What Does Global Finance Have Against African Farmers?

African countries aren’t spending enough on agriculture,IRIN reported last week. And that’s a bad thing:

“Spending money on food production is critical in Africa, where 70 percent of people live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for food and income.

There are also going to be more people to feed in Africa in the next few decades. Sub-Saharan Africa’s population is expected to grow faster than elsewhere by 2050, increasing by 910 million people, or 108 percent.”

It is a bad thing, but the article and cited reports don’t go into much detail as to why these governments aren’t investing in agriculture programs. One key reason is that they don’t always have the choice. Powerful International financial organizations (IFIs) like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund frequently required developing countries to cut back government spending – including farm programs – in order for countries to receive desperately needed loans while global trade rules enforced by the World Trade Organization make many types of domestic agricultural policies that protect local farmers from unfair foreign competition “illegal.” This was all done in the name of creating more “open” global markets, yet the United States and other rich countries still heavily support their corporate commodity sector, which then dump products on   developing countries – competing with local farmers who now find it harder to sell their locally-grown food.

Food and Water Watch describes the devastating consequences of this cycle in its report What’s Behind the Global Food Crisis? How Trade Policy Undermined Africa’s Food Self-Sufficiency:

“This low level of agricultural investment cannot generate sustained growth in the farm sector that can provide a base for broader economic growth. Countries reduced or eliminated support for farm credit, seed and fertilizer subsidies, and crop distribution and reserve programs. These programs helped farmers increase agricultural productivity, invest in their operations and promote their crops in regional and export markets. When African governments rapidly withdrew from supporting these farm programs, agricultural productivity declined, as farmers were unable to secure loans, afford high-value seeds and fertilizers, or deliver their crops to more distant markets.”

People in Africa and other countries around the globe aren’t hungry because the world isn’t producing enough food. Along with poor infrastructure and inefficient aid policies, decades of unfair international finance and trade deals are part of a flawed global system that prevents the world’s vast surplus of food from making it to the mouths of hungry families.