Corporate control of the food supply should worry us deeply. We need to support peasant movements fighting for access to land.

Sol Plaatje

Sol Plaatje

Today is the 100 year anniversary of the passing of the Native Land Act in South Africa.

At the time the brilliant South African intellectual Sol Plaatje, the first general secretary of the organisation that would become the ANC, wrote: “Awakening on Friday morning, June 20, 1913, the South African Native found himself, not actually a slave, but a pariah in the land of his birth.”

The Act reserved just 7% of South Africa’s land for the use of Black people. This resulted in overcrowding in designated tribal areas, and unaccountable power as control was given to local chiefs. As Godfrey Lagden, the Transvaal’s Native Affairs Commissioner explained,  “Every rabbit has a warren where he can live and burrow and breed and every native must have a warren too”

Why was this done? Because capital needed labour, both on the mines of the Witwatersrand, and on white owned farms. But self-sufficient black farmers had no incentive to sell their labour.

The structural inequality paved the way for Apartheid, and its legacy is still very apparent in South Africa today. Black South Africans were dispossessed of their land and their ability to be economically independent. This poverty and dependence resulted in, among other things, the migrant labour system on the mines, and created the volatile, unstable and unjust situation that culminated in the Marikana massacre last year.

The outbreaks of unrest on the fruit and wine farms of the Western Cape late last year also have their routes in this dispossession and alienation from the land.

Driving local and indigenous people off the land is not unique to South Africa – it has happened everywhere that the needs of capitalist expansion and accumulation have confronted human lives. The new, exploitative economic system confronted and eradicated older systems wherever it found them: it happened to Native Americans in the US, in the UK through the Enclosure Acts and Highland Clearances. It is happening right now to Palestinian farmers who are being cleared off their land in the West Bank to make way for Israeli settlers.

La Via Campesina march at Cancun

La Via Campesina march at Cancun

Coincidentally, this week is also the 20th anniversary of the founding of Via Campesina, the international social movement for peasant farmers. Its affiliates include Abahlali baseMjondolo and the Landless People’s Movement in South Africa, the Zapatistas in Mexico and almost 150 other organisations around the world. Via Campesina campaigns for the rights of subsistence and peasants farmers to live on the land and grow their own food.

Food security and food sovereignty – local control of the food supply – is essential to eradicating hunger. But this stands in stark contrast to the plans being thrashed out at the G8:

G8’s new alliance for food security and nutrition is working with “corporate partners” to promote food security. Who are those corporate partners? They include many of our old and trusted friends: Monsanto, Dupont, Nestlé and Unilever. As George Monbiot explains, this has nothing to do with eradicating hunger – it’s a corporate land grab.

The G8 will “encourage” African governments to make deals these corporations, and cede large parts of land to them. These deals will force small farmers off the land and replace them with agri-business, so that consumers in the West can get green beans and cut flowers airfreighted in from Kenya while local people struggle to find affordable food.

This is about corporate control of the food supply, which should worry us deeply. The new alliance will lock farmers into buying seed – much of it genetically modified – and fertiliser from corporate monopolies. This stops farmers reusing seed from the previous season, and has terrible consequences for the genetic diversity of plants – which is essential as climate change and pests threaten crop yields.

We will not tackle hunger by giving control of food production to the kind of companies that claim water isn’t a human right.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License.
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Walton Pantland

South African trade unionist living in Glasgow. Loves whisky, wine, running and the great outdoors. Walton did an MA in Industrial Relations at Ruskin, Oxford, and is interested in how trade unions use new technology to organise.

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