‘Imposed’ agricultural policies are pushing African farmers deeper into poverty

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

The study believes agricultural policies have been imposed which force farmers to modernise with new seed varieties and chemical fertilisers. (© iStock.com)
The study believes agricultural policies have been imposed which force farmers to modernise with new seed varieties and chemical fertilisers. (© iStock.com)

Related tags: Africa, Poverty

Agricultural policies, designed to tackle poverty in Africa, may be doing more harm than good to the region’s poorest members, according to UK researchers. 

The study focuses on the ‘green revolution’ policies in Rwanda – a series of initiatives put forth in the 1960s and 70s that supported new seeds for marketable crops.

These crops were sold at guaranteed prices, and were supported by multinational companies and Western donors. The policies also aided smallholder farmers and transformed economies in Asian countries.

rural farmer
"Many of these policies have been hailed as transformative development successes, yet that success is often based on weak evidence through inadequate impact assessments." (© iStock.com)

The study, published this month in the journal World Development​, believes only a relatively wealthy minority have been able to meet enforced modernisation standards as the poorest farmers cannot afford the risk of taking out credit to purchase the seeds and fertilizers.

The fear of harvesting nothing from new crops and the potential for the government to seize and reallocate their land means many choose to sell up instead.

Despite claims from government, international donors and the International Monetary Fund that these polices have been successful for the economy and in alleviating poverty, the study’s lead author Dr Neil Dawson, believes whilst agricultural development can help these people, the policies appear to be exacerbating landlessness and inequality for poorer rural inhabitants.

“Many of these policies have been hailed as transformative development successes, yet that success is often based on weak evidence through inadequate impact assessments. Also conditions facing African countries today are different from those past successes in Asia some 40 years ago.

“Such policies may increase aggregate production of exportable crops, yet for many of the poorest smallholders they strip them of their main productive resource, land. It is startling that the impacts of policies with such far-reaching impacts for such poor people are, in general, so inadequately assessed.”

Corporate influence 

The findings add to the ongoing debate about how best to feed growing populations and the influence of wealthy donors such as the Gates Foundation, initiatives such as the New Alliance for Food Security and
Nutrition, and agribusiness giant Monsanto in pushing agricultural modernisation in Africa.

eu law legal case court europe regulation
Europe and its rigid biosafety laws are well established, but most African countries still lack similar legislation. (© iStock.com)

In February 2015, Friends of the Earth International published a report that accused the Gates Foundation, and Monsanto of forcing unwilling African nations to accept expensive and insufficiently tested Genetically Modified (GM) foods and crops.

In contrast to Europe and its rigid biosafety laws that are well established, most African countries still lack similar legislation. Only around seven African countries currently have functional biosafety frameworks in place.

Farmers traditionally cultivated up to 60 different types of crops, planting and harvesting in overlapping cycles to prevent shortages and hunger.

However, due to high population density in Rwanda’s hills, agricultural policies have been imposed which force farmers to modernise with new seed varieties and chemical fertilisers, to specialise in single crops and part with 'archaic' agricultural practices.

Dawson and his co-authors Dr Adrian Martin and Prof Thomas Sikor from the University of East Anglia, recommended that not only should green revolution policies be subject to much broader and more rigorous impact assessments, but that mitigation for poverty-exacerbating impacts should be specifically incorporated into such policies.

In Rwanda, that means encouraging land access for the poorest and supporting traditional practices during a gradual and voluntary modernisation.

 

Source: World Development

Published online ahead of print, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.worlddev.2015.10.008

Green Revolution in Sub-Saharan Africa: Implications of Imposed Innovation for the Wellbeing of Rural Smallholders.”

Authors: Dawson N, Martin A, Sikor T.

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