AGRICULTURAL policies aimed at alleviating poverty in Africa could be making things worse, according to new research findings.
University of East Anglia (UEA) researchers this week published a report on so-called ‘green revolution’ policies in Rwanda. Governments, international donors and organisations such as the International Monetary Fund claim these strategies are successfully growing the economy and alleviating poverty, but researchers revealed that they may in fact be having very negative impacts on the poorest people in the country.
One of the major strategies to reduce poverty in sub-Saharan Africa is through policies aiming to increase and ‘modernise’ agricultural production. Up to 90 per cent of people in some African countries are smallholder farmers reliant on agriculture, for whom agricultural innovation, such as using new seed varieties and cultivation techniques, holds potential benefit but also great risk.
In the 1960s and 70s policies supporting new seeds for marketable crops, sold at guaranteed prices, helped many farmers and transformed economies in Asian countries. These became known as “green revolutions”. The new wave of green revolution policies in sub- Saharan Africa is supported by multinational companies and western donors, and is impacting the lives of tens, even hundreds of millions of smallholder farmers, according to Dr Neil Dawson, who led the UEA study.
The UEA research reveals that only a relatively wealthy minority have been able to keep to enforced modernisation because the poorest farmers cannot afford the risk of taking out credit for the approved inputs, such as seeds and fertilisers. Their fears of harvesting nothing from new crops and the potential for the government to seize and reallocate their land means many choose to sell up instead.
PRIVATE AID MAY NOT BE HELPING
The report follows another by social justice organisation Global Justice Now, which suggested the world’s largest private donors, who wield huge amounts of influence and financial power have “Dangerously and unaccountably [distorted] the direction of international development” in a way that could entrench corporate power and poverty. This has been done by, amongst other things, championing highly industrialised agriculture, which is undermining smaller-scale, biologically diverse systems.
Dr Dawson’s findings tie in with recent debates about strategies to feed the world in the face of growing populations, for example the influence of wealthy donors such as the Gates Foundation, initiative’s such as the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, and multinational companies such as Monsanto in pushing for their vision of agriculture in Africa.
There have also been debates about small versus large farms being best to combat hunger in Africa, while struggles to maintain local control over land and food production, for example among the Oromo people in Ethiopia, have been highlighted. In a recent policy document advocating on behalf of small-scale farmers, FAO warned that “The over-arching paradigm of economic growth, considered the highway to secure development, has left the social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development behind.”
Dr Dawson, a senior research associate in UEA’s School of International Development, commented, “Similar results are emerging from other experiments in Africa. Agricultural development certainly has the potential to help people, but instead these policies appear to be exacerbating landlessness and inequality for poorer rural inhabitants.
“Many of these policies have been hailed as transformative development successes, yet that success is often claimed on the basis of weak evidence through inadequate impact assessments. And conditions facing African countries today are very different from those past successes in Asia some 40 years ago.”
‘MODERNISATION’ NOT THE WHOLE ANSWER
Outlining one of the main criticisms with this vision of agriculture and its place in development policies, Dr Dawson added: “Such policies may increase aggregate production of exportable crops, yet for many of the poorest smallholders they strip them of their main productive resource, land. [My research] details how these imposed changes disrupt subsistence practices, exacerbate poverty, impair local systems of trade and knowledge, and threaten land ownership. It is startling that the impacts of policies with such far-reaching impacts for such poor people are, in general, so inadequately assessed.”
The research looked in-depth at Rwanda’s agricultural policies and the changes impacting the wellbeing of rural inhabitants in eight villages in the Country’s mountainous west. Here chronic poverty is common and people depend on the food they are able to grow on their small plots.
Farmers traditionally cultivated up to 60 different types of crops, planting and harvesting in overlapping cycles to prevent shortages and hunger. However, due to high population density in Rwanda’s hills, agricultural policies have been imposed which force farmers to modernise with new seed varieties and chemical fertilisers, to specialise in single crops and part with “archaic” agricultural practices.
Dr Dawson and his UEA coauthors Dr Adrian Martin and Prof Thomas Sikor recommend that not only should green revolution policies be subject to much broader and more rigorous impact assessments, but that mitigation for poverty-exacerbating impacts should be specifically incorporated into such policies. In Rwanda, in their view, that would mean encouraging land access for the poorest and supporting traditional practices during a gradual and voluntary shift.
Wales can lead on net-zero farming
NFU CYMRU hosted a farm visit for the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Alok Sharma MP, to demonstrate that Welsh farmers are well-placed to deliver on the industry’s net zero ambitions.
The event saw NFU Cymru launch its new document, which sets out that Welsh farmers are part of the solution to climate change.
NFU Cymru President John Davies presented the report to the Secretary of State, who also holds the role of nominated President for COP26, as part of the on farm meeting.
The visit was hosted by NFU Cymru Next Generation Group member Llŷr Jones, whose 1,600-acre sheep, beef and egg farm near Corwen also produces renewable energy to satisfy the farm’s energy needs, exporting the surplus power to the grid.
As part of his visit to Derwydd Farm, Mr Sharma was also able to learn about the scale of work carried out on the farm as part of Welsh Government’s Glastir agri-environment scheme, including creating habitats for wildlife, tree planting, protecting some 30 acres of peatland, hedgerow management and soil and grassland management.
During his visit, the BEIS Secretary planted an apple tree as an example of the environmental work the agricultural sector carries out to sequester carbon, while also providing food and aiding biodiversity.
Speaking after the visit, NFU Cymru President John Davies said: “By focussing on improving farming’s productive efficiency; improving land management and enhancing land use to capture more carbon; and boosting renewable energy and the wider bio-economy, Wales’ farmers will be able to play their part in addressing the issues brought about by climate change. By reducing carbon emissions in these ways farmers are in a strong position to achieve the industry’s goal of achieving net zero by 2040.
“I am thrilled that we were able to welcome the BEIS Secretary, Alok Sharma MP, on farm today to see Llŷr Jones’ exciting and impressive farming enterprise, which has carbon capture and renewable energy at its heart. Llŷr’s farm is just one of a wide network of farms across Wales who are harnessing innovation to reduce emissions and produce climate friendly food. These businesses are net zero leaders not just in the respect of farming, but in a wider business context.”
Alok Sharma, COP26 President and Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “I was very pleased to visit Llŷr Jones’ farm and see first-hand the actions being taken to mitigate climate change and support nature on their land.
“I welcome the NFU’s ambitious commitment to reach net zero by 2040, and I look forward to working across governments, business and civil society in the run up to COP26 to raise global commitments to reduce carbon emissions.”
NFU Cymru Next Generation Group member Llŷr Jones added: “I take great pride in the work we do to maintain and enhance the environment, encourage biodiversity and support the local community alongside my core role as a food producer.
“I was pleased to be able welcome the Secretary of State on farm today to show him how we’re always striving to positively influence the carbon impact of our business. I hope Mr Sharma enjoyed his visit to my north Wales hill farm and that what he has seen shows him that our industry has a vital role to play in the climate change challenge now and in the future.”
Broadband must reach rural communities
THE FUW has responded positively to news that there are plans to bring full fibre broadband to an additional three million homes and businesses in some of the UK’s most isolated rural communities, but stresses it must really reach them.
The connection to 3.2 million UK premises, which was given the go-ahead after an Ofcom consultation, is reported to be part of a £12bn investment by Openreach to build full fibre infrastructure to 20 million premises throughout the UK by the end of this decade.
Places set to benefit include Aberystwyth in west Wales, Millom in Cumbria, Thurso in north-east Scotland, and Ballycastle in County Antrim. Openreach is due to publish the full list of the 251 locations, referred to as Area 3, where it will build the new network. Ofcom has estimated there are 9.6 million homes and businesses situated in this final third of the UK.
Responding to the announcement, FUW Ceredigion county chairman Morys Ioan said: “The last few months have served as a stark example of how vital connectivity is. Our own Union staff, many of whom live in rural areas, have been working from home and we have continued to assist members with digital paperwork for their farm businesses. Without an internet connection this would not have been possible.
“It is really good news that this extra funding is being directed at rural communities but we must make sure that it really does go to those premises who currently are not benefitting from full fibre broadband.
“Our rural towns and villages have been left behind in the race for better and faster connectivity and it is critical for the competitiveness and viability of rural businesses, and the economy, that tangible improvements are made now.
“The FUW has stressed on many occasions that those without a connection cannot diversify their businesses, that they cannot support their children’s education and that they cannot connect readily with Government programmes for advice and support payments as they are mandated to do.”
Farmers and Police cooperate on modern slavery
POLICE has worked in partnership with rural and farming unions to support a national campaign, aiming to create a picture of the nature and scale of modern slavery and human trafficking in communities.
Dyfed-Powys Police in Project Aidant, led by the National Crime Agency, also looked at the impact COVID-19 legislation and restrictions on travel has had on the availability of labour in the agricultural industry.
Detective Chief Inspector Anthony Evans said: “Dyfed-Powys Police, and our rural teams in particular, engaged with the agricultural industry and raise awareness of the ethical use of labour and avoidance of labour exploitation, as well as asking for any concerns to be raised with us or the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority.
“We also worked with branches of the National Farmers’ Union and Farmers’ Union of Wales to circulate information about modern slavery and how to spot the signs to their members.
“Forced and compulsory labour is very often a harmful and hidden crime and its victims may be especially isolated and hidden from view during the COVID-19 outbreak. However, help and support is available.”
Although the true scale of modern slavery and human trafficking is difficult to measure, it is understood that the number of identified victims is increasing. Many victims work in the construction industry, in agriculture, in the sex industry, and in places like nail bars or car washes, while a growing number are forced into criminality by their exploiters. Children are found working in these situations, as well as in sexual slavery.
Many victims have been trafficked from overseas – frequently from Eastern Europe, South East Asia, and Africa – and their exploitation often begins en route. However, the latest figures show British nationals make up the largest single group of those victimised.
The current Project Aidant aimed to identify and respond to the changing threat picture as a result of COVID-19.
DCI Evans said: “It is almost certain that restrictions on movement and activities are having a notable impact on the modern slavery and human trafficking threat in the UK.
“There have been anecdotal reports of displacement from public-facing sectors that have been closed as a result of government measures, such as car washes and nail bars, to high-risk sectors of agriculture and the wider food supply chain.
“We hope to gain a better understanding of the threat, and ultimately to protect vulnerable victims of slavery and human trafficking, who are often hidden in plain sight.”
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