Thursday, 16 August 2012



The increasing emphasis on subsistence  farming  has led to several contradictory trends in the last 10 years.
First, a decline in global commodity trading.
Second, the development of sustainable agriculture.
Third, a global land grab by cash rich countries.
Fourth, increasing pressure on water resources.

Since the economic meltdown of the USA and the EU following the collapse of banking, and the mortgage crisis, in 2008/09, there has been an increasing demand to put ‘farming first’: to return to urban farms, and allotments and to abandone the global trade of staple foods. There has been an increasing number of community markets selling locally grown produce. This can be seen as a return to ‘subsistence farming’.
'Development' must include everyone, and a sustainable future for the 100% of the world’s population is a ‘subsistence’ future, made easier by the provision of modern technology e.g solar energy, water purification, drugs to cure diseases. Profits should have social objectives, and be spent for the benefits of local communities in the form of health care, sanitation, education, not for the luxuries of the plutocracy.
Without sustainable agriculture, sustainable development in Africa will remain a dream, argues Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, of Farming First. A top priority of the UN is to halve the number of people in the world experiencing poverty and hunger. While several countries have made progress in this area (China alone has lifted more than 175 million of its people above the poverty line), many other countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, still face the same hunger and poverty levels that they experienced 20 years ago. Up to 300 million Africans are facing chronic hunger.
So what can Africans do to put food on the table and money in their pockets? The answer is simple – invest in agriculture. After decades of stagnation in agricultural yields and little investment in rural economies, African countries are beginning to prioritise the development of agricultural production and markets. Rural development and agricultural productivity improvement now feature prominently on the agenda of national governments.
Continent-wide plans and investments, through programmes under the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), Research into Use (RIU) and the Alliance for Commodity Trade in East
and Southern Africa (ACTESA) and many others are encouraging.
With the majority of African governments spending on average less than 5% of total national budgets on agriculture, one of CAADP's key objectives is to increase this to 10%, with the target of raising agricultural productivity by at least 6% per annum. Achieving Africa's agricultural growth requires massive investments from the global community and the on-going global financial crisis poses a threat to Africa's efforts.
Over the past generation, agriculture and farmers have been sidelined in international policy circles. During this time, agriculture's share of total aid has dropped from 17% to 3% of total spend. As a result, productivity is low. While total aid to sub-Saharan Africa remained stable during the 1990s, the proportion allocated to agriculture declined year on year. Aid to agriculture in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) member states declined as a proportion of total aid from 20% in the early 1980s to 8% by 2000. If poverty in Africa is to be reduced, aid to agriculture must be increased substantially and made to work more effectively.
The G8 agriculture ministers in discussions of the world food emergency, have done well to recognise the role agriculture plays in the success of a broader development agenda.  The G8 ministers have endorsed CAADP as an excellent plan of what is needed to achieve food security. It is time we realised that there can be no sustainable development without sustainable agriculture. For Africa to develop sustainable food policies, partnerships are key. The Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) has joined forces with international groups from the science and technology, farming, and private sector communities to endorse a plan called - Farming First  

among global policymakers. Farming First calls on world leaders to take action by developing a locally sustainable value chain for global agriculture. It emphasises the need for knowledge networks and policies centred on helping subsistence farmers to become small-scale entrepreneurs, and it proposes six interlinked imperatives for sustainable agriculture:
safeguarding natural resources,
sharing knowledge,
building local access,
protecting harvests,
enabling access to markets
and prioritising research imperatives.
Implementation of programmes under CAADP is critical for reducing hunger and achieving the global priorities expressed in the
Millennium Development Goals.
Dr Lindiwe Majele Sibanda is CEO of the Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network.

At the same time as 'putting farming first', locally, we must pay attention to the cash rich countries, who are buying up agricultural land in Africa. Local farmers could be crushed unless there are international rules to protect them.
In Africa they are calling it the land grab, or the new colonialism. Countries hungry to secure their food supplies – including Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, South Korea (the world's third biggest importer of corn) China, India, Libya and Egypt – are at the forefront of a
frantic rush to buy up farmland all around the world, but mainly cash-starved Africa.
Saudi Arabian investors have paid $100m for  Ethiopian farms where they hope to grow wheat and barley, adding to the millions of acres they already own in the war-ravaged country, as well as in neighbouring Sudan. The Saudis also have land in Indonesia and Thailand for growing rice. China owns vast tracts of overseas land, mainly in Algeria and Zimbabwe.  Kenya and Tanzania have leased land while the Ugandans have been big sellers, allocating two million acres of land to Egypt for wheat and corn.
he Saudi government and other Gulf States are negotiating with Pakistan to buy another million acres. The deal includes the services of a 100,000-man private army to protect the food being exported. Buyers or lease-holders  have also been promised legal cover in case a future government in Islamabad is less welcoming.
By far the most aggressive buyer is Saudi Arabia, where the government is now actively encouraging private investors and companies to buy farmland abroad after abandoning its attempt to be self-sufficient because of worries over water scarcity. It cut its wheat production by 12.5 per cent last year, prompting the search for new land.


At the African Union (AU), the agriculture commissioner, Rhoda Peace Tumusiime, is worried that many land buyers are ignoring the interests of local farmers and communities. But the AU also recognises that bringing new capital into Africa could be positive if it is
directed in the right way. Instead of purchasing land, she says, buyers or lease-holders should invest through production and trade agreements with the host country. Deals, which increased overall food production should be encouraged, a move which would bring
more food to the international markets, as well as to the poorest African households. Some of the AU's new guidelines on land sales include recommendations that new investors should promise to help with infrastructure, such as health facilities, agree to pay local taxation and look at ways to get more involved on the food-processing side which would create more local jobs. It estimated that 20 million hectares of land – twice the size of Germany's croplands – have been sold since 2006 in more than four dozen land deals, mainly in Africa. So far, most of the buyers are a mix of private investors, US private equity houses such as Sanlam Private Equity, the Saudi Kingdom Zephyr fund, the UK's CDC and sovereign wealth funds.
Subsistence farmers and nomadic tribesmen are of particular concern, since many of them do not have titles to their land and could be easily exploited by their own governments, which are desperate to sell to boost their foreign reserves. If the latest invasion of overseas money can be handled well, it could bring huge advantages to Africa after a generation of declining investment.  But much of the new money is going into capital intensive farming – and speculative bio-fuel crops – which do not bring great benefits to local farmers. One of the implications of this investment in farming is that the amount of water used to produce food and goods imported to developed countries is worsening water shortages in the developing world. April 2010, the 'Engineering the Future' alliance, reported that  this is unsustainable, given population growth and climate change.  "We must take account of how our water footprint is impacting on the rest of the world."  Developing countries are already using significant proportions of their water to grow food and produce goods for consumption in the West. The report says, "The burgeoning demand from developed countries is putting severe pressure on areas that are already short of water.”  The report says it means nations such as the UK have a duty to put farming first and help curb water use in the developing world, where about one billion people already do not have sufficient access to clean drinking water.  UK-funded aid projects should have water conservation as a central tenet of development. The report recommends, companies should examine their supply chains and reduce the water used in them. This could lead to difficult questions being asked, such as whether it is right for the UK to import beans and flowers from water-stressed countries such as Kenya.  
Nevertheless, the FAO predicts the number of chronically hungry will shoot up by 100 million this year – on top of the 1.4 billion people already living on the poverty line.

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