The Africa Centre for Biosafety (ACB), supported by Food & Water Europe and the Gaia Foundation, today wrote to UK Ministers for International Development, Business and Environment asking for evidence for the basis of UK overseas aid policy.

The ACB recently published a searing critique of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (known as AGRA, supported by agribusiness multinationals and the Gates Foundation). The study finds the scheme is ultimately not about developing lasting solutions to hunger, but imposing a cash economy on African agriculture that will inevitably result in farmers becoming dependent on the multinational corporations profiting from the hardship that will follow.

AGRA effectively seeks to institutionalise biopiracy by accessing publicly available genetic resources, patenting or imposing other intellectual property rights on the resulting seeds, and then using these industrial monoculture crops to channel African farmers into focusing on earning enough export cash to buy the privatised seed.

The AGRA model uses free inputs to develop monopoly control over outputs and expects farmers to pay for seeds they previously shared and traded, and played a major part in developing over thousands of years. AGRA’s model creates the foundation for the expansion of biotechnology and synthetic agricultural inputs, a combination that has proved disastrous in other parts of the world – notably among Indian cotton farmers, whose families are still suffering from the tens of thousands of suicides that have resulted from the debts incurred.

Farmers should keep their focus on feeding people, and experience shows they can best do this by retaining control over their own resources, not permitting profit-driven multinationals to take over and concentrate power away from those doing the work.

ACB Director Mariam Mayet said: “We’ve seen this model too many times already, and the outcome isn’t good. Western economies are suffering hugely from the problems indebtedness causes. If the UK is serious about supporting the small farmers in Africa who are feeding the majority of the people, it needs to explain how handcuffing farmers to debt and an agrochemical treadmill is going to be more effective than low cost, proven approaches of looking after the soil and maintaining seed systems.

“The UK would do far more good if it was honest about the impacts IMF-imposed structural adjustment policy has already had in Africa and putting them right rather than ramping up the damage. Forcing whole countries into a cycle of providing agricultural commodities for others in order to buy inputs to produce yet more exports for the profit of external corporations smacks of recolonisation. It’s a very dangerous game to play.”

Liz Hosken of the Gaia Foundation adds: “African farmers urgently need to regain control over their traditional seed diversity, which enables them to adapt to climate instability and spread their risks. AGRA’s strategy, a legacy of the so-called ‘Green Revolution’, creates farmer dependence on a few corporate-controlled seeds and agro-chemicals, which fail to meet farmers’ diverse nutritional and agricultural requirements. There is nothing ‘green’ about this approach. Concentrating power over Africa’s food supply in the hands of a few corporations defies all logic.”

Food & Water Europe Food Policy Advisor Eve Mitchell said: “AGRA is all about making money, but Africans will never see the bulk of it. Among other things, it is not acceptable that UK taxpayer money is being used to turn public genetic resources and traditional knowledge in Africa into privatised crops, especially in conditions of structural increases in food and agricultural input costs. Exporting agricultural technofixes might seem like a way to reap future profits and put a sticking plaster on the UK economy for a while, but this is at the expense of food producers and consumers in Africa. The UK Government claims all its policy is based on evidence. We’d like to see the basis for the decision to back AGRA.”

A copy of the letter can be downloaded here.

The ACB report is available here.

The ACB campaigns against the genetic engineering, privatisation, industrialisation and corporate control of Africa’s food systems and the commodification of nature and knowledge. It supports efforts towards food systems that are equitable and ecologically sustainable, built upon the principles of food sovereignty/agro-ecology.

Food & Water Europe is the European program of Food & Water Watch, a nonprofit consumer organisation based in the United States that works to ensure the food, water and fish we consume is safe, accessible and sustainable. So we can all enjoy and trust in what we eat and drink, we help people take charge of where their food comes from, keep clean, affordable, public tap water flowing freely to our homes, protect the environmental quality of oceans, force government to do its job protecting citizens, and educate about the importance of keeping shared resources under public control.

The Gaia Foundation is passionate about regenerating cultural and biological diversity, and restoring a respectful relationship with the Earth. Together with long-term partners in Africa, South America, Asia and Europe, we work with local communities to secure land, seed, food and water sovereignty. By reviving indigenous knowledge and protecting sacred natural sites, local self-governance is strengthened. This enables communities to become more resilient to climate change and the industrial processes which have caused the many crises we now face.