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African leaders renege on pledge to support small farmers

(GIN) — Ten years after 53 African Union countries pledged to invest in their farmers and break the cycle of food insecurity, only seven countries have fulfilled their pledge.

At a meeting in Maputo, Mozambique, 53 African heads of state agreed in 2003 to allocate at least 10 percent of their national budgets to agriculture and livestock by July 2008. Now only seven countries — Burkina Faso, Niger, Guinea, Senegal, Mali, Malawi and Ethiopia — have reached that target.

Many countries, such as Nigeria, Guinea-Bissau and the Democratic Republic of Congo, devote less than three percent of their national budgets to investment in agriculture. This is despite the fact that small-scale farmers represent more than 80 percent of their populations.

Meanwhile, the U.S. sponsored initiative New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, which is intended to lift the poor out of poverty is instead leading to land grabs by large corporations, according to critics.

New rules under the initiative require African farmers to buy their seeds — including genetically modified seeds — from multinational grain, seed and fertilizer companies, rather than use the cheaper local varieties they’ve used for years.

“The new alliance prioritizes unprecedented access for multinational companies to resources in Africa,” writes activist Kirtana Chandrasekaran with Friends of the Earth. “To access cash under the initiative, African governments have to make far-reaching changes to their land, seed and farming policies.”

She adds, “Mozambique, for example, is committed to ‘systematically ceasing to distribute free and unimproved (non-commercial) seeds to farmers except in emergencies.’

“The new alliance will lock poor farmers into buying increasingly expensive seeds, including genetically modified seeds, allow corporate monopolies in seed selling and escalate the loss of precious genetic diversity in seeds — absolutely key in the fight against hunger.

“Already, under the guise of helping to fight poor nutrition in Africa, genetically engineered bananas and cassava are being tested, despite concern about their impacts and the existence of better conventional varieties.”

Chandrasekaran says some countries have been asked to speed up the takeover of land by foreign investors. Ethiopia will refine land law, if necessary, to encourage long-term land leasing, and companies are asking for up to 12.35 thousand acres of land in the Ivory Coast, she adds.

Countless studies show large-scale land acquisitions and leases destroy the livelihoods and food security of thousands of communities.

Cameroon may be reconsidering a proposed palm oil plantation by the U.S.-based Herakles Capital, which would be 10 times the size of Manhattan. Environmental groups, including Greenpeace and World Wildlife Fund, say the project violates Cameroon’s laws and could endanger wildlife and deprive locals of their livelihoods.

During Obama’s recent Africa trip, he said the New Alliance and the Feed the Future programs are helping to promote development and deliver food aid in “new and creative ways.”



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