African food systems are undergoing deep transformations evidenced by, on the one hand, increasing levels of investment in consumer markets and on the other hand, the growing commercialisation and financialisation of natural resources. Recent research shows that although changes in agro-food systems across Southern Africa have been primarily linked to the expansion of supermarkets and fast food chains in urban centres across the region, in rural and agrarian economies these changes are being driven by investment in upstream segments of agro-food value chains. In Changing agro-food systems: The impact of big agro-investors on food rights, a book that emerged out of a joint action research project implemented by the Institute of Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) in partnership with CSO partners, ADECRU and Zambia Land Alliance in rural Mozambique and Zambia, the case studies highlight the impact of large-scale land-based and agri-business investments on the channels through which rural households realise their right to food. That is, the control over means of producing food, and the ability to procure food and access adequate and nutritious food.
The case studies presented in this book reveal the following:
- In northern Mozambique, a new crop of agro-investors are diving changes in the use and control of land. International public investors such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), TechnoServe and Cooperative League of the United States (CLUSA) among others, are promoting the expansion of soya production and introducing new seed varieties for staple crops in Gurúè district in Zambèzia province. Alongside this, there are three major commercial farms operating in the district, these farming ventures have collectively acquired 15 200 hectares of land. However, the large-scale commercial farms are struggling, when compared to the small-scale farmers. In 2015, small-scale farmers, those producing on 0.1 to 15 hectares in their differentiated nature, produced 21, 490 tons of soya total output compared to 11, 947 tons by the large commercial farms. Gurúè is the largest soya producer in the country and accounts for 20% of the national soya output. Further up the value chain, a group of emerging small-scale poultry producers, consisting mainly of women farmers in the town of Alto Mòlocué district, in Zambèzia province. These emerging chicken farmers represent a group of rural entrepreneurs tapping into the country’s growing poultry sector, as an alternative to small-scale rain-fed agriculture. The small-scale producers procure day-old chicks, feed and vaccine from Frango King and Novos Horizontes (the largest chicken producers in Mozambique) and the main buyers of soya and maize from small-scale farmers in Zambèzia province.
- In Zambia, we looked at two case studies. In the first study site, Mumbwa district in Central Province, NWK Agri-services (which operates the largest cotton outgrower scheme in Zambia) and Amatheon Agri (a large-scale commercial farm), are reconfiguring the institutional framework of input supply, agro-extension services, production systems and local markets for small-scale farmers. As a result, there is a new drive towards soybean production by small-scale farmers, with some on contract farming and the majority growing soya independently. In the second study site, Kalumbila district in North-Western Province, where a new Canadian mining venture has led to land displacement and the resettling of communities, PrimierCon Company is taking advantage of a ready cassava market to promote outgrower schemes with small-scale farmers. PremierCon provides inputs and cassava stems for the small-scale farmers, who in turn will have to sell the cassava to PremierCon. Kalumbila Minerals Limited utilises the cassava starch is used to process copper ore into concentrate.
More vivid accounts and testimonies from the agrarian communities that we focus on in this study are captured in the two documentary films 1) From Farm to Plate: Changing agro-food systems in Zambia and 2) Soyfoods and the soya boom in Mozambique: A look at agro-food system change, which were produced as part of the joint action research project to provide insights into the lived realities of rural people in Mozambique and Zambia. These documentary films pay attention to what people say about the micro-level changes underway in agro-food systems and explore the wider impact of large-scale land-based and agri-business investments on agrarian change trajectories, food security, land-based livelihoods and the associated social relations. The aim of this project to strengthen small-scale farmer’s understanding of the wider changes which they are affected by, and to promote a more informed public and a more informed public debate about the corporate takeover of natural resources and food systems. With the support of the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, we have been able to present the findings of this exploratory study on multiple forms of media, and we hope that the book and the documentary films prove to be useful resources for promoting critical debate on how agro-food systems are being restructured and help to strengthen activism and advocacy for the realisation of the right to food.