African Agricultural Growth Corridors: Who benefits, who loses?
This brief report takes an initial look at how governments, international finance institutions and global corporations are collaborating in major new projects (currently in Mozambique and Tanzania) to reorder land and water use and create industrial infrastructure over millions of hectares in Africa in order to ensure sustained supplies of commodities and profits for markets. The corridors are described as development opportunities, especially for small farmers, but are likely to be most advantageous to corporations and client governments, with the help 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.
The report is divided into three parts, 1) an introduction to the concept and who is behind it, 2) the corridors themselves, and 3) their potential impacts.
1) THE CONCEPT AND WHO IS BEHIND IT
What are African Agricultural Growth Corridors?
The concept of ‘African Agricultural Growth Corridors’ is designed to facilitate the conversion of millions of hectares of land to industrial agriculture, to be served by building infrastructure (roads, railways, irrigation, storage, processing and ports) and led by private companies. It refers to regions of Africa whose agricultural potential ‘has not been realized’ and whose population remains ‘almost entirely reliant on subsistence agriculture’.1 Areas identified for corridors currently consist of regions in Mozambique and Tanzania with good water supplies, to focus mainly on agriculture, but also including forestry and mining for coal and valuable minerals.
The declared aim of the corridor projects is to establish infrastructure specifically to attract investment and facilitate the development of commercial agriculture. The ports in question are vital for the export of agriculture, biomass, mining and timber products, but also for importing the basic requirements for industrial agriculture such as fertilisers and agricultural machinery. The importance of smallholder farmers and how they can benefit from becoming outgrowers in industrial production is constantly highlighted. Promoters consider that without infrastructure in place, investment in agriculture will be hard to attract and without commercial agriculture to attract them, states will not be willing to invest in infrastructure. The corridors are meant to tackle both issues at once. The two best-known are the Beira Corridor (BAGC) of Mozambique and the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT). There are two more in Mozambique: the Nacala Corridor and the Zambezi Valley, as identified by Mozambique’s Agriculture Minister Pacheco in June 2012, who also highlighted three other potential corridors in the south of Mozambique. However, the three that are currently being developed ‘hold most of the country’s water resources’.2
Assumptions behind the proposals are well summed up here:
The majority of soil in sub-Saharan Africa is infertile. To achieve intensive productivity of cash crops, the use of inorganic fertilisers, pesticides and GM "high-yielding" patented seeds will be increasingly portrayed by these companies as indispensable to reducing hunger levels on the continent and providing food for export.3
Where did the concept come from?
The ‘African Agricultural Growth Corridor’ concept was first proposed at the UN General Assembly in 2008 and then at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in 2009 and 2010 at meetings in Switzerland and WEF Africa in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The World Economic Forum describes itself as: ‘committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas.’4 It organises an annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, which brings together the CEOs of major corporations, bankers, financiers, government leaders, representing billions of dollars. Others involved include global institutions such as the UN, the World Bank and FAO.
In 2011 WEF put forward a ‘Roadmap for Stakeholders’ in preparation for their ‘New Vision for Agriculture’, which, according to WEF, aims to promote food security, environmental sustainability and economic growth and opportunity and to identify the particular role of the private sector in achieving these things. This is all presented in the context of ‘feeding the 9 billion in 2050’ and the asserted need to increase production by 70%. The New Vision initiative includes the G8 and G20, plus 11 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. WEF also jointly convenes the Grow Africa Partnership with the African Union and The New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD). The African Agricultural Growth Corridor Projects are just one part of the New Vision initiative.
New vision - old names
According to WEF, the New Vision project is led by 28 of their global partner companies,
which include: Agco Corporation, Archer Daniels Midland, BASF, Bayer AG, Bunge Limited, Cargill, CF Industries, The Coca-Cola Company, Diageo, DuPont, General Mills, Heineken NV, Kraft Foods, Louis Dreyfus Commodities, Maersk, Metro AG, Monsanto Company, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Rabobank, Royal DSM, SABMiller, Swiss Reinsurance Company Ltd., Syngenta, The Mosaic Company, Unilever, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., and Yara International.5
This represents the whole supply chain, from seeds, chemical inputs, production, processing, transport and trade, to supermarkets.
The last company on the list, Yara International, is a global nitrogen fertiliser company from Norway that has played a key role in the promotion of the African Agricultural Growth Corridors. It was Yara that presented the idea to the UN in 2008 and then at the WEF in Davos (where it presented the idea in 2009 and 2010) and also at WEF related meetings in Africa. It offers an annual prize for ‘an African Green Revolution’. As an international fertiliser company, Yara obviously has a lot to gain from new markets for its products in Africa, made accessible by new or improved infrastructure such as ports, rail and roads. Yara has already invested some US$20 million in a port terminal in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania for packaging and distributing fertiliser in the SAGCOT corridor and beyond.6 Like other companies in WEF circles, its CEO seeks incentives and reduced entry barriers, public private partnerships, to help the private sector to increase food production, which Yara says will require almost twice as much agricultural output.7
Yara has also been instrumental in the Grow Africa Partnership. According to its own website:
Yara played a key role in establishing Grow Africa, a public-private platform designed to accelerate investments and transformative change in African agriculture that support national policy priorities.8
The largest shareholder in Yara is the Norwegian Ministry of Trade and Industry, with 36.2 percent of shares in November 2012.9 Yara has also had to address incidents of corruption involving payments and offers of payment in India, Libya and Switzerland.10 This is particularly important in view of the prevalence of corruption identified by local communities and organisations in both Mozambique11 and Tanzania, and their fears that the corridor projects will increase this (see later: Some major issues for SAGCOT and for all the corridors).
Key players in the corridors
Other company partners in the corridors include Monsanto, Dupont, Syngenta, Unilever, General Mills and SAB Miller (SAGCOT, Tanzania). In Beira, supporters include DuPont, Vale and Rio Tinto, several banks and companies with interests in sugar and in biofuels.
As well as corporations, there are other major players including the Alliance for a Green Revolution for Africa (AGRA), The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), World Bank and FAO and governments including the US, the UK, Norway and the Netherlands. 12
In particular the UK government is playing an important role in facilitating the development of the corridors. There are three development companies closely involved, AgDevCo, Prorustica and InfraCo, the last two of which are registered in the UK, while AgDevCo has its headquarters in London. Prorustica is an international development consultancy based in the UK whose website logo proclaims ‘Public Private Partnerships - the answer to African Agricultural Growth’. 13 InfraCo focuses on the development of infrastructure services (e.g. irrigation) 14 , using funding from the UK Department for International Development (DfID) to start up projects until private companies are willing to invest, with the stated aim of recovering that money later. 15 It is a member of the Private Infrastructure Development Group. 16
AgDevCo is a not‐for‐profit agricultural project development company, which says it acts as an investor to develop agriculture enterprises at an early stage, seeking to provide ‘transformational benefits’ for smallholder farmers and communities. It counts AGRA, USAID, Rockefeller and DfID among its funding partners17 and manages a ‘catalytic fund’ to help projects get underway (see below: catalytic or up-front funding). The chairman of InfraCo is also the Executive Chair of AgDevCo.18 InfraCo developed the Investment Blueprint for the Beira Corridor (BAGC),19 Delivering the Potential, while AgDevCo and Prorustica produced the Investment Blueprint for SAGCOT.20
What do they all intend to get out of it?
The corporations see a major potential for developing commercial agriculture in new regions which have not yet experienced it, opening fresh opportunities for the sale of proprietary seed, fertilizers, pesticides, machinery and business for the whole supply chain. By bringing together governments, corporations and international institutions in the corridor projects, they hope to generate advantages and economies of scale. The combination of expanses of land variously described as empty, underused, idle or degraded, apparently waiting for exploitation, plus the availability of water and cheap labour is a big attraction. The region also has major natural resources – coal, gas, precious metals, rare earths, and timber. Its ports, set for major improvement and expansion, have good potential access to destinations such as China and the EU, both major markets for agricultural commodities for feed, food, fibre and fuel.
Organisation of the corridors
The lack of infrastructure and storage facilities is often cited as a major barrier to agricultural development and food security in Africa. However, it is important to ask what kind of infrastructure is required to benefit Africans, as opposed to corporate interests. Private capital is not interested in investing in infrastructure, although companies are happy to be paid to build it. A major aim of these projects is to provide a context where private capital will be attracted to invest. Since private capital wants guaranteed returns on investment, export agriculture is likely to be a major focus, with infrastructure leading out of the country, probably towards other regions, rather than benefiting other African countries. The participation of corporate partners such as Cargill, Bunge and ADM link the Agricultural Growth Corridors projects firmly to the global commodity trade.
Central to the development of the corridors concept are roads, railways, ports, irrigation, and farming hubs, nucleus farms or irrigated farm blocks. According to the theory, these nucleus farms will provide processing and storage services, inputs (seed, fertilisers and pesticides) plus machinery to smallholders or outgrowers and their communities living in the surrounding area. The idea is that all these should be concentrated, along with other service providers such as extension and credit, into clusters of companies:
Clusters are defined as geographic concentrations of interconnected companies, specialised suppliers, service providers, and associated institutions. For SAGCOT, this includes suppliers of farm inputs, machinery, and agriculture support services (extension agents, financial services), commercial farmers (large and small), processors and providers of infrastructure such as irrigation and rural roads. 21
The projects also emphasise the importance of ‘last mile’ infrastructure, ie: linking everything into the network – including smallholders and local communities.
Smallscale farmers as outgrowers and contract farmers
Promoters of all these projects, along with the World Bank and FAO, constantly emphasise how they want to help smallholder farmers gain access to credit, farm inputs and protection for their land rights and speak of major benefits for them and for local communities. However, once again it is important to look at the context. The infrastructure diagrams for the corridor proposals suggest that production is more likely to focus on commodities for international markets, rather than helping local communities practice agriculture to achieve local food security/sovereignty, placing them instead in the role of contract farmers and outgrowers rather than independent farmers.
Jatropha and oil palm plantations both require labour, for example, so it is convenient for companies, but not necessarily beneficial for local people, to contract them as outgrowers. Although poor farmers may be attracted by the idea of signing contracts to obtain up-front loans to set themselves up, the reality is that they are the ones who take the risks and encounter the problems – and have to repay the loans. The companies meanwhile dictate all the terms. It is also important to realise that traditional land use patterns may be very different from the kind of land rights process promoted by companies seeking to turn local communities into outgrowers for their projects.
Incentivising investment: Public Private Partnerships, Catalytic funding and Patient Capital.
Public private partnerships (PPPs)
These are seen as key to establishing the corridors by the major players such as Yara International above. Prorustica is dedicated to establishing PPPs and worked with InfraCo and AgDevCo to develop the investment blueprints for Beira and SAGCOT in order to facilitate them. The government of Tanzania considers PPPs to be the foundation for its agricultural policy. A major question regarding such partnerships is always: how are they accountable to the public and to governments? Mandatory company accountability remains limited to financial matters. Who really takes the risks in such partnerships? How can participants be brought to account in the case of failures? Will the contents of the agreements be publicly accessible? What secret clauses may they contain that will shift liability towards the public realm?
Catalytic or up-front funding
This type of funding is designed to encourage companies to set up projects, for example, for the Beira Corridor:
The Catalytic Fund provides low-cost funding of $50,000 to $500,000 to eligible businesses. Recipients must agree to enter into a joint venture with AgDevCo, the manager of the Catalytic Fund, to develop the business opportunity. AgDevCo works closely with project sponsors to make the business “bankable” and secure third-party debt and equity investment as soon as possible. 22
Apparently the Beira Catalytic Fund has more than $20 million, which has been provided by the governments of the UK, the Netherlands and Norway and which invests in projects, ‘with direct benefits for many smallholder farmers’. 23 Elsewhere we learn that the UK Department for International Development, DfID, has provided an ‘Accountable Grant Arrangement’ of up to £6,500,000 through AgDevCo. 24 The aim is to support the initial costs and risks of getting new businesses underway and so attract new investment. SAGCOT also has a Catalytic Fund, of some 40 million USD.
The need for so-called patient capital is constantly emphasised, especially for developing infrastructure. It is capital invested with no prospect of the kind of quick return companies are generally looking for. Such capital is generally public funding. South Africa also plans massive infrastructure development, and intends to use one of the largest reserves of patient capital: pension funds. 25 Pension funds in the OECD countries alone totalled over 20 trillion USD in 2011. The OECD considers that pension funds may be needed to help to bridge the global infrastructure gap and assist with investments in climate change adaptation and mitigation. 26 Obviously the public, whose funds these are, should be properly engaged in the debate as to how they are invested, as the risks are considerable, but may also be very difficult for non-specialists to understand or calculate. Members of the public might also not approve on ethical grounds of the way their pension funds are invested.
The chair of AgDevCo and InfraCo, Keith Palmer, also happens to be the author of a paper on patient capital: Agricultural growth and poverty reduction in Africa: The case for patient capital. 27 As AgDevCo notes on its website: ‘Patient capital is long-term capital made available by the international community on concessional terms. It is used to part-fund the capital costs of irrigation and related agriculture supporting infrastructure.’ 28
2) THE CORRIDORS THEMSELVES
The Beira Agricultural Growth Corridor (BAGC)
This covers the Mozambique provinces of Tete, Sofala and Manica. ‘The Beira corridor is the gateway to South Eastern Africa. It is a road and rail network linking Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Mozambique to the port of Beira on the Indian Ocean.’ 29 The project was launched in 2010. 30 According to the ‘Delivering the Potential’ document on Beira, the BAGC covers some 10 million ha of arable land, of which 1.5 million are currently farmed by subsistence farmers with just 25,700 of commercial farming of which 22,000 were under sugarcane. The aim is to increase irrigation from 1,200 ha to 200,000 ha by 2030. The World Bank has funded the PROIRRI irrigation project at US$ 70M for the Beira and Zambezi Corridors. According to figure 6, on page 11 of the Beira document, the EU and Japan have contributed funds to upgrade the port of Beira. The Beira document also mentions several biofuel firms as planning to invest in production there: Principle Energy, Sun Biofuels, Enerterra, Grown Energy Zambeze and Envalor. 31 Principle’s own website reports that it intends to produce sugarcane for ethanol on some 20,000 ha of irrigated land in Dombe (Beira Corridor) 32 that is likely to be exported from Beira port. In July, 2011, Zambeze Grown Energy was reported as investing US$320 million to raise sugarcane on 24,000 ha. 33 In June of the same year, the Portuguese company SGC Energia was reported as working with Enerterra SA on a project to produce biodiesel from jatropha seeds in Sofala province (BAGC) on 19,000 ha. 34
What is really happening
However, it is difficult to be sure what the current status of projects is without monitoring on the ground. In the BAGC Partnership report of June 2012 there are several ‘project concepts’ for irrigation in collaboration with PROIRRI for an area of 1.2 billion ha, and also ‘pipeline opportunities’. The Catalytic Fund is meant to provide finance to kick-start agricultural production in cooperation with agricultural commodity buyers, for example. According to the report 860,000 dollars were disbursed by the Fund in the six months to end June 2012, plus around 1 million by the Smallholder Facility, plus loans of 1.4 million, plus some equity investments. 35 According to its brochure for 2012, AgDevCo has currently invested in 12 projects in Mozambique and was planning to invest in 5 more in 2012. 36
But we will have to see what actually comes of all these projects, and at which cost.
The impact of coal
Tete province in the Beira corridor is rich in coal, which two major international companies, Vale (a Brazilian multinational metals, mining and logistics corporation) and Rio Tinto have recently begun to mine. To stimulate coal exports, Mozambique plans to seek international bids in December 2012 for a US$2 billion railway and port development project – from Tete to Macuse on the coast. 37 Meanwhile the Sena railway line from Tete to the port of Beira, which was damaged in the civil war, is being upgraded. According to the Beira website, the mining sector is helping to create demand for food and agriculture:
The Government of Mozambique, the British Government, Rio Tinto and AgDevCo have teamed up to assist thousands of small farmers who live in the vicinity of mines in Moatize, central Mozambique, to boost their crop yields for commercial food production. 38
Previous colonial efforts in the region
The core region of the Beira Corridor has already experienced quite large-scale commercial exploitation and its original population was used as forced labour on plantations for export crops39 under the Mozambique Company, established in 1891 with British, German and South African investment. Rebellions against the Mozambique Company in 1902 and 1917 meant that the Portuguese government (the colonial power) had to intervene to restore order.40 The role of such companies as the Mozambique Company, the Niassa and Zambezi Companies, the Africa Company and the East India Company in the past can warn us about current developments such as the agricultural growth corridors, if we choose to heed them.41
The Nacala and Zambezi Corridors in Mozambique
There are two other corridors under development in Mozambique: the Nacala Agricultural Growth Corridor (which consists of Nampula and Niassa provinces) and the Zambezi Agricultural Corridor. However, part of Zambezia province is being included in the Nacala proposals so here we treat them together. They are dominated by the Pro-Savana Programme, of which the National Farmers’ and Peasants' Union (UNAC) of Mozambique says:
The ProSavana Programme is a triangular project between the Republic of Mozambique, the Federal Republic of Brazil and Japan, for the development of large-scale agriculture in the Nacala Development Corridor affecting 14 districts in the provinces of Niassa, Nampula and Zambezia, covering an area of approximately 14 million hectares. 42
The Programme is being promoted on the basis that the region resembles the Cerrado region of Brazil, where Japan co-operated with Brazil to promote industrial agriculture over the last three decades,43 with devastating impacts on soils, biodiversity, water resources and local communities.44 , 45
However, according to the Gates Foundation website, under the heading Forging Innovative Partnerships,
Brazil is working with Japan to help poor farmers in Mozambique grow soybeans, in a story that goes back 30 years. As part of a major technical assistance program in the 1980s, Japan helped adapt the soybean to Brazil’s tropical savanna, the Cerrado. It became one of Brazil’s most important crops. Now, with Japanese financial support, the Brazilians are helping Mozambiquan farmers in the Nacala corridor, an area with very similar climate and soil conditions. Meanwhile, the Japanese are looking to upgrade Mozambique’s port and railroad infrastructure to make it easier for farmers to export the beans.46
Brazilian and Japanese investors are now being offered large areas of land on long leases at minimal cost. It is being asserted that this land is abandoned but La Via Campesina states that in fact there are actually millions of small farmers in the region.47
In this context it is worth noting that in 2010, Brazil, Mozambique and the EU signed a Bioenergy pact involving Brazilian companies, land and labour in Mozambique and exports to EU markets, focusing on jatropha and sugar cane.48
What the peasant organisations of the Nacala region, members of the National Peasant Organisation of Mozambique, have to say about this project could equally be applied to the other corridor projects:
‘Considering the way in which the ProSavana programme was drafted and the process for implementing it, we peasant farmers warn of the following expected impacts:
- The appearance of landless communities in Mozambique, as a result of land expropriation and resettlement;
- Frequent social upheaval along the Nacala Corridor, and beyond;
- The impoverishment of rural communities and a reduction in the number of alternatives for survival;
- An increase in corruption and conflicts of interest;
- The pollution of water resources as a result of the excessive use of chemical pesticides and fertilisers, as well soil degradation;
- Ecological imbalances due to vast deforestation for agribusiness projects.’ 49
For this reason, La Via Campesina, in August 2012, called for: ‘an immediate moratorium on all large-scale agricultural investments such as the Pro-Savana project in Mozambique’ plus demands ranging from recognition of common land titles in favour of the communities to ‘ the direct involvement of peasants in the definition of agricultural policies based on sustainability, food sovereignty and agroecology;’ 50
The Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT)
There are two possible corridors inland from the port of Dar es Salaam – SAGCOT focuses on the southern highlands and involves 7.5 million ha, of which some 2 million ha are farmed by smallholders, who also keep cattle, goats and poultry. 110,000 ha are farmed by commercial farmers, mainly for sugar cane and tea (for export), according to the SAGCOT Investment Blueprint of January 2011. This corridor stretches all the way to the Zambia border and Prorustica points out that it could provide a gateway to Zambia, Malawi and the Democratic Republic of Congo as well.51 As Farming First notes: ‘With Dar es Salaam port providing access to the Indian Ocean for the interior of Tanzania and its neighbouring landlocked countries – Malawi, Zambia and the Congo - Tanzania has a large agricultural potential.’ 52 In October 2012, those three countries were accepted as member of SAGCOT.53
Some major issues for SAGCOT and for all the corridors
The Government of Tanzania’s strategy for economic development and poverty reduction is the Kilimo Kwanza (Agriculture First) policy. Unlike previous attempts at rural strategies, it is led by the private sector and involves the creation of a public private partnership framework. The SAGCOT programme is an integral part of this policy. The aim is to bring 350,000 ha of farmland into commercial production for regional and international markets over the next 20 years and to bring smallholders into profitable agriculture through increasing linkages with commercial agribusiness.
However, the government of Tanzania’s ‘Strategic Regional Environmental and Social Assessment’ interim report of July 201254 notes concerns about lack of institutional capacity, endemic corruption, the likelihood of conflicts over land, especially in view of the perception that all land is already in use. There are fears that investors will simply grab land. Lack of transparency and accountability, and lack of strategies to minimize risks to smallholders and herders from the commercialization of agriculture are also mentioned. In addition there were comments on lack of security of tenure and limited rights and negotiating power over land-transfers and land use planning. There are also concerns about impacts on biodiversity from intensive agriculture and associated inputs. Even though women form the majority of farmers, they are often disadvantaged by custom and tradition, underrepresented and frequently unaware of their rights. However, will these broad concerns be heeded and is there capacity to address them?
On 28th November 2012 it was announced that the government of Tanzania had set a 10,000 hectare limit on land holdings for investment in sugar and 5,000ha for rice. The Tanzania Investment Centre is preparing guidelines for investors regarding the involvement of small-scale outgrowers.55 However, 10,000 hectares is still a very large area by the standards of small African farmers, averaging less than 2 ha, and becoming an outgrower is not every small farmer’s dream.
3) AFRICAN AGRICULTURAL GROWTH CORRIDORS: POTENTIAL SOCIAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS
A Major Reordering Of Land And Water Use
We argue that the corridors are part of a major reordering of land and water access and use in the global south not dissimilar to the enclosures that took place for example in the UK (eg Scotland – all over the UK in fact), where many of those who were driven off the land became labour for emerging industries or were forced to leave the country. Current patterns of land use, such as shifting cultivation or other traditional forms of cultivation and use, already seriously threatened and often completely misunderstood, may cease to be possible across wide areas. This would threaten to eliminate the livelihoods of local communities that do not wish to collaborate with this externally imposed re-ordering. Existing local patterns of water use will also be adversely affected, indeed the threat to water may be even more serious, in view of the many proposals for new irrigation schemes to serve industrial farming. Pastoralism and seasonal grazing, often well adapted to local conditions if able to operate according to traditional practice, are already under great pressure, which this reordering will certainly increase. In Zambia for example there are local agriculture systems such as Chitemene and the more recent Fundikila56 or Mambwe mound cultivation system developed by local people57 . Such systems are often dismissed as unproductive, but need to be studied seriously as a means of production under specific local conditions before turning to intensive fertiliser use plus irrigation. The latter is obviously the intention of, for example, the corridor projects briefly outlined above, even though in the long term history clearly shows us that intensive use of inputs and water are not sustainable and lead to increased emissions, contamination, salinisation, degradation and waste of soils and water. Indeed the obsession with ‘efficiency’ of agricultural methods and machinery, now under the guise of ‘sustainable intensification’ has the potential to greatly accelerate this process of destruction. We urgently need research centred on small-scale food producers, who still produce 70% of the world’s food in spite of years of policy decisions that have generally marginalised them. We need to start from the problems small farmers face, rather than imposing yet more top-down policy on them, which largely ignore the fundamentals of ecologically and socially sustainable systems.
High dependence on land yet land rights not recognised
In many parts of the world, particularly in Africa, the majority of local people depend on the land for their livelihoods (some 80% in Ethiopia,58 Tanzania and Mozambique59 for example). In Tanzania and Mozambique agriculture is overwhelmingly (90-95%) the work of smallscale, often subsistence farmers, of whom the majority are women, but many do not have any legally recognised right to that land. It is also unusual for collective use of land to be recognised in law or understood in policy-making, yet land is quite often managed collectively, sometimes according to well-defined rules, local customs and uses, eg: pastoralists.60 In Africa, some 65% of the land is estimated to be held, managed and used collectively.61 Such use may be seasonal, or on a long cycle that enables it to recover in between. It may also be invisible to western eye. People may also depend on collecting food, fodder and materials from forests and other land (which may appear marginal to outsiders), during droughts or simply to supplement income.62
Land titling needs the right context
In this context, land titling is only part of the answer, because without the right policy context it can simply lead to the land being sold, either voluntarily or under pressure, resulting in concentration of land in the hands of the most powerful players. More subtly, it may also facilitate changing from traditional land use, involving collective, shifting and nomadic practice, to industrial agriculture, with titles only for those who have been captured by the system, outgrowers, for example.
Shifting cultivation63 means that local people’s livelihoods depend on access to considerably larger areas of land than what is under cultivation at any given point in time. As a typical low-input agricultural system, it is adapted to areas of low population density and subsistence farming. But this also means that local peoples acquire ‘user rights’ over larger areas than may be evident if assessments only take into account currently cultivated plots.64
Titling of collective land is unusual – it is mostly done on an individual basis. Large commercial interests and institutions such as the World Bank and FAO increasingly speak of their desire to help smallholders and of the importance of land titling but their reasons for doing so may not be the same as those of advocates for local communities. Indeed, unless titling takes place in a context of bottom-up agrarian reform, it is likely to have a negative impact on local people. The EU Biofuels Baseline65 for example, mentions titles mainly in the context of inequality in rights between men and women without discussing titles in an overall policy context, or without recognising the cultural differences between men and women. It does not mention agrarian reform at all.
Impacts on women particularly problematic
Although they are the majority of African farmers, women are often worst affected by ‘modernisation’ of agriculture66 because in many societies they still have limited rights to land and may well lose those should they be widowed. They often face discrimination under both customary practice and law, as well as gender-based violence.67 Women often have the task of gathering fuel, fodder, medicine, water and food and may rely more on access to common land for this purpose, as well as for additional resources to sell to pay for their children to go to school, for example. This means they will be more adversely affected by the loss of common resources that frequently occurs with the shift to contract farming for industry. They may also be marginalised in changes from subsistence agriculture to cash crops, where men commonly take control. In addition, women are often assigned the worst jobs in cash crop production, such as spraying chemicals with inadequate or no protective clothing and often little access to water to wash off residues (and often with very little instruction and no information on health risks, and no access to health care). In addition, women are increasingly being left as the sole carers for family, as men leave to find work in cities or extractive industries, or as relatives are decimated by AIDS. Yet women are central to household food security and the health of their children. They are the main users of locally adapted livestock breeds and frequently the seed-keepers in their communities, using locally adapted seed that has been handed down, with skills in selecting and storing it. The impact of hybrid, input dependent crops on women is to deprive them of an essential resource. In discussing the role of women, advisers often look at solutions in terms of access to markets and jobs, which does not always correspond to the true importance of their role. What the woman mentioned here needs, for example, is protection of her rights to save, exchange and hand down seeds and knowledge, not access to hybrid and patent protected seeds:
The crops she grows today are from seeds that have been handed down from generation to generation, over decades, she says. Other seeds come from exchanges with neighbouring farmers. "My seeds are very important to me. I hope the day will never come when I have to buy seeds from a shop," 68
Are African Agricultural Growth Corridors Responsible Agricultural Investment?
In July 2009, Taro Aso, briefly prime minister of Japan, wrote:
I will also make a new proposal to promote responsible foreign investment in agriculture, in the face of so-called “land grabs”… We think a regulatory approach is not desirable…We believe non-binding principles would promote responsible investment and sustainable farmland management.” 69
The outcome was a set of 7 voluntary Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment (PRAI), developed by the G8, G20, FAO, World Bank, the EU, Japan and others.70 In April 2010, 130 organisations, including organisations representing farmers, pastoralists and fisherfolk, denounced the RAI in a statement: "Stop land grabbing now! Say NO to the principles on responsible agro-enterprise investment promoted by the World Bank".71 Soon afterwards, the UN's Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food publicly criticised RAI.72 According to the Campaign for the Reform of the World Bank: "The World Bank's RAI principles are an attempt to legitimise corporate land grabs and the expansion of an industrial model of agriculture that is destroying people’s livelihoods and the planet." 73 Now the Committee on World Food Security74 will begin to develop its own principles on responsible agricultural investment, which as it says, are ‘NOT to be confused with PRAI - Principles developed by the World Bank, UNCTAD, IFAD and FAO’. 75 Consultations on the principles were set to begin to begin in November 2012.
How much of the corridor discussion is promotion and how much is reality?
It appears that, certainly in the case of SAGCOT, the reality on the ground is less impressive than the hype would have us believe. The investment is not coming in at the rates expected. Some potential donors are apparently cautious about contributing to the project because environmental and social problems have not been addressed. However, we have seen how, even with projects that fail to take off, the companies and institutions that developed the ideas are not the losers: it is the local people who are worst affected, relocated on the promise of compensation, wells or clinics, or encouraged to move from feeding their communities to producing cash crops. One example is Kisarawe in Tanzania, where the inhabitants of 11 villages were relocated so that Sun Biofuels could produce jatropha. They received little compensation, and even when the project failed, they had great difficulty in regaining access to their land.
Some final thoughts
Whatever happens, we should 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 201276 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. This suggests that the process should be halted to give time for deeper reflection and a wide public debate on the impacts and implications of the African agricultural growth corridors.
There are currently deep differences over the direction in which agriculture should go, whether towards more chemically intensive, hi-tech mechanical approaches or towards more diverse, people-intensive, knowledge-focused approaches. Yet we know that the latter can generate ecological and livelihood sustainability. Moreover scientific comparisons between monoculture systems and agroecological polycropping systems have shown that the latter can also give significantly higher yields.77
Vital farmer knowledge of local conditions and adaptations, for which there is no substitute, is being lost, along with locally adapted varieties. Agriculture is multifunctional; there are many different kinds of agricultural systems adapted to local circumstances and cultures. Agricultural research and development needs to 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 unwise and dangerous. 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 scientific and moral obligation not to be complicit in imposing a similar model on Africa.
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- 77. Companion planting and polycultures (agriculture using several different crops in the same space, in imitation of the diversity of natural ecosystems) are methods used in, for example, agro-ecological systems. Some research has been conducted comparing yield in polyculture systems as compared to monoculture systems. In Brazil for example, Zarate et al. (2008) showed that when grown in monocultures (or homeo-cultures) the root vegetable arracacha and onions need nearly 50% more land to produce the same yield as when grown together on the same field. In Ethiopia, Agegnehu et al. (2008) observed that the yields of wheat and faba beans grown together (intercropped) were about 20% higher than when grown on two separate fields; the intercropped field had also 20% less weeds, and viral damage to the beans was reduced by a third.
Agegnehu G et al. (2008). Yield potential and land-use efficiency of wheat and faba bean mixed intercropping. Agronomy for Sustainable Development 28(2): 257-263
Zarate NAH et al. (2008). Yield and gross income of arracacha in monocrop and intercropping with the Japanese bunching onion and parsley. Horticultura Brasileira 26(2): 287-291