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Poor farmers are hungry to have their say on agriculture
The Guardian, December 14, 2005
The Department for International Development (DfID) two years ago announced a review of its agriculture policy. It was well received: farming feeds the hungry, it has big impacts on the environment and it is in agriculture that most of the rural poor make a living. A consultation period followed in which non-governmental organisations, drawing on the views of poor farmers in developing countries, made detailed submissions.
The new policy paper, Growth and Poverty Reduction: The Role of Agriculture, was finally launched last week by international development secretary Hilary Benn. It is welcome - it puts agriculture back on the map. But does it reflect the urgent needs of poor farmers and their organisations? Unsurprisingly, not a lot.
In the two years it has taken to frame its document, instead of a Whitehall-led top-down process DfID could have developed a bottom-up consultative process that would have given priority to the most urgent poverty issues voiced by poor farmers themselves.
As it is there is little evidence of new policy and nothing on new funding or different ways of working. Instead, many of the old growth and productivity mantras are trotted out. There is support for trade liberalisation, for example, despite mounting evidence that this has led to floods of cheap imports into developing countries that have ruined the livelihoods of millions of poor farmers.
Agribusiness corporations that increasingly affect the lives of the poor are not mentioned - except for the implicit backing the corporations receive. The paper contains no specific mention of genetically modified crops, but instead expresses support for the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF).
"AATF is a not-for-profit foundation based in Nairobi, led, managed and directed by Africans," says DfID's paper. "It helps farmers access productivity, enhancing agricultural technologies held by the private sector by facilitating public-private partnerships".
But this is half the truth. DfID fails to point out that one of AATF's goals is to negotiate the rights of patented GM crops, and it works with a roll call of biotech patent holders such as Monsanto, DuPont, Dow Agro Sciences and Syngenta. So while not mentioning GM crops in its new policy, DfID is funding an organisation that promotes them - to the tune of GBP5m (2004-8).
This is a diversion of aid funds that could be made available to support research on sustainable agriculture in the small-farm sector - something most poor farmers want as it can be controlled by them not by the corporations. Sustainable agriculture delivers multiple environmental and social benefits as well as high quality, safe food.
It is good that DfID has rediscovered agriculture, but in implementing its new policy it will have to engage with and meet the aspirations of poor farmers and their organisations - or little will be done to reduce hunger and poverty.
Patrick Mulvany is chair of the UK Food Group, the network concerned with global food security and food sovereignty issues.
Patrick Mulvany: 'GM Watch is my first port of call for any current and historic references on GE impacts on development.'
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