1409 Land Grab and the False Promise of Food Security


Policymakers around the world often equate increased investment by foreign agribusinesses in Africa with improved food security. What is not clear is the effect of higher agricultural production by such companies on food security in African countries. In his article Dr Destaw Andargie argues that this is mainly a false promise and gives the example of Ethiopia.


First of all, one needs to clarify what is meant by the concept of food security in order to measure its impact on the everyday life of people. Food security can be evaluated at different levels: global, national and individual/household level. Both global and national food security looks at the supply side level: the availability of food at either the global or national level. However, this tells us very little on the access to food at the individual or household level.  One simply has to consider the surplus production in developed nations that is either wasted before it can be consumed or sold at cheap prices in Third world markets undermining local food producers. The individual/household security gives better insight into the heart of the problem of hunger, because it looks at the distribution of food and not merely at the availability of food in a given area (country). It looks at what amount of food people can access through their own production or their ability to buy food in the market. This is the most accurate measure for determining the causes of hunger and famine.  The author mentions that even during times of famine there was sufficient food in the market for those able to afford it.


Dr Andargie argues that large scale land acquisitions by foreign corporations will not reduce food insecurity in Ethiopia, because these companies produce “exclusively” for the market. Food companies aim to satisfy demand for food for the most competitive price. This price is determined by the competition between food consumers around the world. So the amount of food one can afford depends on his or her budget and also on how much other consumers around the world are willing to pay. So Ethiopian consumers enter into competition with consumers from rich countries where they clearly lose out. Agribusinesses acquiring land and adjacent water resources in Ethiopia produce for the world market, meaning that they will export their produce to richer nations because they can get a better price there than they can get from the Ethiopian consumer. The market is need-blind and therefore these market-based solutions will not reduce food insecurity. Rather the contrary as productive land and water resources are diverted away from growing staple foods for the poor to producing agrofuels and animal feed to satisfy the increasing demand for meat in rich countries. 


The author suggests that in order to tackle hunger both distribution and availability of food at the household level should be tackled. Food producers, i.e. family farmers, should be sufficiently supported in improving their productivity, because currently they themselves can be victims of hunger. Next to this the entitlement of the urban poor to buy enough food should be strengthened, thus urban poverty should be fought. Food security programmes should take these issues into account.


Source: ECADF


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