Intensive, corporate agriculture is increasing poverty in Africa

– New research indicates that agricultural policies aimed at alleviating poverty in Africa is making things worse.

– The “New Alliance” of governments, IMF, Gates Foundation and multi-national corporations is adversely impacting on the poorest and benefiting wealthy minorities.

– “Modernisation” through intensive methods reduces production and increases landlessness and inequality.

– Support for traditional and diverse farming is needed

A new study by the University of East Anglia (UEA) indicates that agricultural policies which governments, international donors and organisations such as the International Monetary Fund claim to be economically successful and alleviating poverty are not working.

In fact they are having large negative impacts on the poorest and most vulnerable people in rural Africa.

At the forefront of these policies has been the much vaunted New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition which is made up of governments, a range of international agencies, the Gates Foundation and other large donors, and multinational companies such as Monsanto.

They have been vigorously pushing to increase and “modernise” agricultural production in Africa through seeds and cultivation techniques that are highly dependent on chemical inputs and “innovative technologies”, including genetic engineering.

Policies benefit the wealthy and harm the poor

This new research reveals that these policies are adversely impacting on the lives of “tens, even hundreds of millions of smallholder farmers”.

It shows that only a relatively wealthy minority have benefited from what has essentially become “enforced modernisation” The poorest farmers cannot afford the risk of taking out credit for the necessary inputs of seeds, fertilisers and pesticides and they live in fear of government agencies seizing and reallocating their land.

The research looked in-depth at the impact of agricultural policies on Rwanda but the findings tie in with recent concerns about strategies to feed the world in the face of growing populations, debates about the effectiveness of small versus large farms and struggles to maintain local control over land and food production.

Enforced modernisation leading to landlessness and inequality

Up to 90 per cent of people in some African countries are smallholder farmers reliant on agriculture. Dr Neil Dawson, the study’s lead author said: “Agricultural development certainly has the potential to help these people, but instead these policies appear to be exacerbating landlessness and inequality for poorer rural inhabitants.”

“Many of these policies have been hailed as transformative development successes, yet that success is often claimed on the basis of weak evidence through inadequate impact assessments.”

“Such policies may increase aggregate production of exportable crops, yet for many of the poorest smallholders they strip them of their main productive resource, land.”

“This study details how these imposed changes disrupt subsistence practices, exacerbate poverty, impair local systems of trade and knowledge, and threaten land ownership. It is startling that the impacts of policies with such far-reaching impacts for such poor people are, in general, so inadequately assessed.”

More evidence supporting IAASTD and agoecology

Farmers in Rwanda traditionally cultivate up to 60 different types of crops, planting and harvesting in overlapping cycles to prevent shortages and hunger. Now they have been forced them to “modernise” with new seed varieties, chemical fertilisers and to specialise in single crops which increases their risk and vulnerability.

The UEA researchers recommend that these “development” policies be subject to much broader and more rigorous impact assessments, and that mitigation for poverty-exacerbating impacts should be specifically incorporated into such policies. In Rwanda, that means encouraging land access for the poorest and supporting traditional practices during a gradual and voluntary modernisation.

This study gives further weight and credence to the conclusions of the 2008 International Assessment of Agriculture Science and Technology (IAASTD) which highlighted that agro-ecological approaches were the most appropriate technologies to tackle food security and hunger.

It beggars belief that IAASTD is still being largely ignored by governments and sidelined by UN agencies

Lawrence Woodward