Increasing Corporate Control of Afrikan Farmers

I’m sort of working this out in my mind and trying to reconcile it with what I’ve already read about industrial farming, GMO seeds, international agribusiness giants Monsanto, Syngenta, and the claim by the agribusiness sector that Afrika is hungry because of insufficient inputs (fertilizer, pesticides and high-yield seeds) and not because the corporate-dominated agriculture industry maintains control over food and thus restricts access for poorer, famine-stricken areas of the world (as human rights and food-sovereignty activists insist).  What am I talking about?  Well, here goes:

The Mondiaal Nieuws article “Tanzanian farmers are facing heavy prison sentences if they continue their traditional seed exchange” (http://www.mo.be/en/analysis/tanzanian-farmers-are-facing-heavy-prison-sentences-if-they-continue-their-traditional-seed, December 7, 2016) certainly seems to raise a number of alarms about the next wave of efforts to subject Afrika’s food supply to corporate control.  Allowing private investment for the purpose of helping stop hunger and famine is one thing, but the purveyors (“pushers”) of these efforts almost never let us see all the strings they’ve attached.

The first question I have is about this New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, or NAFSN (https://feedthefuture.gov/lp/new-alliance-food-security-and-nutrition).  This is apparently a project from the minds of the people who brought us Feed the Future, a program of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) which makes lofty statements and sounds benevolent but which does have its detractors and skeptics (count me among them) because of what appears to be an overly corporate-friendly, industrial-farming-oriented, anti-organic-and-natural-farmer, undemocratic top-down approach reminiscent of Bwana Complex.  A 2013 article in The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/poverty-matters/2013/jun/07/g8-new-alliance-flawed-project) states that “The new alliance prioritises unprecedented access for multinational companies to resources in Africa. To access cash under the initiative, African governments have to make far-reaching changes to their land, seed and farming policies.”  The article then gives several examples, linked to the Feed the Future website, which in turn links to PDF documents on NAFSN’s agreements with several countries.  The Ghana document includes under the heading “Key Policy Commitments”:

The Government of Ghana intends to pursue the policy goals set out below in order to build domestic and international private sector confidence to increase agricultural investment significantly, with the overall goal of reducing poverty and ending hunger.

The Government of Ghana intends to improve incentives for private sector investment in agriculture, in particular, taking actions to facilitate inclusive access to and productive use of land; developing and implementing domestic seed regulations that encourage increased private sector involvement in this area; and supporting transparent inclusive, evidence-based policy formulation.

The Tanzania agreement contains similar language, as I suspect the others do as well.  While these statements may not be damning in and of themselves, the statements referring to the agreement to “improve incentives for private sector investment in agriculture”, promote “productive use of land” and set about “implementing domestic seed regulations” seem to set the stage for just the type of requirements that would strip small, organic, natural farmers of their rights to share, recycle and use their own seed to the benefit of “unprecedented access for multinational companies to resources in Africa” (from the Guardian article).

One cannot help but notice is that the “S” in NAFSN stands for “security” and not “sovereignty”, which I think is more important because food sovereignty speaks to the right of the people of the country to determine how they will grow their own food and who controls it.  Does NAFSN actually force farmers to accept the patented GMO seeds, does it give farmers a real choice, or does it impose requirements on farmers who want to stick with traditional seed-sharing methods that would make it nearly impossible for them to go without the patented GMO seeds?  Is there a written law or statute, or is the Tanzanian government depending on the belief among farmers that they “can’t fight City Hall” which would stifle resistance to the corporatization of farming in Tanzania?

Syngenta appears to be the primary agribusiness that stands to benefit from this arrangement.  Frankly, the public claims contradict the private statements (and the admissions that sometimes leak out under questioning) they make concerning their support for the right of farmers to choose to either accept or reject the patented GMO seeds.  As the (apparently) Afrikan spokesperson for Syngenta’s effort to infiltrate the Tanzanian food supply, Kinyua M’Mbijjewe, head of Corporate Affairs in Africa for Syngenta, admitted later in the article: “We are a commercial company and therefore we invest in Africa. We believe that Africa is done with development aid and that it is now all about trade. The small-scale farmers are not our target. We focus on small-scale farmers trying to grow businesses and we are happy to work with NGOs that have a commercial approach. Farmers who merely try to survive or operate in an unfavorable climate are left out.”  This in spite of the public claim that Syngenta does support farmers who choose the (less favorable) seed-sharing system: “African farmers have been sharing, bartering and trading their seeds as a form of tradition. For farmers who want to continue to do so, it is important that they have that choice.”

This sort of corporate double-talk sounds a lot like what Monsanto did with the Indian cotton farmers.  Farming in India has apparently been a challenge since before the 20th Century, especially cotton.  Farmer suicides have occurred for over a century, due to climate and debt associated with the combination of the difficulties of farming and the actions of unscrupulous money-lenders.  While discussions of the Indian farmer suicides on websites such as Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farmers%27_suicides_in_India) insist that there are several reasons for this, and that the imposition of GMO crops cannot be blamed for the suicide rate overall, the actions of Monsanto at the start of the 21st Century apparently did not help matters.  Dr. Vandana Shiva, a prominent Indian advocate for food sovereignty, has been a longtime opponent of agribusiness, GMO seeds, patents on seed (“patenting life”), and the actions of Monsanto and Syngenta in particular.  She and other anti-GMO advocates such as Mr. P. Sainath explain the farmer suicides since 2002 this way: Cotton farmers, many of whom did not read, were told by a compliant government in their province or town that they needed to increase their crop yields in order to be successful and for the people of India to escape starvation, and the new Monsanto GMO “Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) cotton” seeds would increase the crop yields without requiring as much water or pesticide.  Most of the farmers trusted their government officials, who had themselves already been convinced, bamboozled or simply bought off, and signed agreements to buy the Monsanto Bt cotton seed, despite the added expense of the seed and the legal requirement that they abandon 12,000 years of tradition in which they regularly recycled seed from one planting to the next (to protect Monsanto’s “intellectual property”, the seeds).  Ultimately however, their cotton yields collapsed, mainly because it turned out they actually needed more water than the seeds they had been using (which, in the regions they farmed in, was a real problem because the rains were not consistent) and the pesticides, which they also bought from Monsanto, actually developed resistance in the pests which mutated into “super-pests” which were now immune to that pesticide.  In the end, the farmers went bankrupt, and with their farms ruined and their future in shambles, many of them took the pesticides they had bought from Monsanto … and drank them, committing suicide.  Tens of thousands of Indian farmers committed suicide in this way (5,650 in 2014 according to the National Crime Records Bureau of India; other estimates are that a farmer commits suicide every 30 minutes according to Think Progress, https://thinkprogress.org/behind-indias-epidemic-of-farmer-suicides-fa820ad674f3).

The question here amounts to whether the people of Tanzania will have a real choice as to whether or not to purchase the GMO seed, whether the NAFSN will force them to purchase from Syngenta, or whether a new round of “dirty tricks” will be employed similar to what has already happened to wheat farmers in the Midwest United States, such as a truck loaded with GMO patented seed driving past an organically-grown farm, some seeds “just happening” to blow onto the property, and later, inspectors arrive to check out the organic crops and find the patented GMO seed there, at which point the farmer is forced to either pay the agribusiness for the seeds or burn the entire crop.  Will this become the new state of affairs in Tanzania under NAFSN?

Finally, the question arises: Why did these countries agree to these requirements if they do indeed disempower small-holder, natural and organic Afrikan farmers?  Did the good people at USAID promise them the moon?  Did they baffle them with double-talk?  Did they appeal to political corruption with a bribe?  Did they threaten them with political or other consequences in the event of non-compliance?  Or did they somehow show these leaders that the agreements, if followed carefully, actually would empower independent Afrikan farmers and allow them to use their traditional methods without penalty (If that last one is correct, then where is the evidence, and why hide it under all the regulations)?

After taking a closer look at the various NAFSN agreements, I hope to have a better understanding of just what the extent of corporate control of these Afrikan countries’ agricultural markets will be.  But at the moment, I’m not particularly filled with confidence that this is not another, more convoluted form of a land grab.

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