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Where the breadbasket is hanging

by Uwe Hoering, August 2010

Finally, the end of hunger in Africa is in sight and even the food crisis may be solved! How this will come about is to be revealed in early September in Accra by African politicians, the “Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa” (AGRA), industry representatives and donors at the “African Green Revolution Forum” (AGRF) (1). “The breadbasket strategy will unleash the potential of Ghana's smallholder farmers and achieve breakthrough in agriculture production”, said AGRA's President Namanga Ngongi. The concept that will be presented to the high-ranking participants to draw money out of their pockets proposes that the different donors – the government, development institutions and private investors – should pool and concentrate their resources on “high-potential regions” with fertile soils, favourable climate and good rains, to start with in northern Ghana. By growing rice on 400,000 hectares of land, production is to be quadrupled, raising the level of self-sufficiency from 30% to 80% (2). And in the case of maize, even full self-sufficiency will be reached. It will also create up to 15,000 new jobs, and double the incomes of almost 250,000 smallholder households. Next in line on the “breadbasket” action list are Mali, Tanzania and Mozambique. AGRA reports that multilateral donors and private enterprises have already indicated their interest. So it won’t be long before Africa will not only feed herself, but will also become a food exporter.

Good news indeed. Well, it might be that the promises are a bit high-flying, but: concentration instead of scattered approaches, smallholder farmers and food production, it sounds great. Were it serious, it would mean a change in strategy. Alas, I can`t believe it. For example, what is meant by “socially inclusive commercial farms”? Is it just a nice word for “contract farming”? And if so, why don't they say so? What does Akin Adesina, AGRA's Vice-President of policy and partnership, mean when he talks of the “right kind” of seeds? Perhaps the products of the US-American seed multinational Monsanto, which has been trying for years to expand its business in Africa and promotes GMOs with cover-organisations like the “Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation”? And what is considered to be the “right kind” of fertilizer? Might it be that of YARA International, the largest producer of chemical fertilizer and one of the main sponsors of AGRA and AGRF for years? Who will pay for the “right kind” of fertilizer, which has to be imported, and for the patented expensive seeds? Is this really all about rice, maize, sorghum or soybeans, when they refer to “high value-added crops”? And what about the men and women farmers in regions with less favourable conditions – do they have no potential?

In the past, when loosening their purse strings, the actors assembled in Accra have always had an eye on private investment, export markets and foreign exchange earnings – not on local supply of staple foods or on small-scale farmers. And now, suddenly, it is all going to be completely different? It would seem that this breadbasket strategy should be taken with a pinch of salt. Despite the creed of food security, it is more likely that Africa's farmers would be producing for private companies and for export, not for themselves - if the whole thing is not merely a huge conference hot-air balloon at all. And the breadbasket will continue to hang in Europe, the USA, Brazil or Thailand, with a rope for the food multinationals and the financial speculators to pull it up or down as they like. (3,600 words)