The corporate take-over of African food security and agricultural production

This op-ed appears on the Good Governance Africa website and is by Bill Moseley, professor and chair of the department of geography at Macalaster College.

 The corporate take-over of African food security and agricultural production

“Corporate interests have hijacked African food and agricultural policy. They are behind a new green revolution for the continent that is pushing a capital-intensive approach with farms, supply chains and expanding international markets. This approach is a step backward to concepts of food security prevalent in the 1960s and 1970s. As a result, Africans will remain hungry.

Up until the early 1980s, international experts had laboured under the misperception that sufficient food supply—a function of homegrown production and net imports—was equivalent to food security. As such, it was argued, the best way to fight hunger was to boost agricultural production, as exemplified by the green revolution. United Nations experts monitored food supply in relation to the caloric needs of a country—known as the food balance-sheet approach—and then assumed that all was well if the two sides were at least equal.

Amartya Sen’s 1981 publication, “Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation”, blew apart this food security idea. Mr Sen, winner of the 1998 Nobel prize in economics, argued that hunger was much more about inadequate financial and physical access to food than the market availability of sufficient quantities of food.

History is riddled with examples of the poor dying of hunger when food was plentiful. Classic amongst these is the famine which wracked the West African Sahel during the early 1970s. While people were dying of hunger in Senegal, Mali and Niger, peanuts—a key sauce ingredient and source of protein across the region—were being exported to Europe.

Mr Sen’s definition of food security, with its attention to access, dominated international food policy circles for about 15 years, from the late 1980s through the early 2000s. Then, after a 20-year hiatus, the global community’s attention shifted back to agriculture. The international consensus on “food security as access” shifted to a technocratic focus on food production as the best way to solve global, and especially African food insecurity.

Beginning in the mid-2000s, momentum started to build amongst donors, foundations and corporate allies for a new green revolution in Africa as the best way to address food insecurity. Building on the belief that the first green revolution (an international effort to bring hybrid seeds, fertilisers and pesticides to the South) had largely bypassed Africa, the idea was to launch a similar effort tailored to African crops and conditions. Gone was the emphasis on “access” to food.”


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