Durban will host the 9th World Soybean Research Conference in February 2013, sponsored by the Ethekwini Municipality and agrochemical corporations Monsanto, Syngenta and Dupont. The theme of the conference is “From China to Africa. Can research close the gap between soy production and increasing global demand?”

According to Mariam Mayet, Director of the African Centre for Biosafety, “The World Soybean conference is really about the promotion of mono-cultures of genetically modified (GM) soya for global export markets. This is in keeping with the current trend of external investment in African agricultural land and resources for the production of commodities for other parts of the world, with the Chinese meat industry being a key driver. In Africa, farms of less than 2 hectares account for 70-90% of farms in most African countries, and which produce the bulk of staple food crops. [see footnote] The introduction of soya plantations will disrupt food production and supply systems and have serious implications for food security and livelihoods across the continent.”

China’s economic boom has profoundly impacted on the global food system. Its total meat consumption now stands at a whopping 71 million tons! Indeed, more than a quarter of all the meat produced worldwide is now consumed in China. Soya based animal feed is a principle driver of this prodigious increase in consumption. In the last 40 years, global soya production has increased by a staggering 500%; with 60% of all soya exports now being destined for China. Over the coming years, China is expected to import over 60 million tons of soybeans, oil and cake. With demand expected to continue to soar in China, agribusiness has lined Africa up as an enormous potential market for GM seeds, pesticides and synthetic fertlisers to service the Chinese appetite.

Global soya cultivation is synonymous with mono-cultured GM agriculture. Around 85% of the world’s soya crop is used for animal feed, and the vast majority of this is grown using Monsanto’s GM soya seeds, engineered to confer tolerance to glyphosate, including Monsanto’s Roundup Ready.

South Africa is at the forefront of this soya invasion: almost 80% of soya grown has been genetically modified. The rest of Africa is under sustained and enormous pressure to industrialise their agriculture systems and adopt GM crops. The Gates Foundation, together with grain giant Cargill, has already invested some $8 million to introduce soya to 37,000 small scale farmers, and develop soya value chains in Mozambique and Zambia.

In 2011, the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT) was announced to great fanfare. Among SAGCOT’s partners are Monsanto, DuPont, AGRA, Cargill and Bungee (another international grain trader). The SAGCOT investment blue print has likened parts of southern Tanzania to the Cerrado region of Brazil, a region that has seen a massive expansion of GM soybean cultivation.

The port of Dar es Salaam’s relative proximity to Asian markets has also been cited as an extremely attractive incentive. There is a huge gap between the feel good ‘helping Africa develop’ rhetoric underpinning the conference and the reality of the true purpose of agricultural investments in Africa. Soya production in Africa will mean the extensive use of corporate seed, synthetic fertilisers, pesticides and chemicals. This will turn Africa into a green desert and precipitate violent social and environmental impacts.? Said Gareth Jones of the ACB.

Footnote: Hazell, P. & Poulton, C. 2007 “All-Africa review of experiences with commercial agriculture: case study on food staples”, background paper for World Bank’s Competitive Commercial Agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa study, p.12

Further reading

a) Swanby, H (2010). The gates foundation and Cargill push soya onto Africa. ACB briefing No.20

b) For more information on Soya in South Africa and internationally see: ACB (2011). Corporate concentration and control in the grains and oilseed value chain in South Africa: A case study of the Bunge/Senwes joint venture

c) ACB (2012). The new generation of GM herbicide crops: Poison cocktail for ailing agriculture.