No one should go hungry. But what is the best way to go about ending hunger?
One of the major ways in which the UK Department for International Development (DfID) is trying to end hunger is through a private sector investment initiative called the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, which was launched by the G8 in May 2012. The UK are currently ‘in charge’ of the New Alliance, and DfID have said they will spend £395 million (of UK tax money) on it.
While some are optimistic about the potential of such an ‘alliance’ for reducing food poverty, there are some serious concerns—not least because the ‘investment’ that the New Alliance is all about arguably boils down to getting more business for multinational seed and chemical (agribusiness) companies. Poor African farmers get GM seeds, fertilisers, and pesticides, while multinational corporations get more business, is the idea. There are some serious questions, however, as to whether the New Alliance is going to do more harm than good.
To begin with, there are reasons to be suspicious about some of the companies that are a part of the New Alliance. Agribusiness giants such as Monsanto and Cargill, who have a proven track record of exploitation and ecological destruction, are significant investors. On the one hand, these companies may sometimes be able to sell (at a price, of course) useful technologies to African farmers, and to increase agricultural productivity. But these are the same companies who have been developing such dubious methods as seed patenting and terminator seeds, locking poor farmers into dependency. These are companies who repeatedly put profit before sustainability, environmental responsibility, and the welfare of the farmers to whom they sell their products.
Despite the fact that such disreputable companies are so heavily involved in the New Alliance, there is worryingly little indication that any serious efforts are being made to ensure that these companies will behave ethically and responsibly. DfID simply state rather blithely that ‘all parties making commitments in New Alliance Cooperative Frameworks are bound to take account of Voluntary Guidelines’. This is not a very reassuring statement. For any hope of sustainable poverty reduction, surely some attention should be given to ensuring that investors do not cause long term damage to local communities and to the environment?
Many African farmers have been very critical of corporate-driven investment in African agriculture, deeming it ‘a new wave of colonialism’
To add insult to injury, the New Alliance seems to be ploughing on without paying any attention to the concerns expressed by African civil society. OK, so African governments have some say in the New Alliance. But what representation do the farmers themselves have? Many African farmers have been very critical of corporate-driven investment in African agriculture, deeming it ‘a new wave of colonialism’. Their voices have been drowned out by the unmistakably business-led agenda of the New Alliance.
Despite the fact that millions of UK Aid money is going towards this initiative, many share the concern that the New Alliance is not so much oriented around ending hunger, much less about empowering the poor in Africa, but is really about providing new opportunities for private businesses to reach new markets in Africa.
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