The Industrialization of African Agriculture: Answer to Hunger or Gateway to Violence?

Food First | 10.01.2010

The corporate rush to industrialize African agriculture is riding the coattails of the global food crisis. With help from big philanthropy and government aid, agribusiness giants are rapidly expanding their market power on the continent. An $8 million dollar project for soy production in Mozambique and Zambia between Cargill and Gates claims it will raise the income of 37,000 farmers by $200/year within four years. If the project works, that amounts to about $0.50/day per farmer or $7.4 million dollars—$600,000 less than the money they invested in the project in the first place. The soy will be used for biofuels and livestock feed. Basically a contract farming scheme, the project was launched at the Soy Innovations Africa Conference held at the Westin Grand in Capetown, South Africa.

Meanwhile, Mozambique has been rocked by food riots because people can’t afford bread, much less grain-fed meat or processed feed for their livestock. They don’t have cars to fill up with biofuels, either…

The Gates-Cargill soy project (like the Gates-Coca Cola fruit drink project and the Gates-Hershey-Kraft- Mars-ADM-Cargill Cocoa project) is just one of many partnerships between big philanthropy, corporate agribusiness, and government aid programs that are riding the food crisis investment trend. Reporting on a recent agricultural investment conference in Durban, Business Day of South Africa noted that investment projects in industrial agriculture were at unprecedented levels thanks to a “huge availability of funding for agricultural products through development finance institutions, private equity investments, pension funds and other investment vehicles.” This trend will likely continue because agricultural commodity prices are up and according to the FAO will remain high through 2019. Finessing public funds to feed the poor is big business, and as the Gates Foundation’s recent $23.1 million acquisition of Monsanto stock reveals, for those with money and influence, opportunities abound.

While the corporate colonization of African agriculture is carefully presented in the standard anti-hunger packaging of the Green Revolution, historically, industrial agriculture has left more poor and hungry people than it “saved.” As the Norwegian Development Fund’s latest report A Viable Food Future points out:

“As the social and environmental externalities of industrialized agriculture are being widely documented, it is increasingly realized that this agricultural model which seemed so promising will not be able to reduce hunger and poverty. In reality, industrial food production is highly damaging to human health, pollutes the soil, the water and the air, contributes to climate change, kills fauna and flora, and reduces biological diversity and the fertility of soils. In addition, there is a serious concern in the scientific community about this model being the crucible of potentially devastating pandemics. Industrial agriculture also has pushed millions of peasants into poverty and migration, and become the root of conflicts and unrest, while the economic system has failed to provide food for those who cannot afford to buy it or who lack access to resources to be able to produce food.”

The current corporate enclosure of African agriculture, far from ending hunger, may well unleash a continent-wide agrarian conflict with violent repercussions in both rural and urban Africa.

Also in this issue of News & Views: 

  • “Food deserts?” or corporate feeding troughs?
  • The U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance is Born!
  • The Food Commons: Building a National Network of Localized Food Systems

Featured image (top): Two children were shot dead and at least four more people were killed in clashes between police and rioters across Mozambique’s capital Maputo in protests over rising prices, police and hospital sources said. Photo by SignalFire