Tuesday, June 14, 2016

UK Neo-colonialism

Vicki Hird, Campaigns and Policy Director at War on Want, said: 

"DFID’s mission is to eradicate poverty, yet taxpayers' money is being used to promote the interests of multinational companies in Africa, rather than fighting poverty and inequality. For too long, we have seen the UK’s aid budget slip into the coffers of multinationals, helping to secure the corporate take-over of land and water resources in Africa at the expense of people and the planet. It’s time DFID used the aid budget to support small-scale farming, rather than boosting the profits of big business. One of the biggest barriers to tackling poverty and inequality is corporate tax dodging, which robs developing countries of billions of dollars each year. Rather than waste millions of pounds from the UK's aid budget on encouraging privatisation in the developing world, the government should get serious about tackling tax evasion and avoidance by UK based companies.  It’s time the government abolished the UK’s own global network of tax havens, which fuel secrecy and corruption, and pushed for public country by country reporting to tackle the lack of transparency in the global financial system."

A G8 initiative to boost agriculture and relieve poverty has been damned as a new form of colonialism after African governments agreed to change seed, land and tax laws to favour private investors over small farmers. Ten countries made more than 200 policy commitments, including changes to laws and regulations after giant agribusinesses were granted unprecedented access to decision-makers over the past two years. The pledges will make it easier for companies to do business in Africa through the easing of export controls and tax laws, and through governments ringfencing huge chunks of land for investment. The Ethiopian government has said it will "refine" its land law to encourage long-term land leases and strengthen the enforcement of commercial farm contracts. In Malawi, the government has promised to set aside 200,000 hectares of prime land for commercial investors by 2015, and in Ghana, 10,000 hectares will be made available for investment by the end of next year. In Nigeria, promises include the privatisation of power companies.

An analysis of companies' plans under the initiative suggests dozens of investments are for non-food crops, including cotton, biofuels and rubber, or for projects explicitly targeting export markets. But small farmers, who are supposed to be the main beneficiaries of the programme, have been shut out of the negotiations. Companies have refused to make their full investment plans under the New Alliance available for public scrutiny, and freedom of information requests to the UK government were rejected on the basis of commercial confidentiality. Olivier de Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, said governments had been making promises to investors "completely behind the screen", with "no long-term view about the future of smallholder farmers" and without their participation. He described Africa as the last frontier for large-scale commercial farming. "There's a struggle for land, for investment, for seed systems, and first and foremost there's a struggle for political influence," he said.

Zitto Kabwe, the chairman of the Tanzanian parliament's public accounts committee, said he was "completely against" the commitments his government has made to bolster private investment in seeds.

"By introducing this market, farmers will have to depend on imported seeds. This will definitely affect small farmers. It will also kill innovation at the local level. We have seen this with manufacturing," he said. "It will be like colonialism. Farmers will not be able to farm until they import, linking farmers to [the] vulnerability of international prices. Big companies will benefit. We should not allow that." Tanzania's tax commitments would also benefit companies rather than small farmers, he said, adding that the changes proposed would have to go through parliament. "The executive cannot just commit to these changes. These are sensitive issues. There has to be enough debate," he said.

Million Belay, the head of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), said the initiative could spell disaster for small farmers in Africa. "It clearly puts seed production and distribution in the hands of companies," he said. "The trend is for companies to say they cannot invest in Africa without new laws … Yes, agriculture needs investment, but that shouldn't be used as an excuse to bring greater control over farmers' lives. More than any other time in history, the African food production system is being challenged. More than any other time in history outside forces are deciding the future of our farming systems."

Colin Poulton, a research fellow at the centre for development, environment and policy at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, told the Guardian: "Without a clear theory of change indicating how increased investment in large-scale agriculture will lead to poverty reduction, improved food security or nutrition, and without clear plans to ensure that large numbers of outgrowers will be engaged in the new value chains, the New Alliance is so far primarily an initiative to commercialise agriculture in Africa."

The UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) is to invest an extra £735m over the next three years into the CDC Group, the British development finance institution that specialises in private sector funding. The investment, which marks Britain’s first capital injection into CDC for two decades, will be taken out of DfID’s existing budget, which is £10.04bn in this financial year. The department will transfer £450m this year and £285m in the 2016/17 financial year. CDC has been criticised for pouring funding into gated communities, shopping centres and luxury property in poor countries. “CDC have a track record of ploughing money into dubious ‘aid’ projects like the Garden City luxury housing and shopping complex in Kenya and a luxury hotel in Lagos, Nigeria, which costs $400 a night to stay in,” said Alex Scrivener, a policy officer at advocacy group Global Justice Now. “These projects are an insult to the millions of people who live in these places without decent housing.”

UK development finance arm accused of bankrolling 'agro-colonialism' in the Congo. Report claims workers of palm oil company part-owned by DFI earn a pittance, live in harsh conditions and have had their land taken illegally. Community leaders in the vast concession area part-owned by agribusiness company Feronia say living conditions on their estates are abysmal and claim that their ancestral land along the River Congo has been taken from them illegally. Feronia, which was owned for nearly 100 years by food giant Unilever, is now 27% owned by the CDC Group, the UK government’s development finance institution (DFI), and about 30% owned by a group of other European government DFIs that have invested in the African Agriculture Fund (AAF). But local and international human rights groups argue in a new report that the British government’s use of more than £14m of public funds to back what campaigners say is a failing company that paid workers as little as $1 a day to work and live in harsh tropical conditions was inappropriate. “Workers are living in crumbling homes, in severe disrepair. There is malnutrition in the communities near the plantations,” said Jean-François Mombia Atuku, a campaigner with RIAO-RDC, a Congolese NGO.

When Feronia bought Unilever’s 120,000 hectares [296,000 acres] of land concessions in 2009, it claimed to have inherited lease agreements for all of the lands where the company had plantations. In the report, however, community leaders at the company’s Lokutu plantations say the only document they were shown as evidence of the company’s supposed rights to the 63,000 hectares concession is an old registration certificate that is riddled with errors and does not confer any legal title.

“All they have is a falsified certificate of registration, signed by an incompetent surveyor,” says the provincial deputy, Gaspard Bosenge-Akoko. “Can you imagine a company grabbing over 40,000 hectares of land from these communities, depriving them of their agricultural activities, on the basis of this kind of flimsy document?” According to the report, land was stolen from communities all along the length of the Congo River under Belgian colonial occupation (1908-1960), to establish oil palm plantations. In recent years, they say, the communities have been excluded from any decisions regarding the expansion of the concession.

“We have only suffered from the negative impacts of the plantations, such as the disappearance of caterpillars, mushrooms, wild animals, freshwater fish, and, overall, the near complete loss of the flora and fauna. This has resulted in severe malnutrition among our children and even our elders; the mortality rate for infants and mothers during childbirth is amongst the highest in the province,” says the report.

“Community leaders from the areas where Feronia has its plantations have had enough of this company,” says Mombia Atuku of RIAO-RDC. “They want Feronia to give them back the lands, so that they can once again benefit from the use of their forests and farms.”

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