 40%.

Public-Peasant Partnerships

Currently, an estimated 70% of the global population is fed by small-scale food producers, who use no more than 30% of the world’s arable land and 20% of the fossil fuel used by agriculture. In this context, the corporate-controlled industrial model of agriculture being promoted through schemes like the New Alliance starts to look like it should be consigned to the scrapheap.

It’s not surprising therefore that farmers groups and civil society organisations from across the African continent are condemning schemes like the New Alliance as the “new wave of colonialism”. And just as Africans demanded their sovereignty in the early 20th Century, many are now demanding food sovereignty.

A framework developed by peasants, farm workers, urban food producers, pastoralists, fisherfolk and environmental groups from around the world, puts food sovereignty and people’s right to food ahead of corporate profits. It demands that those who produce food have control of the resources they need to do so. If government support for agriculture was channelled to small-scale food producers rather than multinational companies, this would be achievable. What is needed, as Mamadou Cissokho, honorary president of West African farmers network, puts it, are real PPPs: public-peasant partnerships.

For more information about the World Development Movement's campaign, click here.

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