Africa: Our Agricultural System Is Destroying the Earth and Our Health

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These land grabs are primarily driven by middle-eastern, Chinese and western commercial interests. Some countries like South Africa, which continues its pursuit of unsustainable industrial agriculture policy and practice, both participates in land grabs elsewhere in Africa, while also being targeted for internal corporate-led land acquisition.

Land grabs have already caused political instability and social disruption. Serious protests have arisen in Kenya, while political oppression has deepened in countries like Ethiopia, where land appropriated from traditional owners is leased for the benefit of foreign owners, exacerbating risks of hunger and inequality within marginalised tribes. Because leaseholders have little long-term commitment, the likelihood of negative ecological consequences are increased.

How do we counter this litany of woes facing our global food system? Are there alternative ways to feed growing populations?

Interestingly the largest international agricultural study yet undertaken, sponsored by major institutions like the World Bank and the United Nations, came to a conclusion that is almost diametrically opposite to the dominant corporate agriculture model.

This study, the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, suggested that food production should hark back to its roots and use resources more smartly and equitably.

Trade distorting subsidies must end. Local ownership and stewardship require encouragement. Practices that preserve and restore ecological resources need to be pursued. Relevant science and technology can be adopted while constantly bearing in mind the multifunctional role of agriculture.

There certainly are practical models, capable of correcting the wrongs we have wrought on our ecosystems, to produce sufficient food for all.

The real (political) trick is to shift control of these resources back to where they are most needed - as Amartya Sen said - to those who trapped in poverty, without access to good, affordable food.

Simultaneously, those able to make informed choices should leverage their purchasing power to encourage a shift away from unhealthy and unsustainable eating choices.

Ashton is a writer and researcher working in civil society. Some of his work can be viewed at

Read more articles by Glenn Ashton.

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