Saturday, March 28, 2015

The New Colonialism

This week the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and USAID hosted a meeting in London with big agribusinesses to discuss strategies to increase corporate control over seeds in Africa. The location of the meeting was secret. So was the agenda. Attendance was strictly invite-only and nobody who even came close to representing African small farmers was invited. Meanwhile, farmers and food sovereignty activists met at the World Social Forum in Tunis to discuss their solutions to the problems of our food system. These two meetings represent not just two different types of meeting – a closed, secretive meeting of the powerful versus an open, democratic meeting of grassroots activists – but also two radically different paths for the future of our food. One is based on corporate control and would generate vast profits for a small elite; the second is centred on sustainable, democratic, local food production.

As often was the case in colonial times, the corporate agenda in Africa is today often disguised as paternalistic benevolence. Friendly sounding projects such as the Alliance for the Green Revolution in Africa, backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the DfID (Britain’s Department for International Development)-supported New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition promise to eliminate hunger by creating the conditions that will bring new corporate technologies and more big business investment to African agriculture.  On the face of it, that all sounds very good. So why this level of secrecy for the meetings about the projects? Samwel Messiak, a Tanzanian food campaigner, tells a very different story of the corporate agenda for Africa’s food. He told me that in Tanzania the New Alliance has helped corporations ‘buy’ land off local communities without their consent and without paying them compensation. This is because the corporate agenda of AGRA and the New Alliance threatens to move control of land and seeds into corporate hands. The push for corporate engagement in Africa’s agriculture also has a strong focus on producing cash crops for consumption in richer parts of the world (a practice started in colonial times) which, if anything, provides less food for people living locally. It seems strange that a supposedly charitable organization such as the Gates Foundation is involved in this agenda; it seems they have swallowed the idea that only the market can provide for our needs.

Some 600 million pounds in UK aid money is helping big business increase its profits in Africa via the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. In return for receiving aid money and corporate investment, African countries have to change their laws, making it easier for corporations to acquire farmland, control seed supplies and export produce. Last year, Director of the Global Justice Now Nick Dearden said:
“It’s scandalous that UK aid money is being used to carve up Africa in the interests of big business. This is the exact opposite of what is needed, which is support to small-scale farmers and fairer distribution of land and resources to give African countries more control over their food systems. Africa can produce enough food to feed its people. The problem is that our food system is geared to the luxury tastes of the richest, not the needs of ordinary people. Here the British government is using aid money to make the problem even worse.”

Ethiopia, Ghana, Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Mozambique, Nigeria, Benin, Malawi and Senegal are all involved in the New Alliance.

Agribusinesses are putting small-scale farmers under pressure everywhere. In 2015 it shouldn’t be a radical notion to want to move beyond colonialism and make sure farmers can keep control of the resources needed to grow food to feed their communities. So it is more important than ever that we stand with small farmers across the world to defend their right to control their own land and their own seeds and our right to healthy local food.

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