Millions Against Monsanto
The global March Against Monsanto took place in more than 50 countries last Saturday, with more than 430 simultaneous protests chanting down the walls of the 1%. The numbers are staggering: an estimated two million protestors turned out world-wide. Las Vegas saw over 2,500 protestors coursing through its arid streets. Five hundred marched in Anchorage, Alaska; thousands thronged the state capitol of California; rallies broke out throughout the US, raising the voice of dissent: “No more lies! No more greed! We don’t want your toxic seed!” From Vancouver to Buenos Aires; Durban to Stockholm; exuberant protestors danced and shouted for the downfall of Monsanto’s global empire.
The current round of protests in the US are linked to the recent “Monsanto Protection Act,” which makes it legal for Monsanto to sell potentially unsafe seeds in spite of judicial injunctions. But internationally, Monsanto is generating attention for increasing its stake in global agro-development. Monsanto has inserted itself into the new Scramble for Africa like a knife in the back of the starving poor. Its seeds have become the continent’s new blood diamonds.
The Knife in the Back
The latest Scramble for Africa began in the wake of the global food crisis of 2007, as international investors began to sink their capital into increasing amounts of agricultural land. The ensuing land grab would lead to enhanced dispossession, mass insurrection (including a revolution in Madagascar), and another food crisis in 2010. Since then, revolt against food prices has characterized a new trend in African life.
Arab Spring broke out in 2011 largely due to rising food prices. In two of the major global events of recent times, starvation in the Sahel brought the conflict between the Tuareg and the Malian government to a violent head, while in Kenya a protest movement surrounding inflation and food prices grew to become what is known as the Unga revolution.
At last year’s G8 Summit in Camp David, the next step in the contemporary Scramble for Africa was taken. The G8 inaugurated a new system of structural change in the global economy towards “a new Green Revolution in Africa.” For the newly minted New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition in Africa, the G8 pulled together the usual suspects: the World Bank, USAID, and other international financial institutions, along with Monsanto, Cargill, and a host of elite multinational corporations. The New Alliance involves six countries—Ghana, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Mozambique—with plans to incorporate 20 African countries in coming years. Each of the six present member states have recent histories of hunger and food riots, with Ghana and Ethiopia counting among the top five countries hardest hit by land grabs. Yet the model generated by the New Alliance presents a turn in global trade policy that threatens to deepen the crisis rather than better conditions for local farmers.
A Green Revolution for Africa
As an “additive” to the L’Aquila commitments of 2009, which were in turn built on the 2005 G8 meeting in Gleneagles, the New Alliance marks a huge step towards public-private partnerships. Entities such as the Bill Gates-driven Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, as well as the inter-African Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), work with local governments to increase funding to agriculture, while inviting multinational investment and involvement. For instance, the CAADP met in March to address the objective, initially stated in 2003, of “[requiring] African countries to commit at least 10 percent of their national budgets to agricultural development.” But development is not reduced to an increase in farms.
The CAADP runs a biosceinces network, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with central infrastructure in Burkina Faso, to research crops and livestock. To promote mass cultivation of food, CAADP leads a Fertilizer Support Programme that will facilitate a “substantial increase in the use of fertilizer in Africa by 2015.” The CAADP also encourages new fisheries to combat food insecurity, a structural adjustment that brought many serious problems in India.
Apropos Monsanto, the intention of the New Alliance is stated clearly in a recent document released by the G8 on the New Alliance’s objectives in Tanzania: the New Alliance focuses on “implementing domestic seed policies that encourage increased private sector involvement in this area.” With Monsanto standing in for the private sector, there is every indication that these domestic seed policies will favor GMO crops, as well as the creation of new GMO hybrids. In India, such policies led to the notorious patenting of Basmati rice and the devastation of traditional seed-saving practices.
Neoliberalism with Southern Characteristics
According to one document released recently from the G8 called The “New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition” in Tanzania, “Tanzania is a showcase for public-private partnership in agricultural growth.” Indications, such as the farmers riot that exploded as recent as April 25 of this year over the fluctuation of commodity prices, suggest that this model is already faltering. Since L’Aquila in 2009, the investment strategies that form the framework of the New Alliance have been implemented to no avail. In many cases, conditions of food security have deteriorated even more.
Calling for “increased stability,” the Tanzania document demands “alternatives to [the] export ban [of food]… in order to strengthen response to food emergencies while minimizing disruptions in the market.” Private-public partnerships will enable multinational investors to produce food solely for export. This privileging of the private sector stands in stark contrast to the strengthening of local governance systems vis-à-vis the “growth with equity” model developed by former President Julius Nyerere, which is largely credited with bringing Tanzania a relatively tranquil status quo. The “openness” to global trade poses Neoliberalism with Southern Characteristics against Nyerere’s legacy, as public money goes to private interests while state control over exports is reduced significantly.
To gain “improved incentives for the private sector,” the New Alliance calls not only for reduced taxes to the corporate sector, but also for “secure certificate of land rights (granted or customary) for small holders.”
Insisting on “secure certificate of land rights” is the diplomatic way of saying, “papers, please.” In the language of political action, it means that informal landholders will be evicted in favor of large agricultural complexes.
37 percent of Ghana’s farmland has been grabbed by major multinational investors in the past five years, 25 percent in Sierra Leone, and the numbers continue like this throughout much of Africa. In Ethiopia, massive “green” development projects, such as the Gibe III hydroelectric dam funded by hundreds of millions of UK pounds sterling, have brought about the dispossession of hundreds of thousands of people through intimidation, beatings, rape, and torture. The transformation of the geography of Ethiopia, beginning with the flooding of the historic Omo river valley, is the ballast of the New Alliance’s drive towards the conversion of traditional farmlands into monocrop plantations. Another such project is the massive Grand Inga dam in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is projected to be the largest dam in the world and expected to flood domestic farmland in the Congo’s Bundy Valley causing massive methane emissions and even impacting the mid Atlantic Plume.
You Can’t Eat an Export
The New Alliance includes precisely the ingredients leading to the monumental failures of the Green Revolution in India, with two major exceptions: cash crops and debt. The disaster of the Green Revolution in India, where every half hour a farmer commits suicide because of onerous debt, was based largely on a shift towards cash crops, which the New Alliance does not entail; however, cash crops remain a critical aspect of the African Green Revolution, amounting to even more acreage than food. Thus, what the New Alliance portends is increased dependency on food exports in a time of draught while multinational corporations use land that could be dedicated to domestic food production for the export of cash crops. Pinning Africa’s food security hopes on food exports in such conditions may lead to a fate worse than debt.
Less frequently observed is the North Atlantic countries’ plan to forward the aims of private corporations through public partnerships with groups like the CAADP involving less debt than in previous Green Revolution arrangements.
Instead, investment comes by way of “donations.” Dependency comes not from debt, but from monopoly control over the food supply, as multinationals seize control over natural resources and trade infrastructure (Tanzania has been the site, even in the past week, of a resistance movement against a natural gas pipeline).
Agro-development for export does not mean economic growth, and it certainly does not mean food security. In 2010, food comprised already more than 75 percent of Ethiopia’s merchandise exports, yet the food crisis has worsened with the driest season since 1950 gripping East Africa occurring in 2011. For Ghana, the figure was closer to 60 percent, but there is strong public debate about the potential of crisis due to the draught in the Sahel that covers neighboring Burkina Faso, as well as Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, and Mauritania, where the current crisis is three times worse than the 2010 crisis. Food exports may bring some short cash, but they do not cope with problems of climate change, which make the practice of monocrop farming tenuous at best.
Recent reports show that 25 percent of US Americans cannot afford to feed themselves on their own income, although the US wastes enough food to feed 150 million people—the approximate size of the starving children of Africa.
Instead of conceiving a model of food production that would serve its own people better, the US appears to believe that a burgeoning export-oriented monocrop industry bringing cheap food from Africa primarily to US and European markets will actually bring food security or economic development back to Africa. In reality, increased food exports from Africa will not increase food security. It will lead to the enriching of wealthy elites who are struggling to hold onto their land grabs at the cost of dispossession and further ecological devastation of Africa.
Empire and Triangle Cooperation
The North’s direct investment into development areas like “food security” appears to be a gesture toward a new economic balance: while the Global South works through neoliberalism with Southern characteristics, it appears that the North Atlantic paves the way towards a Southern-style developmentalism with Northern Characteristics. Rather than placing an onus on debt and austerity in the South, the North is involving its own national economies in austerity programs while directly investing in Africa’s public-private partnerships, which clearly transgress the line of “free markets.” Many within African countries involved in the New Alliance reject the implications of “triangular cooperation,” and the navigation between South-South Cooperation, South-North.
Cooperation, and Northern neoliberalism
In Mozambique, which was hit by food riots in 2008 and 2010, the globally admired organization, Academic Action for the Development of Rural Communities, put forward a damning case against the new agro-development model: “The New Alliance will enable the most abusive and aggressive exploitation of Mozambique by mercantilist corporations, concealed under the philanthropic premise that it will liberate Africa from famine and misery, ignoring the failure of several similar initiatives carried out by the same multilateral agencies and imperialist powers in the past.” According to AADRC, the New Alliance will allow investors to grab land in undeveloped, resource-rich areas while blocking agricultural policies that serve peasants by privatizing increasing areas of land.
The dangers of the new Green Revolution should be obvious from the examples set over the past three decades. Yet “triangular cooperation” disguises the new Great Game. The Nutrition for Growth conference to take place in London about a week in advance of the G8 conference in Lough Erne pledges to protect young children from growth stunting caused by malnutrition. There is no mention of Monsanto in its pages, although the motives of Monsanto remain transparently in lock-step with those of the G8. The world marched last Saturday to crush Monsanto underfoot, and will continue to mobilize against the G8 in hopes that a better future is possible.
Sasha Ross lives in Portland, Oregon where he directs the Cascadia Field Office of the Earth First! Journal, and works at local bio-diversity group, Bark. He is currently editing an anthology about the Global Land Grab and his recent work can be found in Life During Wartime (AK Press 2013). This article is also being published at the Earth First! Newswire (newswire.earthfirstjournal.org).