The UK government is yet again undermining grassroots poverty alleviation by channelling UK aid towards huge agribusiness. The Hunger Games, a report recently published by War on Want, criticises the Department for International Development (DfID) for working with the ‘who’s who’ of agrochemical and GM seed companies including Monsanto, Unilever and Syngenta.
In coalition with these companies, DfID is funding dodgy agricultural initiatives such as the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). This initiative in particular seeks to “trigger a uniquely African green revolution” by promoting networks of GM seed and agrochemical providers to small farmers.
The companies working beneath this banner, posing under a guise of African development, are seeking to extend their reach over emerging markets in countries like Malawi. Monsanto, which made its money from making agent orange in the Vietnam war, has openly declared its intention to control all of Malawi’s 30,000 tonne seed market. This transition, if it was allowed to happen, would decimate traditional seed markets, and lock local farmers further into a dependency on foreign inputs. It is this dependency on agrochemicals and hybrid seeds that sees small farmers trapped in an escalating cycle of dept and despair.
The Hunger Games also outlines other DfID links with agribusiness in Africa:
- DfID works with Unilever on a project called Grow Africa which seeks to “increase private sector investment in African agriculture” with partners including Coca Cola, Cargill, Nestle and Wal-Mart.
- DfID is continuing to fund research supporting the introduction of GM crops. Initiatives like Harvest Plus, supported by Syngenta, are bringing GM crops into to local markets under the cause of humanitarianism. One of these crops is Golden Rice, a GM product which claims to tackle vitamin A deficiencies but has been repeatedly challenged over its effectiveness over the last 10 years.
- DfID is accused of funding projects that are linked to land grabbing. In Sierra Leone, the DfIDsponsored Emerging Africa Infrastructure Fund is investing in a sugar cane plantation on 10,000 hectares of land, to produce biofuel for sale to the EU.
It is our task to stop DfID spending UK tax money on these public private partnerships. But it is also key to acknowledge some of the assertions from the Nyeleni 2007 forum for food sovereignty in Mali. One of these assertions calls for us to respect, recognise and strengthen local wisdom through preserving local seed networks, traditional farming and alternative markets. It is clear that this is key to tackling the dependency fostered by the neoliberal brand of development currently supported by institutions like DfID.