A member of the Rural Women’s Farmers Association of Ghana RUWFAG hanging corn to preserve the seeds for sowing near Lawra, Ghana. (Photo: Global Justice Now / flickr / CC BY 2.0)
“We, the small holder farmers, want to have good lives,” says Victoria Adongo from the Peasant Farmers’ Association of Ghana. “We have our seed systems that we like and are proud of. So we do not want multinational companies to come in and take over.”
Not only can agroecology increase Africa’s farming yields, unlike corporate-led farming, it can help farmers control their land, seeds and livelihoods, and build resilient local economies.
Adongo, speaking in Global Justice Now’s new short film— Whoever Controls Seeds, Controls the Food System—launched this week, is explaining what could be at stake if Ghana’s parliament passes new seed laws backed by G8 governments. Traditionally, Ghana’s farmers have saved, swapped and bred seeds to suit their local conditions over generations. Yet the proposed Plant Breeders Bill would give corporations control over new kinds of seeds. Farmers would be restricted from saving and swapping them, and many who buy them would end up in debt. Meanwhile, traditional seed varieties could be lost forever.
Ghana’s Plant Breeders Bill (often referred to as ‘the Monsanto law’) is just one of the many new laws being pushed by the G8’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition across ten African countries. In return for aid and investment, African governments are reforming laws to help big businesses like Monsanto and Unilever access land, push corporate seeds and control markets in the name of tackling hunger and poverty. Yet the Peasant Farmers’ Association of Ghana are one of nearly a hundred farmer and campaign groups around the world to renew their call this week to governments to end their support for the initiative. The call comes at the same time as the politicians and agribusiness representatives come together for a secretive meeting of the New Alliance in Cape Town ahead of the G8’s Leadership Council at the beginning of June. The groups claim that the New Alliance and other programs “facilitate the grabbing of land and other natural resources, further marginalize small-scale producers, and undermine the right to adequate food and nutrition.”
In stark contrast to the fanfare with which the New Alliance was launched in 2012, G8 countries including the US and the UK have gone notably quiet on their support for the initiative in the last year. With reports of the farming communities being hit hard by new laws and corporate investments associated with the initiative, it seems the G8 are more cautious to sing its praises. In January, a report co-published by Global Justice Now exposed how farmers in Nigeria’s Taraba State are resisting a land grab by US company Dominion Farms. As part of Nigeria’s New Alliance agreement backed by the US and UK governments, Dominion Farms are planning to establish a 30,000 hectare rice plantation that will displace farmers who have worked the land for generations. The community has yet to receive any proposals for compensation or resettlement.
Then in March, Action Aid released a report detailing the impacts of a New Alliance-backed investment by EcoEnergy on communities in Bagamoyo, Tanzania. EcoEnergy project has been held up as a flagship investor under the New Alliance and the G8-backed Southern Agricultural Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT), a scheme to help corporations including Monsanto, Unilever and Nestle access resources across 350,000 hectares of prime farming land. With land grabs under fire from farmers and NGOs, G8 states have been keen to champion outgrower schemes like EcoEnergy’s that contract farmers to grow produce for corporate processing and export instead of buying up land directly. Yet Action Aid’s report shows that farmers working on the scheme are being pushed into dangerous levels of debt and the company appears to have vastly over-estimated its financial benefit to the local population. Meanwhile, farmers who have been displaced by the scheme are getting little choice in where they are resettled.
All this follows three years in which the New Alliance has struggled to show its positive impact. The program’s latest progress report didn’t indicate any impact on poverty or food security, and highlighted that many corporations were failing to report on their benefits for local communities. In May, the UK’s Independent Commission for Aid Impact claimed that programs including the New Alliance “can serve as little more than a means of promotion for the companies involved and a chance to increase their influence in policy debates.” In other words, the £600 million of aid money that the UK has poured into the New Alliance has been spent subsidising the publicity campaigns of the multinational corporations involved in the scheme.
Yet with the case against the New Alliance strengthening, the looming threat of Ghana’s seed law shows that, without action, the program will continue to hit farmers hard. Global Justice Now is among many voices calling on our governments for a radical change in the way we support better food systems. Small-scale farmers are the main investors in African farms, and feed 70% of the continent. Our recent report—From the Roots Up: How Agroecology Can Feed Africa—shows how with the right support, these farmers can use their own solutions to sustainably feed their communities, free from corporate control. Not only can agroecology increase Africa’s farming yields, unlike corporate-led farming, it can help farmers control their land, seeds and livelihoods, and build resilient local economies. The New Alliance is on shaky ground – it’s time to call for change.