Saturday, August 1, 2009

Let’s Kick them while they’re Down

Photo: Small scale, low tech farming in Central Tanzania

In addition to buying up huge tracts of land in developing countries to produce biofuels for Western car drivers, there is also substantial investment and speculation in buying land to produce food for over consuming Westerners.

Countries like Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, which are currently having trouble growing enough food for their citizens, are easy targets. People are desperate and land is cheap. Governments of developing countries (rather unnecessarily) entice foreign investors with tax breaks and other incentives. Countries currently at war are easier targets and the land is even cheaper. Ethiopia is welcoming investors right now, as is Sudan.

Of course, to offer incentives to their own farmers in order to improve food security would be a threat to a ‘free-market’, they can only give these incentives to foreigners. Go figure; or ask someone at the World Bank or International Monetary Fund (IMF). These countries used to assist their food producers but ‘structural adjustment policies’ and other loan conditions have ensured that they don’t do this any more. Hence the current food shortages.

These investors will be able to bring in heavy machinery and developing country governments will help them get rid of the majority of people who presently farm the land. A handful of people may be employed, perhaps only for a short time. This sort of investment requires minimal labour costs.

For Western investors, it’s a matter of finding very good returns. They emphasize the need to feed people but they are not talking about feeding people who are currently short of food. They will be exporting their produce to the West. Some of it may even return in the form of ‘food aid’, who knows?

It’s hard to know where to start listing the disadvantages of this sort of land grabbing: people will be dispossessed of their land and livelihoods; they will be rendered unemployed and homeless and forced to move to overcrowded slums; land will, eventually, be destroyed by overuse of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides; the water supply will be reduced as crops are exported; remaining water will become contaminated; whole ecologies will be exterminated, irreversibly; the list goes on and on.

This ‘investment’ by the private sector is creating the development problems of the future. Development money is, effectively, subsidizing their activities. So those who object to aid money being poured into developing countries, and possibly misused, should take note of who is benefiting. If we really give a dam about food insecure peoples being able to feed themselves, we should be spending money on helping them to adopt sustainable agricultural practices that are appropriate for small scale farms, the sort of farms that the vast majority of people in developing countries currently operate.

Are we really going to live on food that is grown in countries where people are starving? Sphere: Related Content

No comments:

Post a Comment