A small farmer keeps watch over his crops from a treetop south of Arba Minch, Ethiopia. But what can he do when multinational corporations, backed by the full force of law, enter the valley? Photo: David Stanley via Flickr.
Coca-Cola is not the solution to hunger in Africa
22nd September 2014
Coca-Cola is the latest company to join the agricultural 'scramble for Africa', writes Miriam Ross. Backed by £600 million of British aid under the guise of 'food security' and 'nutrition', a vast give-away of Africa's land is under way that will condemn small farmers to landlessness and poverty.
As a result of their New Alliance agreements, Tanzania and Mozambique have already formulated new laws to criminalise farmers who exchange seeds.
Today in New York, representatives of powerful governments and multinational companies meet to discuss the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition.
Its name belies its true purpose. The New Alliance is a scheme to involve big business in agriculture in ten African countries. Last month, Coca-Cola became the highest-profile company to join the G7-led initiative.
And the UK government is backing it to the hilt. The Department for International Development is channelling £600 million in aid money for Africa through the New Alliance.
What's it got to do with food security and nutrition?
Among the big hitters at today's New Alliance meeting will be the UK's international development secretary, Justine Greening. We don't know what she will be talking about with other delegates as the agenda hasn't been made public. But it seems unlikely that either food security or nutrition will get much of a look-in.
It is two years since the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition was launched at Camp David in the US. Yet its second annual progress report, published in August, gave no data on the scheme's impact on food security or nutrition in any of the ten African countries it is targeting.
Unfortunately, the New Alliance's lack of attention to the thorny problem of making sure people have enough food comes as little surprise to many of its critics.
Global justice campaign group the World Development Movement is among 90 development, environment and human rights organisations from G7 countries claiming today that the scheme has nothing to do with food security or nutrition.
Its real aim the groups say, is "to enable private corporations to influence agricultural policy to advance their own interests."
A battle against the small farmers who provide 70% of the food
The interests of the big food and agribusiness companies involved in the New Alliance often go directly against the interests of the small farmers who currently feed at least 70% of people in Africa.
Far from enhancing African people's ability to feed themselves, it seems likely that the scheme will make poverty and inequality worse, by taking control of land, seeds and other resources away from small farmers and handing it to companies like Monsanto, Unilever and Syngenta.
In return for aid money from countries like the UK and 'investment' from these global companies, the ten African countries that have signed up to the New Alliance are required to make changes to their laws and policies to make life easier for big agribusiness.
Laws governing seeds are a prime target. For many small farmers, saving seeds to plant the following year and exchanging different varieties with each other is essential to crop resilience and biodiversity.
But as a result of their New Alliance agreements, Tanzania and Mozambique have already formulated new laws to criminalise farmers who exchange seeds rather than buying them from companies like Monsanto. Similar laws are being drafted in Malawi and in Ghana.
Whose land is it anyway?
Land is, of course, another crucial resource for small farmers, and is also being targeted in the agreements made between companies, donor governments like the UK and the US, and African governments.
In Malawi, land distribution is amongst the most unequal in the world. Many of the country's largely agricultural population struggle to grow enough food on the small patches of land available to them, while estates of between 10 and 500 hectares take up half of the country's arable land.
Under the New Alliance, the government of Malawi has committed to handing 200,000 hectares of land over for large-scale commercial agriculture by 2015.
In Burkina Faso, a large area of irrigated land is being developed under the New Alliance, as part of the World Bank's Bagré Growth Pole Project. Only 22% of this land is to be allocated to small farmers, with the rest reserved for big agribusiness.
The New Alliance aims to increase agricultural production - but not necessarily of food, and not necessarily for consumption by local people. In Malawi again, the scheme is increasing investment by multinational companies in the tobacco industry.
The production of cash crops for export is central to the economic model the scheme promotes. Also central to this model are 'agricultural growth corridors' - large areas of land set aside for industrial-scale agricultural production by foreign corporations, connected to infrastructure like roads and ports so that crops can be easily shipped out of the continent.
But in many cases, the land being allocated to these mega-projects already has people living and working on it, who stand to lose their livelihoods as big business moves in.
Big agribusiness is telling the world a powerful story, persuading us that without it, we have no hope of feeding the global population.
Justine Greening's UK Department for International Development seems to have taken this story fully on board. As a result, aid money going to the New Alliance is being used to help boost the profits of Coca-Cola and Monsanto.
We must stop this 'new wave of colonialism'
But small farmers have stories to tell too, and the narratives emerging from the countries where the New Alliance is operating are quite different. Last year, a group of African farmers' organisations and campaigners condemned the New Alliance as "a new wave of colonialism".
If it really wants to address food security and nutrition, the UK government should listen to the voices of the millions of people who live from the land.
That means directing aid money to support small-scale farmers and food producers. There's a huge amount to be done to help them farm more sustainably, store their harvests safely, get their produce to market, and supply both local communities and more distant urban markets with safe and wholesome food.
That's the way to genuine "food security and nutrition" - not to prise Africa open to predatory corporations in a post-colonial project to grab the continent's richest land and drain its wealth away.
Find out more about the World Development Movement's campaign to stop the corporate take-over of Africa's food.
Take action: Tell the UK government to pull out of the New Alliance.
Miriam Ross is a campaigner at the World Development Movement.
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