Food Sovereignty in Africa: Reclaiming the Right
By Hwaa Irfan
As leaders from ‘Arab Spring’ countries remind the West of promised aid during the 2012 Davos World Economic Forum, On wonders what has been understood given the growing anxiety of the severity of the debt crisis and the consequences of related policies facing the West. Host and founder of the annual World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab prepared to face the reality of the current global situation stated:
“We have a general morality gap, we are over-leveraged, we have neglected to invest in the future, we have undermined social coherence, and we are in danger of completely losing the confidence of future generations…
“Solving problems in the context of outdated and crumbling models will only dig us deeper into the hole.
“We are in an era of profound change that urgently requires new ways of thinking instead of more business-as-usual,”
“capitalism in its current form, has no place in the world around us.”
Yet, how many heard this all important statement?
Far too many cannot see past a system that is based on the dehumanization of life, and therefore cannot transcend (at least currently) the same negative unsustainable vicious cycle; and have descended into old colonial patterns with new methods that will convince a country/continent that is still suffering from its colonial past to give up its natural resources to replenish the coffers of the West. In the case of China’s unconditional aid, the result is the country ‘helped’ becuase ensnared into a debt trap – forever paying for governmental exchanges. Some of these countries, like Ethiopia have fallen with ease to facilitate this process through land grabs that uproot thousands of people and families leaving them without any means of survival and a life of destitution.
However, there is hope!
Despite the global development reports that always depict brown skinned people in need of aid, help, direction, etc., which serves to faciliatte a stereotyped consensus that perpetuates the enslavement of Africans at least economically. All of this only helps to perpetuate imposed programs like the Millenium goals, which couched in terms of liberation and freedom, will cause the breakdown in the family unit as in the West, and make self interest a common goal therefore eliminating a collective consensus that attempts to address socio-economic wrongs.
Yet, this time round in the returning cycle of colonialism, neocolonialism will not have such an easy time as it had in the past if one puts aside countries like Ethiopia. People power is finding its voice, its strength is based on far too many years of what it means to be disposessed and vacant from the world that we live in.
“We have a responsibility, we have to begin to mobilize and we have the power. We have shaken this country before, we brought down apartheid, now is another turn. This is a bigger struggle, a more important struggle and this is a struggle that we must unite around. We must say, ‘No, to climate apartheid, no.’ ” Mercia Andrews, the director of the South African Trust for Community Outreach and Education
This was said at the 2011 COP17 Durban Climate talks where thousands from around the world and across Africa joined in protest against the conference.
Getting One’s House in Order!
What the global economic crisis offers is the opportunity to get one’s house in order, after all, the common man in the street is encouraged to take credit, but if he canot pay back, legal proceedings ensue. He will not be able to increase his debt level without proven means to pay back, and their will be no sympathy if he cannot pay back. The big players in the global economy have for far too long played rules of their own – once that price was only paid by countries and peoples they exploited on foreign shores, but increasingly that tide has come home meaning that so too do their voters pay the price, while the big players try to continue business as usual. One only has to take a look at the American Walton family to get the picture. Not the Walton family that everyone loves from to watch on their TV screen, but the Walton family that owns Walmart. With a net wealth of US$90 bn, at home that wealth is based on low wages for American employees. What hope is there then for the African countries they choose to ‘invest’ in?
Then there is Cargill, another American privately owned company – a global player in the agribusiness, the largest, that has been sued for the trafficking of children from the Ivory Coast on their cocoa plantations, and have caused serious deforestation for which they will not be held accoutable. Or SAB Miller, which bottles Coca Cola, and evades paying huge taxes outstanding to Africa and India. Or Standard Charter, a global finance company that made its initial wealth from British Colonies.
In 2012 theses giants can try business as usual, but the operative word is ‘try’!
Business as usual led to Mozambican food riots in 2010, and the recent Nigerin protests triggered by IMF (not ethnicity/religion) as expoused by the corporate and state media, but it has proven what people power can do. People have been there and done that – they are no longer to sit on the fence and starve, and see their children repeat the same desperate lifestyle in order to fill other coffers. When the price of bread in Mozambique rose to an unaffordable price, and it did not take long for the government to reduce the price. This was repeated globally in Summer 2010, when soaring food prices dropped globally for a period, because consumer spending decreased – we just accept the propaganda without connecting the dots.
Unlike Ethiopia, the winds of change has been blowing across Algeria, Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Libya (before his demise), and Mozambique to name a few have. That wind of change represents a steppping back from aid dependency. It his led to an upturn that the imperial West has not been willing to accept because aid has high returns in more ways than one. This process of weaning has led to increased tax revenues for a third of African countries, and even the ability to replce aid entirely with local resources for some countries – where aid equals US$41 per person, the African Economic Outlook 2011 reports an increase in US$441 per person in tax revenue.
However, this is only part of the picture.
With increased land grabs, and utilization of those lands grabbed for GM food production, and the kind of commercial farming that reduces land fertility whilst securing profits for the ‘investor’ greater battle ensues as exemplified by the COP17 Durban Climate talks.
Life goes on, and people under trying conditions will try to rise above the circumstances that seek to bind them. Examples of this exist with the women’s farming cooperatives in Mali, Sierra Leone, and Cameroon who put joy into their chosen steps towards sustainability.
The Peasants Way
The Peasants Way or La Via Campesina is the name of a grassroots NGO who will not lie down and roll over for corporations specialized in genetically engineered foods like Monsanto, Bayer, BASF, Syngenta, and Dupont. A 1.5 million strong NGO Via Campesina isfighting for food sovereignty, and the right to grow healthy food from local seeds, not GM seeds imposed upon them by these corporations.
La Via Campesina was formed in 1993 by peasants, small/medium-sized producers, the landless, rural women, indigenous peoples, rural youth and agricultural workers. It has been active in 70 countries including Africa with their focus on sustainable agro-ecology. Via Campesina argues the obvious, but we are too busy struggling with the noose we have put around our necks. They are:
- Food as a basic human right, and that food should be safe, nutritious, and culturally appropriate. Aid, land grab and ‘investors’ have been means to change the eating habits in favor of Western trade, the affect of which has been to devastate local markets, and related businesses.
- That agragarian reform is necessary, and that the land farmed should be owned by those who farm the land without discrimination.
- To guarantee food sovereignty, the natural resources should be protected, and that the people should have the right to farm in a sustainable manner that aids land fertility not compromise land fertility. Intellectual property rights should be restricted.
- The food trade should be reorganized, and that policies should prioritize domestic consumption for food security without allowing imports to compromise local production or inflate the prices of local production.
- The policies, and global institutions behind global hunger should end the means by which they do so using an enforced code of conduct.
- Freedom from violence should include not using food as a weapon of war.
- A people’s democracy where smallhold farmers have direct involvement in policies at all levels, which will improve good governance.
In others words, Via Campesina is doing what the UN and associates should be doing to ensure food security for all, but instead the UN and associates are ensuring food security, and alternative forms of energy for the few.
In 2008, Via Campesina held a regional meeting with 40 representatives from around Africa in Madagascar in a shared vision forming strategies that will overcome neo-liberal policies imposed from outside the continent. Those policies formed by the World Bank and IMF undermine local food production. Imposed commercial farming not only reduces land fertility, but excludes the small farmer. Instead, farmers are made oblidged to produce cash crops for transnational companies from which they do not benefit, and to buy food that they cannot afford from the global market. Instead the beneficiaries are the ‘investors/aid providers’, the agrobusiness corporations, and the trader/processor for there is also the issue of imposing production of raw materials only while external forces profit from the products from those raw materials.
Solving the problems of the world according to issues without looking at the base, is like a deck of cards waiting to collapse, and is the approach that global governance has taken for far too long. Without an intrinsic respect for all life, and all life forms, there can be no sustainable development becuase their is no guiding principle from which to build for every man, woman and child on our planet Earth. This disrespect casts a long shadow on all other activities, and it is one that both the people around the world (in ‘underdeveloped’, ‘developing’ and ‘developed’ countries), and our environment is crying from. Even the term “developed” is according to what and to whom. If cementing our roads, and reducing arable land is development, then we can see quite clearly where that has gotten us.
Musician Fela Anikulapo Kuti must be smiling in his grave now, as his fellow Nigerians begin to waken from a deep sleep.
“Unfortunately, in international cooperation – sorry, but self-interest seems to be the key driver. I say it’s unfortunates because that’s not sustainable. It may last a few years – ten years, twenty years, thirty years – but it will collapse. …
“Let’ find solutions that we can sustain together. So, that calls for a radical change in a relaxed mood, accepting responsibilities for the past and saying, “Well, we are where we are today because of what we did yesterday. What do we do today to make sure tomorrow will be different?”,,,
“We may only be the first to go; you will stay behind and follow us. You cannot destroy the environment in Africa and think you will be safe in Europe: The trees you are destroying in Africa to come and get nice furniture in Europe – it’s OK today, but tomorrow, when the Horn of Africa is desert, you’ll pay for it.
“In other words, let these polices become more open and more realistic. I am talking about changing our relationship, both horizontally and vertically. Horizontally … in Europe, in Africa and America. … We must be concerned about what happens somewhere else because we are in the same world.” – John Patrick Ngoyi, director of the Justice, Development and Peace Commission in Nigeria.
Baxter, J. “The War on Africa’s Family Farmers.” http://pambazuka.org/en/category/features/72302
“Community Cooperative Farms.” http://www.communitycooperativefarms.org/food-sovereignty-la-via-campesina
Gathigah, M. “Africa Begins to Rise Above Aid.” http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=106406
Wenzel, D. “Davos 2012: From Capitalism to Fascism.” http://www.wariscrime.com/2012/01/24/news/davos-2012-from-capitalism-to-fascism/