Friday, 25 January 2013

War on Want alleges government lets down overseas small farmers

The government has defended its foreign aid policies after a War on Want report alleged that UK funds are being used to promote the interests of multinational companies in Africa at the expense of small farmers and rural communities.

Hunger Games is the latest ‘alternative report’ from the anti-poverty charity whose slogan is “poverty is political.” An earlier report Food Sovereignty criticised the Department for International Development (DFID) for adopting a food security model based on greater private sector control of production and distribution.

Hunger Games accuses the DFID of promoting GM crops and therefore locking small farmers into depending on corporate providers of seeds and chemical inputs. 

DFID sponsors the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa, that consists of agro-dealers, including Bayer, Monsanto and Syngenta that supply products to millions of peasant farmers. It gave the alliance £7 million between 2008 and 2011. 

The report also raises concerns that the personal connections between members of the British government and multinational agro-businesses are “too close” and that there is a ‘revolving door’ of staff between DFID and the businesses.

War on Want also calls for an end to DFID funding for projects through companies based in Mauritius, a southern African tax haven. Over £100 million, with a similar figure committed over the next three years, has gone to the Emerging Africa Infrastructure Fund based in Mauritius.  War on Want believe the government is failing to abide by the terms of the International Development Act 2002 by not targeting aid at reducing poverty. 

The organisation is warning that hunger levels in Africa, which according to the UN have increased from 175 million to 239 million in the last twenty years, will rise further unless the government changes direction. A charity spokesperson said: “Ultimately it would even be better if the 0.7% target of gross national income that the government is committed to spending on overseas aid spending was abandoned rather than pursue policies that will deepen poverty in the world’s most vulnerable communities.”

Justine Greening, international development secretary said: “This is a poorly researched report. We are helping millions of African smallholder farmers gain title to the land they farm, access new markets to sell goods and grow crops that can withstand drought or flood.

We believe the best approach is to work with a range of partners, from smallholders to multinationals but to suggest countries can develop out of poverty without private sector involvement is wrong. It’s ridiculous to suggest that investing in agricultural research increases hunger and in Uganda we have funded research into growing sweet potatoes that are high in vitamin A, which has helped tackle malnutrition.

Mauritius is the only financial centre that is a member of all major African regional organisations such as COMESA and the African Union. The country is committed to international standards on anti-money laundering.” 

The shadow secretary for international development, Bury MP Ivan Lewis, also believes the private sector can play an important role in international development. But he said: “We should be much more clear in promoting a responsible global capitalism where the choice between profits and ethics is a false one, growth is sustainable and workers’ rights are protected. We also need to be tough on tax havens and ensure that all private sector funding is transparent and good value for money. “

With the International Development Select Committee currently running an inquiry into global food security and the role of the private sector, War on Want has now sent in a submission calling for the committee to examine its concerns.

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