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Where’s the farmer’s consent? G8 ‘New Alliance’ hurts Africa, says activists

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Reuters

From Nigeria to Tanzania and many points in between, small-scale farmers say they have not been consulted when big agribusiness, working under the G8’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition come to push farmers off their land.


Farmers in rural Bagamoyo district in Tanzania have been ordered off their land after EcoEnergy, a Swedish-owned company, leased more than 20,000 hectares from the government to produce sugar cane. They were not consulted, says says Josephat Mshigati, the head of programmes and policy for Action Aid in Tanzania.

Those who were ordered off the land were taken to another area, which created more problems, he says.

“They were settled in areas that are not really productive, so for them to invest in producing food, that is another challenge we see. They could be offered all kinds of jobs, there are jobs in the factories,” he says.“But the salaries of those people are very low. So that is another vulnerability… the salary you get, it is hard to buy food,” he adds.

Food security is just one of the issues that are being tackled at the World Economic Forum for Africa, currently being held this week in Cape Town, South Africa. Campaigners believe that the G8’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition is one of the directives that need to be examined more closely, not only for its lack of transparency, but its decidedly western way of dealing with food issues.

The problem of the New Alliance way is that it does not reflect the ideology of the small-holder farmer, says Nick Dearden, the head of Global Justice Now, a natural resources campaigner, where there’s little or no role for small farmers.

“What it’s about is that you’ve got to scale up technological input, you’ve got to allow big corporations, mostly based here in the west, into your countries, and you’ve got to start exporting more food to the west, and richer parts of the world, rather than protecting small farmers,” he says.

Farmers in Taraba state, Nigeria, have been fighting against the big business land grab that the former President Goodluck Jonathan government was trying to promote. Dominion Farms, a Canadian-owned, Kenya-based agribusiness sealed the deal to obtain 30,000 hectares of land in Taraba state in order to grow rice for export.

Domino Farms met with federal and state authorities, but not with farmers or the regional water authority says Raymond Enoch, the chairman of the Centre for Environmental Education and Development in Jalingo, Taraba state.

“For you to just come into my community and say you want to do something that will change my life, you really need to discuss with me and convince me that what you want to do is to my own benefit…better than what I am doing now,” says Enoch.

The farmers and herders were told to move off the land, and although they initially did, they moved back and continued to farm, much to the consternation of Calvin Burgess, the Chairman of Dominion Rice and Integrated Farms, Ltd., who outlined his own frustration with working with the Nigerian government earlier this year.

“Around 1,000 hectares were cleared in March of 2104, by Dominion in readiness for planting by Dominion,” he wrote. “Instead Upper Benue, in conjunction with the local community, moved in and planted their crops! There seems to be no let up as everyone is ready to go back to the same land in the next cropping season!”

Burgess says that Dominion Farms has ultimately pulled out of working in Nigeria. “We have totally experienced Nigeria. I have been extorted, arrested, detained, lied to, and about anything else one can imagine,” he wrote.

Dearden of Global Justice Now says that most food produced for Africans is grown by small-scale farmers. “We know it’s possible. For me the interest of those pushing New Alliance isn’t really in eradicating hunger. It’s in the profit margin of the companies that happen to be headquartered in their countries.”

As for Nigeria, Enoch says that he has hope for the country and for farmers under newly-elected President Muhammadu Bujari-- especially because Akinwumi Adesina, the former agricultural minister, who was pushing for the Dominion lease, has taken up the top position of the African Development Bank.

“Farmers can freely produce their food, and freely produce their food for domestic market consumption. At least to some extent now, farmers are free to embark on farming without being molested by agribusiness.”

Dearden says that countries need to protect small farmers with regulatory frameworks within the country to prevent more land grab problems throughout the continent, and not rely on a small handful of companies to be able to provide the needs of everybody globally.

“I just don’t think it’s feasible in a world where you have such massive inequality as we see today for a company to make profit by feeding those who are most in need of food, that’s to say, the poorest,” he adds.