Winners and Losers of the New African Agricultural Initiatives

A new report by EcoNexus examines the question of who will benefit and who will lose from the African Agricultural Growth Corridors and New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition.

The aim of setting up the ‘African Agricultural Growth Corridors’ (AAGCs) was to establish infrastructure to attract private sector investment and convert millions of hectares of land to agriculture as well as to forestry and mining uses. The target lands are almost entirely populated by subsistence farmers, and are currently in Mozambique and Tanzania, with the possibility of extending to other countries in the continent.

The concept of AAGCs was proposed at the UN General Assembly in 2008 and the World Economic Forum (WEF) in 2009 and 2010. In 2011, the WEF put forward its ‘Roadmap for Stakeholders’ in preparation for its ‘New Vision for Agriculture’ which is being led by 28 of its partner companies including top agrochemical firms Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta, Dupont and BASF with G8, G20 and African, Asian and Latin American countries. The AAGCs are part of this New Vision plan in Africa. This roadmap was followed by the formation of the ‘New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition’ in 2012, comprising the G8 nations, African countries and private corporations; it is the latest initiative for Africa set to “catalyse private sector investment in African agriculture”.

Critics point out that these efforts likely to drive intensive cultivation of food and cash crops along with a high demand for inorganic fertilizers, chemical pesticides, hybrid and genetically engineered seeds, machinery, irrigation, and the other products and services provided by private players in the agricultural supply chain.

The report outlines many concerns. These mainly stem from putting Africa’s resources of land, seeds and water under the control of foreign investors. The report cites the government of Tanzania’s ‘Strategic Regional Environmental and Social Assessment Interim Report’ (2012) which underscores people’s concerns over the AAGC in Tanzania namely: corruption, lack of transparency and accountability, the risk of increased land grabbing and land conflicts, adverse impacts on biodiversity, increased food insecurity, and diminished food and national sovereignty due to overwhelming corporate control over local resources and markets.

Several other expected outcomes that are of grave concern are discussed in the report. These include: (1) The use of public pension funds as ‘patient capital’ to fund infrastructure development; (2) Replacing small-scale farming for domestic markets with an export focus, resulting in the displacement and further impoverishment of subsistence farming communities. Small-scale farmers will be reduced to becoming outgrowers and contract farmers for large farms and plantations;  (3) Stopping the distribution of farmer-bred crop varieties which will seriously compromise the sustainability of local farms and their resilience to worsening climate change impacts; (4) The major reordering of land and water use which will eliminate valuable traditional systems, destroy livelihoods, and erode the quality of these resources and their availability to rural communities. Land is particularly problematic in that there is high dependence on it but most subsistence farmers, predominately women, do not have recognized land rights – this will facilitate land being taken away from them with no recourse to justice; (5) Women will be the worst impacted by the modernization of African agriculture as their already vulnerable roles in society will be further weakened – their access to common resources for food gathering and to seeds will be considerably reduced and they will typically be given the worst jobs in industrial farms such as spraying pesticides.

The full report can be downloaded from: The Overview, Summary and Conclusions are reproduced below.

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African Agricultural Growth Corridors and the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. Who Benefits, Who Loses?

Helena Paul and Ricarda Steinbrecher

EcoNexus, June 2013


This brief report looks at how governments, international finance institutions and global corporations are collaborating in major new projects in Africa (currently in Mozambique and Tanzania) to reorder land and water use and create industrial infrastructure over millions of hectares in order to ensure sustained supplies of commodities and profits for markets. The corridors concept first emerged at the World Economic Forum and a number of major corporations are involved. African Agricultural Growth Corridors are described as development opportunities, especially for small farmers, but are likely to be most advantageous to corporations and client governments. They have the backing of international institutions including the World Economic Forum, the G8 and G20 groups of the major global economies, the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Bank. More recently many of the same players have come together to create the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, which promises to reinforce and extend the Corridor concept.

The report is divided into three parts, 1) an introduction to the Corridors and the New Alliance and who is behind them, 2) the corridors themselves, and 3) the potential impacts.

Summary and Conclusions

African Agricultural Growth Corridors are being established across millions of hectares of African land, currently in Mozambique and Tanzania, with the potential for extending to Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo and beyond. While claiming to increase agricultural productivity, these projects are likely to facilitate the appropriation of land and the displacement of small-scale farmers, while imposing high-input, industrial agriculture using hybrid and GM seed.

The vision of the Corridors is to replace local small-scale agriculture producing for domestic markets and using local seed resources, with an export-led focus. That focus is likely to put Africa's land, water and seeds under the control of international traders and investors.

The concept of the African Agricultural Growth Corridors was first promoted at The World Economic Forum (WEF). It is part of their New Vision for Agriculture, led by 28 global partner companies representing the whole supply chain, from seeds, chemical inputs, production, processing, transport and trade, to supermarkets. It includes: ADM, BASF, Bayer, Bunge, Cargill, Coca-Cola, DuPont, Monsanto, Syngenta, Unilever, Wal-Mart and Yara. The African Union (AU), the AU planning and technical body, The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), NEPAD’S Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) plus the Alliance for a New Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and Grow Africa are also involved.

More recently, many of the same actors developed the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, which was launched at the G8 summit in 2012. The governments of Tanzania and Mozambique, already the leading Corridor countries/states, are members of the Alliance, and this is likely to intensify the process of reordering of land and people begun in those countries by the Corridors.

These initiatives were not proposed by Africa's peoples to address the continent's most pressing challenges. Instead they actually threaten to override current regional, national and local initiatives developed by Africans.

Promoters of the projects narratives of "underdevelopment" and "lack of infrastructure" in Africa to promote their agenda. They promise to lift millions from poverty and provide opportunities for smallholders. However, the impacts are more likely to be the privatisation of African land and seed to generate profit for foreign investors, as well as opening up new markets for agribusiness corporations. Although promises have been made to help smallholders, especially women, it is more likely that the livelihoods, seed and land rights of farmers, indigenous communities, pastoralists and women are likely to be ignored, undermined and taken over in these plans to exploit Africa's best agricultural land and valuable mineral and other resources.

We must therefore take the insights of the peasants and farmers movements regarding Nacala and the conclusions of the government of Tanzania’s ‘Strategic Regional Environmental and Social Assessment Interim Report’ of July 2012 very seriously. As noted above, the latter mentions concern among local communities about endemic corruption and lack of transparency and accountability. Many local communities fear that investors will simply take their land over because local people lack security of tenure and the power to negotiate. They predict the likelihood of conflicts over land, including between farmers and pastoralists if the latter are displaced by commercial agriculture. They also predict the loss of local and regional food security if commercial crops displace food crops. The Tanzania interim report reveals that many local people foresee quite clearly what is likely to happen to them, but feel powerless to prevent it.

La Via Campesina has expressed similar fears about the Nacala Corridor in Mozambique, while African networks and NGOs see the New Alliance and the Corridors as part of the consolidation of a global food regime where everything from seed and fertiliser to infrastructure, processing and distribution is under corporate control. The whole process should be halted to give time for deeper analysis and a wide public debate on the impacts and implications of the African Agricultural Growth Corridors and the Alliance.

There are currently two fundamentally contrasting projections of the direction in which agriculture should go, either towards more chemically intensive, hi-tech mechanical approaches or towards more diverse, people-intensive, knowledge-focused approaches. We know that the latter can generate ecological and livelihood sustainability. A report from UNEP and UNCTAD in 2008: Organic Agriculture and Food Security in Africa concluded: ‘The evidence presented in this study supports the argument that organic agriculture can be more conducive to food security in Africa than most conventional production systems, and that it is more likely to be sustainable in the long term.’

We would add that the best systems of agriculture are in the hands of the farmers themselves, to innovate, exchange ideas, develop plant varieties appropriate to their needs and the infrastructure they require, with the information, support and collaboration they decide they need. Moreover scientific comparisons between monoculture systems and agroecological polycropping systems have shown that the latter can also give significantly higher yields.89

However, the New Alliance aims to halt the distribution of free and ‘unimproved’ seeds (farmer varieties). This will mean the loss of vital farmer knowledge of local conditions, for which there is no substitute, and their locally adapted diverse varieties. Agriculture is multifunctional; there are many different kinds of agricultural systems developed to flourish according to local circumstances and cultures. Climate change will be a major challenge to these systems, but farmers are the best placed to find ways to adapt, if given the right kind of support. Agricultural research and development must therefore be centred on farmers, who, in Africa, are still mostly women. Allowing it to be led by investment and implemented through public private partnerships, especially in situations where local communities lack the power to assert their rights, is dangerous and unethical. We now know that intensive agriculture systems in developed countries contribute to carbon emissions, destroy and contaminate soil and water resources, destroy biodiversity and degrade land. We know they are not sustainable. We have a clear obligation not to be complicit in imposing that model on Africa.