President Barack Obama wants to convince the world that he is actually a liberal after all.
First he not-so-hastily follows Vice-president Joe Biden's support for gay marriage to assure us he is a social liberal. Then, last week at the G8 meeting, he announces The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition -- a $3 billion corporate investment initiative to end hunger in Africa -- to remind us he is still an economic liberal.
Not that the world needs reminding.
Like Bush, Clinton and every other president since Ronald Reagan, Obama believes that proprietary technologies, unregulated global markets and the unchecked power of corporate monopolies will solve all our social, economic and environmental ills. Never mind that 30 years of economic liberalization has impoverished the farmers of the global South, kicked off global warming, pushed the number of hungry people up over 1 billion and dragged us into the largest world-wide economic depression since -- well, the last liberal Great Depression.
The New Alliance is an initiative to convince the world that government and industry are finally doing something about world hunger. But as one African civil society group pointed out, it is not new and it is not an alliance.
Industrialized governments have given less than 6 percent in new money of the $22 billion they pledged three years ago to rebuild southern agriculture. The monopolies that made record profits during the 2008 and 2011 global food crises also came up with several globally-touted initiatives to end hunger... these were so quickly forgotten one can't even find their websites anymore. Neither governments nor global corporations bothered to consult with those who have the biggest stake in rebuilding agriculture in Africa: the farmers.
There's a good reason why the 45 members of the New Alliance don't want to hear from the people actually growing the food in Africa... farmers would say that Africa is actually a rich continent and it is the continued extraction of wealth by foreign corporations that causes poverty and hunger -- that the first Green Revolution did not "bypass" Africa; it failed. A new one spearheaded by the same institutions presently spreading GMOs and land grabbing throughout the continent will do more harm than good.
Is that assessment harsh? Anti-colonial? Radical? Yes. It is also true.
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Read this, from a letter addressed to the African Union and signed by 15 African peasant farmer federations:
Today we are faced with two contrasting aspirations in Sub-Saharan Africa: the desire to regain control of our development and, on the other hand, the temptation of an excessive reliance on external resources... [African governments] should accord the major advantages to the principal investors in agriculture, those who take the risks within the family enterprises, that is, the peasants, and not to urban or foreign sources of capital.
This last point is especially poignant because, as explained by USAID's rather inexperienced director, Dr. Rajiv Shah, government just can't do things like develop seeds, build silos, or establish distribution networks. For that we need the private sector, i.e. the monopolies. Dr. Shah is too young to remember the first Green Revolution, in which government did precisely those things. He is also too young to remember a world without rapacious global monopolies. Unsurprisingly, USAID wants the Alliance to help remove the risks for foreign investment in Africa so that Monsanto, Yara and other giants can combat hunger the old fashioned way -- by making a profit on it. Well, it happens that agriculture is inherently risky. If multi-billion dollar corporations aren't willing to take any risks to end hunger -- and with African states decimated after three decades of World Bank/IMF structural adjustment programs -- then it will fall upon poor farmers to take the risks. No wonder the New Alliance didn't consult with them.
African farmers got wind of it, though. Here's what they told their leaders in regards to having the global monopolies and the G8 decide their futures:
We must build our food policy on our own resources as is done in the other regions of the world. The G8 and the G20 can in no way be considered appropriate fora for decisions of this nature.
In case there was any doubt about which corporate projects African farmers specifically see as compromising the sovereignty of countries on the African continent, they identify them by name:
Three events have accentuated [our] doubts. First of all the misunderstandings around the principle of the green revolution proposed by AGRA (Bill Gates' Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa-Ed.). Then the World Economic Forum where 'Grow Africa' was launched. And finally, USAID's approval of the "New Alliance for Food Security." All are three are signals... which risk seriously compromising the realization of the original missions of [African] policies.
There are other alliances being built around the world to forge equitable and sustainable solutions to hunger. They not only consult with farmers, but are led by farmers. They rely on time-tested and internationally-recognized agroecological methods and ensure food security through food sovereignty -- the right of peoples to protect their own food systems. President Obama would do much better to build authentically new partnerships with them rather than engaging in business as usual with the corporations that brought us hunger in the first place.