African Agricultural Growth Corridors: Who benefits, who loses?

EcoNexus | December 2012

African Agricultural Growth Corridors: Who benefits, who loses?

Helena Paul and Ricarda Steinbrecher


This brief report takes an initial look at how governments, international finance institutions and global corporations are collaborating in major new projects (currently in Mozambique and Tanzania) to reorder land and water use and create industrial infrastructure over millions of hectares in Africa in order to ensure sustained supplies of commodities and profits for markets. The corridors are described as development opportunities, especially for small farmers, but are likely to be most advantageous to corporations and client governments, with the help of international institutions including the World Economic Forum, the G8 and G20 groups of the major global economies, the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Bank.

The report is divided into three parts, 1) an introduction to the concept and who is behind it, 2) the corridors themselves, and 3) their potential impacts.


What are African Agricultural Growth Corridors?

The concept of ‘African Agricultural Growth Corridors’ is designed to facilitate the conversion of millions of hectares of land to industrial agriculture, to be served by building infrastructure (roads, railways, irrigation, storage, processing and ports) and led by private companies. It refers to regions of Africa whose agricultural potential ‘has not been realized’ and whose population remains ‘almost entirely reliant on subsistence agriculture’.1 Areas identified for corridors currently consist of regions in Mozambique and Tanzania with good water supplies, to focus mainly on agriculture, but also including forestry and mining for coal and valuable minerals.

The declared aim of the corridor projects is to establish infrastructure specifically to attract investment and facilitate the development of commercial agriculture. The ports in question are vital for the export of agriculture, biomass, mining and timber products, but also for importing the basic requirements for industrial agriculture such as fertilisers and agricultural machinery. The importance of smallholder farmers and how they can benefit from becoming outgrowers in industrial production is constantly highlighted. Promoters consider that without infrastructure in place, investment in agriculture will be hard to attract and without commercial agriculture to attract them, states will not be willing to invest in infrastructure. The corridors are meant to tackle both issues at once. The two best-known are the Beira Corridor (BAGC) of Mozambique and the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT). There are two more in Mozambique: the Nacala Corridor and the Zambezi Valley, as identified by Mozambique’s Agriculture Minister Pacheco in June 2012, who also highlighted three other potential corridors in the south of Mozambique. However, the three that are currently being developed ‘hold most of the country’s water resources’.2

Assumptions behind the proposals are well summed up here:

The majority of soil in sub-Saharan Africa is infertile. To achieve intensive productivity of cash crops, the use of inorganic fertilisers, pesticides and GM "high-yielding" patented seeds will be increasingly portrayed by these companies as indispensable to reducing hunger levels on the continent and providing food for export.3

Where did the concept come from?

The ‘African Agricultural Growth Corridor’ concept was first proposed at the UN General Assembly in 2008 and then at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in 2009 and 2010 at meetings in Switzerland and WEF Africa in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The World Economic Forum describes itself as: ‘committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas.’4It organises an annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, which brings together the CEOs of major corporations, bankers, financiers, government leaders, representing billions of dollars. Others involved include global institutions such as the UN, the World Bank and FAO.

In 2011 WEF put forward a ‘Roadmap for Stakeholders’ in preparation for their ‘New Vision for Agriculture’, which, according to WEF, aims to promote food security, environmental sustainability and economic growth and opportunity and to identify the particular role of the private sector in achieving these things. This is all presented in the context of ‘feeding the 9 billion in 2050’ and the asserted need to increase production by 70%. The New Vision initiative includes the G8 and G20, plus 11 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. WEF also jointly convenes the Grow Africa Partnership with the African Union and The New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD). The African Agricultural Growth Corridor Projects are just one part of the New Vision initiative.

New vision - old names

According to WEF, the New Vision project is led by 28 of their global partner companies,

which include: Agco Corporation, Archer Daniels Midland, BASF, Bayer AG, Bunge Limited, Cargill, CF Industries, The Coca-Cola Company, Diageo, DuPont, General Mills, Heineken NV, Kraft Foods, Louis Dreyfus Commodities, Maersk, Metro AG, Monsanto Company, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Rabobank, Royal DSM, SABMiller, Swiss Reinsurance Company Ltd., Syngenta, The Mosaic Company, Unilever, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., and Yara International.5

This represents the whole supply chain, from seeds, chemical inputs, production, processing, transport and trade, to supermarkets.

The last company on the list, Yara International, is a global nitrogen fertiliser company from Norway that has played a key role in the promotion of the African Agricultural Growth Corridors. It was Yara that presented the idea to the UN in 2008 and then at the WEF in Davos (where it presented the idea in 2009 and 2010) and also at WEF related meetings in Africa. It offers an annual prize for ‘an African Green Revolution’. As an international fertiliser company, Yara obviously has a lot to gain from new markets for its products in Africa, made accessible by new or improved infrastructure such as ports, rail and roads. Yara has already invested some US$20 million in a port terminal in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania for packaging and distributing fertiliser in the SAGCOT corridor and beyond.6 Like other companies in WEF circles, its CEO seeks incentives and reduced entry barriers, public private partnerships, to help the private sector to increase food production, which Yara says will require almost twice as much agricultural output.7

Yara has also been instrumental in the Grow Africa Partnership. According to its own website:

Yara played a key role in establishing Grow Africa, a public-private platform designed to accelerate investments and transformative change in African agriculture that support national policy priorities.8

The largest shareholder in Yara is the Norwegian Ministry of Trade and Industry, with 36.2 percent of shares in November 2012.9 Yara has also had to address incidents of corruption involving payments and offers of payment in India, Libya and Switzerland.10 This is particularly important in view of the prevalence of corruption identified by local communities and organisations in both Mozambique11 and Tanzania, and their fears that the corridor projects will increase this (see later: Some major issues for SAGCOT and for all the corridors).

Key players in the corridors

Other company partners in the corridors include Monsanto, Dupont, Syngenta, Unilever, General Mills and SAB Miller (SAGCOT, Tanzania). In Beira, supporters include DuPont, Vale and Rio Tinto, several banks and companies with interests in sugar and in biofuels.

As well as corporations, there are other major players including the Alliance for a Green Revolution for Africa (AGRA), The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), World Bank and FAO and governments including the US, the UK, Norway and the Netherlands. 12

In particular the UK government is playing an important role in facilitating the development of the corridors. There are three development companies closely involved, AgDevCoProrustica and InfraCo, the last two of which are registered in the UK, while AgDevCo has its headquarters in London.Prorustica is an international development consultancy based in the UK whose website logo proclaims ‘Public Private Partnerships - the answer to African Agricultural Growth’. 13 InfraCo focuses on the development of infrastructure services (e.g. irrigation) 14 , using funding from the UK Department for International Development (DfID) to start up projects until private companies are willing to invest, with the stated aim of recovering that money later. 15 It is a member of the Private Infrastructure Development Group. 16

AgDevCo is a not‐for‐profit agricultural project development company, which says it acts as an investor to develop agriculture enterprises at an early stage, seeking to provide ‘transformational benefits’ for smallholder farmers and communities. It counts AGRA, USAID, Rockefeller and DfID among its funding partners17 and manages a ‘catalytic fund’ to help projects get underway (see below: catalytic or up-front funding). The chairman of InfraCo is also the Executive Chair of AgDevCo.18 InfraCo developed the Investment Blueprint for the Beira Corridor (BAGC),19 Delivering the Potential, while AgDevCo and Prorustica produced the Investment Blueprint for SAGCOT.20

What do they all intend to get out of it?

The corporations see a major potential for developing commercial agriculture in new regions which have not yet experienced it, opening fresh opportunities for the sale of proprietary seed, fertilizers, pesticides, machinery and business for the whole supply chain. By bringing together governments, corporations and international institutions in the corridor projects, they hope to generate advantages and economies of scale. The combination of expanses of land variously described as empty, underused, idle or degraded, apparently waiting for exploitation, plus the availability of water and cheap labour is a big attraction. The region also has major natural resources – coal, gas, precious metals, rare earths, and timber. Its ports, set for major improvement and expansion, have good potential access to destinations such as China and the EU, both major markets for agricultural commodities for feed, food, fibre and fuel.

Organisation of the corridors

The lack of infrastructure and storage facilities is often cited as a major barrier to agricultural development and food security in Africa. However, it is important to ask what kind of infrastructure is required to benefit Africans, as opposed to corporate interests. Private capital is not interested in investing in infrastructure, although companies are happy to be paid to build it. A major aim of these projects is to provide a context where private capital will be attracted to invest. Since private capital wants guaranteed returns on investment, export agriculture is likely to be a major focus, with infrastructure leading out of the country, probably towards other regions, rather than benefiting other African countries. The participation of corporate partners such as Cargill, Bunge and ADM link the Agricultural Growth Corridors projects firmly to the global commodity trade.

Central to the development of the corridors concept are roads, railways, ports, irrigation, and farming hubs, nucleus farms or irrigated farm blocks. According to the theory, these nucleus farms will provide processing and storage services, inputs (seed, fertilisers and pesticides) plus machinery to smallholders or outgrowers and their communities living in the surrounding area. The idea is that all these should be concentrated, along with other service providers such as extension and credit, into clusters of companies:

Clusters are defined as geographic concentrations of interconnected companies, specialised suppliers, service providers, and associated institutions. For SAGCOT, this includes suppliers of farm inputs, machinery, and agriculture support services (extension agents, financial services), commercial farmers (large and small), processors and providers of infrastructure such as irrigation and rural roads. 21

The projects also emphasise the importance of ‘last mile’ infrastructure, ie: linking everything into the network – including smallholders and local communities.

Smallscale farmers as outgrowers and contract farmers

Promoters of all these projects, along with the World Bank and FAO, constantly emphasise how they want to help smallholder farmers gain access to credit, farm inputs and protection for their land rights and speak of major benefits for them and for local communities. However, once again it is important to look at the context. The infrastructure diagrams for the corridor proposals suggest that production is more likely to focus on commodities for international markets, rather than helping local communities practice agriculture to achieve local food security/sovereignty, placing them instead in the role of contract farmers and outgrowers rather than independent farmers.

Jatropha and oil palm plantations both require labour, for example, so it is convenient for companies, but not necessarily beneficial for local people, to contract them as outgrowers. Although poor farmers may be attracted by the idea of signing contracts to obtain up-front loans to set themselves up, the reality is that they are the ones who take the risks and encounter the problems – and have to repay the loans. The companies meanwhile dictate all the terms. It is also important to realise that traditional land use patterns may be very different from the kind of land rights process promoted by companies seeking to turn local communities into outgrowers for their projects.

Incentivising investment: Public Private Partnerships, Catalytic funding and Patient Capital.

Public private partnerships (PPPs)

These are seen as key to establishing the corridors by the major players such as Yara International above. Prorustica is dedicated to establishing PPPs and worked with InfraCo and AgDevCo to develop the investment blueprints for Beira and SAGCOT in order to facilitate them. The government of Tanzania considers PPPs to be the foundation for its agricultural policy. A major question regarding such partnerships is always: how are they accountable to the public and to governments? Mandatory company accountability remains limited to financial matters. Who really takes the risks in such partnerships? How can participants be brought to account in the case of failures? Will the contents of the agreements be publicly accessible? What secret clauses may they contain that will shift liability towards the public realm?

Catalytic or up-front funding

This type of funding is designed to encourage companies to set up projects, for example, for the Beira Corridor:

The Catalytic Fund provides low-cost funding of $50,000 to $500,000 to eligible businesses. Recipients must agree to enter into a joint venture with AgDevCo, the manager of the Catalytic Fund, to develop the business opportunity. AgDevCo works closely with project sponsors to make the business “bankable” and secure third-party debt and equity investment as soon as possible. 22

Apparently the Beira Catalytic Fund has more than $20 million, which has been provided by the governments of the UK, the Netherlands and Norway and which invests in projects, ‘with direct benefits for many smallholder farmers’. 23 Elsewhere we learn that the UK Department for International Development, DfID, has provided an ‘Accountable Grant Arrangement’ of up to £6,500,000 through AgDevCo. 24 The aim is to support the initial costs and risks of getting new businesses underway and so attract new investment. SAGCOT also has a Catalytic Fund, of some 40 million USD.

Patient capital

The need for so-called patient capital is constantly emphasised, especially for developing infrastructure. It is capital invested with no prospect of the kind of quick return companies are generally looking for. Such capital is generally public funding. South Africa also plans massive infrastructure development, and intends to use one of the largest reserves of patient capital: pension funds. 25 Pension funds in the OECD countries alone totalled over 20 trillion USD in 2011. The OECD considers that pension funds may be needed to help to bridge the global infrastructure gap and assist with investments in climate change adaptation and mitigation. 26 Obviously the public, whose funds these are, should be properly engaged in the debate as to how they are invested, as the risks are considerable, but may also be very difficult for non-specialists to understand or calculate. Members of the public might also not approve on ethical grounds of the way their pension funds are invested.

The chair of AgDevCo and InfraCo, Keith Palmer, also happens to be the author of a paper on patient capital: Agricultural growth and poverty reduction in Africa: The case for patient capital27 As AgDevCo notes on its website: ‘Patient capital is long-term capital made available by the international community on concessional terms. It is used to part-fund the capital costs of irrigation and related agriculture supporting infrastructure.’ 28


The Beira Agricultural Growth Corridor (BAGC)

This covers the Mozambique provinces of Tete, Sofala and Manica. ‘The Beira corridor is the gateway to South Eastern Africa. It is a road and rail network linking Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Mozambique to the port of Beira on the Indian Ocean.’ 29 The project was launched in 2010. 30According to the ‘Delivering the Potential’ document on Beira, the BAGC covers some 10 million ha of arable land, of which 1.5 million are currently farmed by subsistence farmers with just 25,700 of commercial farming of which 22,000 were under sugarcane. The aim is to increase irrigation from 1,200 ha to 200,000 ha by 2030. The World Bank has funded the PROIRRI irrigation project at US$ 70M for the Beira and Zambezi Corridors. According to figure 6, on page 11 of the Beira document, the EU and Japan have contributed funds to upgrade the port of Beira. The Beira document also mentions several biofuel firms as planning to invest in production there: Principle Energy, Sun Biofuels, Enerterra, Grown Energy Zambeze and Envalor. 31Principle’s own website reports that it intends to produce sugarcane for ethanol on some 20,000 ha of irrigated land in Dombe (Beira Corridor) 32 that is likely to be exported from Beira port. In July, 2011, Zambeze Grown Energy was reported as investing US$320 million to raise sugarcane on 24,000 ha.33 In June of the same year, the Portuguese company SGC Energia was reported as working with Enerterra SA on a project to produce biodiesel from jatropha seeds in Sofala province (BAGC) on 19,000 ha. 34

What is really happening

However, it is difficult to be sure what the current status of projects is without monitoring on the ground. In the BAGC Partnership report of June 2012 there are several ‘project concepts’ for irrigation in collaboration with PROIRRI for an area of 1.2 billion ha, and also ‘pipeline opportunities’. The Catalytic Fund is meant to provide finance to kick-start agricultural production in cooperation with agricultural commodity buyers, for example. According to the report 860,000 dollars were disbursed by the Fund in the six months to end June 2012, plus around 1 million by the Smallholder Facility, plus loans of 1.4 million, plus some equity investments. 35 According to its brochure for 2012, AgDevCo has currently invested in 12 projects in Mozambique and was planning to invest in 5 more in 2012. 36
But we will have to see what actually comes of all these projects, and at which cost.

The impact of coal

Tete province in the Beira corridor is rich in coal, which two major international companies, Vale (a Brazilian multinational metals, mining and logistics corporation) and Rio Tinto have recently begun to mine. To stimulate coal exports, Mozambique plans to seek international bids in December 2012 for a US$2 billion railway and port development project – from Tete to Macuse on the coast. 37 Meanwhile the Sena railway line from Tete to the port of Beira, which was damaged in the civil war, is being upgraded. According to the Beira website, the mining sector is helping to create demand for food and agriculture:

The Government of Mozambique, the British Government, Rio Tinto and AgDevCo have teamed up to assist thousands of small farmers who live in the vicinity of mines in Moatize, central Mozambique, to boost their crop yields for commercial food production. 38

Previous colonial efforts in the region

The core region of the Beira Corridor has already experienced quite large-scale commercial exploitation and its original population was used as forced labour on plantations for export crops39 under the Mozambique Company, established in 1891 with British, German and South African investment. Rebellions against the Mozambique Company in 1902 and 1917 meant that the Portuguese government (the colonial power) had to intervene to restore order.40 The role of such companies as the Mozambique Company, the Niassa and Zambezi Companies, the Africa Company and the East India Company in the past can warn us about current developments such as the agricultural growth corridors, if we choose to heed them.41

The Nacala and Zambezi Corridors in Mozambique

There are two other corridors under development in Mozambique: the Nacala Agricultural Growth Corridor (which consists of Nampula and Niassa provinces) and the Zambezi Agricultural Corridor. However, part of Zambezia province is being included in the Nacala proposals so here we treat them together. They are dominated by the Pro-Savana Programme, of which the National Farmers’ and Peasants' Union (UNAC) of Mozambique says:

The ProSavana Programme is a triangular project between the Republic of Mozambique, the Federal Republic of Brazil and Japan, for the development of large-scale agriculture in the Nacala Development Corridor affecting 14 districts in the provinces of Niassa, Nampula and Zambezia, covering an area of approximately 14 million hectares. 42

The Programme is being promoted on the basis that the region resembles the Cerrado region of Brazil, where Japan co-operated with Brazil to promote industrial agriculture over the last three decades,43 with devastating impacts on soils, biodiversity, water resources and local communities.44 , 45

However, according to the Gates Foundation website, under the heading Forging Innovative Partnerships,

Brazil is working with Japan to help poor farmers in Mozambique grow soybeans, in a story that goes back 30 years. As part of a major technical assistance program in the 1980s, Japan helped adapt the soybean to Brazil’s tropical savanna, the Cerrado. It became one of Brazil’s most important crops. Now, with Japanese financial support, the Brazilians are helping Mozambiquan farmers in the Nacala corridor, an area with very similar climate and soil conditions. Meanwhile, the Japanese are looking to upgrade Mozambique’s port and railroad infrastructure to make it easier for farmers to export the beans.46

Brazilian and Japanese investors are now being offered large areas of land on long leases at minimal cost. It is being asserted that this land is abandoned but La Via Campesina states that in fact there are actually millions of small farmers in the region.47

In this context it is worth noting that in 2010, Brazil, Mozambique and the EU signed a Bioenergy pact involving Brazilian companies, land and labour in Mozambique and exports to EU markets, focusing on jatropha and sugar cane.48

What the peasant organisations of the Nacala region, members of the National Peasant Organisation of Mozambique, have to say about this project could equally be applied to the other corridor projects:

‘Considering the way in which the ProSavana programme was drafted and the process for implementing it, we peasant farmers warn of the following expected impacts:

  • The appearance of landless communities in Mozambique, as a result of land expropriation and resettlement;

  • Frequent social upheaval along the Nacala Corridor, and beyond;

  • The impoverishment of rural communities and a reduction in the number of alternatives for survival;

  • An increase in corruption and conflicts of interest;

  • The pollution of water resources as a result of the excessive use of chemical pesticides and fertilisers, as well soil degradation;

  • Ecological imbalances due to vast deforestation for agribusiness projects.’ 49

For this reason, La Via Campesina, in August 2012, called for: ‘an immediate moratorium on all large-scale agricultural investments such as the Pro-Savana project in Mozambique’ plus demands ranging from recognition of common land titles in favour of the communities to ‘ the direct involvement of peasants in the definition of agricultural policies based on sustainability, food sovereignty and agroecology;’ 50

The Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT)

There are two possible corridors inland from the port of Dar es Salaam – SAGCOT focuses on the southern highlands and involves 7.5 million ha, of which some 2 million ha are farmed by smallholders, who also keep cattle, goats and poultry. 110,000 ha are farmed by commercial farmers, mainly for sugar cane and tea (for export), according to the SAGCOT Investment Blueprint of January 2011. This corridor stretches all the way to the Zambia border and Prorustica points out that it could provide a gateway to Zambia, Malawi and the Democratic Republic of Congo as well.51 As Farming First notes: ‘With Dar es Salaam port providing access to the Indian Ocean for the interior of Tanzania and its neighbouring landlocked countries – Malawi, Zambia and the Congo - Tanzania has a large agricultural potential.’ 52 In October 2012, those three countries were accepted as member of SAGCOT.53

Some major issues for SAGCOT and for all the corridors

The Government of Tanzania’s strategy for economic development and poverty reduction is the Kilimo Kwanza (Agriculture First) policy. Unlike previous attempts at rural strategies, it is led by the private sector and involves the creation of a public private partnership framework. The SAGCOT programme is an integral part of this policy. The aim is to bring 350,000 ha of farmland into commercial production for regional and international markets over the next 20 years and to bring smallholders into profitable agriculture through increasing linkages with commercial agribusiness.

However, the government of Tanzania’s ‘Strategic Regional Environmental and Social Assessment’ interim report of July 201254 notes concerns about lack of institutional capacity, endemic corruption, the likelihood of conflicts over land, especially in view of the perception that all land is already in use. There are fears that investors will simply grab land. Lack of transparency and accountability, and lack of strategies to minimize risks to smallholders and herders from the commercialization of agriculture are also mentioned. In addition there were comments on lack of security of tenure and limited rights and negotiating power over land-transfers and land use planning. There are also concerns about impacts on biodiversity from intensive agriculture and associated inputs. Even though women form the majority of farmers, they are often disadvantaged by custom and tradition, underrepresented and frequently unaware of their rights. However, will these broad concerns be heeded and is there capacity to address them?

On 28th November 2012 it was announced that the government of Tanzania had set a 10,000 hectare limit on land holdings for investment in sugar and 5,000ha for rice. The Tanzania Investment Centre is preparing guidelines for investors regarding the involvement of small-scale outgrowers.55 However, 10,000 hectares is still a very large area by the standards of small African farmers, averaging less than 2 ha, and becoming an outgrower is not every small farmer’s dream.


A Major Reordering Of Land And Water Use

We argue that the corridors are part of a major reordering of land and water access and use in the global south not dissimilar to the enclosures that took place for example in the UK (eg Scotland – all over the UK in fact), where many of those who were driven off the land became labour for emerging industries or were forced to leave the country. Current patterns of land use, such as shifting cultivation or other traditional forms of cultivation and use, already seriously threatened and often completely misunderstood, may cease to be possible across wide areas. This would threaten to eliminate the livelihoods of local communities that do not wish to collaborate with this externally imposed re-ordering. Existing local patterns of water use will also be adversely affected, indeed the threat to water may be even more serious, in view of the many proposals for new irrigation schemes to serve industrial farming. Pastoralism and seasonal grazing, often well adapted to local conditions if able to operate according to traditional practice, are already under great pressure, which this reordering will certainly increase. In Zambia for example there are local agriculture systems such as Chitemene and the more recent Fundikila

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