Who should control African agriculture? That’s the fundamental question underlying the World Development Movement’s (WDM) latest set of infographics. They show how we’re experiencing a corporate takeover of Africa’s agricultural systems similar to the colonial resource takeover of the past. And we all know how that went.
The recent interest and influx of corporations, investors, and OECD governments into the agricultural sector of Sub-Saharan African countries is seen as proof that Africa is in line to become the world’s next bread basket. Yes, African agriculture is developing – but external actors are focusing on the wrong kind of development.
It’s often argued that industrial agriculture, with it’s strong dependence on expensive chemicals and fertisilisers, will address food insecurity and poverty in the region. But the reality is that on the ground, small holders are, without a doubt, the ones who are feeding the majority of our people.
Sub-Saharan Africa is home to some 33 million smallholder farmers, most of whom are women. They work on less than two hectares of arable land, grow mainly subsistence crops, with one or two cash crops in addition, and rely almost exclusively on family labour.
Yet despite their crucial role, smallholders receive little of the agricultural investment coming into the continent and often little support from their own governments. Instead, major political players are enabling and encouraging the corporate influx into Africa.
Agribusiness corporations are also furiously pushing often unnecessary chemical pesticides and fertilisers onto African farmers and attempting to control African seed systems. Considering that 80 percent of all the food in Sub-Saharan Africa is produced by small-scale farmers, agribusiness is not a viable solution because it is too expensive, environmentally unfriendly and unsustainable.
African governments have another choice – ecological farming. Ecological farming not only raises yields, keeps money in the local economy, and increases resilience to climate change, but does so in a way that produces food that is healthy for people and the planet. Instead of giving up control of African agriculture to global corporations, African governments have the right and responsibility to support their own farmers to produce food for their communities while maintaining the value of Africa’s abundant natural resources.
So while the governments of Sub-Saharan Africa plan their growth, it is imperative they peg their development needs –food security, becoming an engine of innovation, and sustainability – on small-scale ecological farming. Policies and agricultural investment must support small-scale farmers to scale up ecological farming instead of padding the pockets of global corporations.