Saturday, March 26, 2011


Suman Sahai

Almost a billion people in Asia and Africa are plagued by hunger. The global firms pushing the “New Vision for Agriculture” have little to do with sustainable agriculture or solving the problem of hunger. Their goal is to corner resources like land and water as well as public sector finances and make these work to earn big profits for themselves

Seventeen corporations belonging to the consumer industries community of the World Economic Forum have announced their intention to enter the food business in the name of the poor. The alliance includes the world’s biggest life science corporations like Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont and BASF, the world’s largest food commodities traders like Archer Daniels Midland, Bunge and Cargill, processed food giants like Kraft Foods, Nestlé and PepsiCo, global retailers like Walmart and Metro in addition to diversified transnational corporations like SABMiller, Unilever, Yara International, Coca-Cola and General Mills.

These colossal entities that control the food chain starting from the genetically modified (GM) seed, fertilizer and pesticide to the grain and finally to the cakes and biscuits in large retail stores hope to become the saviours of global agriculture and the defenders of food security. Without a shred of embarrassment, they assert that their project works to “advance market-based solutions to agricultural sustainability”.

They call it the New Vision for Agriculture, and they have hijacked all the clichés of food security to portray their intent: “… over the past two years, food security and economic crises have highlighted both the urgent need and the potential for developing sustainable agricultural systems”. Or “Nearly one billion people — one out of six globally — lack access to adequate food and nutrition” . Their mantra to feed the 9 billion people expected to be on the planet by 2050 is to increase agricultural productivity through investment, innovation and the right policy framework! The sustainable agriculture growth they profess to initiate is to be achieved by market-based solutions.

It’s quite another matter that the poor are barely linked to the market except as consumers because they have nothing to sell and little means to buy with. The crisis of food is exemplified in India by the twin tragedies of rotting grain in buffer stocks and families suffering from endemic hunger. Almost a billion people in Asia and Africa are plagued by hunger even as large food stocks are traded in international markets by the very people who are the stewards of this New Vision of Agriculture, the Cargills, the Archer Daniel Midlands, the Bunges and so on.

The alliance claims that it seeks a “win-win” approach that leverages and multiplies each party’s investment. Revealed here is the real face of the New Vision for Agriculture, its corporate face that has little do with sustainable agriculture or solving the problem of hunger and malnutrition, but everything to do with cornering resources like land and water as well as public sector finances and make it work to earn big profits for themselves.

For instance, this New Vision for Agriculture has struck a deal in that part of Tanzania, (the south) which has bountiful water, good soils, favourable climate and a good infrastructure linked to regional and international markets. In short, ideal conditions for commercial agriculture. This is not the area that needs help because the conditions there are favourable anyway. It’s the sub-Saharan countries that need a leg up to improve agriculture, food security and nutrition but the New Vision for Agriculture is not going there.

What the New Vision proposes in Tanzania reads more like the land grab that is taking place all over Africa than any activity with the philanthropic intent of solving hunger. Land grabs are rampant in the favourable, fertile parts of Africa, where African governments and foreign corporations are striking unholy deals to corner large tracts of land belonging to small farmers. This is being leased out to produce food to be shipped out, not solve hunger at home.

By its own candid admission, the New Vision project proposes to involve itself only with profitable, modern commercial farming and agri-business. This too not everywhere but only in selected areas and only with crops with high market potential. According to current planning, the project leaders will identify “profitable, scalable agricultural and services businesses, with major benefits for smallholder farmers and local communities”. The politically correct categories of smallholder farmers and local communities are mentioned at appropriate places (although not too often). It is alleged the proposed projects will bring them major benefits, though how this will happen is not spelled out. The New Vision does not plan to establish anything in areas that require improvement but build only on existing operations mobilising and leveraging both public and private-sector investments into those opportunities that are viable. No talk here of investing in improving the viability of those units that are not so viable!

As part of their food security programme in Vietnam, the New Vision for Agriculture has made plans to develop coffee, tea, fish, fruit, vegetables and grain commodities for regional and global markets. A task force has been set up to oversee implementation. Members of the task force include Bunge, Metro, Cargill, Cisco, DuPont, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Monsanto and Unilever.

The current crop of New Visions and Alliances against Hunger look like con jobs. Curiously though, neither the crops selected to alleviate food insecurity nor the strategy to achieve this goal seems to strike the involved governments as the slightest bit incongruous. It says something about the state of affairs in the food domain that this in your face brazenness has not met with howls of protest from international agencies or national governments. On the contrary, even India, with its massive food security issues, is rushing to partner in this exercise. Shouldn’t we be doing something to stop this blatant exploitation? Isn’t anyone in any government thinking?

The writer is the Chief Editor of Gene News, published by the Gene Campaign Foundation

No comments:

Post a Comment