'Exploitation of a Higher Kind': How the G7 is Fueling Corporate Dominion of Africa

Under the specious claim of delivering “aid to Africa,” western governments are backing an initiative—described by some as another form of “colonialism”—that is effectively enabling the corporate takeover of African nations by some of the world’s biggest food and agriculture companies.

On Wednesday, as corporate executives, politicians, and G7 officials assembled in Cape Town, South Africa for a closed-door meeting of the G7’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, a coalition of small scale farmers, unions, workers, and food sovereignty groups released a statement condemning the program.

Though the public-private initiative has been championed by U.S. President Barack Obama, among others, as a means to combat poverty in Africa by bolstering “sustained, inclusive, agriculture-led” growth with the goal of raising “50 million people out of poverty over the next 10 years,” its critics say the New Alliance actually undermines the rights and food security of citizens of its partner nations.

In fact, some suggest, the rise of such programs signals a shift in the way the world is governed.

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Under the New Alliance, ten African governments—Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, and Tanzania—have “committed to develop or revise policies that will facilitate responsible private investment in agriculture in support of smallholder farmers.” However, the opposition coalition says, since its inception in 2012, there is little evidence of any positive impact. Instead, the policy changes have paved the way for corporate exploitation of local land and people.

According to the coalition statement, the New Alliance policies “facilitate the grabbing of land and other natural resources, further marginalize small-scale producers, and undermine the right to adequate food and nutrition”—all in the interest of courting large multi-nationals.

For example, at the urging of the New Alliance, a bill often referred to as the “Monsanto law,” which criminalizes the saving and swapping of seeds, is poised for passage by the parliament of Ghana. A recent report put forth by international peasant farmer and food justice groups La Via Campesina and Grain notes that students and union groups who have been fighting the bill say it is a “precondition sought by transnational corporations as a requirement for operating in Africa.”

“Unfortunately G7 governments policies seem to be more about increasing corporate profits through access to African land and labor, and opening markets to sell patented seeds and pesticides rather than realizing the right to food.”
—Doug Hertzler, ActionAid USA

Also, under commitments made by the governments of Malawi, Nigeria, Senegal and Tanzania, a seperate report (pdf) published on Wednesday by the international NGO ActionAid USA found that small farmers are being forced off their property as 1.8 million hectares of the countries’ most desirable farmland has been offered to foreign investors, amounting to little more than what they call a corporate land-grab.

And in Tanzania, a New Alliance initiative threatens (pdf) to displace more than 1,300 people as the government works to recategorize village land to make it available for a Swedish-owned EcoEnergy sugarcane plantation.

While the benefits of such “investment” are tempting at first, many on the ground are now realizing what’s at stake.

Josaphat Mshighati, head of programs and policy for ActionAid Tanzania, told Common Dreams that instead of increasing food security, farmers are losing access to the land in exchange for jobs laboring at an industrial agriculture plantation, whose sole crop is being raised for export.

“It is a form of colonialism,” Mshighati said. “Small holder farmers are turned into labourers serving in big, private agriculture investments and some of them totally lose their access to productive land. Hence, they become much more dependent.”

Further, he added that African governments including Tanzania are “being pushed to change their seed policies to allow for ‘more modern seeds’ that will definitely be supplied by big private companies. Thus, the indigenous seeds will perish in few years and all farmers will have to rely on seeds from the western companies.”

Finally, the government policy changes that are forcing people off their land, he said, will ultimately “create disharmony between citizens and the government.” All of these impacts, Mshighati concluded, “can be related to the previous history between Africa and the west—exploitation of a higher kind.”

Doug Hertzler, senior policy analyst with ActionAid USA, also told Common Dreams: “Unfortunately G7 governments policies seem to be more about increasing corporate profits through access to African land and labor, and opening markets to sell patented seeds and pesticides rather than realizing the right to food.”

On the other side of the New Alliance arrangement, private sector companies—which include some of the world’s biggest food and biotechnology corporations—have described through Letters of Intent how they plan to pursue allegedly “responsible investments in African agriculture and food security through models that maximize benefits to smallholder farmers.”