In this edition of the Supermarkets Watch Asia Bulletin, we look at the expansion of multinational food companies and retailers from a widened point-of-view. These companies are adopting new strategies to expand their presence in Asia and across the globe. The editorial of this number of the Bulletin focuses on the aggressive actions of multinational supermarket chains in Africa. Their impact on local food systems has given birth to a new struggle across the African continent, led by small farmers, small vendors and consumers.
In a now iconic Time magazine cover back in 2000, Golden Rice was hailed as the “rice that could save millions.” The optimistic prediction of commercialising the genetically-modified (GM) rice in the early 2000s turned out to be a dud: two decades hence and the Golden Rice has yet to fulfill its messianic promise of solving Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD) among kids in poor countries.
On 18 November 2008, The Financial Times exposed a massive deal being negotiated between Daewoo Logistics and the government of Madagascar. Through this deal, the South Korean company was seeking access to no less than 1.3 million hectares to grow maize for export back home while the local communities were uninformed. The breaking of this story helped lead to the overthrow of the Malagasy government a few months later, and woke the world up to an outrageous new trend of global land grabbing for agricultural production driven by the food and financial crises. Ten years later, what are we seeing?
Money from pension funds has fuelled the financial sector's massive move into farmland investing over the past decade. The number of pension funds involved in farmland investment and the amount of money they are deploying into it is increasing, under the radar. This unprecedented take-over of farmland by financial companies has major implications for rural communities and food systems, and must be challenged. Leaving it to the companies to police themselves with their own voluntary guidelines is a recipe for disaster.
Africa's food systems are a final frontier for multinational food companies and retailers. Most Africans still consume a healthy diet of traditional foods, supplied by millions of small vendors and small farmers across the continent. But this is slowly changing as global food companies and retailers adopt new strategies to expand their presence on the continent, led by the aggressive actions of some multinational supermarket chains. The livelihoods of millions of small vendors and local farmers are at risk, as are people's health and the continent's diverse traditional food cultures. While African governments do little but facilitate this expansion of foreign supermarkets, small vendors, farmers and urban consumers are coming together to defend their local food systems.
DRC communities file complaint with German development bank to resolve century-old land conflict with palm oil company
RIAO-RDC, GRAIN, FIAN Germany, urgewald, WRM, CCFD-Terre Solidaire, CNCD-11.11.11, FIAN Belgium, SOS Faim, Oxfam Solidarité/teit, Entraide et Fraternité, AEFJN (Belgium), The Corner House (UK), Global Legal Action Network | 07 November 2018 | Media releases, Land
Nine communities from the DR Congo took a historic step this week by filing a complaint with the complaints mechanism of the German development bank (Deutsche Investitions- und Entwicklungsgesellschaft – DEG). The communities of the DR Congo want a resolution to a land conflict that dates back to the Belgian colonial period with a palm oil company that is currently being financed by a consortium of European development banks led by DEG.
The picture often painted for us is that we need corporate seeds to feed the world: they are alleged to be more efficient, productive and predictable. Locally developed farmer varieties are painted as backwards, less-productive and disease-ridden. But those of us with our feet on the ground know that this is not the reality in Africa. Just to start with a sobering fact: the vast bulk of food produced on the continent comes from homegrown farmers’ seeds (some studies put the figure at 80%). If these seeds are so “backward,” what moves farmers to keep preserving and planting them? What benefits do they derive from them? What challenges do they encounter in this effort? How must they be supported so that they can do their work more effectively?
AFSA and GRAIN decided to find out. We work with numerous partner organisations across the continent, many of them involved in local seed diversity activities. AFSA along with many other civil society organisations (CSO) on the continent have adopted the term farmer-managed seed systems (FMSS) to acknowledge certain practices that have been dismissed as “informal” by some.
An analysis on the role of small-scale farmers in saving Africa’s seed diversity has been compiled and co-published today by GRAIN, the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) together with research partners from Ethiopia, Mali, Senegal, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The growth of the supermarket sector has been very rapid. Today, 30 global supermarket chains already control a third of the global retail food market, taking a huge share of the market of the food that the people around the world eat. This is not just a modern trend, an evolution of the way things are sold. Their vast expansion has been supported and promoted by Free Trade Agreements, investment liberalisation, government policies to promote foreign direct investment, and laws and regulations that make it more difficult for small-scale food systems to continue to operate. Supermarket distribution systems - just like the industrial farming system that produces the bulk raw materials that go into the cheap processed foods lining their shelves - are being tremendously subsidised by governments, using tax payers money.
Land grabbing is now considered a crime against humanity, but few land grabbers end up in jail. Instead, if you search the specialised website farmlandgrab.org for news about law suits, court proceedings, convictions or imprisonment related to land deals, what you will largely find are reports of local communities being accused of wrongdoing for defending their own territories against powerful companies! Yet the links between crime, corruption and those engaging in agricultural land deals are real.