Carving up a continent: The corporate takeover of African food

It’s time the UK government supported farmers and poor communities to build food systems for people not profit.

Chris Walker is a campaigner at the World Development Movement

Africa represents the ‘last frontier’ in global food and agricultural markets,” declared the World Bank in 2013. Big business is descending on the continent, and investors are looking for access to new resources and markets.

With Africa remaining the poster child of global hunger, the opportunity to make profit from food and agriculture might seem slim. But with the help of public-private initiatives such as the G8’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, corporations arriving in Africa are hoping to cash in.

The UK government is channelling £600 million in aid money through the New Alliance. G8 leaders claim the scheme, launched in 2012, will help lift 50 million people out of poverty in 10 years. It was set up to facilitate corporate investment in African food and agriculture, supported by aid money from G8 countries. In return, the ten African countries signed up to the New Alliance have committed to reform their food and farming policies to suit the needs of big business.

The New Alliance may be good news for the likes of Monsanto and Unilever, which are set for their latest expansion. But for small-scale farmers, who currently feed at least 70 per cent of the continent’s people, it will mean losing control of their land, resources and markets.

This is the latest initiative to revive the flawed logic of the green revolution seen in Asia and South America from the 1950s onwards: increase farming yields through industrial farming, chemical fertilisers and corporate-controlled seeds in order to increase production. But with farmers losing control of their livelihoods, and cash crops grown for export displacing food production for local people, the green revolution made hunger worse for many.

African farmers’ groups have called the New Alliance a “new wave of colonialism.” But this has done nothing to stem the enthusiasm of David Cameron and international development secretary Justine Greening for the scheme.

UK aid money will support the large scale growth of cash crops, the corporate takeover of markets, seeds, fertilisers and pesticides, and the creation of industrial farming zones that promise little place for small-scale farmers.

With pressure from Conservative backbenchers and the right-wing press to cut the aid budget, it may seem surprising that the UK’s commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of national income on aid has been achieved under this government. But this spending promises more for big business than it does for the world’s poorest people.

Through the New Alliance, the government is setting firmly in motion its strategy to leave economic development to realms of business. It was Justine Greening, not business ministers, who accompanied eighteen CEOs of UK companies to Tanzania in November 2013 to sing the praise of British business. The delegation included the heads of Unilever and tax-dodging alcoholic drinks giant SABMiller – both big players in the New Alliance.

With land grabs and the corporate takeover of markets and resources fast gathering pace in Africa, the government is yet to explain how growth for Unilever and SABMiller means better lives for the poorest communities in Tanzania and beyond.

Today, the World Development Movement is launching a campaign to stop the corporate takeover of Africa’s food systems. Our new report, ‘Carving up a continent’, exposes the use of UK aid to help multinational corporations make vast profits at the expense of Africa’s small-scale farmers. Across Africa, farmers, agricultural workers, urban movements, consumer groups and environmentalists are calling for food sovereignty – a system that treats food as a right, not a commodity, and puts control back in the hands of those who produce it.

It’s time the UK government supported farmers and poor communities to build food systems for people not profit.

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