Challenging misconceptions: Inclusive agricultural economies already exist in Africa

Wegerif went on to highlight how easily this economic activity could be enhanced if the Tanzanian government simply invested in building bicycle paths in and around the city. He told similar stories for milk (45,000 litres of milk delivered daily to Dar es Salaam by just one small producer project) and maize (33 tons of maize trucked to Dar es Salaam every week by one woman, who gathered maize by the barrow and ox car load from small producers). He discussed how these activities were preferable to pushing millions of small producers off the land to make way for large scale land based investments in agriculture. Wegerif emphasized that investment needed to take place in partnership with small producers, who are actually the drivers of African economic activity. If the problems of insecurity and poor infrastructure were solved, these activities would boom. The bottom line is that for African economic development, bigger and more concentrated are unlikely to be better, and in fact are likely to push smaller producers into further livelihoods hardship. He said African farmers are impressive, but are hampered by poor infrastructure and insecurity, including in some countries, harassment by soldiers.

Where to invest?

At the same time, said Madiodio Niasse of the International Land Coalition, African agriculture needs huge investments, but we have a choice whether to invest in existing producers and enhance their abilities, or to put aside existing farmers and take over their land with foreign companies adopting their preferred agricultural, land use, and trade model. Niasse pointed out that if we opened to foreign companies, we were going to lose control of our land and our countries, which would lead to increased inequality. The extent of foreign large scale land based investment in Africa at present meant that foreign land ownership was close to reaching the levels of foreign ownership under colonialism. Such asset loss would be detrimental to Africans. Niasse pointed out that it was easy to simply hand land over to foreigners and hope they would somehow allow Africa to prosper; going the route of securing African farmer’s land rights and building infrastructure was more complex and difficult, but in the end, security and investment would allow African landholders to prosper, while building African economies.

Have large scale land deals delivered prosperity?

Ward Anseeuw of the Land Matrix pointed out that the evidence was overwhelming that large land deals did not deliver on promises, particularly had failed to create jobs and provide livelihoods security for those who lost land through these deals. Indeed, he pointed out that nowhere in the world had large scale farming led to the levels of job creation that Africa needs. At the same time, since large scale agricultural projects cannot deliver on job creation, Anseeuw said rather than focusing on externally-driven, outsourced and hired labour solutions, African countries should focus on enhancing the viability of their many small scale producers. Even when projects created jobs, as Chrispen Matenga from the University of Zambia pointed out, African governments were held hostage against introducing minimum wages by the threat of retrenchments.

Instead of opting for solutions from outside, African countries need to undertake more territorial, inclusive spatial and political economy planning for African development, Anseeuw said. Inclusive agricultural growth in Africa could not be achieved simply by adopting international instruments; local people need to be involved in planning, implementation and monitoring to bring about inclusive growth. This starts with African governments having the guts to negotiate much more lucrative trade deals, rather than simply accepting the prices and terms of international markets.

Photo: Eggs by Umma wa Wapanda Baisikeli Dar es Salaam (UWABA) on Flickr (cc-by-nc-nd)

This post first appeared on the PLAAS blog.

Read other blog posts from the Conference on Land Policy in Africa.