This month’s books investigate the impact of big business in Africa’s ability to produce food, and what Milton Friedman’s monetarism did to Chile’s economy.
Editor: Anuradha Vittachi
Big business in Africa
Agribusiness in Africa
by Barbara Dinham and Colin Hines
Earth Resources Research (pbk) £4.95
In recent years Africa has replaced Asia as the area of most concern as far as food issues go. It is not hard to see why. Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region in the world where per capita food production has dropped over the last twenty years, and per capita consumption there in 1980 was almost 20 per cent below what it was at the start of the sixties. The decline shows no sign of abating. Who is to blame?
Agribusiness in Africa sets out to answer the question with a penetrating look at the role of transnational companies. With numerous examples and in meticulous detail Barbara Dinham and Colin Hines expose the extent of big business involvement in Africa and who benefits from it. The result, judged from the point of view of the poor, is a damning indictment not just of the companies but of official aid donors and some African governments themselves. The companies involved include many household names, such as Tate and Lyle, Brooke Bond, Nesté, Unilever and Lonrho and even large chemical and oil companies producing fertilizers and seeds, such as ICI, Shell and BP.
The book describes in depth the coffee and sugar trade in Africa and agriculture in Kenya and Tanzania. It ends with a fascinating analysis of agribusiness in relation to Africa’s food crisis. The more bizarre aspects of the export trade, such as express air-freighted flowers and vegetables for Europe. also receive attention.
The chief merit of the book is its authors’ ability to build up an overwhelming case using example after example to demonstrate that export cropping and transnational involvement in Africa, while splendid for the companies, is damaging for the countries involved and ruinous for peasant farmers. The anti-peasant bias of major aid donors further aggravates the trend.
Nigeria provides a good example. Its latest plan to increase food production was conceived by the World Bank and Nigerian experts. Between 1981 and 1985 it is expected to cost over $8 thousand million. A US-Nigerian Joint Agricultural Consultative Committee was set up in 1980 ‘to facilitate private sector co-operation in agriculture and agribusiness between the United States and Nigeria’. It includes representatives from Coca-Cola, Ralston Purina and Carnation International, as well as the Ford Motor Company and the Chase Manhattan Bank, The committee will be the main vehicle for transferring US agricultural technology to Nigeria, particularly fertilizers, seeds, milling and baking technologies and integrated rice production and processing. Farm exports from the US to Nigeria could reach SI thousand million by 1985.
Yet in theory the small farmer is the cornerstone and major beneficiary of the plan. What, one is tempted to ask, do a small farmer from Nigeria and a large banker from the US have in common? Not a lot. In the past such programmes, as Dinham and Hines show, have led to increased landlessness and rural poverty:
In the second half of the 1970s, for example, the main area of agricultural investment in Nigeria was large-scale irrigation schemes, which had devastating effects on peasant producers. In Northern Nigeria the Talata-Mafara project involved irrigating 10,000 hectares near the Sokoto river. The work was carried out by Impresit Nigeria Ltd, which is 40 per cent owned by Fiat, and during the three year construction period 60,000 peasants had to be moved.
During this time the peasants unable to farm were given no compensation and finally, when they protested, the state used guns against them. For many of them the only way to survive was to mortgage their land to small bankers, civil servants and businessmen of Kano.
Agribusiness in Africa is a splendidly argued and documented report on the negative effects of big business on food production in Africa. The book is a forceful plea to governments and donors to begin supporting the peasant farmer - the backbone of the African economy - before it is too late. It makes excellent reading.
Even the typographical errors add to the meaning: what could be more appropriate than giving Nestlé’s income in Swiss francs?
The Chicago Boys
Chile: the Pinochet Decade
by Phil O’Brien and Jackie Roddick
Latin America Bureau (pbk) £2.95
Chile: the Pinochet Decade is for anyone curious to know what the economic policies of the ‘Chicago Boys’ (the monetarist school founded by Milton Friedman) are really like once put in practice. The introduction of Friedman’s economics into Chile after Pinochet’s putsch in 1973 was the first practical application of the monetarists’ theory.
The experiment came to an undignified end around the beginning of 1983 when the State had to take over some of the country’s largest banks to prevent their total bankruptcy. Ten years of military dictatorship, coupled with this fierce economic discipline, mean that today Chilean workers and peasants are poorer, worse nourished and worse educated than they have been since the Second World War. And a handful of Chilean industrialists have made huge fortunes.
The book comes from Phil O’Brien and Jackie Roddick of Glasgow University. previously major contributors to the more thorough and authoritative analysis published in the UK of the Chile of Salvadoi Allende, Chile: State and Revolution, Based on a wide range of interviews with Chilean bankers, economists, industrialists high-ranking civil servants, military men and leaders of some of the country’s professional associations, their own book is full of insights into the mentality of those who proceeded to apply the shock treatment to the Chilean economy from 1975, caring nothing for the social consequences: ‘The Chicago model is based on one extraordinarily simple idea: the argument that economic liberty is more fundamental than political liberty.
The Left often neglects to study the intricacies of its opponents’ manoeuvres and conflicting ideologies. In the brief chapter The Making of the Coup, the authors offer a useful analysis of the wide-ranging interests of different groups among the Chilean right wing and different branches of the Chilean Armed Forces.
The book also offers a brief chronology of Chilean history, placing emphasis on the last decade, and a handy summary of the principal political parties and trade unions which clarifies the plethora of initials that so often obscures political analysis from Latin America.
And the text is interspersed with explanatory boxes with titles like ‘The National Security Doctrine’ and ‘Gradualism versus the Shock’ - The box that I most enjoyed was called ‘Birds of a Feather’ and records an interview with Britain’s conservative Minister of Trade Cecil Parkinson in October 1980, where he said of the Chilean economic experience: ‘It is very similar to what we are trying to develop now in Great Britain.’ This is why this study of the Chicago Boys’ experiment of the last decade in Chile is so important both inside and outside Latin America.