A High Level Conference on Food Security took place in Madrid recently. All the main players in the global production and distribution of food met to discuss the 'Global Action for Food' and the future of 'food for all'. Sounds very noble, but the reality is far removed from the needs of ordinary people and the inclusion of local farmers.
As usual in these high level gatherings, discussions were dominated by the World Bank / IMF and the multinational giants such as Monsanto, with very little time being given to small farmers. The former focus on production for profit - which includes the use of genetically modified (GM) seeds; agribusiness takes no real account of local food needs or farming practices. As food and water shortages increase it is clear that the policies of these international institutions are not working. Rather than seek alternative solutions, they continue to push the same old policies, and in particular the production of GM foods in Africa and elsewhere.
Whilst European consumers are increasingly refusing to eat GM food, international aid policies and the giant biotech multinationals have tried to force other countries to accept GM food aid such as grains and seeds. An article on opendemocracy.net explains:
'Those with power, particularly the United States, have used hunger as justification for trade supremacy and the promotion of proprietary genetically-modified (GM) crops owned by northern multinational corporations - much to the delight of pro-GM advocates. Countries and their peoples who legitimately resist the consumption of GM grain and seed are under intense diplomatic threat of denial of food aid in times of crisis. United Nations agencies and US private voluntary organizations are complicit in this process, as is attested in these minutes of a May 2002 meeting between US Private Voluntary Organisations and the US Department of Agriculture.'
So what alternatives are there? Food Sovereignty suggests a peasant agricultural and artisan fisheries model which prioritizes local markets and sustainable production methods as well as removing the profit motive behind the sale of agrochemicals and GM seeds.
* Small farmers and social movements from all over the world promote a model based on food sovereignty and orientated towards peasant-based agriculture and artisan fisheries, prioritizing local markets and sustainable production methods. This model is based on the right to food and to the rights of peoples to define their own agricultural policies.
* The food crisis should not be an opportunity to make more money through the sale of fertilizers, agrochemicals and genetically modified seeds. Agribusinesses cannot be allowed to attempt to profit from the desperation of over a billion people. They must be excluded from dealing with the food crisis - agribusiness and international financial and trade agencies cannot be relied upon to solve a problem they themselves have caused.
African activists are not silent on these issues. Despite the Nigerian Government's willingness to sell the country's future to big agribusinesses, some 30 Nigerian environmental groups are calling for an end to GM cassava trials, which they say will lead to food colonization under the 'guise of agricultural biotechnology'. Nnimmo Bassey of Environmental Rights Action (FOE Nigeria) writes:
'Nigerians have used different fora to voice outright rejection of GM crops and public opinion is massively against the commercialization of our stomachs. This cannot be done through the backdoor and we have made it clear that the solution to our food needs is with our local farmers and not with Danforth Centre, Monsanto and their local allies.'
In other cases, such as Zambia, governments have themselves rejected aid in the form of GM foods. In another positive move against GM foods in Africa, a recent report from the Oakland Institution - Voices of Africa directly challenges the Gates Foundation's Alliance for a New Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).
'Despite the Gates Foundation's rhetoric of inclusion and the claim that their investment in agricultural development benefits the growing majority of the world's poor who rely on agriculture, a leaked Gates Foundation confidential report on their Agricultural Development Strategy for 2008-2011 actually emphasizes moving people out of the agricultural sector.'
The multinational agribuisnesses have no room for local farmers and fishing artisans who make up the majority of Africa's population especially women. The result is not just inappropriate food for local consumption but loss of livelihoods and land and therefore increased poverty for both rural and urban populations.