Monday, February 8, 2010

Why are DfID Giving 'their' Money to the Rich?

In many developing countries, a substantial majority of people live in rural areas. The majority of rural dwellers depend, directly or indirectly, on agriculture of some kind. And most of those engaged in agriculture are smallholders, producing food for their families, their local market and perhaps a bit beyond that. Even a lot of people who don't depend on agriculture grow some food for their own use. Small scale food crops, fodder crops and stock keeping is so widespread in Kenya, where over 80% of the population lives in rural areas, that it would be difficult to estimate their value in the overall economy.

On the other hand, 'aid' from the UK's Department for International Development (DfID), seems to assume that the best way to help poor people in developing countries is to give the bulk of their money to large and wealthy sectors of agriculture. DfID favour large-scale agriculture, high use of expensive, environmentally destructive technologies, such as fertilizer, pesticide, various pharmaceutical products, heavy machinery and genetically modified organisms (GMO).

Small farmers, who can't afford these technologies and who are stuck with relatively undestructive farming methods that preserve biodiversity are therefore denied the opportunity to investigate ways of increasing their yields in sustainable ways. DfID seems particularly opposed to the production of food crops and stocks, spending only 3% of their of aid on food (.3% in Sub-Saharan Africa). MPs are calling for the figure to be raised to 10%.

DfID probably hasn't realised that these small farmers produce most of the food that people live on in Kenya. Many of the rich farmers in Kenya produce for export, things such as tea and coffee and a lot of non-food crops such as flowers and sisal. A lot of land is even being used to produce crops for biofuel, which, whether for export or the domestic market, is not going to help starving people very much. DfID even supports programmes that 'donate' food aid, which is just a form of dumping that suits Western countries but serves only to destroy local markets in developing countries and leaves many of the putative recipients worse off than they were before.

Any institution that supports GMOs has no right to call itself an 'aid' agency. GMOs are the prerogative of wealthy and rapacious multinationals who want to control the food market in order to maximize their profits. Such institutions also have no regard for the importance of biodiversity, which is under serious enough threat but will be even more rapidly destroyed by widespread use of GMOs. An example is the current attempt to introduce genetically modified aubergine (eggplant, brinjal) into India, where there are currently several thousand varieties. If these modified aubergines are introduced, all others will either die out or become contaminated.

Every few weeks there is an article about some kind of crop that will supposedly save a country or reduce levels of malnutrition or increase yields or whatever. These articles don't usually say so, but if you check further, you'll often find that the crop in question is genetically modified. The article may even talk about biodiversity and sustainability and all sorts of lovely things. But if GM is involved, then neither biodiversity nor sustainability are involved.

There are many reasons why GMOs should not be grown anywhere, yet some GMOs now dominate in a few countries, such as cotton in India and maize and soya in the US. Many farmers in countries like India, the US and Canada are now regretting the fact that they bought into GM but it's very hard to get back out again. Yet the industry still churns out its lies about GM being high yielding, uses less pesticides and herbicides, is more drought resistant, grows well in marginal land, etc. It's hard to understand why so many seem to fall for their lies.

But DfID, with all its money and expertise, could not possibly be in the dark about the dangers of GM or even the inappropriateness of funding only large scale, industrial agriculture in developing countries. The question is, who has nobbled them and what are they getting out of supporting the biotechnology and other industries that stand to profit from their big spending?


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