SHOCK AFTER SHOCK IN AFRICA: A TALE OF ECOLOGICAL IMBALANCE, THE FALL ARMYWORM INFESTATION AND FALSE SOLUTIONS

We are pleased to present the third discussion paper in our “Multiple Shocks in Africa Series”.

Africa is being hit by multiple shocks: COVID-19, locust plagues sweeping across many African countries, droughts and cyclones, fall armyworms (FAW) marching their way through millions of hectares of maize fields, and the already felt impact of the climate crisis on Africa’s agriculture systems. And all of this is happening in a context of deepening inequality, poverty, unemployment and hunger in numerous countries on the continent. 

The FAW infestation that has swept across the continent has affected the food security of more than 300 million people and cost about US$6.1 billion in lost yields to date. The responses by African governments, however, have been the implementation of a battery of false solutions. These include: spraying poisons that are known to harm nature and all life on Earth – many of which have been banned in the European Union – locking smallholder farmers into industrial agriculture, and the widespread adoption of genetically modified seeds. These responses are egged on and often curated by corporate agrochemical interests – and their allied “philanthropic” developmental organisations – whose primary concern is capturing African agriculture, particularly the lucrative and subsidised maize market, for profit making. The FAW thus presents another opportunity of not letting a good crisis go to waste.

The FAW infestations are reflections of gross ecological imbalance – too much has been taken from the Earth and humans’ relationship with nature have been abused to such an extent that nature’s attempts to restore a dynamic balance between and within ecosystems are impacting significantly on our ability to grow food. And those who contributed least to this imbalance are unfairly feeling its effects the most – the African urban and rural poor, the marginalised. Using both traditional knowledge, the lived experience and knowledge of farmers and egalitarian knowledge systems, we must work towards restoring the ecological balance in nature to ensure the survival of both the planet and ourselves. This means abandoning autocratic technofixes and false solutions and seriously transitioning towards agroecological farming and food systems that focus on soil health, restoration of biodiversity and agrobiodiversity, justice and human and ecological liberation. 

The FAW is a symptom of our distorted and unhealthy farming and food systems and must be treated as such – a symptom that points to the underlying disease of ecological imbalance, gross inequities in the world and myriad false solutions that are sealing the fate of both the planet and peoples. Without a radical overhaul of our dominant production and consumption systems, the dominant relation to nature, colonised thinking, and the corporate capture of life, food and nature, continued infestations like that of the FAW will only persist. Rights to life, and to the means of life, must be the basis of all collective practice, policy and new systems-making.

Please view and download the briefing here.

Please view and download the summary here.

In 2021 we will be releasing three further papers in this series:

  • Multiple shocks, agribusiness feudalism and the monopolisation of peasant territories: a view from Ecuador on agrobiodiversity and the peasant web of life
  • Locust plagues, smallholders and multiple shocks in Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda: time to confront the imperial agenda in Africa
  • A synthesis of the series, bringing together the key lessons into an overarching political and conceptual framing that suggests our political imperatives moving forward.