The African Center for Biosafety has published a telling report on just how lucrative African countries are for Big Ag and chemical companies alike and their chemical, GMO technologies.
The report starts out:
“In the 16th and 17th centuries Europeans believed that somewhere in the New World there was a lost city, a place of immense wealth, known as El Dorado. In his 1849 poem, writer Edgar Allan Poe offers a suggestion as to the whereabouts of this lost city of gold. . .”
It seems Big Ag has found it in Africa. The ‘farm-to-fork’ industry there is worth more than $400 billion, and the middle class is growing. A single retailer – Shoprite – owns 34% of the entire continents’ supermarket retail market.
Furthermore, 7 of the 10 agribusiness giants (Pioneer Food Group, Tiger Foods, Astral Foods, Clover Group, AFGRI, Illovo Sugar, and Tongaat Hulett) are heavily influenced by the South Africa government-owned Public Investment Corporation (PIC), which is responsible for managing the South African Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF), the Unemployment Insurance FUND (UIF), and the Compensation Commissioner’s Fund.
Agribusiness companies gain enormous benefit from access to private capitol even though they are entrenched in public policy making. They have well-established distribution chains and receive indirect subsidies from government entities. You can guess exactly which agricultural model they use to promote business – one which includes GMOs and the use of tons of pesticides and herbicides in order to grow genetically altered crops.
What’s more is that during periods of ‘food crisis, which are likely created just like a panic on Wall Street, these retailers often raise food prices considerably. While food ‘shortages’ can buffer the claims that biotech has offered – that the world needs more GMOs to feed us all – these shortages are merely manufactured.
Oxfam says that there is plenty of food to feed the world, even as it grows into the 10 billion range; it is just a matter of distribution. In fact, we produce 17% more food today than we did 30 years ago. The ‘claim’ of food shortages are like the claims of shrinking water supplies and the lack of land – it is who owns these resources and how they are distributed that really makes a difference in eliminating global hunger and thirst.
“According to the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) the prices of maize and wheat almost doubled from 2003 to 2008, while prices of rice tripled in just a few months in early 2008 (Headey 2010). This dramatic development draws attention to the vulnerability of the global food supply and to the large regional differences in food security and food sovereignty.”
The way the agribusiness model is set up, the consumer is the last person on the food-chain to have any input into how their food is grown. First comes input form the agricultural industry itself, then from the producers, then the processors, next come the retailers input, and finally, if there is anything left to argue – the consumers get to put their two cents in.
While an increase in spending in the consumer markets is driving agribusiness, with an expectation of Africa’s top 18 cities having the spending power of US $1.3 trillion by 2030, African farmers are being forced to grow ‘commodity crops’ that are often genetically modified by nature.
The access to land and the ownership of it is becoming increasingly difficult for anyone other than a Big Ag business. This is true in Africa as well as other parts of the world.
There has also been an unprecedented land grab in Africa by foreign countries in the past two decades, driven by fears of food insecurity and diminishing water supplies. For example, China, South Korea, Singapore, India, Malaysia, and even U.S. multi-national companies have scooped up farmland in order to have control over crop growth and the kinds of crops grown. That, or the farmland was scooped up based on their ability to trade food goods based on restrictive export laws.
While it is true that Africa has over 300 million hectares of arable land – little of it is left for local farmers to grow sustainably. The rest of the land is forested or protected for wildlife.
Furthermore, many African countries do not have well-established legal protection, and some have no capacity whatsoever to protect traditional land rights for indigenous peoples. It should also come as no surprise as to who the top foreign countries are that assert their influence over these fragile countries:
BASF, Dow Chemical, Bayer, Dupont, and Linde Group give the most input as to how agri-business will transpire in Africa.
Global Land Project says:
“Although foreign nationalities have been engaged in agriculture in Africa for many years, the scale of the business has increased dramatically in recent years.”
You can learn more about the biotech land-grab in Africa here.
It is clear, with these companies’ track records, that they are looking for gold, but they pose an enormous threat to the agricultural well being of the continent. Their lust for agribusiness treasure could leave the world reeling from biotech fallout.
Christina Sarich is a humanitarian and freelance writer helping you to Wake up Your Sleepy Little Head, and See the Big Picture. Her blog is Yoga for the New World. Her latest book is Pharma Sutra: Healing the Body And Mind Through the Art of Yoga.