Foreign energy policy fuels famine in Africa

Published on Pambazuka News, our interview with the Oakland Institute, December 08, 2011.

Pambazuka News speaks to Oakland Institute about the findings of their latest round of in-depth research into land grabs in Africa, from the role played by the energy policies of rich countries and the World Bank to the dangers of a development agenda that fails to heed the negative social, economic and environmental impacts of industrial agrofuel and agroforestry projects … //  

… OAKLAND INSTITUTE: As evidenced in our country report, during Zambia’s economic crisis of the 1970s/80s, World Bank/IMF SAPs were forced upon Zambia in 1990s, as a condition of debt-servicing loans. These loans came attached with conditionalities including efforts to promote economic liberalisation, privatisation, and foreign investment.

This resulted in Lands Act passed by the Parliament in 1995 which facilitates investment in mining, agriculture, and tourism and with its passing, land could now be bought and sold freely like a commodity. Traditional leaders, civil society, church leaders, and other stakeholders expressed concern with the Bill, arguing it would put poor people at a disadvantage and undermine the authority of traditional leaders with regards to administration of customary land. The Lands Act combined reserve/trustland into customary land, strengthened state leasehold rights at the expense of customary rights, eased restrictions on foreign ownership of land, facilitated the conversion of land from customary to state, and removed the ability of the state to repossess undeveloped land. In 1996, the Zambia Development Agency (ZDA) was formed to be a ‘one-stop shop’ to facilitate private investment, to privatise state assets, and assist investors through various government processes while the creation of the Zambia Investment Centre (ZIC) was a requirement of the 1995 Investment Act, mandated by the WB/IMF’s PIRC II loan.

PAMBAZUKA NEWS: You mention that the World Bank’s policy glosses over critical issues of human rights, food security and human dignity, while the IFC’s ‘Performance Standards for Social and Environmental Responsibility’ lack appropriate measures on community engagement, transparency and human rights. To what extent do you think that the inclusion of such criteria would compel investors and governments to implement ‘responsible’ land acquisition deals?

OAKLAND INSTITUTE: If the World Bank was to emphasise human rights, food security, and human dignity, it would mean it would stop advocating for investor friendly climate at all costs. Its ‘doing business’ ranking would be based on the prevalence of social and environmental standards instead of the lack of such basic principles. While that might not compel investors and governments to implement responsible land acquisitions, deals, it would definitely take away the pressure that “development” agencies have over the poor country governments.

PAMBAZUKA NEWS: You’ve said in the past that decisions about how to use water and land resources in Africa for Africans should be determined by Africans through democratic processes. What examples of good practice we can build or draw on?

OAKLAND INSTITUTE: Our new research shows that unlike large-scale irrigation, a focus on efficient small-scale irrigation, sustainable agriculture and water management methods can improve the lives of local smallholders, enhance food security and prevent environmental degradation from water depletion. All over Africa, sustainable water management and smallholder irrigation schemes have led to substantial increases in crop yields.

For instance, In Zimbabwe, sustainable water management and water harvesting systems such as those established by the Zvishavane Water Resources Project have proven very effective in increasing yields, building resilience to climate shocks and improving income and food security. In Burkina Faso like in other Sahelian countries, the introduction of Soil and Water Conservation (SWC) techniques such as planting pits (i.e. zai), stone lines (i.e. bunds) and level permeable rock dams has led to enhanced productivity, economic security, population stability, enhanced biodiversity and improved water tables. With the introduction of such techniques in the 1980s, farmers achieved 50-60 percent higher yields of both millet and sorghum.

  • - In Mali, the establishment of the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) among smallholders in the region of Timbuktu resulted in reduced quantity of water used while rice yields increased to 9 metric tons per hectare, an increase of 50 to 100 percent over yields obtained under conventional irrigated production techniques.
  • - In Ghana, the production of staples such as millet and sorghum show, on average, better yields under small-scale irrigation than under large-scale irrigation. Research has showed that small-scale irrigation in Ghana contributed to 1.5 metric ton / hectare of millet compared to 0.50 metric ton / hectare under large-scale irrigation.
  • - In Kenya, biointensive agriculture, a low-cost agricultural technology designed for small farmers, has been shown to use 70 to 90 percent less water than conventional agriculture (due to the establishment of higher soil organic matter levels, continuous soil coverage by crops, and adequate fertility for root and plant health).
  • - In Lesotho, the improvement in peasants’ access to the water supply and the use of small-scale irrigation technologies, such as drip irrigation and treadle pumps have improved water conservation and the crop yields of subsistence farmers, who have been increasingly able to sell excess produce in the local market

PAMBAZUKA NEWS: What has the Oakland Institute have in store for us in the next period?

OAKLAND INSTITUTE: Stay Tuned.

(full long interview text).

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