- Burkina Faso
- Cape Verde
- Central African Republic
- D.R. Congo
- Equatorial Guinea
- Guinea Bissau
- Ivory Coast
- São Tomé and Príncipe
- Sierra Leone
- South Africa
- South Sudan
Friday, February 20, 2015
Africa's Agricultural Accumulation of Capital
Countless reports by global and African agencies highlight the critical role for agriculture in African development. Almost all agree that small farmers are key to addressing poverty and food insecurity. But many policies lead in practice to empowerment of agribusiness giants rather than small farmers. By imposing legal frameworks based on Western industrial agriculture, powerful interests make a mockery of international pledges to help small farmers.
Such a policy is described in a report from the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa and GRAIN:
"The G8 New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition was launched in 2012 by the eight most industrialised countries to mobilise private capital for investment in African agriculture. To be accepted into the programme, African governments are required to make important changes to their land and seed policies. ... [for example] Despite the fact that more than 80% of all seed in Africa is still produced and disseminated through 'informal' seed systems (on-farm seed saving and unregulated distribution between farmers), there is no recognition in the New Alliance programme of the importance of farmer-based systems of saving, sharing, exchanging and selling seeds."
The G8 New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition was launched in 2012 by the eight most industrialised countries to mobilise private capital for investment in African agriculture. To be accepted into the programme, African governments are required to make important changes to their land and seed policies. The New Alliance prioritises granting national and transnational corporations (TNCs) new forms of access and control to the participating countries' resources, and gives them a seat at the same table as aid donors and recipient governments. As of July 2014, ten African countries had signed Cooperative Framework Agreements (CFAs) to implement the New Alliance programme. Under these agreements, these governments committed to 213 policy changes. Some 43 of these changes target land laws, with the overall stated objective of establishing "clear, secure and negotiable rights to land" -- tradeable property titles.
The New Alliance also aims to implement both the Voluntary Guidelines (VGs) on Responsible Land Tenure adopted by the Committee on World Food Security in 2012, and the Principles for Responsible Agriculture Investment drawn up by the World Bank, FAO, IFAD and UN Conference on Trade and Development. This is considered especially important since the New Alliance directly facilitates access to farmland in Africa for investors. To achieve this, the New Alliance Leadership Council, a self-appointed body composed of public and private sector representatives, in September 2014 decided to come up with a single set of guidelines to ensure that the land investments made through the Alliance are "responsible" and not land grabs. As to seeds, all of the participating states, with the exception of Benin, agreed to adopt plant variety protection laws and rules for marketing seeds that better support the private sector. Despite the fact that more than 80% of all seed in Africa is still produced and disseminated through 'informal' seed systems (on-farm seed saving and unregulated distribution between farmers), there is no recognition in the New Alliance programme of the importance of farmer-based systems of saving, sharing, exchanging and selling seeds. African governments are being co-opted into reviewing their seed trade laws and supporting the implementation of Plant Variety Protection (PVP) laws. The strategy is to first harmonise seed trade laws such as border control measures, phytosanitary control, variety release systems and certification standards at the regional level, and then move on to harmonising PVP laws. The effect is to create larger unified seed markets, in which the types of seeds on offer are restricted to commercially protected varieties. The age old rights of farmers to replant saved seed is curtailed and the marketing of traditional varieties of seed is strictly prohibited. Concerns have been raised about how this agenda privatises seeds and the potential impacts this could have on small-scale farmers. Farmers will lose control of seeds regulated by a commercial system. There are also serious concerns about the loss of biodiversity resulting from a focus on commercial varieties.
The changes to seed policy being promoted by the G8 New Alliance, the World Bank and others refer to neither farmer-based seed systems nor farmers' rights. They make no effort to strengthen farming systems that are already functioning. Rather, the proposed solutions are simplified, but unworkable solutions to complex situations that will not work -- though an elite category of farmers may enjoy some small short term benefits.With seeds, which represent a rich cultural heritage of Africa's local communities, the push to transform them into income-generating private property, and marginalise traditional varieties, is still making more headway on paper than in practice. This is due to many complexities, one of which is the growing awareness of and popular resistance to the seed industry agenda. But the resolve of those who intend to turn Africa into a new market for global agroinput suppliers is not to be underestimated. The path chosen will have profound implications for the capacity of African farmers to adapt to climate change. Subregional African bodies -- SADC, COMESA, OAPI and the like -- are working to create new rules for the exchange and trade of seeds. But the recipes they are applying -- seed marketing restrictions and plant variety protection schemes -- are borrowed directly from the US and Europe.
While there is a lot of attention focused on the G8's New Alliance for Food and Nutrition, there are many more actors doing many similar things across Africa. The greatest pressure to change land and seed laws comes from Washington DC -- home to the World Bank, USAID and the MCC [Millennium Challenge Corporation]. The World Bank is a significant player in catalysing the growth and expansion of agribusiness in Africa. It does this by financing policy changes and projects on the ground. In both cases, the Bank targets land and seed laws as key tools for advancing and protecting the interests of the corporate sector.
The Bank's work on policy aims at increasing agricultural production and productivity through programmes called "Agriculture Development Policy Operations" (AgDPOs).
Besides financing AgDPOs, the World Bank directly supports agriculture development projects. Some major World Bank projects with land tenure components are presented in Annex 2, with a focus on the legal arrangements developed to make land available for corporate investors. These projects are much more visible than the AgDPOs and their names are well known in each country: PDIDAS in Senegal, GCAP in Ghana, Bagrépole in Burkina.
Most of the initiatives to change current land laws come from outside Africa. Yes, African structures like the African Union and the Pan-African Parliament are deeply engaged in facilitating changes to legislation in African states, but many people question how "indigenous" these processes really are. It is clear that strings are being pulled, by Washington and Europe in particular, to alter land governance in Africa.
There are a host of reports on specific cases of land grabs. A battle is raging for control of resources in Africa -- land, water, seeds, minerals, ores, forests, oil, renewable energy sources. Agriculture is one of the most important theatres of this battle. Governments, corporations, foundations and development agencies are pushing hard to commercialise and industrialise African farming. Many of the key players are well known. They are committed to helping agribusiness become the continent's primary food commodity producer. To do this, they are not only pouring money into projects to transform farming operations on the ground -- they are also changing African laws to accommodate the agribusiness agenda.
Privatising both land and seeds is essential for the corporate model to flourish in Africa. With regard to agricultural land, this means pushing for the official demarcation, registration and titling of farms. It also means making it possible for foreign investors to lease or own farmland on a long-term basis. With regard to seeds, it means having governments require that seeds be registered in an official catalogue in order to be traded. It also means introducing intellectual property rights over plant varieties and criminalising farmers who ignore them. In all cases, the goal is to turn what has long been a commons into something that corporates can control and profit from.
Land certificates -- which should be seen as a stepping stone to formal land titles -- are being promoted as an appropriate way to "securitise" poor peoples' rights to land. But how do we define the term "land securitisation"? As the objective claimed by most of the initiatives dealt with in this report, it could be understood as strengthening land rights. Many small food producers might conclude that their historic cultural rights to land -- however they may be expressed -- will be better recognised, thus protecting them from expropriation. But for many governments and corporations, it means the creation of Western-type land markets based on formal instruments like titles and leases that can be traded. ... So in a world of grossly unequal players, "security" is shorthand for market, private property and the power of the highest bidder. Most of today's initiatives to address land laws, including those emanating from Africa, are overtly designed to accommodate, support and strengthen investments in land and large-scale land deals, rather than achieve equity or to recognise longstanding or historical community rights over land at a time of rising conflicts over land and land resources.
Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) is a pan-African platform comprising networks and farmer organisations championing small African family farming based on agro-ecological and indigenous approaches that sustain food sovereignty and the livelihoods of communities. GRAIN is a small international organisation that aims to support small farmers and social movements in their struggles for community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems.