|Threats to the Food Security and Food Sovereignty in the Eastern Cape||| Print ||
Impacts of the Massive Food Production Programme (MFPP), GMOs and cash crops in the Amathole District Municipality
Masifunde and Zingisa have completed a report based on field research carried out between February and June 2010 in four villages in the communal areas of the Eastern Cape (EC): Mgababa and Prudhoe (Ngqushwa Municipality) and Peelton and Nxarhuni (Buffalo City Municipality). These villages were chosen because they had been involved in MFPP and/or cash crop projects, and the people in the area have a history of involvement in agriculture. Here we present only a summary of the main findings of the research. For details one must read the full report.
Small farmers that we worked with complained that the government promoted Genetically Modified (GM) crops and the projects led by the private sector promoted cash crops (e.g. chillies, paprika and GM cotton) that were not addressing the needs of the rural poor nor leading to increased food security.
As far back as 2006 Zingisa reported concerns over these projects. This PAR was meant to explore in greater depth the impact and limitations of these projects, as appropriate and viable vehicles to: 1) Attain household food security and decrease household hunger; 2) Create sustainable jobs and promote sustainable development; 3) Reduce the levels of poverty and inequalities; 4) Build local economic development. The longer term objective was, in conjunction with small scale farmers, unemployed and landless people, to utilise the results to lobby government to ensure that agricultural strategies are pro-poor, sustainable and lead to agrarian reform, food security and food sovereignty.
How did we do this research? Community consultations were held to gather agreement and support for the research; 2) Six focus group meetings (FGs) were held with farming groups who had been involved in these projects; 3) A questionnaire was administered (by 20 community volunteers) amongst 92 farmers; 4) Officials from municipalities, the Eastern Cape Department of Agriculture (ECDoA) the Uvimba Bank and other institutions were interviewed.
What did our research show?
Seeds: There was some confusion amongst farmers on the nature of the seeds they had been using. In the same project some thought they had used GM seeds while others thought they had used ‘hybrid seeds’. Yet we know that GM seeds are used in all these maize, soya and cotton projects, while chicory seeds are not GM. It seems that some farmers were not saving traditional seeds used in the past.
Forced land consolidation, collective contracts and group sizes: Consolidation of the best lands by groups of farmers and forced collective contracts and production was giving rise to problems. Collective contracts were largely resented and caused conflicts. In addition, contracts were written in English and only translated orally into isiXhosa, resulting in lack of understanding of the terms of the contracts and loan repayments. In some instance farmers stated not having a copy. Indications are that farmers would prefer individual contracts.
Lack of transparent financial transactions: Financial transactions occurred directly from the Uvimba Bank to the service providers and suppliers. Most farmers did not understand what and how funds were spent, and felt that there was no adequate monitoring by the Eastern Cape Department of agriculture (ECDoA). These circumstances make room for corruption and for supplier chains and local elites to increase power and wealth. Allegations were also made about a lack of transparency within some of the projects structures themselves.
Lack of training: Training was mostly confined to basic training in technical crop production, to maximise production and profits for the suppliers. Training on how to work together in a collective group (e.g. transparency, management, financial accountability, etc.) and increase capacity for self-management was largely absent.
Failure to build and support organisations and co-operatives: Farmers participating in the Peelton/ Majali and Prudhoe MFPP projects reported having formed a cooperative, while in others only some rudimentary (or no) management structures were set up. While the Peelton/Majali farmers attributed some of their achievements (see below) to good group management and cohesion, there was no evidence that the ECDoA funds were effectively used to increase the power of farmers.
Lack of water and unreliable service providers: Some of the projects had collapsed for a range of reasons: 1) Services and inputs were delivered late; 2) Drought led to production failure and farmers were unable to repay loans and became indebted. This, despite the fact that lack of water reform, has been one of the key factors contributing to the ‘failure’ of many of the land reform projects since 1994. This meant that farmers assumed all the financial and production risks, while agribusiness and others reaped the profit. This could expose farmers to the loss of the few assets and land they have.
The private sector led cash crop projects: Farmers who were ‘invited to grow cotton, named Da Gama Textiles as the company behind the deals. Allegations were either of: 1) No payment for crops; or 2) Payment of a fraction of the promised prices, leaving farmers feeling that “they were taken for a ride” and exploited. Similar allegations were made by farmers who engaged in the production of chillies and paprika, in relation to a buyer based in Durban.
Lack of storage and markets – In the MFPP projects storage and markets were not secured and farmers struggled to find buyers. Last year maize farmers in Peelton found a new market amongst locals. Although farmers producing cash crops had assured buyers, farmers were captured in unequal power relations: private sector buyers fixed prices and farmers were dependent on them for sales. The example of Peelton shows the potential for developing local markets if food crops aimed at food security are planted.
Agro-chemical inputs and the undermining of traditional cheaper methods of production and of farmers’ control: All projects were dependent on expensive inputs supplied by outsiders. The farming methodology used was replacing cheaper traditional methods, thus raising questions about long-term sustainability (both financial and environmental). It also undermined and threatened farmers control over their land and production.
Unawareness of potential long-term impacts of GMOs: Other than knowledge that GM seeds cannot be re-used, farmers were not made aware of the potential negative long term effects of GM crops (e.g. declining yields with time; increased resistance to herbicides leading to increasing costs; possible contamination of surrounding non-GMO crops; negative impacts on health). This prevented farmers from making informed choices.
While the production and consumption of GM maize are being promoted in the EC and in SA, the Via Campesina (North America Region) recently (2 March 2010) held its first public hearing in preparation for taking the production of GM maize to the international courts as a crime against humanity.
Not addressing food needs and threats to food security – All the projects concentrated on monocultures. None contributed towards the production of traditionally consumed food crops or of crops with a proven health safety record. Production of crops for household consumption continued in garden plots only. However some women reported that their food production efforts (in land other than that used for food gardens) and incomes derived from the sale of these crops had declined in view of the greater time dedicated to cash crop cultivation.
Impact of the projects on household hunger: Most replied that the projects had made ‘no difference’ to the household hunger. The farmers in Prudhoe and cotton farmers in Peelton farmers replied that household hunger had actually increased. The MFPP farmers in Peelton/Majali and significant numbers in Nxarhuni reported having more food due to having more income to buy it. But in the case of Nxarhuni the greater income for a significant number was derived from having other work (not linked to the projects).
Material benefits - the Peelton/Majali project: In the Peelton/Majali MFPP, with income derived over 3 years, farmers have bought 2 tractors, a maize pounding machine, packing bags, a sealing machine, built a shed and installed electricity. Although food security/ health/ environmental issues (linked to the cultivation of GMOs) remain, this is a significant collective achievement and could point the way for the future (see “Positive lessons” below).
Changes in household income: From the FGs it emerged that: a) No cash incomes were derived at all by either the MFPP or cash crop projects; 2) Cash incomes were negligible (especially bearing in mind that these incomes were for several months work per year of production); 3) In some instances, farmers reported being in debt (e.g. in Prudhoe). Similar responses were derived from the questionnaires. An exception was the Peelton/Majali maize project where farmers had increased their household income by sharing some of the income derived each year and so doing increase their household incomes. In Nxarhuni increase in household incomes was also reported by significant proportion of farmers (but the greater income for a significant number was reportedly derived from other work not linked to the projects).
The most important sources of household income: The three most frequently reported important sources of household income were state pensions, followed by either remittance or odd jobs or agriculture. The exception were households in the MFPP Peelton/Majali project where agriculture was the most frequently reported amongst the three most important sources of income, followed by state grants and remittances/ informal trade.
Perceptions on who benefited most from these projects were divided between ‘no one’ or ‘service providers’. Exceptions were in the MFPP Peelton/Majali maize project and in Nxarhuni where farmers were seen as having benefited the most. Perceptions on whether in the village some benefited more than others, were variable.
Membership of community structures: The most common community structure that farmers belonged to were burial associations. However significant numbers of farmers belonged to land and land use groups. These groups could offer opportunities for mobilisation on different agrarian issues.
Summary of questions and issues raised by farmers to be posed to the ECDoA
• Why have there been delays in the delivery/provision of seeds in the time for ploughing?
Recommendations for action
o Promote and support the independent organisation of small-scale farmers in the province to increase their power to engage with government and to develop alternatives models for land and agrarian reform and agricultural production;
o Promote the prioritisation of food production. It is imperative to continue increasing awareness amongst small-scale farmers that even if they participate in GM or cash projects under the promise of future increased incomes, food production must be prioritised so as not to jeopardize their food security. Prioritising food production does not preclude the additional production of other crops for income generation, preferentially aimed at local markets;
- Stop using communal land as an experimental ground for GMOs and promote mono-crops;