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The Disadvantages of Neoliberal Agricultural Modernization in Africa

The struggle of India’s peasants continues against the agreements concluded by governments for decades, which ultimately lead to the domination of foreign companies and major traders over the market and monopolizing seed prices.

 In Africa, farmers also revolt annually against the American (AGRA) agreement, which placed the agricultural sector in the families of companies producing “genetically modified” seeds.

 In many West African countries, farmers are forced to buy expensive seeds and pesticides by taking out loans and working tirelessly with their families in the fields for months. A large portion of the money earned goes to debt service to multinational companies that mainly deal with AGRA funded by the Bill Gates Foundation. AGRA is sold as a charity – a supportive platform for improving agricultural products, supporting local farm owners and small agricultural labor.  But the massive investments spent in promoting and supporting commercial seeds and agro-chemicals across Africa have failed to achieve the goal of alleviating hunger and lifting small farmers out of poverty. AGRA raised nearly $2 billion in donations and disbursed $3 million, primarily to programs promoting the use of commercial genetically modified seeds, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides. The AGRA did not provide any comprehensive assessment or reporting on their effects, although the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution at its 53rd session on the Convention on Biological Diversity in 1997 calling for: “Organizations to use scientific analysis to closely study and monitor the development of new technologies to prevent potential adverse impacts on the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity that may have an impact on farmers and local communities.”

Many farmers are unable to deal with the danger of “genetically modified” seeds, admitting that they have fallen into a trap that the authorities have helped the Gates Foundation set.

Even if there are some mentors following the government, most of them are technicians who promote what the major “foreign” companies market for seeds and in turn try to convince the farmers to buy them too. This is why agricultural policies on the part of the state serve the companies and the only loser is the farmer, as the local seed varieties are lost. That was the central reason for the conversion of government seed stores into warehouses for “multinational” companies. This is why the African farmer faces a difficult future dealing with the shortcomings of hybrid seeds – things like their requirements for medicines and increased waterings.

According to what I have read on this subject, the genetically modified seeds gradually lose their immunity to diseases in a “certain climate” because the hybridization process itself focused on resistance against only 1 or 2 diseases, and thus plants become require more water, drugs and pesticides – which is expensive for small farmers. Because “multinational” companies think only about the quantity of seeds they export, not the quality the whole process is run for profit.

Of course, the quantities of medicine purchased will increase because the same companies that sell seeds sell the medicines – and the pesticides. Because there is no national strategy to protect local seed varieties, the exploitation of farmers continues. What makes matters worse is that there are comprador lobbies that press towards supplying many varieties of local seeds.

Round Up glyphosate is the most widely used pesticide in Africa and was commercially released by the American company Monsanto. Much research over the decades has found that glyphosate mimics chemicals that cause oxidation which can interfere with hormones in the body, causing problems with growth and reproduction in addition to impaired function of the brain and the immune system. Largely on the links between glyphosate and cancer, especially non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) in 2016, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as a potential human carcinogen. Despite concerns about glyphosate’s effects on human health, AGRA defends the safety of the chemical in pesticides. There have been thousands of lawsuits against Monsanto.

The insecticide “chlorpyrifos” was also introduced by Dow Chemical and was widely used in agricultural environments in Africa.  Known as the active ingredient in the brand names Dursban and Lorsban, it is an organic phosphate insecticide, acaricide and acaricide used on a variety of crops including apples, oranges, strawberries, corn, wheat, citrus fruits and other foods that families and their children eat daily.  Unfortunately, chlorpyrifos remains on citrus fruits and melons, even after washing and peeling them.  By volume, in corn and soybeans.

The other disastrous thing is the displacement of many nutritious, climate-resistant crops due to the expansion of subsidized crops such as maize (grown from genetically modified seeds from Monsanto). Even in African countries where maize production has increased, incomes and food security for the presumed beneficiaries of the AGRA rarely improve: for small farmer families  in Rwanda, for example, maize yields have grown by 70%. Meanwhile, in the same time period, the number of undernourished people increased by 15%. The data indicates weak overall improvements in productivity across staple crops as farmers abandon more nutritious local crops to grow genetically corn.

Former Rwandan Agriculture Minister, Agnes Matilda Kalipata, now chairs the AGRA and was recently appointed to lead the planned UN World Food Summit in 2021. Despite the organization’s promise to help millions of smallholder farmers, many of whom are women, there is no evidence that AGRA is reaching a large number of them.  While some medium-sized farms may see productivity improvements, these are mostly male farmers with access to land, resources and markets.

The lack of progress towards improving conditions of poverty and hunger is not surprising to the many left-wing organizations and movements calling for agriculture and food sovereignty in Africa that opposed the neo-colonial logic of the Bill Gates Foundation and the US AGRA whose policies have led to deteriorating soil health, loss of agricultural biodiversity, and loss of sovereignty.  For African farmers on their lands, this system was not designed in their interests, but to achieve profits mostly from multinational companies. Africans do not need unaccountable US and European agro-chemical and seed companies. Rather we need justice in global trade, finance and debt to reshape Africa’s position in the global economy. This would give us space to build our future in a democratic, grassroots, participatory manner. The Gates Foundation’s agricultural development approach to building markets for commodity crops with large and broader inputs places it in contradiction with emerging thinking about how best to deal with the volatile conditions caused by the dual crises of climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. Africa would be better off without AGRA and its modern colonial logic.

Most of Africa’s agricultural and food systems are manufactured today by a group of actors: philanthropic capitalists, aid agencies, governments, and western academic institutions that talk about developing agriculture on the continent. What they are actually doing is creating a consumer market for their benefit – formulated with clever and pleasant language. We are told that our indigenous seeds are old and have little hope of being able provide us with food and must be hybridized and genetically modified to use.  We were told that what we need is more calories and we should focus on the seeds of a few crops. We are told that we are not using our land effectively and should be given to those who can do better on it.  We are told that our knowledge of agriculture is backward and that we need to update with knowledge from the West.  We are told, we need a business to invest billions of dollars, and without these saviors from the West, we cannot feed ourselves.  Our world is defined simply by producing more, not obtaining healthy, nutritious and culturally appropriate food that is produced without harming the environment. In the present day, what were self-sufficient African countries up until the 1980s now find themselves importing 95% of their agricultural needs.

 “Peasants in Africa have stopped production because they have no power to buy what they produce”

Thomas Sankara

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Kribsoo Diallo is a Cairo-based Pan-Africanist researcher in political science related to African affairs. He has written for many African magazines and newspapers, and Diallo has contributed to translated editions of papers and articles in Arabic and English for several research centers within the African continent.

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