The Economic Recolonization of Africa

Land Rush – Why Poverty?

Directed by Hugo Berkeley and Osvalde Lewat (2012)

Film Review

Land Rush is the story of the recolonization of Africa by foreign interests (US, Britain, China, South Korea, Saudi Arabia) and their collaboration with corrupt governments and tribal authorities to drive subsistence farmers and their families off their land. Their goal: to create massive for-profit industrial farms based on monoculture export crops.

Nearly 60% of remaining arable land is in Africa – the industrialized world has either paved theirs over or decimated their soils through factory farming.

The reason Africa is such an easy target is that only 10% of rural Africans own private title to the land they farm. The rest is traditionally viewed as a communally owned commons.

Lifting Africans Out of Poverty By Seizing Their Land

Land Rush specifically focuses on a US sugar baron seeking to create a giant sugar plantation and processing plant in rural Mali. His goal is to kick start industrialization in Mali and help “lift their people out of poverty.”

Prior to the 2008 economic downturn, the Mali government supported the food sovereignty movement and the right of rural farmers to access land to support their families. This has all changed now, with the government (illegally) selling off more than 30 million hectares of farmland to foreign investors in the last five years.

Farmers are told they must give up their land and either go to work for Sosumar (as sugar farmers) and accept a new plot of land elsewhere. The government’s violent mistreatment of farmers who refuse to leave their land makes them highly skeptical of these promises.

The Food Sovereignty Movement

The documentary also profiles a local organizer linked with the global food sovereignty movement. Informed by disastrous experiences elsewhere (Latin America, India and other parts of Asia) with the wholesale expulsion of subsistence farmers for corporate interests, Africa’s food sovereignty movement is growing by leaps and bounds.

The organizer explains that the constitution and laws of Mali recognize the basic right of food sovereignty, ie that countries have the right to produce their own food rather than depending on an unpredictable global market for their food needs. He maintains that Mali has strict guidelines about involuntary displacement – that the government’s contract with Sosumar is illegal, as was the prior handover of 30 million hectares to foreign corporations.

The film ends on a positive note, thanks to a March 2012 military coup that caused Sosumar to withdraw all their workers  from Mali and their CEO Mima Nedelcovych to target Nigeria as the new site for his sugar plantation.

The Movement to Dismantle Industrial Agriculture

Growing Change

Directed by Simon Cunich (2011)

Film Review

Growing Change is an Australian documentary about Latin America’s food sovereignty movement and the deliberate campaign by Venezuela and other left leaning governments to extract themselves from the US-run system of industrial agriculture.

The film begins by quoting from a 2008 study by the UN Environment Programme called Agriculture at a Crossroads: International assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology.

This study concludes that industrial agriculture can’t produce enough food to feed 9 billion people.* Although it cites a number of reasons for this conclusion, the documentary highlights two of the most important: oil depletion (industrial agriculture requires 66 barrels of oil per year to feed one person) and the destruction of topsoil through repeated use of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides that kill living organisms responsible for soil fertility. In part due to urbanization, the world has lost 25% of their productive farmland over the last 25 years.

Food Sovereignty in Venezuela

Using Venezuela as an example, Growing Change demonstrates how industrial agriculture increases world hunger, with foreign corporations driving peasant farmers off their lands and destroying local farmers’ livelihoods through cheap food imports.

As Venezuela expanded oil production to become the world’s largest oil exporter (in 1950), ruling elites allowed the country’s agricultural system to collapse. Forced to leave their land (either by direct expropriation or inability to compete with cheap food imports), farmers flooded into the slums of Caracas and other Venezuelan cities. Meanwhile with all the oil profits going to ruling elites and their US backers, mass unemployment and poverty left the majority of the population with no money to buy food.

Things came to a head in 1989 with the massive Caracasa uprising, in which the Venezuela army shot 3,000 protesters.

Venezuelan Reforms Led by Grassroots

For me, the chief value of this film was learning that most of the reforms Hugo Chavez implemented were driven – not by Chavez himself – but by well-organized peasant and workers groups. Moreover it was clearly the power of their organizing that brought him to power in 1998.

Between 1998 and 2008, Chavez used oil revenues to reduce the prevalence of malnutrition from 21% to 6%. His land reform program redistributed 6 million acres of vacant land to 250,000 families. Working through community councils and self-governing cooperatives, the new occupants put most of this land into organic production. Chavez also heavily subsidized organic urban farms on vacant city land, free meals at work sites and community centers and a 40% reduction in the cost of imported food for the poorest families..

*World population is predicted to reach 9 billion by 2050.
**Unless they had illegally expropriated the land, landowners were compensated at fair market value for undeveloped land the Chavez government confiscated.

One Man, One Cow, One Planet

one man

One Man, One Cow, One Planet

by Thomas Burstyn (2007)

Film Review

Contrary to constant corporate media propaganda, it isn’t food scarcity that causes world hunger. As Thomas Burstyn so ably demonstrates in this documentary, the four main causes of world hunger are trade liberalization, industrial agriculture, military dominance and genetic engineering.

Nowhere is this more painfully evident than in India. Industrial agriculture, cleverly branded as the Green Revolution, first hit India in the 1960s. Thanks to intense pressure from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and western lenders, the Indian government sought to enter the global economic market by pressuring farmers to switch to chemically maintained monoculture crops for export.

Farmers were promised that investing in chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides – as well as flood irrigation – would substantially increase their yields. It never happened. After three decades, the Green Revolution’s primary accomplishments were to render India’s soils infertile by killing off essential soil organisms, deplete their water resources and leave hundreds of thousands of rural farmers virtually destitute.

In the late 1990s, the giant multinational corporation Monsanto rode to the rescue by saturating the Indian countryside with their GMO seeds, which they guaranteed would restore yields and reduce hunger. Sadly, the yields they promised never materialized. Their supposedly pest resistant Bt cotton was supposed to reduce farmers’ need for pesticide. However owing to its failure to control India’s main cotton pest, the pink boll worm, it required even more pesticide than natural cotton.

Yields were never enough to cover the purchase of new seed every year, along with chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Farmers merely sank deeper and deeper into debt and hundreds of thousands committed suicide.

Enter Peter Proctor

Over the past five decades, New Zealander Peter Proctor, has been instrumental in reversing this trend, by helping to establish an Indian food sovereignty network based on biodynamic agriculture. The basic principle of food sovereignty is that people, rather than corporations and governments, have a natural right to control what they grow and what they eat.

Proctor is considered the modern father of biodynamic farming. The latter is an approach to organic farming first started a hundred years ago by Rudolph Steiner, and Austrian philosopher, social reformer and architect. It shares many features in common with permaculture (see Roadmap to Redesigning Civilization) and biointensive agriculture (see Farming Without Machines).

Cow dung and compost, which form the humus essential to soil fertility, are cornerstones of biodynamic agriculture. In general, Indian farmers are more receptive than westerners to biodynamic methods, as they share the same reverence for cow dung as Steiner, Proctor and other biodynamic practitioners.

Proctor and his followers rely on Steiner’s original ritualistic practices (based on planetary forces) in preparing the dung, which inoculates the soil with essential soil organisms. They also religiously follow the moon planting cycles advocated by Steiner.

Pest Control in Biodynamic Agriculture

Pest control is far easier with biodynamic methods. Healthy soil is the most important pest deterrent, as pests are far less likely to attack healthy plants. Replacing monoculture crops with diversified and companion planting also greatly reduces pest infestation. Other pest control methods include liquid manure, ground quartz (silica)*, and biological deterrents (eg ladybugs).

Environmental and Economic Sustainability

In addition to strengthening the social fabric of India’s rural communities, the food sovereignty network Proctor helped to start has improved their economic sustainability. By saving and sharing seed, cow dung and compost, they reduce the cost of their inputs to zero and cut their water requirement by 50% (humus increases the water retention capacity of soil).

In addition to substantially higher yields, organic produce sells for a slightly higher price in India due to its health benefits.

With their improved economic standing, many of India’s biodynamic farmers can afford school fees and are sending their children to school for the first time.

My favorite part of the film is where Proctor’s wife blames the horrible decisions politicians make on the crap food they eat.

The film has been removed from YouTube for copyright reasons but can be rented from Amazon for $1.99 at this link: One Man, One Cow, One Planet

The stunning Indian scenery alone is well worth the price.

*Also known as diatomaceous earth, silica destroys pests by cutting them up with its microscopic razor sharp edges.