Tuesday, June 05, 2012

power to the farmer

In 1894, fourteen European and other countries including the U.S. (the “G-14” of the era) held a land grab conference in Berlin to "save" the Dark Continent. the real agenda was to carve up Africa between the European powers peacefully and without the need for internecine imperialistic wars. The Scramble for Africa gave Britain a nice slice of Africa stretching from Cape-to-Cairo. France took much of western Africa. King Leopold II of Belgium took personal possession of the Congo. Portugal grabbed Mozambique and Angola. Italy got Somalia and laid claim to parts of Ethiopia. The G-8’s “New Alliance for Food Security ” smacks of the old Scramble for Africa. The G-8 wants to liberate Africa from hunger, famine and starvation by facilitating the handover of millions of hectares of Africa's best land to the worlds' multinationals. They want to use multinational food conglomerates to “save” Africa from starvation by 1) subsidizing these giant agribusinesses to dump their agricultural surpluses in famine-stricken African countries, and 2) by greasing the hands of Africa’s corrupt dictators so that these multinationals could “lease” hundreds of millions of acres of Africa’s most arable land to cultivate export crops that command high prices on the global commodities markets, without contributing much to the domestic African market to alleviate endemic hunger.

With a steady growth in global population, the prospect of transforming Africa into vast commercialized farms is mouthwatering for global agribusinesses. In 2011, Africa imported $50 billion worth of food from the U.S. and Europe. Food prices in Africa are 200-300 percent higher than global prices, which means higher profit margins for multinationals that produce and distribute food. The “New Alliance” will accelerate the “transfer” of hundreds of millions of hectares of arable African land to Cargill, Dupont, Monsanto, Kraft, Unilever and the dozens of other signatory multinationals. Working jointly with Africa’s corrupt dictators, these multinationals will “liberate” the land from Africans just like the 19th Century scramble for Africa; but will they liberate Africa from the scourge of hunger, famine, starvation and poverty?

The standard response by the ruling regime and its international donors is to deny and evade the whole thing in clever euphemisms , calling it “severe malnutrition, “food insecurity”, etc, or they blame droughts and natural forces or use the  endlessly supply food handouts of foreign aid as an excuse. Bad governance, dictatorships and corruption are rarely blamed for the predictable and recurrent famines and starvation in Ethiopia. Africans suffer from hunger and thirst because they are victims of ruthless dictatorships! Eight out of every ten Ethiopians live in rural areas with average land holdings of 0.93 hectare. The Zenawi’s regime has transferred at least 3,619,509 ha of land to investors, although the actual number may be higher.”These “lease” transfers (for 99 years) are handed out to companies from India, China, Saudi Arabia and others for cents per hectare. Further reported it has led to displacement from farmland with  the vast majority of locals receiving little or no compensation. The UN World Food Programme in Ethiopia recently announced that 3.2 million people are food insecure in Ethiopia and that it needs an additional US$183 million to provide emergency assistance. At the same time, Mitiku Kassa, Zenawi’s official responsible for agriculture, blamed the “food insecurity” on drought and the irregular rains. The international beggary proficiently practiced by Zenawi’s regime has been transformed into a high art form. It is to stretch out cupped palms for handouts of crumbs left over from exports by Karuturi Global, Saudi Star, Cargill, Monsanto. The “New Alliance” is a brilliant strategy that will sustain the decades long vicious cycle of dependence and food aid addiction in Africa while displacing and severely undercutting the productive capacity of the African smallholder farmers to deal with famine on their own.

Rajiv Khan, the USAID Administrator and Zenawi can talk about “public investment” and the “smallholder farmer” until the cows come home, but the fact of the matter is that neither Ethiopia nor the rest of Africa can achieve food sufficiency by tethering predatory multinational corporations with corrupt African dictators in a new “alliance for food security” and and strapping them around the necks of Africa’s smallholder farmers. A joint venture between jackals and hyenas will never benefit the gazelles. Does the smallholder Ethiopian farmer scratching out a living on 0.93 hectare stand a snowball’s chance in hell competing against Cargill and Dupont? Is the future of the smallholder African farmer going to be as a consumer of food produced by global agricultural multinationals instead of being a local producer and harvester of his/her own food? Does it make sense to hand out the country’s most arable land to “foreign investors” to produce food for export and ensure food security in other countries when Ethiopians are dying from starvation? There can be no smallholder farmer when there is no land to have and to hold. When the smallholder farmer is arbitrarily evicted from his land he becomes a landless, hopeless, helpless, restless, hapless, rootless, voiceless and powerless beggar of international food aid.

Hunger is not an inescapable destiny and it can be eliminated. This requires first and foremost the democratic participation by the people.

Adapted from here

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