Corporate-driven Agriculture would increase Inequality in Africa

Tuesday, February 16, 2016 - 12:47

African agriculture is at cross-roads. The sector recently has been the subject of revitalization efforts by world leaders, but they have met with very little success. Indeed, their efforts actually exacerbate inequality by promoting the role of corporates at the cost of millions of small scale farmers, with women as the worst hit. Large corporations are profit-driven, and they will use their unfair advantages to maximize their bottom line. Small farmers hardly stand a chance once governments and corporations are aligned.

In Africa, agriculture is the sector with the highest potential to lift large numbers of those still hungry out of poverty. But the irony is that it is still the sector with the least public investment. What is worrying is that the landmark continental effort to reform agriculture on the continent - the Comprehensive African Agriculture and Development Program (CAADP), which African leaders joined in Mozambique in 2003 - is now coming under the purview of the private sector since governments have failed to live up to their commitments. They committed to allocate 10% of national budgets to the agriculture sector, but only 10 out of 54 countries did so. In addition, over 40 of the countries that have developed and costed national agriculture investment plans have a funding gap of 80%, with only 20% being sourced internally.

The New Alliance is a partnership in which stakeholders commit to specificpolicy reforms and investments, outlined in Cooperation Frameworks, that accelerate implementation of African country food security strategies, launched in 2012 by the G8 (now G7) and implemented in ten African countries. It follows similar initiatives such as GROW Africa, and is based on the simplistic assumption that corporate investment in agriculture will increase production to improve food and nutrition security and reduce poverty. This logic completely neglects the fact that food and nutrition security means consistent access to a diverse and nutritious diet, which will not be achieved simply by increasing food production. Moreover, much of the production supported by the New Alliance is exported and/or non-food crops with relatively low nutritional value. The New Alliance prioritises the private sector and the creation of large commercial farms while ignoring the vital role of small farmers and food producers in providing food and improving income. What is worrying is that it is not aligning to African’s Agriculture development agenda CAADP as claimed. The cooperation frameworks are very different from the CAADP compact, which included major stakeholders including CSOs, farmers, etc. and was developed through a rigorous and participatory process.

The food price spikes of 2007-2008 fuelled a surge in large-scale land acquisitions by foreigners in Africa to the tune of 100 million acres. Such land-grabbing deprived thousands of farmers and herders of their land rights.

On top of all this, the ugly trend of corporate tax evasion and avoidance drains at least $50 billion a year from the continent. The African Union’s High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows, chaired by Thabo Mbeki, has found that Africa loses more through tax dodging and corruption than it gains through development aid each year. As Christian Aid notes, “The Mbeki report removes any excuse for not taking immediate and effective action against the multinationals draining billions from developing countries, the shell companies holding looted money and the financial secrecy which protects everyone with dirty money to hide.”

We are not against investments by the private sector; but what we need is responsible investments respecting the rights of communities and addressing the stark inequality between the power of multinational companies and the local farmers.

Some immediate measures can help in addressing the inequality. For instance:

  • Curb the corporate tax dodging in Africa by stringent measures at national and regional levels.
  • Reorient public agriculture spending and policy towards agroecology or climate resilient sustainable agriculture, which can help address inequalities. This approach emphasizes the need to progressively reduce the use of external inputs in agriculture and increase the use of organic products and practices to ensure a diversified economy for farmers while building their resilience to climatic shocks.
  • Involve smallholder and women farmers in the decision-making and execution. This should include dedicating specific budget lines to them, and better targeting of women in extension services and in credit, research and other programmes.
  • Gender-disaggregated data needs to be produced or enhanced to support women and to monitor the effectiveness of policies.
  • Credit schemes need to be reformed to target larger numbers of women farmers.
  • Input subsidy programmes, where these are appropriate, need to have better targeting to ensure that women have at least equal access.
  • Implement the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests, which most governments have endorsed, to promote secure tenure rights and equitable access to land, fisheries and forests as a means of eradicating hunger and poverty, supporting sustainable development and enhancing the environment.
  • Adopt a ‘right to food’ approach for developing national investment plans that puts food security at the centre of strategies, and addresses the specific constraints of women smallholders.
  • Recognise the ‘fair shares’ of farmers’ own investments, whilst ensuring public investment is aligned with, and acts as a catalyst for, smallholders’ efforts by providing the services and inputs that matter most to small farmers and by putting in place the measures and policies needed to strengthen farmers’ own investments in agriculture.