The coverage of War on Want’s new report on DFID support for agribusiness in Africa in today’s Guardian led with the tax haven angle and followed up with a good second piece on aid as corporate welfare. Yet our main reason in publishing the report was to start a broader debate. David Cameron revelled in his ‘golden moment’ with Mo Farah and other sporting celebrities at this summer’s Olympic hunger event, and DFID is planning another such moment for the eve of the G8 next year. The question for the international development sector is: does Cameron’s government really deserve to be congratulated (as it has been by some) when it claims to be leading the fight against hunger? Not only is it responsible for driving a record number of people in desperation to food banks in Britain, but it is also spending hundreds of millions every year to open up agriculture in Africa for the benefit of multinational corporations, at the risk of increasing hunger levels there too. For this it surely merits brickbats, not bouquets?
DFID is unapologetic in its use of taxpayers’ money to promote the interests of companies such as Monsanto, Syngenta, Unilever etc: as the aid budget increases and its own staff numbers decline, DFID is offloading vast sums to private sector programmes – viz the £395m going to the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, the £459m to the Private Infrastructure Development Group and the £100m additional funding for the Emerging Africa Infrastructure Fund. Farmers’ groups in the global food sovereignty movement, by contrast, are wholly opposed to such land grabs – a point well made in the excellent Why Poverty film on Mali broadcast by the BBC last week. So the question seems a fairly simple one: whose side should we be on?