Philanthro-capitalism: ‘A white man's dream for a black continent’

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By Hugo Foster

Pambazuka news, a pan-African web forum dedicated to promoting human rights and social justice in Africa, is spearheading an enlightened and critical discussion on theAlliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). Advocates, namely the Rockefeller and Bill Gates foundations, are championing AGRA as a pioneering initiative with the potential to radically transform agricultural productivity on the continent, eliminating hunger for 30-40 million people and sustainably moving 15-20 million people out of poverty”.

Yet many experts are not at all convinced, both with the feasibility of the project itself, and with the principles behind it.

Underpinning
AGRA is the idea that only the market can succeed where governments
have failed in previous decades in nurturing sustainable agricultural
development in Africa. The purpose of philanthropy then, in the words
of one observer, is to persuade ‘
those
who do have market power that eradicating hunger is in their own best
interest, considering the benefits of social recognition—as well as
eventual profits—as the missing market-based incentive in order to make
capitalism work well for everybody.’

By
incentives, Gates is really referring to the potentially sizeable
African market for seed, fertiliser and agricultural imputs, as well as
for the food products that these yield. Those set to profit most of
all, according to development scholar and food sovereignty activist Gales Gabironda,
would be agricultural giants such as Monsanto and Syngenta alongside a
host of aid organisations and international research institutes.

Investing sizeable chunks of cash, AGRA’s exponents hope to create a new and integrated ‘African agricultural "value chain"--from seeds, soil health, and water to markets and agricultural education’. This will, Gabironda says,
‘lay the genetic and industrial groundwork for the expansion of
genetically modified crops, replacing local seeds and agro-ecological
practices with their own commercial seeds and agrochemicals.’

The
end result, says Gabironda, is domination of the African food sector,
for ‘even though the marginal returns to their investments are small,
the Green Revolution does not want to lose 180 million consumers to the
Chinese.’ Clearly then, what is for one man ‘creative capitalism’ is to another (in this case,Director of the African Center Biosafety, Mariam Mayet) ’a corporatised agenda for resource extraction from Africa.’

Big
problems often require big and visionary solutions, but this in itself
sounds pretty big and scary. A number of critics have already pointed
to the huge risks associated with meddling on such a scale with Africa’s biodiversity(look out for upcoming features on these issues on TheDailyBanter.com).
But an ‘Über-philanthropy so large and powerful it can influence
governments and supra-national institutions’ is also very scary, and
may, as Gabironda thinks create more problems than it solves.