Two different meetings about food: big business vs communities

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Two different meetings about food: big business vs. communities

By Morten Thaysen

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Protests outside the meeting of the Gates Foundation and USAID. (Global Justice Now under a Creative Commons Licence)

In March, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and USAID had a meeting in London with big agribusinesses (agriculture companies) to talk about how to increase the business control of seeds in Africa. The meeting was in a secret place. No-one was allowed in without an invitation. There was no-one there to represent African small farmers.

And at the same time, farmers and food activists met at the World Social Forum in Tunis to discuss their solutions to the problems of our food system.

These are two very different types of meeting – one closed, secret meeting of the powerful; and the other an open, democratic meeting of activists. But they also show two very different directions for the future of our food. One, based on business control, would make a lot of money for a small group of rich people; the other is based on sustainable, democratic, local food production.

In the time of colonies, businesses often said they were helping, not controlling, Africa. This is the same today. The Alliance for the Green Revolution in Africa sounds friendly. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition (supported by the DfID – Britain’s Department for International Development) support it. They promise to stop hunger by bringing new business technologies and more big business investment to African agriculture.

It all sounds very good. So why are the meetings secret? Samwel Messiak, a Tanzanian food campaigner in Tunis, says that big business has a different plan for Africa’s food. He told me that in Tanzania the New Alliance has helped businesses ‘buy’ land from local communities without their agreement and without paying them any money.

This is because AGRA and the New Alliance want businesses to control land and seeds. Business agriculture in Africa will grow food for people to eat in richer parts of the world (like in colonial times). And this often means less food for local people. It seems strange that a charity like the Gates Foundation is part of this plan.

But there is a different vision for our food too. Many people at the World Social Forum in Tunis discussed a very different food system.

Farmers and campaigners from across the world talked about how farmers can make a living by growing food for local communities, and how farming can be a central part of women’s liberation: women are taking a leading part in food production in most places. There is a lot of evidence that organic farming and local seeds in small farms can produce more food on less land and with less water than industrial agriculture.

Big agriculture companies are putting small farms under pressure everywhere. But people from Chile, Senegal, Bangladesh and Italy told the meeting how farmers are showing how local communities can take back control of their food systems and grow healthy, cheaper food. These farmers and campaigners from different places are working together to fight for democratic control of our food. At the end of the meeting, we all shouted: ‘The people united will never be defeated.’

In 2015 it shouldn’t be a new idea to want to change from colonial ideas and make sure farmers can keep control of resources to grow food to feed their communities. So it is more important than ever that we support small farmers across the world to defend their right to control their land and their seeds. And our right to healthy local food.

Morten Thaysen works at Global Justice Now and is an activist with Fuel Poverty Action and Reclaim the Power. More information: http://www.globaljustice.org.uk/campaigns/food

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: http://newint.org/blog/2015/03/27/wsf-and-gates/ (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).