Friday 20 October 2017

Agriculture holds the key to unlocking Africa’s vast economic potential

Agriculture holds the key to unlocking Africa’s vast economic potential
(The Guardian 09/18/17)
Agriculture holds the key to unlocking Africa’s vast economic potential

Anna Jones says that, through selling its cocoa cheaply, Africa is exporting its wealth overseas; while Sue Banford claims that the soya moratorium in the Amazon has done nothing to halt deforestation.

Only the final paragraph in your article on cocoa farming causing deforestation in Ivory Coast (Forests pay price for world’s taste for cocoa, 14 September) mentioned the most fundamental thing – the farmer’s livelihood, or lack of it. The low value of his (or more likely her) crop is undoubtedly the cause of this problem. But cocoa farming could also provide the solution.

Recently, I was in Ivory Coast for the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) in Abidjan. It united many different parties – governments, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), private sector agribusiness like Syngenta, Bayer and OCP, Rabobank and the World Bank, the Rockefeller Foundation, and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They are united in one firm belief: that agriculture holds the key to unlocking Africa’s economic potential – 41 million smallholders on a fertile continent that grows every crop imaginable.

Ivory Coast and Ghana are indeed the largest producers of cocoa in the world, but that wealth is exported overseas. I met a man from Ghana who grew up on a cocoa farm but did not taste chocolate until he was 22. His family provided the raw material for a foreign luxury they could never hope to afford. Right now, farmers are selling raw cocoa for terrible prices. It’s exported thousands of miles for multinationals to turn it into chocolate and sell it for high prices. Why can’t the chocolate be made in Africa? Bring wealth to Ivory Coast and Ghana by keeping the full value of this precious crop on the continent where it grew – through harvesting, processing, packaging, marketing and transporting.

Let’s help farmers better manage their soils and improve yields on existing agricultural land, preventing the need to push into the forests. Let’s create jobs right along the supply chain – from cocoa bean to chocolate bar – and lift thousands out of poverty. Make agriculture about more than just subsisting and surviving. Then we may stand a chance of saving our rainforests.

Anna Jones
Journalist and Nuffield farming scholar

In her excellent article on the role played by cacao cultivation in the acceleration of deforestation in west Africa, Ruth Maclean repeated the widely held view that the soya moratorium “worked well to stop deforestation in the Amazon”. This is a myth. Last year a Brazilian social scientist, Mauricio Torres, and I travelled to the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso and Pará, where the soya front is advancing into the tropical forest. While it is true that deforestation fell heavily before, and for some years after, the declaration of the moratorium, to a large extent this was not the result of the moratorium. The US scientist Dan Nepstad, the lead researcher in a study of the moratorium published in Science, told us he thought it was responsible “for 5%-10% of the decline”. Much more important was the huge stock of cleared but unused land that had accumulated after a frenzy of forest-felling in earlier years. There was no need to clear more forest to expand soya production. At this time, too, farmers were moving into the cerrado to the south-west of the Amazon, another precious ecosystem not covered by the moratorium.

Indeed, the moratorium facilitated greenwash: the result of Cargill’s financial incentive was further destruction of the cerrado and it called the moratorium “a resounding success” in its advertising. In 2015, together with Greenpeace and McDonald’s, Cargill won the Keystone award for “leadership in significantly reducing deforestation … through the collaborative Brazilian soy moratorium”. The truth is that, while the west and China maintain a voracious appetite for soya to feed to livestock (and for cacao to manufacture chocolate) and the price of these commodities does not reflect the true environmental cost of their production, the destruction of tropical forests will continue.

Sue Branford
Clun, Shropshire

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