The New Alliance is likely to exacerbate hunger and poverty through shifting control of the food system away from small-scale farmers and local communities into the hands of big business that will likely invest in lucrative projects such as exporting cash crops
Whenever we talk about the African continent, images of famine, ethnic cleansing and brutal corrupt dictatorships usually come first to mind. This clichéd association, which tends to blame Africans for all their ills is reinforced by a compliant Western mainstream media, which more than often plays a subservient role to structures of power and dominance. But it seems that the mood is changing as Africa is booming economically. We are now being told by politicians and others that Africa will be helped not by charity but by investment. For instance, the likes of Tjada Mckenna and Jonathan Shriver, representatives for Feed the Future, US Government food and hunger initiative are enthusiastic about the business potential that Africa can offer: ‘Africa is home to seven of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies and the rate of return on foreign investment is higher in Africa than in any other developing region. Doing business in Africa makes good business sense.’
Attracted by these high economic growth rates and propelled by a lack of new opportunities elsewhere, huge global food and agriculture companies like Monsanto, Syngenta and Unilever are rapidly increasing their presence in sub-Saharan Africa, seeking access to resources and new markets to expand their operations. In the same way that Europeans colonised much of the continent in the nineteenth century, large corporations are now looking for raw materials, land and labour and their attention is turning to Africa, which the World Bank has dubbed ‘the last frontier’ in global food markets.
The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition is supposedly committed to eradicating hunger in Africa, building on previous initiatives (such as the green revolution) that have failed so far to reach that goal. It is a partnership between the powerful G8, a number of African governments, transnational corporations and some domestic companies. Under its cooperation frameworks, African countries promise to reform their land laws and make other policy changes to facilitate private investment in agriculture. In exchange, they get hundreds of millions of dollars in donor assistance and promises from foreign companies and their local partners to invest considerably.
The G8 funds are supposed to be aligned with the country agriculture plans developed through the African Union's Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) that was carried out through national consultation. But almost all of the G8’s New Alliance policy measures that each African government commits to implement within clearly defined deadlines are exclusively aimed at increasing corporate investment in agricultural lands and input markets. This highlights how such initiatives are not really designed to serve the African people but rather to open up new markets for big corporations that are driven by maximum profits regardless of their devastating impact on local life. Instead of providing a solution to hunger, the pro-corporate approach of initiatives like the New Alliance is likely to exacerbate hunger and poverty through shifting control of the food system away from small-scale farmers and local communities into the hands of big business that will likely invest in lucrative projects such as exporting cash crops like coffee, tobacco and biofuel crops.
In 2012, Mamadou Cissokho, honorary president of the Network of Farmers' and Agricultural Producers' Organisations of West Africa (ROPPA), sent a letter to the president of the African Union on behalf of African civil society networks and farmers' organisations expressing his concerns over how the G8 was dictating agricultural policy in Africa:
‘….on the eve of the G8 meeting at Camp David, I address myself to you, the President of the African Union – and through you to all African Heads of State – to ask what leads you to believe that Africa's food security and food sovereignty could be achieved by international cooperation and outside the policy frameworks formulated in inclusive fashion with the peasants and producers of the continent…The G8 and G20 can in no way be considered appropriate places for such decisions.”
Along similar lines and in a compelling statement, African civil society networks and organisations dubbed the New Alliance as a ‘new wave of colonialism’ and emphasised the necessity of food sovereignty, on individual and household food security first, with trade arising from surpluses beyond this.
It is anticipated that these policy commitments from the African governments will reinforce land grabbing and destroy the livelihood of small farmers who will be robbed of their lands forced into using expensive and damaging agrochemicals and corporate-controlled seeds, and subjected to insecure and poorly paid jobs, increasing their poverty and debt.
As someone coming from the global south, from Africa in particular, the whole thing sounds like some IMF structural adjustment program that mortgaged our sovereignty and wreaked havoc on our countries’ economies in the 90s. For me, it is also another neo-colonial instrument advancing under the cloak of the “altruistic civilising progress”, in order to remove any barrier to greed and to keep us subordinated to a profoundly unjust global order. This is an order that is benefitting a tiny minority over the poor majority and is the cause of the poverty and hunger in Africa in the first place.
The G8’s New Alliance will neither eradicate hunger nor achieve food security for Africans and thus must be fought. Solidarity with African farmers is a duty of any person caring about global justice.
The World Development Movement (WDM) launched a new campaign in early April in order to challenge the corporate control of the African food system through the G8’s New Alliance.
WDM will contest this initiative as part of the global movement for food sovereignty, which demands the right to food to be fulfilled, and that food producers and consumers can determine their own food systems and have control over the skills and resources that form them.
What better way to send a strong message to the UK Department For International Development (DfID), the British establishment and the multinationals involved and to say loudly and clearly what the New Alliance initiative is all about, than the creative and humorous WDM stunt that was carried out on Monday 31st March. A bunch of smartly-dressed activists pretending to be representatives of several multinationals involved in the New Alliance paid a visit to DfID in order to thank them for their precious help in enabling them to carve up African markets and resources for their profits. To add to the celebratory mood, they took a big cake in the shape of Africa, a continent that they voraciously want to slice between themselves. King Leopold, responsible for the colonisation and the genocide in the Congo region and a key player in the Berlin conference where European powers formalised the African takeover, would have liked this gesture – for completely different reasons of course – as he once said: "I do not want to miss a good chance of getting us a slice of this magnificent African cake.” Sadly, DfID representatives weren’t so keen to help the ‘executives’ in carving up the cake.
You can find out more about the campaign at: http://www.wdm.org.uk/food
* Hamza Hamouchene is an Algerian writer, activist and co-founder of Algeria Solidarity Campaign (ASC). He joined the World Development Movement in November 2013.