What the Monsanto-Bayer Merger Means for South Africa

This past December 2016, Monsanto shareholders agreed to the sale of their company to German Agro-chemical and seed company Bayer, for $66 million US Dollars. It will be the largest ever foreign corporate takeover in US history. The newly merged company will now control 29 percent of the world’s seed markets, and 24 percent of the world’s pesticide market. AGRA Watch partner The African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) with the support of the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung Foundation, has published a paper called, ‘The BAYER-MONSANTO merger: Implications for South Africa’s agricultural future and its smallholder farmers”, outlining the proposed merger.

ACB is headquartered in South Africa, where Bayer and Monsanto are major actors in the seed and agrochemical industries. This deal will require approval from about 30 regulatory agencies around the world, including the South Africa’s Competition Commission.

ACB explains how the Monsanto-Bayer merger is happening against the backdrop of other mega-mergers also consolidating the agrochemical and seed markets, including genetically modified seed markets. Six agro chemical giants will soon become three, as US chemical giants Dow and DuPont merge in a deal estimated to be worth US$130 billion, and China National Chemical Corporation (ChemChina) and Swiss-based Syngenta merge in a deal worth around US$43 billion.

According to the report, if all the mergers are approved, three corporations will control 60% of the global commercial seed market and 64% of the agrochemical market. The corporations will also be able to claim “too big to fail” status, setting the stage for future bailouts using public resources, and further reducing accountability and opportunities for democratic control of the food system.

ACB points out that these mergers will further push integration between seed and agrochemical market. It will restrict farmers’ choices about what crops they plant and what inputs they use. This model of production will deepen inequality, threaten the integrity of land and water resources, and decrease agricultural biodiversity.

With the full support of AGRA Watch, ACB calls on the South African Competition Commission to reject the merger. They also call of the South African government to rein in the power of corporations and to commit resources towards decentralised R&D in partnership with farmers and consumers for more democratic and sustainable agricultural development.

Download and read the full report PDF.



Ms Mariam Mayet: Director ACB mariam@acbio.org.za

Dr Stephen Greenberg: Research Co-ordinator ACB stephen@acbio.org.za

Mr Benjamin Luig: Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung Benjamin.Luig@rosalux.org


Anchor Farm Project: The Clinton Foundation’s Link to AGRA/BMGF

In light of the recent media spotlight on the Clinton Foundation, AGRA Watch investigated the relationship among the Clinton Foundation, AGRA, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF).


Report researched and compiled by Cate Abascal, AGRA Watch Intern, September 2015; Updated by Megumi Sugihara, AGRA Watch Member, September 2016

In light of the recent media spotlight on the Clinton Foundation, AGRA Watch investigated the relationship among the Clinton Foundation, AGRA, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). It was soon revealed that the Anchor Farm Project of the Clinton Development Initiative is a link between these three organizations. As our report illustrates, it is another push by BMGF to penetrate African agriculture.

Although Anchor Farms is the project of the Clinton Foundation’s Clinton Development Initiative (CDI), it is directly funded by the Gates Foundation’s subsidiary AGRA under the Soil Health Program for the stated purpose of “improving the productivity of maize and soya beans through integrated soil fertility management and better access to markets.” The project establishes large commercial farms, called “Anchor Farms”, in rural areas. At the farms, the Clinton Foundation staff trains local farmers in commercial farming practices and mediate loans between commercial banks and the farmers for the needed equipment and inputs. Continue reading “Anchor Farm Project: The Clinton Foundation’s Link to AGRA/BMGF”

Soil Fertility: Agro-Ecology and NOT the Green Revolution for Africa

Soil Fertility: Agro-Ecology and NOT the Green Revolution for AfricaIn mid July the African Center for Biodiversity(ABC) published Soil Fertility: Agro-Ecology and Not the Green Revolution for Africa, a comprehensive report on the consequences of the Green Revolution push in Africa, based on it’s fieldwork done in Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe over the last three years.The report asserts that the promotion of increased synthetic fertilizer use in Africa for enhancing soil fertility is a short term fix, and is actually harmful in the long term.

Interventions pushing for high tech solutions such as genetically modified seeds, increased pesticide use and increased use of synthetic fertilizers have been spearheaded by fertilizer g
iant Yara, and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa(AGRA), an initiative of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The ABC believes that, “the obsession with increasing adoption and uptake of synthetic fertilizers on the continent seems to be more about opening up fertilizer markets for multinational corporations, and stimulating commercial output markets than about identifying and responding to the specific needs of farmers in their socio-ecological context.”

Continue reading “Soil Fertility: Agro-Ecology and NOT the Green Revolution for Africa”

Bill Gates on the “Best Practices” for the Developing World

Pushing Pro-Business Policy Change by Funding a Pro-Business Ratings System

By Johanna Lundahl, AGRA Watch Intern

Bill Gates on the “Best Practices” for the Developing World
Bill Gates sits with World Bank President Jim Yong Kim on a panel at the World Bank Spring Meetings. Photo Credit: The World Bank

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation(BMGF) is a major donor to a World Bank affiliate known as Enabling the Business of Agriculture (EBA), a group that rates 40 developing countries on their policies that affect agriculture and agribusiness markets. The Oakland Institute, a partner of AGRA Watch, critiqued the connection in their April article, With a Little Help From Bill Gates, The World Bank Creates it’s Own Aid Conditionality. According to the EBA, it’s mission is “…identifying and monitoring regulations that negatively affect agriculture and agribusiness markets.” It frames these ratings as a way to encourage higher levels of food production, believing that this will combat world hunger, claiming that it’s encouraging countries to become more efficient, while “increasing market competitiveness and growth”. The Oakland Institute, as well as the UN disagree with this idea, understanding that hunger is not caused by insufficient food production.

Continue reading “Bill Gates on the “Best Practices” for the Developing World”

Control of Africa’s Seed

In an article titled “Is Africa about to Lose the Right to Her Seed?” Glenn Ashton discusses how the international seed industry is threatening Africa’s food security, agricultural integrity and traditional methods of seed saving. As Ashton explains, the World Bank, The American Seed Association, government agencies, philanthropists and biotech companies all aim “to create a harmonised system of control around the presently fragmented African seed trade regime and create a system based on what is projected as modern best practice.” However, this “system of harmonized control” includes Africa’s obligation to strictly adhere to the 1991 Act of the International Union for the Protection of Plant Varieties (UPOV). “Because of the stringency of UPOV, the real impact of this will be the loss of control of the seed supply by indigenous small farmers. The consequences for food production and social cohesion across the continent will be dire,” Ashton explains.

Although, organizations such as the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) suggest that new seeds being developed will be freely shared to benefit smallholder farmers, AGRAWatch contends that the reality of imposing restrictive, neo-colonial regulations on the heart of Africa’s agriculture will only perpetuate insecurity and conflict for peasant farmers.

For more information on Glenn Ashton’s piece, please visit The South African Civil Society Information Service.

The African Centre for Biosafety’s Latest Report on AGRA

In its newest report on AGRA, the African Centre for Biosafety considers AGRA’s work with seeds, specifically as a means for profit-making and for commercialization of agriculture. The report aims to look deeper into AGRA’s philosophy, as well as to look into specific programs including Africa’s Seed Systems (PASS) and its Soil Health Programme (SHP) to better determine AGRA’s long term goals. The report notes that some of the goals include “hybrid seed, biotechnology (including genetic modification), synthetic fertilisers, irrigation, credit provision and general commercialisation of agricultural production,” and analyzes how these goals will be implemented and practiced.

Read the ACB’s new report on AGRA here:


Donors and governments sidelining sustainable farming methods in the new ‘Green Revolution’ in Africa, Christian Aid warns in new report.

HEALTHY HARVESTS: The benefits of sustainable agriculture in Africa and Asia
A Christian Aid report, September 2011

Read the whole report here: http://www.christianaid.org.uk/images/Healthy-Harvests-Report.pdf

Executive Summary:

This report argues that smallholder farmers in Africa and Asia can improve agricultural productivity, food security and livelihoods by adopting sustainable approaches that utilize resource-conserving technologies and that draw upon their own knowledge.


Many thousands of communities in countries such as India, Cambodia, the Philippines, Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe and Kenya are already benefiting from sustainable farming but they need more support and, above all, these approaches need to be scaled up.




Seventy per cent of the world’s nearly 1 billion hungry people are smallholder farmers and the rural landless. Marginalised smallholder farmers have long been locked in a cycle of low productivity, lack of assets and services and weak market power. In addition, they face a number of newer challenges. Many crop and livestock producers are deeply vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Land degradation and groundwater depletion are increasingly posing a threat to food security and the livelihoods of rural people. Meanwhile, scope to expand agricultural production into new lands is increasingly limited, and competition for existing farmland is increasing too: from foreign investors, industry and urban developers. Rising food prices since the onset of the global food crisis of 2007 to 2008 have posed a further challenge to smallholder farmers who tend to be net food buyers and who also have to meet the costs of rising fertiliser prices.

This report asks the question: what kind of agriculture can address poverty and hunger in a world in which the climate is changing, food demand is growing and land, soil and water resources are increasingly under pressure; and in a way that preserves the natural resource base for future generations?


In recognition of the challenges facing agriculture, donors and governments have in recent years made welcome new political and financial commitments to smallholder farming, especially in Africa. However, as this report outlines, the solutions for Africa advocated by donors, governments and the initiatives of private foundations have tended to centre around the promotion of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, which are costly for farmers and very often resourcedepleting. This drive for a new ‘Green Revolution’ for Africa has tended to sideline more sustainable, farmer led approaches. For example, recent input-subsidy programmes in Africa have brought significant short-term benefits in certain cases, but they are looking increasingly unsustainable and risk sidelining investment in greener alternatives. And our research identifies concerns that the agro-dealer networks funded by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) are selling ever more quantities of agro-chemicals to farmers, thus marginalising the space for alternative approaches that are more sustainable.

The experience of Asia’s Green Revolution holds some very important lessons for policy-makers globally. There is no denying its achievement in lifting yields and reducing hunger, especially from the 1960s to 1980s. But this process of change began to stall in the 1990s and this is posing major challenges for Asian governments today. One cause is the heavy burden on the natural resource base of the widely-adopted, intensive monocropping system. Soil degradation has meant farmers have had to increase the quantity of fertiliser used in order to maintain their yields. This has in turn affected their profit margins and is one factor behind increasing levels of farmer debt. There have been a range of other serious consequences of the Asian Green Revolution (for example, the loss of on-farm biodiversity, social inequalities, and the dangerous effects of pesticides on the health of farmworkers), which should give governments more than a pause for thought.

We define sustainable agriculture as a way of producing food that balances the economic, social and environmental aspects of farming.

It is an approach that minimizes or avoids chemical inputs, uses resource-conserving technologies and materials available on the farm, and draws and builds upon the capacity of farmers and community organisations. These principles are already being successfully adopted by farming communities in Asia and Africa, including with the support of Christian Aid partners.

A growing body of evidence – both academic and data and analysis available from development programmes – demonstrates that such sustainable approaches can be highly effective in boosting production, incomes and food security; supporting soil and water conservation, on-farm biodiversity and crop health; improving resilience to natural disasters and climate change; lowering greenhouse gas emissions; and empowering communities. For example, in

Cambodia, the adoption of new growing techniques for rice, which minimise the use of agro-chemicals and water (known as the ‘system of rice intensification’) has helped increase yields for farmers from an average of 2.5 tonnes per hectare to 3.7 tonnes per hectare. In Zimbabwe, Christian Aid partners ZimPro and the Dabane Trust have assisted over 3,000 households to adopt conservation agriculture. This enabled farmers to increase significantly their yields of sorghum, millet and maize – helping to improve household food security. And in other countries, farmers have been able to cut back on pesticide use by adopting natural methods of tackling pests. This has delivered both income and health benefits.

However, these approaches remain severely under-supported. To scale them up governments and donors need to significantly re-balance their current focus on quick-fix, external input intensive ‘solutions’, towards a much greater support for sustainable, agro-ecological approaches. This should come through a re-balancing of government subsidies towards resource-conserving technologies and by building these approaches into revived public research and extension programmes that place smallholder farmers, their associations and networks at the centre of decisionmaking. National seed laws should primarily focus on promoting farmers’ rights and access to seeds of their own choosing, be they modern or local seed varieties. They should also enshrine the right of farmers to freely breed, conserve and exchange traditional varieties. Governments will also need to increase poor people’s access to land and smallholders’ security of tenure – both are important pre-requisites for rural food security and the adoption of sustainable agriculture. Governments need to encourage and harness the potential of the private sector to play a role in supporting sustainable farming, while also putting in place appropriate regulations, for example to ensure that private agro-dealers do not replace government extension service as a source of advice on inputs for farmers.

This must also be accompanied by initiatives that enable the creation of, and access to, markets that return fair prices for small-scale producers, and global trade policies that safeguard the position of domestic producers in national food systems.


Yes! Magazine features Fatou Batta, Burkina Faso farmer and AGRA Watch partner we held an event with in Seattle in May 2011

Women Farmers Feed the World

In West Africa, women’s resistance to the new Green Revolution shows that the question of agricultural sustainability is also a question of equality.

By Christa Hillstrom


It’s harvest season in Burkina Faso. Throughout the West African nation’s rural regions, small farmers—mostly women—are harvesting millet, rice, and sorghum to feed large families. After a full day gathering grains, each wife will continue the work, tending her own small garden to feed her children.

The harvest marks the end of the “lean season,” the dangerous months after the year’s food supply has dwindled and the next crops have not yet arrived—a time that leaves many women foraging for their children.

West Africa—and much of the rest of the world—is facing a food crisis. Nearly one billion people are hungry, according to the World Hunger Education Service, and farmers throughout the Global South are experiencing escalating anxiety over the appropriation and control of land, seeds, and farming techniques by foreign governments and corporations—manifested in “land-grabbing,” seed monopolization, genetic modification, and the imposition of high-tech, water-, chemical-, and energy-intensive monocrops.

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) is a Gates Foundation-funded initiative based in Nairobi and spearheaded by Kofi Annan, former secretary general of the U.N. It’s a multimillion-dollar project that seeks to increase food production in Africa by implementing vigorous Western-style agricultural techniques, promising high-yield results for food-insecure populations.

According to the Gates Foundation and other supporters, it’s an African-led endeavor, modeled on the previous Green Revolutions of Latin America and the Indian sub-continent but placed in the hands of Africans. It sounds like a good idea.

But a growing movement of local farmers—largely led by women—argue that the surest path to food security is securing food sovereignty. It’s a concept that was put forward in the early 90’s by Via Campesina, an international alliance of peasant, indigenous, and women’s organizations that advocates for communities’ control over how food is produced, and who gets to eat it.

The original Green Revolution, beginning in the 1940’s, pushed widespread use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and equipment whose expense was out of reach for most peasant farmers. Critics point out that years of water-intensive farming has depleted water tables, while increased use of chemicals has severely damaged soil in some areas. And while new seeds and tools may bring higher production in the short term, many Africans fear the consolidated control corporations exercise over the food supply, the precarious dependence on large amounts of water and energy inputs, and the environmental toll such methods may eventually take.

The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), sponsored by the U.N. and published in 2009, found that the adoption of agrochemicals and monocropping, among other technologies, have harmed more than the land. They’ve also hurt local communities and economies, benefiting transnational corporations with “near-total control” of food production.

Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, lead author of the IAASTD report, emphasizes instead the importance of agroecological farming, an approach that supports localized farming and draws on traditional agricultural knowledge. It not only considers productivity, sustainability, and resilience, but also equity.

This is good news for women. Women, according to Ishii-Eiteman, make up a huge percentage of the world’s small food producers (who, she says, together grow about 70 percent of the food supply). They do the most to get food on the table, and they’re usually the last to eat it.

Fatou Batta works with Groundswell International, an organization that partners with small-farmer groups across the world, including in Burkina Faso. She’s helping to lead a broad grassroots alliance that shows that small farmers‚ and especially women, can feed the world if we give them the resources to control their food, and the right to eat it too.


Fatou Batta photo courtesy of Groundswell International

Fatou Batta.

Photo courtesy of Groundswell International.

Christa Hillstrom: Let’s talk about food sovereignty. How do people in West Africa understand this concept?

Fatou Batta: In our context, it is related to the type of food we want to eat and produce, and having the ability to produce what we eat. It seems that in the U.S., food justice is much better understood than food sovereignty.  But in our context, controlling the production of what we eat is key—not just get something that is imposed.

Christa Hillstrom: You talk about equity—economic equity, gender equity—as a key ingredient of sovereignty. I think a lot of people don’t think equity when they think about food security. They think of resilience, sustainability, and high yields. Why is it important to include equity in building long-term security in food production? How does that bring women into the picture?

Fatou Batta: First of all, it’s a question of rights. Women are key in producing food. They are working on the farm, they’re producing through labor, and when it comes to using food, they are the last ones to be able to eat it. It’s important to make sure those who contribute to producing the food also have access to eat equitably. In the family, usually males have the right to eat first. I think it’s unfair. It’s discrimination. So if we’re talking about the right to food, we have to be looking at the gender imbalance.

Christa Hillstrom: Could you give an idea of what it’s like to be a woman farmer in West Africa?

Fatou Batta: The way it works is, there is land for the whole family. On that land, it’s the head of household—the man—who manages it. But the labor is largely produced by the women and children. In many places in Burkina, the woman has a small plot of land with which to produce something like okra because she has the responsibility of feeding the family using extra ingredients. The whole family produces staples like millet and sorghum. But they still have to make some type of sauce—like a soup with vegetables. This is the responsibility of individual women.

Christa Hillstrom: So each wife is producing for her own children.

Fatou Batta: Yes. And usually her plot of land is completely depleted and will not yield much. During the rainy season, she will go in the morning and work with the husband and children [and other wives] on the large plot of land, the land for the whole family. She will spend almost the whole day there. The time for her own plot would be in the afternoon when the sun goes down. After the work on the large family land, she will go to her own land to work there before she goes back home, and—after collecting firewood—cook for the whole family. The work burden on her is large.

Seasons of Hunger

Christa Hillstrom: You mentioned the lean season, when women must often forage to feed their children because stores from the harvest have run out.

Fatou Batta: From the harvest, which occurs between October and November, until February or March, people usually have something to eat. But from March until the next planting period, this is the hardest part: The food is finished and it’s hard to feed everybody. This is the time we call the hunger season. It could last five, six, or seven months. One family may run out of food after just three months, meaning that for the next nine months they are food insecure.

Christa Hillstrom: So into this situation comes a new push toward an African Green Revolution. What do farmers think about this?

Fatou Batta: The Green Revolution requires using a lot of water. What will happen in case of a drought? Farmers believe it’s better for them to go from what they know, what they have been using for years. They still have in mind what happened in Asia and Latin America with the Green Revolutions there, and they see it as something they cannot control—they fear dependence on all of these pesticides, chemicals, and imports.

Traditionally, farmers control their own seeds—and share them. Women are the keepers of those seeds. But with AGRA, all of this is going to be out of the farmers’ control. This is why we are doing this whole campaign, saying, “We are the solution.” The solution cannot come from elsewhere. It’s already there.

Christa Hillstrom: Supporters of the Green Revolution technologies argue, you have these dangerous lean seasons, and these new seeds can produce more food to eliminate hunger. What do local people say to that?

Women are those who store the seeds and can protect traditional seeds. If you take their seeds, it’s like you’re taking their soul away.

Fatou Batta: First of all, it’s not yet evident the new seed will produce. It’s dependent on fertilizer, pesticide, and new technologies. Plus, here people rely on the rainfall—there is no irrigation. If you cannot control the water, what will happen if you apply the chemical fertilizer and then there is no rain? You could lose everything. So even if these new seeds can double the yield, there are some necessary environmental conditions that are not always met.

Plus there’s the cost. Most small farmers cannot afford chemical fertilizers and pesticides because it’s very expensive. But farmers have a way of selecting traditional seeds to see which ones are really performing, knowledge that has come down through generations. They do their own selection of what seeds are really good for what context and what seeds can be resilient to drought.

So we all agree that it’s important to increase productivity, but there are some necessary conditions to make it environmentally sustainable.

Seed / Money

If you don’t have control of your life, it’s like you are lying on someone’s mat and at any moment you can be thrown away.

Christa Hillstrom: It seems like seeds are much more than just tools for food production. What role do they play in culture?

Fatou Batta: Women are those who store the seeds and can protect traditional seeds. If you take their seeds, it’s like you’re taking their soul away. Whatever improved seed you give them, they will still keep the traditional seed because it reflects their culture. They don’t want to get rid of it. Under the Green Revolution, it’s something that might no longer exist.

Christa Hillstrom: It sounds like this culture of commodity from outside is invading something on a spiritual level—companies come in and patent seeds, take ownership of them, and it kills something.

Fatou Batta: Yes, it kills something. In terms of culture, it kills something. In terms of local knowledge, it kills something. Putting farmers in debt because they depend on a corporation, in our culture, is like you lie down on the mat of someone. That’s a cultural image. If you don’t have control of your life, it’s like you are lying on someone’s mat and at any moment you can be thrown away.

Christa Hillstrom: You’ve said that women who are illiterate may feel like they don’t have much to teach, but these are also the women with the traditional knowledge and farming experience that we’ll need in coming times. What’s an example of that knowledge?

Fatou Batta: Because women are central to food security, they have developed strategies to feed their families in case of things like crop failure. They collect firewood, and they know what is in the bush, what types of species. They learn what can and cannot be consumed. When there is hardship, they will go back to the bush to collect what can be consumed—some leaves, some roots, some fruit.

The shea nut tree is a bank for women. It takes a long time to grow, and they use the nuts to make butter. Traditionally, that’s a main source of fat. The shea nut butter is also medicinal, and the nut can be sold for money. It is a coping mechanism during the lean season. When the rain starts, during planting time, the food in the family is usually gone. But in the bush the shea nut fruit is ready and they can eat it.

What we’ve observed happening now is that through all this technology imported with the Green Revolution, large areas of land are being converted to cash cropping. They cut down the trees and destroy vegetation. This means that women are losing their back-up sources of income and food. Some of the species don’t exist anymore in some parts of the country.

An Alliance for a Farmers’ Revolution in Africa

Christa Hillstrom: Traditional coping knowledge is critical to hang on to. How are local people—many of them illiterate—preserving and sharing strategies that go against the grain of agricultural principles of monocropping, genetic modification, and chemical farming, especially if they’re not writing it down?

Fatou Batta: What is being done is through exchange visits. Groups of women visit each other and share their knowledge about using natural resources and techniques. They bring ideas back and try them through experimentation. You visit one farmer who experiences similar problems and difficulties, and she has tried something that really succeeded. You bring it home and learn from it.

Christa Hillstrom: Sounds like “We are the Solution” could be a transformative campaign, if it can survive what it’s up against. What sort of support do you need to give the small farmer movement a real shot at flourishing?

Fatou Batta: I think it requires alliances—getting together and developing advocacy and also making pressure on our leaders. We need to say it’s important to invest more in sustainable technologies. Because of the activists nowadays, the debate is happening within the farmer network, and they’re trying to hold our leaders accountable.

Christa Hillstrom: So what gives you hope that it can really take root?

Fatou Batta: What is still working is the bond, the relation between people and communities—the solidarity.

Christa Hillstrom: Whose face do you see when you look at the big picture?


Woman Farmer in West Africa photo courtesy of Groundswell International

Photo courtesy of Groundswell International.

Fatou Batta: Many, many, many cases: A lady whose husband migrated and left her with six children to feed. But the land her husband’s family gave her was not good land. That’s normal—women get land that’s not good land, completely degraded. Then they work to improve it. She worked hard. She improved her land based on techniques she learned from one of Groundswell’s partners, a local organization that trained her on how to improve the land using some organic manure, etc. The first years were hard, but finally she was able to produce, and now she is completely self-sufficient.

Christa Hillstrom: What would you like to say to the powerful proponents of AGRA?

Fatou Batta: The willingness to feed the poor is good. But the strategy is not a good one. It’s completely the opposite of what can work. Just listen, really listen, to small-scale farmers—because they are the ones who feed the world.

Footloose Farmers

The past few decades have witnessed changing agricultural labor dynamics in the Global South. Beginning in the 1980s, during an era of giddy faith in Reganomics, international lending agencies and western governments began pressuring and cajoling many African nations into structural adjustment programs. These programs, aimed to foster agricultural development and economic growth, were predicated on a certain model of agriculture, certain hallowed criteria: African agriculture must follow the path of the United States  and other developed nations; it must be rationalized, industrialized, and the state’s apron strings must be cut (shameless hypocrisy in the face of massive production and export subsidies for farmers in the U.S. and Europe).The result was the promotion of large-scale, market-oriented, chemical-dependent, and capital-intensive agriculture and the denigration of subsistence farming. In many areas this forced rural farming communities to adapt their livelihoods and become more ‘flexible’ with their labor.

Although the consequences of the first  Green Revolution  and structural adjustment have taken different forms in different parts of Africa, in general farmers and laborers have been uprooted and forced into labor mobility. No longer able to survive in one place, these people must migrate, traveling to cities during the off-season for additional income or hired temporarily by contractors to work on large farms just so that they can hold onto their own land, homes, and sense of place.

This phenomenon has been termed ‘footloose farming’ because, under the pressures mentioned above, farming—traditionally a livelihood intimately bound to a patch of earth, literally grounded in the soil—requires migration. For the most part it is men who migrate, unencumbered with child-care and ‘free’ to roam. It is a double-edged sword, for although migration can be relatively lucrative, it leaves whole villages without men and destabilizes rural communities. Furthermore, large, capitalist farming enterprises benefit from this situation as a migratory workforce faces greater obstacles in resisting exploitation; it lacks the time, social networks, and leadership required to muster the collective bargaining power to improve labor conditions.

One can argue that this socially destructive phenomenon of footloose farmers is not just an unfortunate side effect of western-imposed agricultural change in Africa (and indeed many other parts of the Global South), but a core piece of a dominant development ideology that devalues food sovereignty and community cohesion, tossing these aside for the sake of blind inequitable growth.

In several ways the approach of AGRA (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa) to agricultural growth is likely to exacerbate the phenomenon of ‘footloose farming.’ Why is this so? AGRA, as its name suggests, operates within the same paradigm of the original Green Revolution. Its focus is on high-tech (and thus capital-intensive and market oriented) farming. If the historical effects of this approach are anything to go by, AGRA’s efforts will only continue this deleterious trend of dispossession. Although the Alliance’s public rhetoric purports to encourage small-holder farming and empower women farmers, internal conversations reveal a hidden ideology. One of AGRA’s primary patrons, the Gates Foundation, subscribes to a ‘theory of change’ that admits to promoting a type of agricultural development that will push ‘inefficient’ farmers who are not market-oriented off their land, a process the Foundation euphemistically describes as ‘land mobility:’

‘In order to transition agriculture from the current situation of low investment, low productivity and low returns to a market-oriented, highly-productive system, it is essential that supply (productivity) and demand (market access) expand together… [this] involves market-oriented farmers operating profitable farms that generate enough income to sustain their rise out of poverty. Over time, this will require some degree of land mobility and a lower percentage of total employment involved in direct agricultural production (Gates Foundation 2008).’

The forces that lead to footloose farming and land mobility are threats to the larger question of food sovereignty. Defined by La Via Campesina, a global movement of peasant farmers, as ‘the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through sustainable methods and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems,’ food sovereignty stands in opposition to AGRA and other high-tech, foreign-imposed approaches to farming. It stands in opposition to a form of inequitable and short-sighted ‘growth’ that cleaves farmers from fields, people from place.


By Find Your Feet
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