Corporates carve up the African cake By Stanley Ellerby-English

3 April 2014 — New Left Project

This week World Development Movement activists, dressed as representatives of some of the world’s largest food and drink companies, delivered an Africa shaped thank-you cake to the Department for International Development (DfID). This tongue-in-cheek action highlights the support that DfID is giving to the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, the stated aim of which is to lift 50 million people out of poverty and improve food security.

“Sounds great”, I hear you say. “WDM has clearly made some kind of mistake; these folks are just doing their best to tackle hunger”. Well, if you’re on WDM’s website you’re probably not saying that, but many people might think so. So what’s this all about?

The New Alliance sees ten African countries making commitments to change their land, seed and trade policies to encourage greater agricultural investment, in return for aid money and commitments from major companies to expand their businesses. Unfortunately, this is likely to do little to support the small-scale farmers who feed the majority of the African population – and instead, looks set to exacerbate poverty and inequality.

Despite their supposed goals, policies being adopted by African governments that have joined the New Alliance have been largely aimed at integrating African farmers more directly to international markets. This is good for multinational companies which are set to sell more of their products, and can source raw materials from a larger number of producers. But it’s not a recipe for reducing hunger and poverty.

The New Alliance’s focus on profits rather than poverty reduction is apparent from the list of African countries that are currently being targeted by the scheme. Only one is ranked amongst the continent’s worst affected by hunger, so this scheme certainly isn’t aimed at tackling hunger where it is most needed. However, most of the countries are coastal, which allows them to be easily incorporated into global trade routes, and this is exactly what is happening.

Investment – both from rich country governments and companies – is mainly focused on production for distant markets and improving the infrastructure that is needed to move agricultural products out of these African countries, rather than supplying local markets. So, instead of improving local road networks money is spent on railways and roads to new and improved ports.

The major beneficiaries are the New Alliance’s corporate partners. Not only are they gifted the infrastructure to reap greater profits from agriculture in Africa, but they are also provided with a regulatory environment that allows them even greater control over the industry – for example by restricting farmers ability to save and exchange seeds suited to the local environment and allowing companies to prevent others from reproducing seeds they have bred.

African farmers groups and campaigners have rejected the New Alliance. Instead they are calling for food sovereignty, a return of control over food production to the people who rely on it for their lives and livelihoods. African small-scale producers currently make 85 per cent of the investment of agriculture, and appropriate public investment would support this. But the set-up of the New Alliance means it can’t deliver this, so WDM will continue to put pressure on them withdraw their support and shift UK aid towards building food sovereignty.

The cake is just the start. Keep your eyes peeled for how the campaign develops.

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