Thursday, June 04, 2015

The Farmers Revolution?

Small-scale agricultural producers are estimated to provide 70 percent of the world's food supply. The United Nations has said that traditional agroecological farming practices and small-scale agriculture are key to feeding the world in the face of global climate crisis. From Nigeria to Tanzania and many points in between, small-scale farmers say they have not been consulted when big agribusiness, working under the G8’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition come to push farmers off their land.

Farmers in rural Bagamoyo district in Tanzania have been ordered off their land after EcoEnergy, a Swedish-owned company, leased more than 20,000 hectares from the government to produce sugar cane. They were not consulted, says says Josephat Mshigati, the head of programmes and policy for Action Aid in Tanzania. Those who were ordered off the land were taken to another area, which created more problems, he says. “They were settled in areas that are not really productive, so for them to invest in producing food, that is another challenge we see. They could be offered all kinds of jobs, there are jobs in the factories,” he says.“But the salaries of those people are very low. So that is another vulnerability… the salary you get, it is hard to buy food,” he adds. 

A coalition of almost 100 social movements, grassroots groups, and civil society organizations are raising alarm about the New Alliance on Food Security and Nutrition meeting secretively in Cape Town, South Africa, and are calling for governments to withdraw support for initiative. The G8-led, agribusiness-funded New Alliance is pushing for the approval of laws in 10 African countries that favor agricultural giants like Monsanto at the expense of small farmers and local food security. According to a statement by the civil society coalition Wednesday, policies supported by the New Alliance “facilitate the grabbing of land and other natural resources, further marginalize small-scale producers, and undermine the right to adequate food and nutrition.”

An example of New Alliance's corporate-friendly policy is Ghana's proposed Plant Breeders Bill, or so-called “Monsanto Law,” which would effectively tighten the corporate control of seeds and limit the traditional ability of small farmers to save and share seeds. Other New Alliance-backed proposals in Nigeria and Tanzania threaten to displace thousands of small farmers in massive agribusiness landgrabs to make way for foreign-owned corporate plantations.

Despite the New Alliance claiming a commitment to “reducing poverty and hunger,” its policies actually exacerbate hunger by slashing the rights and access to resources of Africa's small-scale producers for the benefit of foreign agribusiness corporations since it was launched in 2012.

The problem of the New Alliance way is that it does not reflect the ideology of the small-holder farmer, says Nick Dearden, the head of Global Justice Now, a natural resources campaigner, where there’s little or no role for small farmers. “What it’s about is that you’ve got to scale up technological input, you’ve got to allow big corporations, mostly based here in the west, into your countries, and you’ve got to start exporting more food to the west, and richer parts of the world, rather than protecting small farmers,” he says. Dearden says that most food produced for Africans is grown by small-scale farmers. “We know it’s possible. For me the interest of those pushing New Alliance isn’t really in eradicating hunger. It’s in the profit margin of the companies that happen to be headquartered in their countries.” Dearden says that countries need to protect small farmers with regulatory frameworks within the country to prevent more land grab problems throughout the continent, and not rely on a small handful of companies to be able to provide the needs of everybody globally. “I just don’t think it’s feasible in a world where you have such massive inequality as we see today for a company to make profit by feeding those who are most in need of food, that’s to say, the poorest,” he adds.

“The New Alliance is not addressing hunger or food security, but it is providing huge opportunities for big agribusiness companies to restructure food production across Africa to their own advantage,” said African Center for Biosafety Director Mariam Mayet in statement. “Countries in Africa need to develop their own agricultural policies that are effective in meeting the needs of small scale farmers and food sovereignty, rather than being cajoled into having big industrialized agriculture imposed on them through coercive aid mechanisms like the New Alliance.” Mayet added. 

Last month, an independent audit on U.K. foreign aid slammed the New Alliance, characterizing it as “little more than a means of promotion for the companies involved and a chance to increase their influence in policy debates.” In 2013, over 100 African civil society groups called the New Alliance a “new wave of colonialism” opening African markets to transfer agricultural control away from local farmers into the hands of transnational corporations.

Raymond Enoch, the chairman of the Centre for Environmental Education and Development in Jalingo, Taraba state in Nigeria explained “For you to just come into my community and say you want to do something that will change my life, you really need to discuss with me and convince me that what you want to do is to my own benefit…better than what I am doing now… Farmers can freely produce their food, and freely produce their food for domestic market consumption. At least to some extent now, farmers are free to embark on farming without being molested by agribusiness.”

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