“The New Green Revolution”

5 September 2016 by Rémi Vilain

“Addressing extreme poverty and hunger around the world.” These are two goals that have not ceased to appear on “good-practicing and well-intentioned” international institutions’ agendas for several decades. If these objectives are really on the agenda - 800 million people suffer from hunger around the world, of which 2/3 are country people, and according to the FAO [1], more than two billion do not eat enough to have an active life - then the methods applied to achieve them should be the focus.

Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is particularly affected by these issues today. Foremost, 23.2% of its population suffer from malnutrition, and 42.7% live on less than US $1.90 per day. [2] Additionally, more than 60% of the Sub-Saharan population reside in rural environments, [3] while 90% of the agricultural production in this region comes from family food-producing farming. [4] Above all, the World Bank World Bank
The World Bank was founded as part of the new international monetary system set up at Bretton Woods in 1944. Its capital is provided by member states’ contributions and loans on the international money markets. It financed public and private projects in Third World and East European countries.

It consists of several closely associated institutions, among which :

1. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD, 189 members in 2017), which provides loans in productive sectors such as farming or energy ;

2. The International Development Association (IDA, 159 members in 1997), which provides less advanced countries with long-term loans (35-40 years) at very low interest (1%) ;

3. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), which provides both loan and equity finance for business ventures in developing countries.

As Third World Debt gets worse, the World Bank (along with the IMF) tends to adopt a macro-economic perspective. For instance, it enforces adjustment policies that are intended to balance heavily indebted countries’ payments. The World Bank advises those countries that have to undergo the IMF’s therapy on such matters as how to reduce budget deficits, round up savings, enduce foreign investors to settle within their borders, or free prices and exchange rates.

(WB) has designated SSA as the main focus for applying an agricultural model that, according to it, would address the food problems found in this region.

 The World Bank and the New Green Revolution (NGR)

In its “World Development Report 2008”, the WB made agriculture the mainstay for reducing poverty and hunger in SSA and intends to lead its new ’green revolution’. [5] This version “2.0” of the 1960s agricultural “revolution” in Asia and Latin America actually corresponds much more to the establishment of a productivist and extractive model intended to enrich multinational corporations and ensure the Western powers’ control instead of an emancipatory perspective for local people. This is an agribusiness model which comes with the usual destructive package: GM crops, chemical inputs and pesticides. Supported by the G8 G8 Group composed of the most powerful countries of the planet: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the USA, with Russia a full member since June 2002. Their heads of state meet annually, usually in June or July. (New Alliance for Food Security), northern development agencies (USAID, DFID, AFD, etc.) and their institutional, international and African relays (UN, ADB, NEPAD, AU), various philanthrocapitalist foundations (Gates and AGRA, Rockefeller, Yara) and leaders of the food industry (Unilever, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Cargill, etc.) and agro-petrochemical industry (Monsanto, Syngenta, Pioneer, Bayer, etc.), the NGR spreads its tentacles to impose agribusiness. With the creation and funding of pseudo agricultural research centres on biosafety (AfricaBio, etc.), and pseudo peasant organisations (FANRPAN, etc.), the NGR pressures governments on two fundamental levels in more than 15 countries. [6] The first is the transformation of the land laws. SSA is mostly devoid of land registers. Land securitisation is essential for investors wishing to grab large stretches of arable land belonging to farmers and develop huge monocultures. The second is the transformation of seed laws to establish a seed catalogue (all GM crops), allowing commercialised production, all while banning the same so called “informal” smallholder seeds outside and inside these countries. [7]

A “new green revolution” transforms smallholding farmers into agricultural labourers in the hands of private financial interests

These changes, not unlike those led by the CAP in Europe, account considerably for a dismantling of smallholder agriculture. Indeed, if the World Bank recognises that small scale farming “can give hundreds of millions of poor rural people ways to escape poverty [...], it intends to lead a “revolution with a productivity standard” by developing “commercial farms with intensive labour [...] [through] public-private partnerships (PPP) to promote competition in the agribusiness sector and encourage greater inclusion of small farmers and agricultural workers”. [8] In other words, this agri-industrial model means a disappearance of smallholders in favour of contract farming which allows them to be included in “value chain agriculture” (VCA). [9]

 “Value-chain Agriculture” and the spiral of indebtness

The VCA is the other spearhead of the NGR. The transformation of the smallholding agricultural workers allows agribusiness to integrate them, at their expense, with the financial interests of international agribusiness. The “latter” (about ‘smallholding agricultural workers’), in effect, are relegated to the last link of this misnamed “value chain.” If we guess exactly the economic profits that private interests can generate, the inverse with regard to smallholding farmers is far less tangible.

In being absorbed in this way, the smallholders are totally dependent on VCA, and they lose the de facto access and control of their land and its production (transformation into monoculture Monoculture When one crop alone is cultivated. Many countries of the South have been induced to specialize in the production of a commodity for export (cotton, coffee, cocoa, groundnuts, tobacco, etc.) to procure hard currency for debt repayments. ), income (wage-earning and increased competition) as well as traditional and cultural expertise. Indeed, the model supported by the NGR and agribusiness are completely opposes the agricultural model(s) in place. Small 2-hectare plots are devoured by large intensive farms, and polycultures and small livestock farms that provide diverse income are disappearing in favour of monocultures. Local crops (millet, sorghum, etc.) are being replaced by GM cash crops (cotton, corn, wheat, etc.). Thus, this model accomplished the feat, in the name of reducing poverty and hunger in the world, promoting land grabbing, developing export farming, promoting biofuels, disguising eating habits by producing foreign crops in the Sub-Saharan basin, while depriving farmers both of their sources of income and food production. [10]

The impact on these communities is obviously significant, and by taking advantage of the most unequal power dynamic, agri-food industries play a game where debt represents a key mechanism. Trapped in the VCA, the now agricultural labourers find themselves in competition with each other, where previously it was a question of preserving social peace through diversity, and having more autonomy in the face of global food prices, where the food surpluses were previously sold or traded locally. Faced with insufficient income, [11] showing once again if need be that there is no real link between increasing agricultural production and reducing inequalities of wealth and poverty in the world, these small operations have access to credits, disingenuously proposed/imposed by their employers, and find themselves locked in a spiral of indebtness of which we know the power of submission. These debts are simply illegitimate, since the power balance Balance End of year statement of a company’s assets (what the company possesses) and liabilities (what it owes). In other words, the assets provide information about how the funds collected by the company have been used; and the liabilities, about the origins of those funds. very clearly favours the creditor, and most of all, the debtor does not draw any benefit. Moreover, by transposing the doctrine of odious debt Odious Debt According to the doctrine, for a debt to be odious it must meet two conditions:
1) It must have been contracted against the interests of the Nation, or against the interests of the People, or against the interests of the State.
2) Creditors cannot prove they they were unaware of how the borrowed money would be used.

We must underline that according to the doctrine of odious debt, the nature of the borrowing regime or government does not signify, since what matters is what the debt is used for. If a democratic government gets into debt against the interests of its population, the contracted debt can be called odious if it also meets the second condition. Consequently, contrary to a misleading version of the doctrine, odious debt is not only about dictatorial regimes.

(See Éric Toussaint, The Doctrine of Odious Debt : from Alexander Sack to the CADTM).

The father of the odious debt doctrine, Alexander Nahum Sack, clearly says that odious debts can be contracted by any regular government. Sack considers that a debt that is regularly incurred by a regular government can be branded as odious if the two above-mentioned conditions are met.
He adds, “once these two points are established, the burden of proof that the funds were used for the general or special needs of the State and were not of an odious character, would be upon the creditors.”

Sack defines a regular government as follows: “By a regular government is to be understood the supreme power that effectively exists within the limits of a given territory. Whether that government be monarchical (absolute or limited) or republican; whether it functions by “the grace of God” or “the will of the people”; whether it express “the will of the people” or not, of all the people or only of some; whether it be legally established or not, etc., none of that is relevant to the problem we are concerned with.”

So clearly for Sack, all regular governments, whether despotic or democratic, in one guise or another, can incur odious debts.
, these debts should be cancelled because they are incurred in the creditors’ particular interest Interest An amount paid in remuneration of an investment or received by a lender. Interest is calculated on the amount of the capital invested or borrowed, the duration of the operation and the rate that has been set. , all while knowing beforehand the disposition of these debtors.

 Impacts: Towards a New Ecological Debt

This agricultural model, whose underlying essence is the asymmetrical relationship between the smallholders and the other actors of the VCA, has serious impacts on the social fabric. By creating competition among farmers, it destroys social capital [12] (i.e. collective organisation), while subjecting them to the dictates of competition and elasticity. On an ecological and climatic level, negative externalities are immense. Between, on the one hand, the use of GM crops and pesticides that destroy biodiversity while contaminating neighbouring crops and the impoverishment and erosion of soils by monocultures, and on the other hand, the use of chemical inputs which increases dependence on the oil industry, this ’new’ ’green’ ’revolution’, in name only, responds foremost to a profit Profit The positive gain yielded from a company’s activity. Net profit is profit after tax. Distributable profit is the part of the net profit which can be distributed to the shareholders. -hungry neo-liberal ideology. To conclude this fast range of impacts, let’s not forget the serious consequences that the planned disappearance of the traditional seed knowledge passed from generation to generation has on ecological and cultural levels. In addition, we now know today that their varied diversity and their natural ability to change guarantees Guarantees Acts that provide a creditor with security in complement to the debtor’s commitment. A distinction is made between real guarantees (lien, pledge, mortgage, prior charge) and personal guarantees (surety, aval, letter of intent, independent guarantee). adaptation and resistance to the climatic and natural hazards. Remember also, that smallholders’ seeds are absolutely useful, since Africa is the continent most vulnerable to climate change. Ultimately, the NGR and the WB cause the accumulation of a new ecological debt of which they are already historical debtors.

 Subsistence Agriculture towards Agro-ecology for an Ecological and Social Transition

If it is not correct to draw up an ecological and climatic plan with an idyllic image of food agriculture and family (slash and burn farming, short and long term vision, etc.), we should nevertheless address the benefits. It is above all a small-scale family polyculture (less than 2 ha), which is subject to many criteria and does not meet a simple financial goal. Faced with hazards of climatic, economic and political standing, each plot follows a guide [13] that allows a spur of food production, generating just enough income for the family unit. Moreover, it ensures the transmission of traditional and local knowledge and practices, first at the level of seeds, then at the level of field practices and understanding. Finally, the problems faced by this agriculture are more related to a lack of a transportation network, of access and control over land, as well as sustainable management of granaries.

Therefore, food agriculture and family is close to several aspects of agroecology and could be linked together by optimising its management. Soil health and fertility must be greatly improved by creating more biodiversity, while stopping non-organic inputs in favour of organic inputs. Similarly, better water management must be achieved with conservation standard, all while perfecting irrigation systems. In comparison, this agriculture must diversify by reproducing natural mechanisms that can be found in agroforestry, permaculture, in aquaculture and/or integrated farming. The efficiency and benefits of agroecology compared to agribusiness, also in terms of production and the social scene, have been demonstrated many times. [14] Agroecology, allows simultaneously a sustainable management of natural resources, promotes social and collective organisation of farmers, greatly improves revenues, all while having a significant impact on access, use and control of land by all. Ultimately, many ingredients needed for a transition to both ecological and social development. Other essential elements need to be added, including a strong and solid peasant movement, organised jointly with the help of Via Campesina, forcing sub-Saharan African States to undertake sustainable agrarian policies in line with the needs of all.

Translation : Trommons

This article is taken from the CADTM magazine: Les Autres Voix de la Planète [The other voices of the Planet]


[1FAO (2015). L’état de l’insécurité alimentaire dans le monde en 2015. FAO. Disponible à : http://www.fao.org/3/390d48ec-d6bb-4b1a-a60e-059070715fb0/i4646f.pdf

[2World Bank (2016). Poverty headcount ratio at $1.90 a day (2011 PPP) (% of population). Available at: http://data.worldbank.org/topic/agriculture-and-rural-development

[3World Bank (2014). Rural population (% of the total population). Available at: http://donnees.banquemondiale.org/theme/agriculture-et-developpement-rural

[4Jacquemot, P. (2013). Perspectives économiques pour l’Afrique subsaharienne. Questions et scénarios. L’Économie politique, (3), 6-33. Page 16.

[5World Bank. (2007). World Development Report 2008 Agriculture for Development Available at: http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/587251468175472382/World-development-report-2008-agriculture-for-development.

[6The affected countries are: Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia.

[7Vilain, R. (2015). La nouvelle révolution verte en Afrique subsaharienne. Vers un bouleversement des pratiques agricoles paysannes ? Partie 1 sur 2. Available at: http://cadtm.org/la-nouvelle-revolution-verte-en

[8World Bank. (2007). World Development Report 2008 Agriculture for Development Available at: http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/587251468175472382/World-development-report-2008-agriculture-for-development Pages 1-9.


[10Vilain, R. (2015). La nouvelle révolution verte en Afrique subsaharienne. Vers un bouleversement des pratiques agricoles paysannes ? Partie 2 sur 2. Available at: http://cadtm.org/La-nouvellerevolution-verte-en,12819

[11Medernach K., Burnod P. (2013). Recompositions inattendues d’un système agraire malgache par l’agrobusiness. Etudes rurales, 2013/1 n°191, 63-76.

[12Pretty, J. N., Morison, J. I., & Hine, R. E. (2003). Reducing Food Poverty by Increasing Agricultural Sustainability in Developing Countries. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 95 (1): 217-234.

[13According to a concept by Philippe de Leener (Professor at the Catholic University of Louvain). The personnal guide is a sustainable and supportable balance for meeting 6 criteria: profit, survival, safety, capital goods, the building of social peace and prestige.

[14Pretty, J. N., Morison, J. I., & Hine, R. E. (2003). Reducing Food Poverty by Increasing Agricultural Sustainability in Developing Countries. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 95 (1): 217-234. Et Pretty, J. N. & al. (2006). Resource-conserving agriculture increases yields in developing countries. Environmental science & technology, 40 (4): 1114-1119

Other articles in English by Rémi Vilain (3)




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