Failing Africa’s Farmers, Starving the Continent

By Timothy A. Wise

This article was originally published at Inter Press Service News Agency.

African organizations are demanding answers after a recent report found that Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) strategies have failed spectacularly to meet its goals of increasing productivity and incomes for millions of small-scale farming households by 2020 while reducing food insecurity on the continent.

The theme for the tenth annual African Green Revolution Forum, a virtual week-long event hosted by Rwanda that opens September 8, is “Feed the Cities, Grow the Continent.”

Based on the findings of a recent report on the host, AGRA, a more appropriate theme would be “Failing Africa’s Farmers, Starving the Continent.” The report, “False Promises: The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa,” found that the 14-year, billion-dollar AGRA initiative has failed spectacularly to meet its self-proclaimed objectives.

My background research, which contributed to the report, showed that yields have risen slowly, poverty remains endemic, and there has been an alarming 31% increase in the number of undernourished people in AGRA’s 13 focus countries.

After AGRA offered no substantive responses to the findings from the July 10 report, three African organizations are issuing a public letter to AGRA demanding it release internal documents on its impacts.

They demand that AGRA provide “evidence to refute the study’s findings that AGRA and the larger Green Revolution project are failing to meet its goals of doubling yields and incomes for 30 million small-scale farming households by 2020 while reducing food insecurity by half.”

As Zambian researcher Mutinta Nketani told the German outlet DW, when an organization like AGRA “fails to achieve the goals it had set itself, all alarm bells should go off — not only amid civil society, but also amid AGRA itself as well as its donors.”

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Government Under Finance: There Is No Easy Exit

Prabhat Patnaik reflects on the COVID-19 shock that has worsened the crisis triggered by globalized finance. Only two possibilities emerge: restructure capitalism by controlling finance, or let the tendencies towards very coercive forms of fascism grow.

August 2, 2020 Produced by Lynn Fries / GPEnewsdocs


LYNN FRIES: Hello and welcome. I’m Lynn Fries, producer of Global Political Economy for GPEnewsdocs. This is a report on a conversation with Prabhat Patnaik on why capitalism is going to be finding it very difficult to come to terms with a post COVID-19 world.

Prabhat Patnaik is professor emeritus of economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. An eminent and prolific economist, Patnaik’s published work includes books like The Value of Money, and Accumulation and Stability Under Capitalism. In a forthcoming book titled, Capital and Imperialism, to be released in February, co-authors Prabhat Patnaik & Utsa Patnaik will publish their comprehensive survey of capitalism’s colonialist roots and uncertain future.

We go now to our conversation with Professor Prabhat Patnaik.

Prabhat, What I want to get at in this conversation is why the working population is being pushed into acute distress, unemployment and insecurity. You’ve long argued that capitalism throughout the era of globalization under neoliberalism has been characterized by a conflict between the interests of finance and working people. And with COVID-19 this is intensifying. So we’re going to talk about that and let’s start with one of the main pillars of neoliberal policy – the withdrawal of the state from demand management.

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Essential—and Expendable—Mexican Labor (Part 2)

On both sides of the border, Mexican workers are now essential—to U.S. corporations.
By Mateo Crossa and James M. Cypher (guest post)

This article is in the July/August issue of Dollars & Sense.

Drafted to Serve: Mexican Workers under the Defense Production Act

In March, the nationwide cries for more medical equipment evoked calls from Washington, D.C. to essentially conscript medical supply firms under the Defense Production Act. This Act was implemented in 1950 to force and enable the private sector to prioritize production and delivery of strategic supplies in a time of national emergency. The president then demurred, while stating that such a policy would amount to “nationalizing our businesses,” then suggested that applying the act would be similar to steps taken in Venezuela under President Hugo Chávez (1999–2013).

According to President Trump, running out of crucial medical supplies during an unprecedented pandemic was not a sufficient reason to invoke the production authority of the state—failing market forces all along the medical supply chain could not be tampered with lest the United States slip into Venezuelan-style economic paralysis.

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Africa’s Farmers: Key to Solving Malnutrition

By Timothy A. Wise

The United Nations issued its annual hunger report July 13, ringing alarm bells the world over as governments gird for a coming COVID-19-induced food crisis. For the fifth straight year, undernourishment – or chronic hunger – increased in 2019 to 690 million worldwide, up 60 million since 2014. And that was for 2019, before COVID-19. Experts say as many as 130 million more could be driven into hunger as a result of the virus. Some 2 billion people worldwide already experienced some regular form of food insecurity in 2019. These are sobering numbers, especially with the pandemic sure to make things much worse for the poor.

In this year’s report, the U.N. went on to estimate that 3 billion people in the world cannot afford nutritious and healthy diets. The fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based foods recommended by health experts are often out of reach for lower income people.

The U.N.’s focus on nutritious and affordable diets is welcome given the prevalence of diet-related disease and micronutrient deficiencies in the developing world. But the U.N. missed a key opportunity by focusing only on making nutritious food more affordable, ignoring the reality that the biggest segment of the hungry is farmers. What they most need is crop diversity, which improves their diet diversity. A new report from a broad coalition of non-governmental organizations highlights how policymakers are actively undermining that diversity with programs such as the billion-dollar Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).

Essential—and Expendable—Mexican Labor (Part 1)

On both sides of the border, Mexican workers are now essential—to U.S. corporations.
By Mateo Crossa and James M. Cypher (guest post)

This article is in the July/August issue of Dollars & Sense.

Lear Corporation—one of the world’s largest auto parts manufacturers—rose to position 148 on Fortune magazine’s famous list of the 500 largest firms in 2018. It operates with roughly 148,000 workers spread across 261 locations. Its largest presence is in Mexico, where approximately 40,000 low-paid workers make seats and labor-intensive electronic wiring systems to be used, primarily, by the U.S. auto giants in auto-assembly plants on both sides of the border. The largest share of these workers slog away in three huge Lear plants located in the notoriously dangerous border town of Ciudad Juárez in Mexico.

On April 10, 2020 a worker named Rigoberto Tafoya Maqueda died from Covid-19, which had swept in from the north. He had been diagnosed in Lear’s clinic with a mild allergy and was forced to continue working without a face mask, gloves, or hand sanitizer. A short time later, he went to the government’s Social Security hospital, on foot, where he died. Four days later, according to Lear, 13 more workers at the plant had died—but the workers’ labor union claimed that the actual number of work-related deaths from the pandemic was 30. Lear claimed it was not responsible in the least, while offering hollow condolences to surviving family members.

As of late May, no investigation of the workplace had been conducted and no legal charges of negligence had been raised against Lear or any of the other 320 maquiladoras—also known as maquilas, or more recently, by outraged workers, as “makilladoras”—that employ approximately 230,000 in Juárez where workers have been sickened. By early May, 104 of these workers had perished, by early June the estimated number of worker deaths was above 200. In all of Mexico, this city, with the largest concentration of low-wage assembly plants, had the highest incidence of pandemic deaths—a mortality rate 2.5 times the national average.

Failing Africa’s Farmers

New report shows Africa’s Green Revolution is “failing on its own terms.” 

By Timothy Wise

Republished from the Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy blog.

Fourteen years ago, the Bill and Melinda Gates and Rockefeller foundations launched the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) with the goal of bringing Africa its own Green Revolution in agricultural productivity. Armed with high-yield commercial seeds, fertilizers and pesticides, AGRA eventually set the goal to double productivity and incomes by 2020 for 30 million small-scale farming households while reducing food insecurity by half in 20 countries.

According to a new report from a broad-based civil society alliance, based partly on my new background paper, AGRA is “failing on its own terms.” There has been no productivity surge. Many climate-resilient, nutritious crops have been displaced by the expansion in supported crops such as maize. Even where maize production has increased, incomes and food security have scarcely improved for AGRA’s supposed beneficiaries, small-scale farming households. The number of undernourished in AGRA’s 13 focus countries has increased 30% during the organization’s well-funded Green Revolution campaign.

“The results of the study are devastating for AGRA and the prophets of the Green Revolution,” says Jan Urhahn, agricultural expert at the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, which funded the research and on July 10 published “False Promises: The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).”

Time for the West to Embrace Chinese Industrial Policy, Not Eliminate it

Western market fundamentalism is a dead-end road as far as long term economic prosperity goes.

By Marshall Auerback (guest post)

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Robert Atkinson of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation has just written a very compelling analysis of China’s national industrial policy, especially in relation to the exponential growth of its telecommunications industry. Some of the key findings of the paper, “How China’s Mercantilist Policies Have Undermined Global Innovation in the Telecom Equipment Industry” are as follows:

  • “Without unfair, mercantilist Chinese government policies and programs for its telecom giants, China would lack a globally competitive telecom equipment industry. Neither Huawei, nor ZTE, would have more than minor market shares, even in China.
  • Chinese market-share gains have come at the expense of innovative telecom equipment providers in other countries. By artificially taking market share from more innovative companies, the latter have had less revenue to invest in cutting-edge R&D.
  • As a share of sales, leading non-Chinese equipment companies invest more in R&D, and patent and contribute more to international standards when compared to Huawei and ZTE.
  • Beijing’s policies dramatically limit foreign access to China’s huge telecom markets, providing them with a guaranteed source of revenue to attack foreign competitors.

The analysis is characterized by an implicit bias against Chinese mercantilism, a bias that many champions of free trade naturally share. While reflecting those preferences to a degree, Atkinson’s report does offer a recognition that China’s state-driven capitalist model has played a significant role in driving industrial development and innovation (while also contending that such protectionism and heavy-state subsidies have had the negative byproduct of inhibiting innovation in western economies that have eschewed such practices).

Reviving the Economy, Creating the ‘New Normal’

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Anis Chowdhury
Republished from Inter Press Service.
The Covid-19 pandemic has significantly impacted most economies in the world. Its full impacts will not be felt, let alone measured, until it runs its course. Many countries are still struggling to contain contagion, while the costs on both lives and livelihoods will undoubtedly have long-term repercussions.

Back to the Future?

The pandemic has exposed economic vulnerabilities building up for decades, especially since the counter-revolution, against Keynesian and development economics in the 1980s, gathered pace with transnational corporation-led privatization, liberalization, and globalization.
As the world become more interdependent via trade, finance and communications, inequality and economic insecurity have waxed and waned unevenly, exacerbated by deregulation, reregulation, financialization, and less public social provisioning, undermining public health and social protection.
Policymakers shied away from addressing the fundamental causes of several financial crises from the 1990s (e.g., in Mexico, East Asia, and Russia) and during the first decade of this century, e.g., the dotcom, food, and global financial crises. Now, once again, all too many are focused on getting back to ‘business as usual’.

Lessons from the Coronavirus: The socialization of care work is not ‘just’ a women’s issue

By Smriti Rao (guest post)

Republished from IDEAs Network.

The defining images of the coronavirus crisis in India are the images of migrants, children in tow, walking hundreds of kilometers to return home – only to be denied entrance. These images are driving home the extent of the government’s indifference to the lives of millions of Indians, with the situation for India’s non-migrant daily wage workers less visible but equally desperate. It may seem unfair to accuse the government of being indifferent to human survival when the current lockdown was announced to reduce the spread of this virus. But ordering physical distancing is not enough. Human survival and well-being depend upon access to clean water, access to a safe space we can retreat to at times like this and access to basic health care and food. This calls for a public infrastructure that can provide these vital goods and services to citizens regardless of their income – one that exists at all times, but can be boosted even further at critical moments like this one. In India, our government has prioritized various forms of public expenditure that subsidize profit-making and profit-makers over those that subsidize human survival and well-being, leaving the latter almost entirely to the private sphere. Our current crisis is revealing the true costs of this choice.

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