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africa: opposing land grabs, agra and non-ecological agriculture

Enormous tracts of land on the African continent have been turned over to transnational agribusinesses and others interested in maximizing profits by exporting agricultural products, including for agrofuels production. A combination of African governments’ expropriation of community land and new agricultural systems proposed by donor agencies has proven to be highly damaging to smallholders’ livelihoods and the environment.

africa-landgrab-meetingThe Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), established by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation from the US, considers the ‘development’ of agriculture in Africa under western parameters to be the best approach to overcoming hunger and poverty. They propose a new ‘green revolution’, which will include more access to agricultural markets, and research into new seed varieties. Although AGRA claims to support smallholder farmers, AGRA’s supporters are pushing incessantly for the deployment of genetically modified (GM) crops in Africa.

The reality of the situation is that the combined plans of AGRA and the agrofuels companies threaten to erode Africa’s traditional systems of farming, and contaminate the seed base with engineered varieties. Yet there is low public awareness about AGRA, genetically modified crops, agrofuels and other initiatives promoted by the global North.

what happened

Friends of the Earth Nigeria/ERA aims to address this dangerous trend by unmasking AGRA, unveiling the scourge of land grabs in Africa, building the resistance of communities, and promoting agro-ecological agriculture. Africa’s governments should be focusing on building the capacity and meeting the needs of the continent’s small-scale farmers. Particular attention needs to be paid to the plight of women farmers and to the promotion of ecological agriculture.

Friends of the Earth Nigeria hosted a public conference “AGRA, Land Grabs and Non-Ecological Agriculture”, 20-23 October 2009 in Abuja, Nigeria. The meeting attracted a wide range of networks including Friends of the Earth groups in Africa and Friends of the Earth International’s Food Sovereignty Program, Third World Network (TWN), the African Biosafety Network (ABN) and the Coalition for the Protection of African Genetic Heritage (COPAGEN). It provided an excellent space for information sharing and myth busting.

It was also a much-needed opportunity to promote genuine agrarian reform, which supports small-scale farming without the use of chemical fertilizers and inputs as proposed by AGRA and its allies. The groups collectively rejected the unsustainable use of Africa’s natural resources by agribusinesses.

The conference also called for gender justice: women are marginalized on land rights-related issues in virtually all parts of Africa and have been left out of key policy formulation and decision-making processes.

In relation to the conference, Friends of the Earth Nigeria also carried out fact-finding visits to communities and government agencies, and coordinated their activities with other civil society organizations.

what changed

The conference had a huge impact. It was an excellent platform for groups to exchange ideas and brace themselves for the struggle against AGRA, GM crops and the scramble for Africa’s arable land.

Groups committed themselves to joint work, and began to plan common activities. Knowledge of ecological agriculture and community resistance strategies was greatly enhanced, enabling community based groups (farmers and others) to protect their biodiversity and sustain their livelihoods more effectively. It also allowed participants to examine and compare the situation in various countries. It brought different organizations and regional networks together and strengthened ties between Friends of the Earth groups and with others.

The conference also generated considerable media interest, and many reports on the conference have been published, in the Nigerian media and elsewhere.

It also helped to build support for FoE Nigeria’s memorandum to Nigerian lawmakers on the draft Nigerian Biosafety bill, sent in December 2009. An expanding network of organizations is now actively opposing problematic provisions in the draft bill.

what was learned

The conference clearly showed that agrarian reform in Africa should come from within Africa, not from an invasion of the continent by foreign commercial interests.

It also illustrated that great results can be achieved when groups come together and are united for a common purpose.

what next

Many further activities are planned, including in terms of disseminating the results of the conference. Real alternatives such as agro-ecological agriculture will be promoted, and local groups will be encouraged to make links with other like-minded groups and organizations.

FoE Nigeria plans to host a conference that will consider "The Politics of Hunger" from 16-19 November 2010, in Abuja, NigeriaThe object of this conference is to look at the links between the push to introduce GMOs into Africa, and the politics around hunger in Africa. The conference will also examine the potential impacts of the promotion of GMOs in Africa, the neglect of agro-ecological agriculture, climate change, food aid and environmental damage due to human agency.  It will also analyze the connection between climate change and food deficits in Nigeria specifically and Africa in general.


with thanks to our funders: hivos and the isvara foundation

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