Tanzanian farmers lead the way

06 January 2016

The message from farmers groups in Tanzania is clear. They don’t want an agricultural system that is dominated by large multinational companies, they don’t want to be dependent on purchasing synthetic fertiliser, pesticides and herbicides, and they certainly don’t want a commercialised seed system that sees them being forced in to purchasing new seeds every season.

So why then does the UK government persist in its support of schemes that are precisely about rolling out this form of corporatised agriculture? Schemes such as the G7’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, which, despite its name, is all about bringing about “green-revolution” style policy reforms to expand industrial agriculture and attract private investments.

“Tell your government to stop helping big corporations coming to Tanzania and profiting from small scale farmers in order to build their corporate empires”

This was just one of Janet Moro’s impassioned messages she had for the UK. As the founding director of Sustainable Agriculture Tanzania (SAT), Janet has been responsible for organising trainings for thousands of small-scale farmers across the Uluguru mountains since she founded her organisation in 2011. SAT’s focus on organic farming techniques that use only locally available resources means farmers are entirely self-sufficient and the soils and local environment are protected. The results in terms of increased yields have been outstanding too. Farmers such as Hadije Kibwana explained that since attending Janet’s training, her vegetable crop yields have increased so significantly that she now has a surplus to sell in the local market. With her profits she has been able to start the building works for a brand new house.

It is success stories like Hadije’s which have driven the rapidly growing demand for SAT’s courses, word has spread so far that Janet’s training is now being demanded from farmers as far afield as Burundi and Kenya. Her newly opened residential training centre is able to accommodate large groups of farmers who come for week long training programmes in various elements of organic agricultural practices.

It’s not just SAT, there are other projects across the country where small-scale farmers are rejecting synthetic inputs and mechanised production methods. Chololo Eco-village in Dodoma, a particularly dry part of the country, is another such example. Between 2011 and 2014 farmers have more than doubled their crop yields following the adoption of techniques such as crop rotation, intercropping and open pollinated breeding for improved seeds.

The results speak clearly, Tanzanian farmers do not need schemes like the G7’s New Alliance to improve their yields and continue to feed the world's population. This argument is all the more convincing because these farmers aren’t driven by an inherently anti-corporate agenda, they simply want to see their produce flourish. And what increases yields the fastest involves utilising local natural resources, rather than purchasing foreign synthetic inputs and technologies. It is clear that the future of our food systems rests on ensuring small-scale farmers - not corporations - are the ones in control.

This raises serious questions about what on earth the UK government are doing pouring £600 million of UK aid money in to promoting an agricultural model that stands in such stark contrast to what is being practised by organisations such as SAT. When the UK government’s official line is that they want to reach small-scale farmers, what are they doing supporting projects that are entirely focused on ensuring a favourable policy environment for large corporate investments in African agriculture? In the three years since its launch, the New Alliance has been widely criticised by numerous civil society groups who have highlighted how the policy reforms and investments have had an array of disastrous outcomes. From landgrabs to farmer debts, and from policy reforms that favour businesses over farmers, to seed law amendments which endanger century old farming practices, the evidence is clear that the New Alliance is going against the interests of small-scale farmers rather than supporting them.

Stanslaus Nyembea, the policy analyst and legal officer at MviwataThese worrying outcomes that are part of the concerns of Stanslaus Nyembea, the policy analyst and legal officer at Mviwata, a nationwide farmers group who represent some 200,000 small-scale Tanzanian farmers. Like Janet, Stanslaus is worried about the encroaching takeover of Tanzania’s agriculture sector by multinational corporations. “We see a big risk that foreign corporations want to control the agricultural sector in Tanzania especially the markets around seeds, fertilisers, chemicals and other agro inputs,” he said. “This is a serious risk to small-scale farmers who might lose their land which is integral to their livelihoods”.

What makes matters even worse is that, despite a lot of rhetoric, the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) seem unable to counter these criticisms by showing any tangible benefits that have come about from their muliti-million pound support to the New Alliance. In the latest twist, the long awaited annual progress review is now two months overdue, and counting. When questioned on their ongoing support for the New Alliance, DFID have publicly announced that the results would be revealed in October 2015. At the time of writing this article there is still no evidence of it. Upon further enquiry it seems DFID aren’t even entirely sure who now manages this process. Given that the stated aim of the New Alliance is about reaching small-scale farmers in order to achieve food security and improved nutrition, one would hope DFID were more concerned about ensuring the money spent has successfully achieved these stated ambitions. 

Even the EU has now launched a formal enquiry into the New Alliance. Early in December a hearing was launched with the release of a review paper authored by the former rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, someone who is an expert on food security. He reports that the New Alliance is “seriously deficient in a number of areas” in particular, for its silence “on the need to shift to sustainable modes of agricultural production”, its failure to “support farmers' seed systems” and its inability to recognise “the dangers associated with the emergence of a market for land rights”. He goes on to berate the New Alliance for “only selectively [referring] to existing international standards that define responsible investment in agriculture” and only paying “lip service” to addressing the needs of women which is “effectively creating the risk that women's rights will be negatively affected as a result". Most crucially for a programme designed for food security and nutrition, it is “weak on nutrition, hardly acknowledging the links between agricultural production, food and health, and the need to support healthy and diversified diets”.

In light of this damming report which reflects the concerns that farmers and civil society have been articulating for quite some time, it’s time that the UK government admitted the need for a serious review of its own. Or better still it recognises the failure of the New Alliance to deliver on its stated ambitions and withdraws UK support for the disastrous project once and for all. With hundreds of millions of UK aid money going to the New Alliance, we need to push our government to stop using this money to the detriment of farmers like Janet.

First published 22 Dec 2015 in the New Internationalist

Photos: Janet Moro, founding director of Sustainable Agriculture Tanzania (top), Chololo eco-village (middle), and Stanslaus Nyembea, the policy analyst and legal officer at Mviwata (bottom)



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