Oxfam: German food project ‘ignores subsistence farmers’

Multinational corporations like Bayer CropScience and BASF want to promote rice production in Africa and Asia. Under the Federal Development Ministry's German Food Partnerships (GFP) project, they receive government funding. [Michael Heimann/pixelio.de]

Multinational corporations like Bayer CropScience and BASF want to promote rice production in Africa and Asia. Under the Federal Development Ministry's German Food Partnerships (GFP) project, they receive government funding. [Michael Heimann/pixelio.de]

A wide range of NGOs are criticising Germany’s development policy, claiming Berlin is increasingly accommodating the interests of big agricultural companies. Meanwhile, a recent Oxfam report describess devastating effects for smallholders. EURACTIV Germany reports.

The United Nations and development experts agree that fighting world hunger can only work if the hungry – smallholders in developing countries and women in particular – take on more responsibility for decisions.

A report released by Oxfam on Tuesday (6 May), accused German development policy of purposefully disregarding this, preferring to work through the German Food Partnership (GFP) and the new alliance for food security in the G8.

“The German government pushes smallholders toward dependence on multinational companies instead of improving their access to food, land and water,” said Marita Wiggerthale, co-author of the Oxfam report.

The GFP is a project started in 2012 by former development minister Dirk Niebel. In cooperation with the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationalen Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), leading German businesses are expected to help increase food security in developing countries.

Friedrich Kitschelt, state secretary of the Federal Development Ministry (BMZ), expects much from the “creative potential of the private sector in development policy”. Companies are well-versed partners, he said, in sustainably providing food to a rapidly growing global population.

The first four GFP projects have already begun, in the Philippines, Vietnam, Kenya and elsewhere. These projects focus on rice and potatoes as well as oilseeds, encompassing a budget of €80 million for the next two years.

Half of this amount will come from the companies involved, including Bayer CropScience, BASF as well as the seed producers Syngenta and Yara. €20 million will also be contributed by each the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the BMZ.

Leaving subsistence farmers by the wayside

The GFP and its projects were developed in close cooperation with firms and private foundations, but without participation of smallholders or their organisations, Oxfam’s report said. People who are affected by starvation, are not the focus.

“The project is directed toward smallholders who already bring substantial resources and education with them. Subsistence farmers suffering from starvation are being completely ignored,” Wiggerthale added, speaking to euractiv.de.

“Whoever wants to fight poverty and hunger must support the poor and starving, not help agricultural corporations do business,” said Wiggerthale. But this is precisely what the BMZ is doing, she said, opening up new markets for participating corporations which were closed to them before.

Wiggerthale also described training courses conducted by the framework of the GFP. Participating agriculture corporations communicate practical know-how about cultivation methods and using innovative technologies. But these sessions also allow companies to present their own seed products, she said.

There is a risk that such training can turn into “advertising events for agricultural corporations,” said the Oxfam expert. In Kenya for example, Wiggerthale said, Bayer was able to sell over 20% more pesticides to smallholders, thanks to training sessions of this kind.

Private sector: GFP is no charity event

Private sector involvement is “no charity event,” said Hans-Joachim Wegfahrt from Bayer CropScience at the GFP project presentation last November. On the contrary, the project must pay for itself somehow, he argued.

If the “value chain” functions better Bayer will benefit just as much as farmers, Wegfahrt told euractiv.de.

“If a farmer has more in his pocket and produces more, then of course he will also purchase more of our products,” he said.

Answering questions from the Green Party in the German Bundestag in February, the BMZ rebuffed criticism of the GFP project: Sessions for smallholders are about “product-neutral training courses for all farmers in the project region”. Inputs and technical instruments are presented and compared with each other for demonstration purposes, the BMZ said.

More transparency: BMZ publishes guidelines

At the beginning of the year, the BMZ released guidelines for the German Food Partnership. In the document, the ministry sought to ensure that all GFP projects endeavour to establish the concept of a basic right to food. 

Among the most important aspects are free access to land, the obligation to employ sustainable production methods and maintaining genetic diversity.

According to the BMZ, the GFP’s target group encompasses “market oriented smallholders”, not only those who are subsistence-oriented. Purely subsistence farmers are being assisted by other means.

Support for the GFP project from the development budget currently amounts to barely 1% of the BMZ’s budget for rural development and food security. But with contributions from corporations and co-financing from foundations, the BMZ said, a substantial total sum is accumulated.

Oxfam and other NGOs are still calling on the German government, “not to pursue development assistance for agricultural corporations.” After all, the GFP is still in an early stage.

“Now, things can still be changed. But we are observing that companies increasingly play a key role in the fight against hunger through Public Private Partnerships (PPPs)”, said Wiggerthale.

Land displacement through the new alliance

NGOs are also criticising the new alliance for food security among the G8 states. Barack Obama spearheaded the initiative in 2012.

Together with African governments, the private sector is supposed to help smallholders provide for themselves. With about 100 companies taking part in the alliance, including the world’s largest agricultural and food group, their goal is to pull 50 million people out of poverty by 2022.

According to the Oxfam report, the new alliance bears devastating consequences for smallholders. They latter risk being driven from their own country because large plots of land are being doled out to investors, in the name of creating so-called growth corridors.

The report said new seed legislation is robbing farmers of the right to exchange and sell seed as they have in the past.

“At its core, hunger is always also the result of discrimination. The German government is sharpening discrimination on smallholders by politically and financially supporting those who are already powerful,” said Roman Herre from the human rights organisation FIAN.

“The German government must promote radical reforms for the new alliance,” Wiggerthale added. “But if it cannot do this successfully, then it must withdraw.”

After neglecting the issue for a long time, the EU and its member states have made food security a central part of their development policy.

The EU’s food security policy stresses the need to improve food availability, access to food, responses to food shortages and nutritional problems.

However, the Millennium Development Goal target to halve the number of people suffering from hunger by 2015 is unlikely to be met. Although significant progress has been made, especially in Asia, poverty and malnutrition have increased in parts of Sub-Sahara Africa.  

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), food and nutrition security "exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”.

In 2012, some 925 million people worldwide did not enjoy food security. Confronted with the effects of the food price crises in 2007, a rapidly growing world population and expected consequences of climate change, the international community has raised efforts to fight world hunger.

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