The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has announced a new project to develop the soya value chain in Africa in partnership with American NGO, TechnoServe and agricultural commodity trading giant Cargill. The US$8 million project will be implemented as a four year pilot in Mozambique and Zambia with the intention of spreading the model to other regions in the future.
The Gates Foundation continues to back agricultural strategies that open new markets for strong corporate interests while assisting in the creation of policy environments to support foreign agribusiness' interests. The programme will yoke African farmers into the soya value chain and open the door for major agribusiness players such as Cargill, while displacing African agricultural practices and traditional crops. In addition, there is a very real threat that this project could be a foot in the door for the introduction of genetically modified soya onto the Continent.
Since the green revolution of the 1960's, soya bean has become the number one forage crop on the international market. About 85% of the world's soybeans are processed into soya bean meal and oil, about 98% of that meal is further processed into animal feed, the balance is used to make soya flour and proteins. Approximately 95% of the oil is consumed as edible oil with the rest being used for industrial products such as fatty acids, soaps and agrofuel. In the last 40 years, production of soya bean has increased by over 500%, driven by the growing affluence of Chinese consumers, who are now eating more meat than ever before, as well as a significant increase in demand for soya beans as feedstock for biodiesel. In addition, soya beans fix nitrogen in the soil, thereby improving soil fertility and making it an excellent rotation crop.
The United States, Argentina and Brazil are the three major producers of soya in the world. The aggressive expansion of soya monocrops in Latin America has wreaked socio-economic and environmental disaster - in 2008 over 30 million hectares of soya was grown in Brazil and Argentina, where soya monocrops are notorious for displacing rural populations and causing mass deforestation. In April 2006, Greenpeace announced that in the 2004/2005 growing season, 1.2 million hectares of the Amazon rainforest was deforested as a consequence of soya expansion.
The vast majority of global soya crops are genetically modified to withstand applications of herbicides. (Approximately 93% of soya production in the USA is GM, 98.9% in Argentina and 70.7% in Brazil). The introduction of herbicide tolerant soya has created a sharp increase in the use of highly toxic herbicides — in the USA the use of herbicides has increased by 382.6 million pounds over the past 13 years, with herbicide tolerant soya beans accounting for 92% of that increase.
No multinational on the planet has greater interests in soya production and trade than the American corporation Cargill. Cargill's business operations include purchasing, processing and distributing grain and agricultural commodities, the manufacture and sale of livestock feed and ingredients for processed foods and pharmaceuticals. Their assets and business operations in Latin America are staggering; it is responsible for over 75% of Argentina's grain and oilseed production. It also has great interest in fertiliser production, having a two-thirds stake in one of the world's leading fertiliser companies, Mosaic. Their business interests in Africa are scant in contrast. It has now partnered with the Gates Foundation to introduce a soya value chain in Africa.
The four year project will introduce soya production to 37 000 small-scale farmers in Mozambique and Zambia and aims to spread the model to other regions in the future. The project will target smallholder farmers and facilitate their access to agricultural inputs and new technology, facilitate market access, assist in infrastructure development and in developing enabling policies for investment.The cultivation of soya in Africa is negligible, with Africa contributing to less than 1% of global soya bean production. African countries that produced over 100 000 tons of soya bean in 2008 are Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Nigeria is the biggest producer of soya beans on the continent, harvesting a relatively modest 591 000 tons in 2008, mostly for domestic consumption. Egypt is the 13th biggest importer of soya bean in the world, importing 1.2 million tons in 2008 and producing 219 800 tons of soya bean oil. Morocco also imports soya for the production of oil and was the 19th largest importer of soya bean in 2008. Demand for soya outstrips production in Africa, creating the need to look outside of the region for commodities, predominantly soya bean cake for animal feed, but also for oil, meal and soya-derived products.
As demand for soya feed for the growing global livestock sector increases, along with a growing interest in the crop for biofuel production, soya is gaining influence as an attractive crop that is worthy of investment. Global prices for vegetable oil are good and this too, is attracting investment. There have been recent major private investments in oil processing plants in Uganda and Mozambique and investors are keen to contract local farmers to supply raw materials. This model threatens to bring farmers into a high-risk global market and shift agricultural practices from using local inputs to reliance on agribusiness products.
A further threat is the introduction of genetically modified soya into Africa. South Africa is the only country on the continent that is growing genetically modified soya and has been doing so since 2001. In 2006, about 75% of the area planted to soya was genetically modified and in 2008, approximately 88% of soya seed purchased was GM. In 2010, South Africa has begun exporting genetically modified commodities to the rest of Africa for the first time. This is as a result of the finalization of African biosafety legislation that allows for the cultivation and import of GE crops and commodities. In early 2010, the Mozambican government allowed for the commodity import of 35,000 MT of GM soybeans. This is the first such permit authorised by the Executive Council in South Africa.
As the major global producers of soya have almost completely adopted GM in their production, it is likely that there will be great pressure for African farmers to adopt these seeds. The acceptance by the Mozambican government of the first GE shipment of soya from South Africa shows that their door is now open for African trade in GM soya, although the road to environmental releases of crops will be a longer and more arduous process. Zambia has traditionally been one of the strongest forces against genetically modified seed on the continent, taking an extremely cautious approach in its biosafety legislation. In 2002, the Zambian government rejected the import of GM food aid for almost 3 million starving people[i]. It was an extremely controversial decision, but after despatching a group of scientists to investigate the safety of the crop, President Levy Mwanawasa held to his convictions in the face of massive international pressure. Could this support for the introduction of soya into the country be the beginning of the erosion of that caution?
[i] BBC New 29 October 2002 Famine-hit Zambia rejects GM food aid http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/2371675.stm accessed 26 August 2010