Church-backed study counts human cost of huge ‘agribusinesses’ pushing out local farmers

08 September 2017

PAUL JEFFREY/ACT

Tough sales: a market in Dedza, Malawi, along the border with Mozambique

Tough sales: a market in Dedza, Malawi, along the border with Mozambique

A CHURCH-BACKED study of the part played by charitable foundations and the World Bank in commercialising agriculture in developing countries has reported on the way small-scale farmers are being forced off the land as giant “agribusinesses” move in.

Charitable foundations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the World Bank support private finance investments as a route to alleviating poverty.

The report Food and Finance: Toward life-enhancing agriculture, sponsored by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Swiss charity Bread for All, says that charitable foundations, international banks, and global agricultural initiatives are all in agreement that it is “impossible to tackle climate change, end hunger, reduce rural poverty, and achieve rural progress without private finance taking the lead”.

Yet though there is dire need for investment in Africa and Asia’s agricultural sectors, this needs to be done for more than just profit, in order to create “life-enhancing agriculture”, the report says.

“The abstraction of food and land from their physical forms into financial products and instruments for profit making not only muddles our understanding of who bears responsibility for price volatility and land grabs, but also inhibits us from regarding food and land with reverence and respect as life-giving and life-sustaining elements to which all humans should have a right.

“Life-enhancing agriculture is therefore a response to the need to reclaim the ethical, theological, and spiritual dimensions of food and land in an era marked by financialization and underpinned by a culture of greed that is spreading the damaging myth that more consumption, more profit, and more growth are always and unfailingly good.”

The WCC study focused on Mozambique, where 37 per cent of the country’s land was sold to investors after the civil war ended in 1992. Crops invested in include soya, which is in high demand in the West. The rush for land prompted by the country’s soya potential created a shortage of land for local farmers, leading to high tensions between local communities and investors.

The report was launched at an event in Mozambique, attended by small-scale farmers and faith and community leaders, where farmers spoke of how they had been affected by the Pro-Savana Project, a programme to increase crop output by bringing in large-scale agribusinesses which are displacing traditional farming populations.

Community members from Manhiça, in southern Mozambique, reported that they had no title deeds to confirm ownership of their land. Many had been staying on the land for most of their lives, for generations, and now they had been denied their livelihoods and right to farm, without any consultation.

The WCC is calling for life-giving agriculture that provides nutritious food and decent livelihoods, and promotes just relationships between farmers, consumers, traders, and investors, as well as supporting the environment.

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