Today: April 11, 2024

The Dakar II approach to agriculture – with a focus on corporate hybrid seed systems, hi-tech solutions, imported inputs, GMOs, and large-scale monocropping – risks overlooking Africa’s rich diversity of needs, cultures, and ecosystems. Credit: Thomas Cristofoletti/USAID.

The AfDB’s $61bn initiative will transform agriculture, but for whom?

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Launched early last year, the African Development Bank’s ambitious Dakar II initiative, “Feed Africa: Food Sovereignty and Resilience“, seeks to usher in a new era for African agriculture, positioning the continent as a global breadbasket. With a staggering proposed budget of $61 billion, primarily sourced from private and development sectors, the initiative’s scale and scope are unprecedented. However, its approach – aiming to industrialise the continent’s food systems – has ignited a fierce debate concerning its implications for small-scale farmers, biodiversity, and the sovereignty of African food systems.

In the aftermath of the “food and agriculture delivery compact” talks in Dakar, the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa issued a statement titled: “Diversity, Not False Solutions, Is Key To Achieving Food Sovereignty And Resilience In Africa”. The declaration applauded the drive to eliminate hunger and increase agricultural investment but denounced the persistent colonial approach that neglects community rights, displaces indigenous people, and undermines biodiversity.

At the heart of the controversy is the Dakar II initiative’s tendency towards a one-size-fits-all model of agricultural development — a strategy to agro-industrialise Africa. This approach is heavily reliant on corporate hybrid seed systems, hi-tech solutions, imported inputs, GMOs, and large-scale monocropping of maize, rice, and soybeans. As such, it overlooks the rich diversity of needs, cultures, and ecosystems across African nations and communities. It not only sidelines small-scale farmers – who are the cornerstone of our continent’s food security and cultural heritage – but poses grave risks to our environmental diversity and indigenous agricultural practices.

The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), representing a broad coalition of 41 member networks working across 50 countries, has now scrutinised the 40 “country compacts” proposed under the Dakar II initiative in a new report. Our findings reveal a worrying trend towards consolidating land for industrial agriculture, potentially displacing millions of smallholder farmers through land-grabbing and jeopardising their livelihoods and food sovereignty. Furthermore, the emphasis on hybrid seeds, synthetic fertilisers, and high-tech solutions threatens to deepen our dependency on multinational corporations, eroding our autonomy and the traditional knowledge systems that have sustained our biodiversity and food systems for many generations.

In Tanzania, for instance, 1.2 million hectares of land will be “acquired” from small scale farmers and turned into large scale block farms of wheat, seed oils, and vegetables. The Tanzania Compact appears to be an open invitation for the private sector to secure large-scale land grabs, saying: “The government is keen to partner with the private sector in the land clearing and administration, formalisation, and registration that is going on, through provision of land surveying and cadastre mapping technologies and services.”

Meanwhile, the Kenya Compact proposes to “transform 2 million poor farmers into surplus producers through input finance and intensive agricultural extension support”.  This proposal raises concerns due to its potential to prioritise the interests of multinational corporations over the welfare of smallholder farmers. By promoting open trade policies and public-private partnerships without strict safeguards, there’s a risk that these initiatives will facilitate the exploitation of local farmers and the environment for the benefit of private investors. The absence of restrictions on the repatriation of earnings and capital could lead to wealth extraction from Kenya, depriving local economies of crucial investments. Overall, such a dramatic shift shows how the compacts envision a completely reorganised rural world for Africa.

The environmental implications of adopting an industrial agricultural model are equally alarming. The conversion of over 25 million hectares – an area larger than Uganda or the UK –into industrial farmland threatens to inflict irreversible damage on our ecosystems and biodiversity. In the Democratic Republic of Congo alone, 49,000 km2 will be transformed for industrial production. This potential wave of large-scale land acquisitions by private sector investors will accelerate the deforestation of the Congo Basin, Earth’s second lung, and displace millions of land users.

Such a shift towards monoculture, coupled with an increased dependency on chemical inputs, risks degrading our soil health, contaminating our water sources, and reducing the genetic diversity essential for our resilience against the changing climate.

The alternative

The path forward does not need to be mired in controversy and environmental degradation. The continent could reimagine African agriculture in a way that is inclusive, sustainable, and resilient. By embracing agroecology – a model that integrates local knowledge with contemporary science – Africa can forge a path towards a decolonised agronomy that empowers small-scale farmers, preserves biodiversity, and ensures food sovereignty.

Agroecology champions an agricultural development path that is ecologically sound, socially just, and rooted in participatory, place-based approaches. It is an effective alternative to the industrial model proposed by Dakar II that prioritises the preservation of our agricultural biodiversity, the empowerment of our communities, and the protection of smallholder farmers’ rights and livelihoods.

Our call for a shift in the African Development Bank’s approach is not merely a critique but a constructive proposal towards a sustainable future for African agriculture. In this vision, our continent’s agricultural potential is realised not through the homogenisation of our landscapes and practices, but through the celebration and nurturing of our diversity.

As we stand at this crossroads, the choices made today will resonate for generations to come. It is imperative that the Dakar II initiative, and indeed all stakeholders in African agriculture, embrace a future where development does not come at the expense of those who have stewarded these lands for millennia. By fostering a genuinely inclusive, participatory, and sustainable approach to agricultural development, Africa can indeed feed itself and the world – not through dependency and dispossession, but through empowerment and resilience. – African Arguments

Million Belay is the General Coordinator of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA).

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