Sweden’s Minister for International Development Cooperation has stated that aid to agriculture in Southern Africa should focus on supporting industrial agriculture through the group called the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, AGRA.
Industrial agriculture has many and massive problems. Mono-cropping involves covering huge areas of land with a single species, destroying all other species, disrupting the ecological balance and closing off possibilities of using the lost organisms in future for medicinal or other purposes.
Small-scale farmers know what it means to be exposed to the industrial agriculture pesticides, or how artificial fertilizers deplete the soil. They also know that conventional agriculture in the long run will reduce their space of life when climate change worsens.
Is Swedish aid now to promote the interests of multinational corporations and limit local farmers’ self-determination? Our concern is that Sweden, being a leader in the development aid field, will guide the way for other countries channelling agricultural aid in a similar problematic manner.
The debate in Sweden throws interesting light on crucial issues for agriculture in Africa. The debate was sparked by the Minister for International Development Cooperation, Ms. Gunilla Carlsson, who made it clear that Swedish aid to agriculture in Southern Africa would focus on supporting industrial agriculture through the group called the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, AGRA.
AGRA is an agricultural project initiated by predominately American interests. According to AGRA claims, the project is African led. This claim is contested by the US based group AGRA Watch who see American agribusiness corporations such as Monsanto being the real agenda setters within AGRA. These corporations have encountered serious resistance in Africa, from governments, consumers and local farmers, and much of AGRA’s philanthropy is nothing but public relations efforts to overcome this resistance. The African Centre for Biosafety is particularly concerned that AGRA is using a philanthropic pose to pave the way for the general commercialisation of genetically modified crops.
India’s “Green revolution” is sometimes referred to when talking about developing countries and food insecurity. Methods used included high-yielding crop varieties, intensive use of pesticides and other chemicals, mono-cropping to exploit economies of scale and massively increased used of machinery both in production and in the transport of crops. The large scale model promoted exports and elites in the agricultural industry. However, small scale farmers increasingly found themselves indebted due to higher input costs and even more dependent on external factors.
Industrial agriculture proved to have many and massive problems. Mono-cropping, for example, involved covering huge areas of land with a single species, which of course destroyed all of the other species in that area, disrupting the ecological balance and closing off possibilities of using the lost organisms in future for medicinal or other purposes.
Pesticides and artificial fertilisers depleted the soil and killed off entire species of organisms causing untold environmental damage. That is apart from the damage it caused to the health of farm workers, rural residents, and the people who were now ingesting cumulative amounts of poisons with their food.
Genetically modified organisms were bulldozed through already weak regulatory frameworks in the USA from early 80s by mega-wealthy food corporations who were entirely focused on their commercial potential and from there spread all over the world. The health and environmental risks are poorly understood, as research funding is controlled by these very corporations and the governments that support them.
Even if none of these problems existed, industrial agriculture would still be unsustainable simply because it depends on fossil fuels. Its machinery runs on burning oil and oil derivatives, its chemicals are mostly derived from oil, and transporting its products to far off markets burns oil and more oil. This type of agriculture is therefore deeply implicated in all the problems caused by burning fossil fuels, of which climate change is only one.
We believe that the catastrophic impoverishment of African farmers over the last three decades resulted from the neo-liberal structural adjustment programmes African governments carried out at the behest of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation. These three global economic institutions were behind a set of policies that included liberalising agricultural markets in the interests of agribusiness corporations that led to massive transfers of wealth from relatively poor African farmers to wealthy European and American businesses. AGRA’s approach is to work within this neo-liberal framework―in fact to strengthen it. They are therefore part of the problem facing Africa’s farmers, despite the fact that a small number will benefit from their activities, becoming another elite layer exploiting their poorer neighbours.
There are sustainable alternatives to industrial agriculture. An example fromSouth Africais the work of Surplus People’s Project, SPP, an organisation working for agrarian reform and food sovereignty. SPP assists small scale farmers in their struggles to access land and offers education on agroecology and organic farming methods supporting small scale farming and promoting non-dependency on fossil fuels. The methods seek ecological diversity where resources are reused and crops are integrated with livestock. Ecological interactions, productivity and knowledge intensity are key principles.
A large British study published in 2006 compared 286 newly established sustainable agriculture projects in 57 countries covering 37 million hectares. It was found that agroecology increased crop output by an average of 79 percent. Food production for household consumption rose to73 percent, benefiting 4.42 million small farmers.
When the UN Environment Program (UNEP) summed up the database and separated impacts for Africa it was found that crop output increased even more. InAfrica, farmers could increase production by 116 percent. Agroecology is researched and promoted by several UN departments such as the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), UN:s Environmental Programme (UNEP) and UN:s World Food Programme (WFP).
The small-scale farmers supported by SPP know the findings of this study from experience. They know the human, economic and environmental strengths with agroecology. They also know what it means to be exposed to the industrial agriculture pesticides, or how artificial fertilizers deplete the soil. They fight to not be forced to use genetically modified seeds, which require cash input as the seeds can only be used once. These farmers know what climate change means for soil productivity. They know the negative impacts of conventional pesticides. They also know that conventional agriculture in the long run will reduce their space of life when climate change worsens.
On the basis of this understanding we ask Gunilla Carlsson if the support to the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa is not part of a bigger political discourse, where aid rather promotes the interests of multinational corporations and therefore limits local farmers’ self-determination. On the surface it might look like AGRA is doing something different than promoting the industrial model of agriculture. They speak of a uniquely African Green Revolution that “puts smallholder farmers first while protecting biodiversity, promoting sustainability and advancing equity”, all of which runs directly counter to the experience of industrial farming and its Green Revolution.
Our concern is that Sweden, being a leader in the development aid field, will guide the way for other countries following its example and channelling agricultural aid in a similar problematic manner.