Employee-run Companies, Part of the Landscape of an Argentina in Crisis

Active Citizens, Civil Society, Cooperatives, Economy & Trade, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Headlines, Labour, Latin America & the Caribbean, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations, Trade & Investment

Labour

A group of Farmacoop workers stand in the courtyard of their plant in Buenos Aires. Members of the Argentine cooperative proudly say that theirs is the first laboratory in the world to be recovered by its workers. CREDIT: Courtesy of Pedro Pérez/Tiempo Argentino.

A group of Farmacoop workers stand in the courtyard of their plant in Buenos Aires. Members of the Argentine cooperative proudly say that theirs is the first laboratory in the world to be recovered by its workers. CREDIT: Courtesy of Pedro Pérez/Tiempo Argentino.

BUENOS AIRES, May 24 2022 (IPS) – “All we ever wanted was to keep working. And although we have not gotten to where we would like to be, we know that we can,” says Edith Pereira, a short energetic woman, as she walks through the corridors of Farmacoop, in the south of the Argentine capital. She proudly says it is “the first pharmaceutical laboratory in the world recovered by its workers.”


Pereira began to work in what used to be the Roux Ocefa laboratory in Buenos Aires in 1983. At its height it had more than 400 employees working two nine-hour shifts, as she recalls in a conversation with IPS.

But in 2016 the laboratory fell into a crisis that first manifested itself in delays in the payment of wages and a short time later led to the owners removing the machinery, and emptying and abandoning the company.

The workers faced up to the disaster with a struggle that included taking over the plant for several months and culminated in 2019 with the creation of Farmacoop, a cooperative of more than 100 members, which today is getting the laboratory back on its feet.

In fact, during the worst period of the pandemic, Farmacoop developed rapid antigen tests to detect COVID-19, in partnership with scientists from the government’s National Council for Scientific and Technical Research (Conicet), the leading organization in the sector.

Farmacoop is part of a powerful movement in Argentina, as recognized by the government, which earlier this month launched the first National Registry of Recovered Companies (ReNacER), with the aim of gaining detailed knowledge of a sector that, according to official estimates, comprises more than 400 companies and some 18,000 jobs.

The presentation of the new Registry took place at an oil cooperative that processes soybeans and sunflower seeds on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, built on what was left of a company that filed for bankruptcy in 2016 and laid off its 126 workers without severance pay.

Edith Pereira (seated) and Blácida Benitez, two of the members of Farmacoop, a laboratory recovered by its workers in Buenos Aires, are seen here in the production area. This is the former Roux Ocefa laboratory, which went bankrupt in the capital of Argentina and was left owing a large amount of back wages to its workers. CREDIT: Daniel Gutman/IPS

Edith Pereira (seated) and Blácida Benitez, two of the members of Farmacoop, a laboratory recovered by its workers in Buenos Aires, are seen here in the production area. This is the former Roux Ocefa laboratory, which went bankrupt in the capital of Argentina and was left owing a large amount of back wages to its workers. CREDIT: Daniel Gutman/IPS

The event was led by President Alberto Fernández, who said that he intends to “convince Argentina that the popular economy exists, that it is here to stay, that it is valuable and that it must be given the tools to continue growing.”

Fernández said on that occasion that the movement of worker-recuperated companies was born in the country in 2001, as a result of the brutal economic and social crisis that toppled the presidency of Fernando de la Rúa.

“One out of four Argentines was out of work, poverty had reached 60 percent and one of the difficulties was that companies were collapsing, the owners disappeared and the people working in those companies wanted to continue producing,” he said.

“That’s when the cooperatives began to emerge, so that those who were becoming unemployed could get together and continue working, sometimes in the companies abandoned by their owners, sometimes on the street,” the president added.

Two technicians package products at the Farmacoop laboratory, a cooperative with which some of the workers of the former bankrupt company undertook its recovery through self-management, a formula that is growing in Argentina in the face of company closures during successive economic crises. CREDIT: Courtesy of Farmacoop

Two technicians package products at the Farmacoop laboratory, a cooperative with which some of the workers of the former bankrupt company undertook its recovery through self-management, a formula that is growing in Argentina in the face of company closures during successive economic crises. CREDIT: Courtesy of Farmacoop

A complex social reality

More than 20 years later, this South American country of 45 million people finds itself once again in a social situation as severe or even more so than back then.

The new century began with a decade of growth, but today Argentines have experienced more than 10 years of economic stagnation, which has left its mark.

Poverty, according to official data, stands at 37 percent of the population, in a context of 60 percent annual inflation, which is steadily undermining people’s incomes and hitting the most vulnerable especially hard.

The latest statistics from the Ministry of Labor, Employment and Social Security indicate that 12.43 million people are formally employed, which in real terms – due to the increase of the population – is less than the 12.37 million jobs that were formally registered in January 2018.

“I would say that in Argentina we have been seeing the destruction of employment and industry for 40 years, regardless of the orientation of the governments. That is why we understand that worker-recovered companies, as a mechanism for defending jobs, will continue to exist,” says Bruno Di Mauro, the president of the Farmacoop cooperative.

“It is a form of resistance in the face of the condemnation of exclusion from the labor system that we workers suffer,” he adds to IPS.

"He who abandons gets no prize" reads the banner with which part of the members of the Farmacoop cooperative were demonstrating in the Plaza de Mayo in downtown Buenos Aires, during the long labor dispute with the former owners who drove the pharmaceutical company into bankruptcy. The workers managed to recover it in 2019. CREDIT: Courtesy of Bruno Di Mauro/Farmacoop.

“He who abandons gets no prize” reads the banner with which part of the members of the Farmacoop cooperative were demonstrating in the Plaza de Mayo in downtown Buenos Aires, during the long labor dispute with the former owners who drove the pharmaceutical company into bankruptcy. The workers managed to recover it in 2019. CREDIT: Courtesy of Bruno Di Mauro/Farmacoop.

Today Farmacoop has three active production lines, including Aqualane brand moisturizing cream, used for decades by Argentines for sunburn. The cooperative is currently in the cumbersome process of seeking authorizations from the health authority for other products.

“When I look back, I think that we decided to form the cooperative and recover the company without really understanding what we were getting into. It was a very difficult process, in which we had colleagues who fell into depression, who saw pre-existing illnesses worsen and who died,” Di Mauro says.

“But we learned that we workers can take charge of any company, no matter how difficult the challenge. We are not incapable just because we are part of the working class,” he adds.

Farmacoop’s workers currently receive a “social wage” paid by the State, which also provided subsidies for the purchase of machinery.

The plant, now under self-management, is a gigantic old 8,000-square-meter building with meeting rooms, laboratories and warehouse areas where about 40 people work today, but which was the workplace of several hundred workers in its heyday.

It is located between the neighborhoods of Villa Lugano and Mataderos, in an area of factories and low-income housing mixed with old housing projects, where the rigors of the successive economic crises can be felt on almost every street, with waste pickers trying to eke out a living.

Edith Pereira shows the Aqualane brand moisturizing cream, well known in Argentina, that today is produced by the workers of the Farmacoop cooperative, which has two industrial plants in Buenos Aires, recovered and managed by the workers. CREDIT: Daniel Gutman/IPS

Edith Pereira shows the Aqualane brand moisturizing cream, well known in Argentina, that today is produced by the workers of the Farmacoop cooperative, which has two industrial plants in Buenos Aires, recovered and managed by the workers. CREDIT: Daniel Gutman/IPS

“When we entered the plant in 2019, everything was destroyed. There were only cardboard and paper that we sold to earn our first pesos,” says Blácida Martínez.

She used to work in the reception and security section of the company and has found a spot in the cooperative for her 24-year-old son, who is about to graduate as a laboratory technician and works in product quality control.

A new law is needed

Silvia Ayala is the president of the Mielcitas Argentinas cooperative, which brings together 88 workers, mostly women, who run a candy and sweets factory on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, where they lost their jobs in mid-2019.

“Today we are grateful that thanks to the cooperative we can put food on our families’ tables,” she says. “There was no other option but to resist, because reinserting ourselves in the labor market is very difficult. Every time a job is offered in Argentina, you see lines of hundreds of people.”

Ayala is also one of the leaders of the National Movement of Recovered Companies, active throughout the country, which is promoting a bill in Congress to regulate employee-run companies, presented in April by the governing Frente de Todos.

“A law would be very important, because when owners abandon their companies we need the recovery to be fast, and we need the collaboration of the State; this is a reality that is here to stay,” says Ayala.

Argentine President Alberto Fernández stands with workers of the Cooperativa Aceitera La Matanza on May 5, when the government presented the Registry of Recovered Companies, which aims to formalize worker-run companies. CREDIT: Casa Rosada

Argentine President Alberto Fernández stands with workers of the Cooperativa Aceitera La Matanza on May 5, when the government presented the Registry of Recovered Companies, which aims to formalize worker-run companies. CREDIT: Casa Rosada

The Ministry of Social Development states that the creation of the Registry is aimed at designing specific public policies and tools to strengthen the production and commercialization of the sector, as well as to formalize workers.

The government defines “recovered” companies as those economic, productive or service units that were originally privately managed and are currently run collectively by their former employees.

Although the presentation was made this month, the Registry began operating in March and has already listed 103 recovered companies, of which 64 belong to the production sector and 35 to the services sector.

The first data provide an indication of the diversity of the companies in terms of size, with the smallest having six workers and the largest 177.

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Indigenous Women in Mexico Take United Stance Against Inequality

Civil Society, Cooperatives, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Food and Agriculture, Gender, Headlines, Human Rights, Indigenous Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Poverty & SDGs, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations, Women & Climate Change, Women & Economy

Women & Economy

Every other Tuesday, a working group of Mayan women meets to review the organization and progress of their food saving and production project in Uayma, in the state of Yucatán in southeastern Mexico. CREDIT: Courtesy of the Ko'ox Tani Foundation

Every other Tuesday, a working group of Mayan women meets to review the organization and progress of their food saving and production project in Uayma, in the state of Yucatán in southeastern Mexico. CREDIT: Courtesy of the Ko’ox Tani Foundation

UAYMA, Mexico , Apr 26 2022 (IPS) – Every other Tuesday at 5:00 p.m. sharp, a group of 26 Mexican women meet for an hour to discuss the progress of their work and immediate tasks. Anyone who arrives late must pay a fine of about 25 cents on the dollar.


The collective has organized in the municipality of Uayma (which means “Not here” in the Mayan language) to learn agroecological practices, as well as how to save money and produce food for family consumption and the sale of surpluses.

“We have to be responsible. With savings we can do a little more,” María Petul, a married Mayan indigenous mother of two and a member of the group “Lool beh” (“Flower of the road” in Mayan), told IPS in this municipality of just over 4,000 inhabitants, 1,470 kilometers southeast of Mexico City in the state of Yucatán, on the Yucatán peninsula.

The home garden “gives me enough to eat and sell, it helps me out,” said Petul as she walked through her small garden where she grows habanero peppers (Capsicum chinense, traditional in the area), radishes and tomatoes, surrounded by a few trees, including a banana tree whose fruit will ripen in a few weeks and some chickens that roam around the earthen courtyard.

The face of Norma Tzuc, who is also married with two daughters, lights up with enthusiasm when she talks about the project. “I am very happy. We now have an income. It’s exciting to be able to help my family. Other groups already have experience and tell us about what they’ve been doing,” Tzuc told IPS.

The two women and the rest of their companions, whose mother tongue is Mayan, participate in the project “Women saving to address climate change”, run by the non-governmental Ko’ox Tani Foundation (“Let’s Go Ahead”, in Mayan), dedicated to community development and social inclusion, based in Merida, the state capital.

This phase of the project is endowed with some 100,000 dollars from the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), the non-binding environmental arm of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), formed in 1994 by Canada, the United States and Mexico and replaced in 2020 by another trilateral agreement.

The initiative got off the ground in February and will last two years, with the aim of training some 250 people living in extreme poverty, mostly women, in six locations in the state of Yucatán.

The maximum savings for each woman in the group is about 12 dollars every two weeks and the minimum is 2.50 dollars, and they can withdraw the accumulated savings to invest in inputs or animals, or for emergencies, with the agreement of the group. Through the project, the women will receive seeds, agricultural inputs and poultry, so that they can install vegetable gardens and chicken coops on their land.

The women write down the quotas in a white notebook and deposit the savings in a gray box, kept in the house of the group’s president.

José Torre, project director of the Ko’ox Tani Foundation, explained that the main areas of entrepreneurship are: community development, food security, livelihoods and human development.

“What we have seen over time is that the savings meetings become a space for human development, in which they find support and solidarity from their peers, make friends and build trust,” he told IPS during a tour of the homes of some of the savings group participants in Uayma.

The basis for the new initiative in this locality is a similar program implemented between 2018 and 2021 in other Yucatecan municipalities, in which the organization worked with 1400 families.

María Petul, a Mayan indigenous woman, plants chili peppers, tomatoes, radishes and medicinal herbs in the vegetable garden in the courtyard of her home in Uayma, in the southeastern Mexican state of Yucatán. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

María Petul, a Mayan indigenous woman, plants chili peppers, tomatoes, radishes and medicinal herbs in the vegetable garden in the courtyard of her home in Uayma, in the southeastern Mexican state of Yucatán. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Unequal oasis

Yucatan, a region home to 2.28 million people, suffers from a high degree of social backwardness, with 34 percent of the population living in moderate poverty, 33 percent suffering unmet needs, 5.5 percent experiencing income vulnerability and almost seven percent living in extreme poverty.

The COVID-19 pandemic that hit this Latin American country in February 2020 exacerbated these conditions in a state that depends on agriculture, tourism and services, similar to the other two states that make up the Yucatán Peninsula: Campeche and Quintana Roo.

Inequality is also a huge problem in the state, although the Gini Index dropped from 0.51 in 2014 to 0.45, according to a 2018 government report, based on data from 2016 (the latest year available). The Gini coefficient, where 1 indicates the maximum inequality and 0 the greatest equality, is used to calculate income inequality.

The situation of indigenous women is worse, as they face marginalization, discrimination, violence, land dispossession and lack of access to public services.

More than one million indigenous people live in the state.

Women participating in a project funded by the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation record their savings in a white notebook and deposit them in a gray box. Mayan indigenous woman Norma Tzuc belongs to a group taking part in the initiative in Uayma, in the southeastern Mexican state of Yucatán. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Women participating in a project funded by the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation record their savings in a white notebook and deposit them in a gray box. Mayan indigenous woman Norma Tzuc belongs to a group taking part in the initiative in Uayma, in the southeastern Mexican state of Yucatán. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Climate crisis, yet another vulnerability

Itza Castañeda, director of equity at the non-governmental World Resources Institute (WRI), highlights the persistence of structural inequalities in the peninsula that exacerbate the effects of the climate crisis.

“In the three states there is greater inequality between men and women. This stands in the way of women’s participation and decision-making. Furthermore, the existing evidence shows that there are groups in conditions of greater vulnerability to climate impacts,” she told IPS from the city of Tepoztlán, near Mexico City.

She added that “climate change accentuates existing inequalities, but a differentiated impact assessment is lacking.”

Official data indicate that there are almost 17 million indigenous people in Mexico, representing 13 percent of the total population, of which six million are women.

Of indigenous households, almost a quarter are headed by women, while 65 percent of indigenous girls and women aged 12 and over perform unpaid work compared to 35 percent of indigenous men – a sign of the inequality in the system of domestic and care work.

To add to their hardships, the Yucatan region is highly vulnerable to the effects of the climate crisis, such as droughts, devastating storms and rising sea levels. In June 2021, tropical storm Cristobal caused the flooding of Uayma, where three women’s groups are operating under the savings system.

For that reason, the project includes a risk management and hurricane early warning system.

The Mexican government is building a National Care System, but the involvement of indigenous women and the benefits for them are still unclear.

Petul looks excitedly at the crops planted on her land and dreams of a larger garden, with more plants and more chickens roaming around, and perhaps a pig to be fattened. She also thinks about the possibility of emulating women from previous groups who have set up small stores with their savings.

“They will lay eggs and we can eat them or sell them. With the savings we can also buy roosters, in the market chicks are expensive,” said Petul, brimming with hope, who in addition to taking care of her home and family sells vegetables.

Her neighbor Tzuc, who until now has been a homemaker, said that the women in her group have to take into account the effects of climate change. “It has been very hot, hotter than before, and there is drought. Fortunately, we have water, but we have to take care of it,” she said.

For his part, Torre underscored the results of the savings groups. The women “left extreme poverty behind. The pandemic hit hard, because there were families who had businesses and stopped selling. The organization gave them resilience,” he said.

In addition, a major achievement is that the households that have already completed the project continue to save, regularly attend meetings and have kept producing food.

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Ukraine Shows Why the G20 Anti-Corruption Agenda Is More Important than Ever

Civil Society, Economy & Trade, Global, Headlines

Opinion

With the bloody war in Ukraine dragging on, can the G20 still justify procrastination on the global anti-corruption agenda?

With the bloody war in Ukraine dragging on, can the G20 still justify procrastination on the global anti-corruption agenda? Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

WASHINGTON DC, Mar 25 2022 (IPS) – The world has quickly transitioned from a global health crisis to a geopolitical one, as the war in Ukraine rages into its second month. But the Russian invasion of Ukraine is just the latest in a long list of challenges that at their heart are either caused by or exacerbated by corruption.


Just this year, think of the protests in Sudan, the coup in Burkina Faso, the nationwide demonstrations in Kazakhstan, or the Portuguese elections, for example- all driven, one way or another, by graft.

While G20 countries have made progress within their national borders, there are often lax laws in offshore tax havens that are under their jurisdictions. Equally, beneficial ownership data should not just be open (to regulators and enforcement agencies), it should be public. Citizens and civil society everywhere should be able to monitor conflicts of interest or relationships between policymakers and corporations, free of charge

Now- countries including the US and Europe– are coming together to freeze the assets of Russian oligarchs, but this is not just about Putin’s kleptocracy. As world leaders meet at the G20 next week, it is imperative that they step-up further to fight corruption both at home and abroad.

The Civil-20 (C20), which engages the G20 on behalf of civil society, has been calling for increased accountability from world leaders on critical anti-corruption issues for a long time. The war in Ukraine has only reinforced the need for a focus on the priorities identified by the C20 this year.

First, combating money laundering and the recovery of stolen assets. There are numerous studies that indicate that as much as 85% of Russia’s GDP is laundered into countries including the UK and the US.

There are networks of enablers in Western countries that facilitate this process- from accountants, to lawyers to real estate agents (known as Designated Non-Financial Business and Professions (DNFBPs).

But according to the data collected by Accountability Lab for the G20 Anti-Corruption Commitments Tracker, not all G20 member countries are compliant with FATF recommendations on DNFBP due diligence.

Similarly, others do not have effective frameworks to disclose information on recovered assets. Recognizing the increased risks to anti-money laundering and asset recovery efforts from such omissions, the C20 has called for verified beneficial ownership data through public registers; and the assessment of the effectiveness of measures adopted by the G20 member countries including sanctions for non-compliance.

Second, countering corruption in the energy transition. The G20 Indonesian Presidency has included a sustainable energy transition as a priority issue for 2022. More and more countries, especially in Europe, are cutting ties with Russian energy supplies, which will lead to a more rapid shift of resources towards renewables- but the potential in this for corruption is huge.

Certain countries and energy companies have a variety of incentives to maintain the status quo in corrupt ways; while the supply chains for raw materials for renewable energy are also wide-open for illicit activities. G20 countries urgently need to better understand the level and types of corruption in renewables; and commit to providing transparent data around licensing contracts and budgets.

In this, grassroots civil society groups can be valuable allies by filling information gaps and closing feedback loops in communities affected by renewable energy related projects.

Third, the transparency and integrity of corporations. The recent sanctions against Russian oligarchs have renewed focus on corporate governance and how corporate compliance on issues like foreign bribery, corruption and conflict of interests- including in state owned enterprises and public private partnerships (PPP)- are effectively enforced.

For instance, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) focuses on anti-bribery and internal controls- and is likely to be further enforced, particularly in countries with close ties to Russia.

But beyond this, G20 member countries must also live up to past commitments to strengthen transparency and integrity in business by criminalizing private sector bribery; enacting whistleblower policies in the private sector; and ensuring accounting and auditing standards to prohibit off-the-book accounts.

Fourth, beneficial ownership transparency. The level of secrecy used by Russian oligarchs to hide assets through shell companies, trusts, partnerships and foundations has been headline news. Concerns around beneficial ownership transparency data (the data on who really owns companies) is not new (see this call to action for example).

While G20 countries have made progress within their national borders, there are often lax laws in offshore tax havens that are under their jurisdictions. Equally, beneficial ownership data should not just be open (to regulators and enforcement agencies), it should be public. Citizens and civil society everywhere should be able to monitor conflicts of interest or relationships between policymakers and corporations, free of charge.

It still costs $40 to access beneficial ownership data in Indonesia for instance- making this far too expensive for the average citizen. All G20 countries should lead by example and commit to open, public beneficial ownership registers.

Finally, Open Contracting. The recent focus on how the Russian military may have misused procurement processes has sadly highlighted again the importance of due diligence and open data. Civil society has unequivocally called on G20 member countries to proactively disclose information at every step of public procurement processes, in line with Open Contracting Data Standards as well as the Open Contracting for Infrastructure Data Standard, and to increase audit and citizen oversight in public procurement.

These reforms are past due. At the same time, successful initiatives like Opentender.net in Indonesia show how civil society can partner with governments to ensure citizen led oversight and the transparency of public procurement.

The Russia-Ukraine crisis is a stark reminder of how corruption issues must be central to any discussion about the causes and solutions to geo-political problems. The C20 has already outlined for G20 leaders how to address these issues- they now have the responsibility to implement these reforms.

Even in peace-time, the economic and human costs of corruption are massive. With the bloody war in Ukraine dragging on, can the G20 still justify procrastination on the global anti-corruption agenda?

Blair Glencorse is Executive Director of the Accountability Lab and is the International Co-Chair of the Civil 20 Anti-Corruption Working Group in 2022.

Sanjeeta Pant is a Programs and Learning Manager at Accountability Lab and leads the G20 Anti-Corruption Commitments Tracker. Follow the Lab on Twitter @accountlab and the C20 @C20EG

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Donors Must Rethink Africa’s Flagging Green Revolution, New Evaluation Shows (Commentary)

Africa, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Food and Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition, Food Sustainability, Green Economy, Headlines, TerraViva United Nations, Trade & Investment

Opinion

BOSTON, Mar 23 2022 (IPS) • A scathing new analysis of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) finds that the program is failing at its objective to increase food security on the continent, despite massive funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the US, UK, and German governments.


• On March 30, critics of AGRA will brief U.S. congressional aides about why they think it is doing more harm than good.

• As fertilizer and food prices spike with rising energy prices from the Russia-Ukraine war, African farmers and governments need the kind of resilient, low-cost alternatives that techniques like agroecology offer, a new opinion piece argues.

A critical new donor-funded evaluation of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) has confirmed what African civil society and faith leaders have claimed: “AGRA did not meet its headline goal of increased incomes and food security for 9 million smallholders.”

The evaluation should be a wake up call, and not just for the private and bilateral donors that have bankrolled this 15-year-old effort to the tune of $1 billion. It should also rouse African governments to repurpose their agricultural subsidies from the Green Revolution package of commercial seeds and fertilizers to agroecology and other low-cost, low-input approaches. They have been providing as much as $1 billion per year for such input subsidies.

Failing Africa’s farmers

Carried out by consulting firm Mathematica, the evaluation confirms that the Green Revolution has failed to achieve AGRA’s stated goal to “catalyze a farming revolution in Africa.”

Wambui Mwihaki, a farmer from central Kenya, takes stock of her thriving maize crop following adoption of agroecology. Credit: David Njagi for Mongabay.

The assessment was funded by AGRA’s primary sponsor, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, on behalf of other lead donors in AGRA’s Partnership for Inclusive Agricultural Transformation in Africa (PIATA): the U.K. Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office; the Rockefeller Foundation; the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID); and Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. The evaluation includes a summary of findings, a statistical appendix, and AGRA’s formal responses to the findings, all available publicly.

Such transparency is welcome. AGRA has been plagued by a lack of accountability since its founding in 2006. I undertook my own assessment of AGRA in 2020 when I could find no comprehensive analysis, from AGRA nor its donors, of its progress toward ambitious goals to double yields and incomes for 30 million small-scale farming families while halving food insecurity by 2020. Using national-level data, I found little evidence of progress, with meager productivity increases, little progress on poverty, and a 31% increase in the number of undernourished people in AGRA’s 13 focus countries.

The new evaluation is far from comprehensive. It covers only AGRA’s last five years of work, ignoring its first 10. It reports on results in just six of AGRA’s current 11 focus countries. Its data on yields is almost exclusively on maize and rice, to the exclusion of the many other staple food crops crucial to Africans’ sustenance. And it fails to incorporate or address the concerns raised publicly by African civil society and faith leaders in public letters to AGRA’s donors.

Agroforestry is a kind of agroecology where crops are grown in combination with trees, like this pumpkin that Eunice Manyi raised among fruit trees in Kenya. Credit: David Njagi for Mongabay.

Still, the findings about poor outcomes for farmers should raise concerns for private and bilateral donors to AGRA’s PIATA strategy and for the African governments that are active partners – and funders – in that effort.

Quoting from the evaluation:

    • “PIATA improved maize yields in Ethiopia, Ghana, and Nigeria, but not in Tanzania, Burkina Faso, or Kenya.” Maize is AGRA’s most heavily supported crop, so the failure to achieve yield growth in half the countries studied is alarming.
    • “Across these six countries, only farmers in Burkina Faso experienced improved maize sales as a result of PIATA.” This raises serious questions about the Green Revolution “theory of change.” Even when yields rose, they failed to translate into rising incomes for farmers.
    • “Farmers who adopted improved inputs and experienced yield increases were typically younger, male, and relatively wealthier…. productivity and income gains were also concentrated among these relatively high-resource farmers.” This finding directly contradicts the stated goals of USAID and other bilateral donors to ensure that their assistance programs benefit and empower women.
    • “AGRA’s next strategy could formally recognize that agricultural technologies and practices—such as fertilizer use and rice cultivation—can negatively impact environmental conditions and greenhouse gas emissions.” Evaluators fault AGRA on a wide range of environmentally damaging impacts, including a lack of attention to helping farmers adapt to climate change.
    • “AGRA surveys are currently not suited for rigorous impact analysis.” Evaluators offer many criticisms of the initiative’s poor monitoring and evaluation methods.

Time to rethink Green Revolution model

Evaluators gave AGRA credit for some of its work, saying it “was successful in developing key policy reforms, mobilizing flagships and partnerships, and reaching farmers with extension and seeds,” and it helped “incentivize private sector engagement in the production and delivery of improved seeds in some countries.”

But these intermediate objectives, carried out with substantial funding over 15 years, have thus far failed to further the goals of improving farmers’ productivity, incomes, and food security. When one’s development successes fail to produce the intended results, after 15 years and one billion dollars in donor funding, it is time to reconsider the efficacy of the initiative. It is time to rethink the Green Revolution model.

See related: Push-pull agroecology method debugs organic farming’s pest problem in Kenya

Farmers with seeds in West Africa. Image courtesy of Grassroots International.

AGRA’s management responded to the evaluation saying, “We must therefore rethink our models and focus our support, and that of our partners, on building resilience and adaptation specifically for smallholder farmers.” But there is little sign AGRA intends to pull back from its costly input-intensive Green Revolution model. AGRA president Agnes Kalibata recently defended the status quo in a Q&A with the East African.

Hopefully donors and African governments will take the new evaluation more seriously. African civil society and faith leaders have urged donors to shift their funding to agroecology and other low-cost, low-input systems, which were endorsed last year by the U.N. Committee on World Food Security as a key strategy for climate-resilient development. Such approaches have shown far better results, raising yields across a range of food crops, increasing productivity over time as soil fertility improves, increasing incomes and reducing risk for farmers by cutting input costs, and improving food security and nutrition from a diverse array of crops.

USAID was quick to reject any change in aid priorities. A spokesperson told US Right to Know, “USAID reviewed the findings and recommendations and is satisfied with the independence and rigor of the [Mathematica] evaluation. We appreciate AGRA’s response to the report conclusions and concur with their proposed next steps to improve performance outcomes.”

That will not satisfy African civil society and faith leaders, who were not consulted for the Mathematica evaluation. They plan to take their complaints to the U.S. Congress, which this year has to reauthorize funding for AGRA through its Feed the Future initiative. On March 30, they will brief congressional aides in a closed-door session to explain why the supposed beneficiaries think AGRA is doing more harm than good. As evaluators acknowledge, the main beneficiaries are wealthier male farmers, an outcome at odds with the stated goals of U.S. development policy.

As fertilizer and food prices spike with rising energy prices from the Russia-Ukraine war, African farmers and governments need the kind of resilient, low-cost alternatives agroecology offers. Kenyan farmers report today that the biofertilizers they make themselves from locally available materials cost one-quarter the price of fossil-fuel-based fertilizers.

African governments should recognize that continuing to subsidize increasingly expensive synthetic fertilizer is a losing proposition, especially when that and other Green Revolution inputs are producing such meager results.

It is time for private and bilateral donors – and African governments – to stop throwing good money after bad and recognize that their 15-year effort to “catalyze a farming revolution in Africa” through Green Revolution seeds and fertilizers has fallen short. Fortunately, more promising alternatives are proving their efficacy all over the world. They deserve support.

Timothy A. Wise is a Senior Research Fellow at Tufts University’s Global Development and Environment Institute. A detailed analysis of the recent evaluation of AGRA is available from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), where the author is a senior advisor.

IPS UN Bureau

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Peasants Marginalized by Big Farmers

Civil Society, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Food and Agriculture, Global, Headlines, Inequality, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

NEW DELHI and KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 15 2022 (IPS) – A recent Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) study shows the largest farms cultivate a high and increasing share of agricultural land in much of the world.

Farm size concentration
World Agricultural Census data for 129 countries show about 40% of the world’s farmland is operated by farms over 1000 hectares (ha) in size. About 70% is operated by the top 1% of farms, all bigger than 50 ha each.


Vikas Rawal

A rising share of farmland is in larger farms. But farm sizes in developed and developing countries seem quite different. Farms smaller than 5 ha accounted for 63% of land in low and lower middle-income countries. But such farms covered only 8% of farmland in upper middle and high-income countries.

The “share of farmland farmed on the largest holdings has increased in … several European countries (France, Germany and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) and in the United States of America.” Similarly, in recent decades, more land in many Latin American and sub-Saharan African countries is in larger farms.

Data coverage uneven
Most agricultural censuses in developing countries do not cover large scale farms well. Official agricultural statistics in many developing countries focus on farm households, often ignoring corporate farms.

Agricultural censuses typically rely on land records, usually neither up to date nor complete. Large farms often have land registered to different persons and entities, typically to avoid taxes and bypass land ownership ceilings and regulations.

Government surveys in India have not comprehensively covered large farms, understating inequality. Other data from India suggest the top fifth of farms account for 83% of land.

Even where large farms are legally recognized as commercial entities, land is often held via subsidiaries in complex arrangements. For such reasons, the extent of concentration is probably greater than what the study suggests.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

Ominous trends
Despite its limitations, the study findings are ominous. Changing inequalities in farmland ownership and cultivation have reduced the smallholder or peasant share of food production.

The study suggests that ‘land grabs’, new laws and policies have enabled large (capitalist) farmers, agribusiness corporations and other commercial entities to control most of the world’s farmland.

Disparities in government support allowed by World Trade Organization and other trade agreements have enabled large farms in developed countries, like the US, to gain more advantages over relatively uninfluential peasants in the South.

More advantages to big farm capital in recent decades, particularly to large-scale commercial agriculture in the global North, have enhanced their edge. More peasant distress has pushed many deeper into debt. Many of the most vulnerable have had to migrate, seeking precarious employment elsewhere.

Under various pressures not to protect food agriculture, developing countries have cut support for peasants. Withdrawal of such assistance has forced farmers to buy inputs at commercial prices. Meanwhile, many have to sell their produce cheap to those providing credit or other facilities.

By enabling easier land takeovers, commercial farming has quickly spread in ecologically fragile areas such as the Brazilian Cerrado, various parts of sub-Saharan Africa and steep slopes subject to deforestation.

Small farms, world food
The study has triggered a controversy by asserting that ‘family farms’ is a broader category than smallholdings. These would include large family-owned or run farms.

Hence, family farms account for 80% of the total value of food produced in the world, while smallholdings account for only 35%. These estimates have been contested by several civil society organizations who have protested to the FAO Director General.

Most agricultural censuses do not provide data on production by farm size. Instead, the study divides the total market value of a country’s food output by its total farmland. It then assumes a constant food output value per hectare. But this ignores significant differences in crop output among farms of different types.

Commercial bias
In many countries, large farms produce more commercial crops, not necessarily food. These may be for manufacturing (e.g., rubber, cotton), animal feed, or to be industrially processed for consumption (e.g., sugar, palm oil, coffee).

Many smallholder peasants consume significant shares of their own farm outputs. They typically work on limited land and need to meet their own food needs, rather than maximize cash incomes. Hence, their priorities may be rather different from those of commercial farms.

More fertile regions (e.g., river deltas) tend to have greater population densities, smaller farm sizes and higher productivity. Such smaller farms often grow multiple crops yearly, while larger farms with harsher agro-climatic conditions (e.g., higher temperatures, more snow or less water availability) often only have a single crop annually.

Although not universal, and often overstated, there is evidence of smallholders having higher land productivity, inversely related to farm size, owing to differences in the way factor inputs are used by various types of farms.

By assuming constant food output value per hectare, the study ignores many important variations, and probably under-estimates the contributions of small farms to world food supply.

Peasants marginalized
The study shows how various systemic advantages and biases have enabled big capitalist farms to control more of the world’s farmland and food supplies. But the share of food supply produced by smallholder producers is far from settled.

While more pronounced in rich countries, large corporate farms have also been growing in many developing countries. Even where family farming is predominant, increasing farm sizes have been apparent.

The study rightly notes the need to consider different types of farms in making appropriate policies for family farms of various sizes. This is necessary to better formulate policies to address poverty and livelihoods, especially for smallholder producers in distress.

It even suggests the need to “hold large scale and corporate agriculture accountable for the negative externalities of their production (for example on the environment)”. Besides better farming data, farmland concentration and its many implications in various parts of the world should be more appropriately addressed.

Vikas Rawal is Professor of Economics at the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He has conducted field research on agrarian relations in different parts of India for three decades, and works on global agricultural development challenges. Inter alia, he was lead author of The Global Economy of Pulses (FAO).

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Ecuador and the Pandora Papers: Death Threats and Impunity

Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Economy & Trade, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

MEXICO CITY, Dec 20 2021 (IPS) – In a ceremony in early October, the president of Ecuador and my opponent in the presidential elections, Guillermo Lasso, issued a warning to those “daring who seek to scrutinize” his assets. He was referring to the Pandora Papers published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which revealed how dozens of world leaders – including Lasso – hid billions of dollars to avoid paying taxes.


His threatening words were directed primarily at me, because of my knowledge of the offshore underworld and my determination to investigate him despite receiving death threats.

In 2017, Ecuador approved an anti-corruption law prohibiting public servants from holding assets in tax havens, directly or indirectly. This term was there to avoid the use of opaque and complex financial structures like trusts, foundations or partnerships. Last year I formally challenged Lasso’s candidacy for that reason, but he then signed an affidavit in which he claimed not to have properties in tax havens and the electoral commission agreed with him.

That led me to drop this issue and when I lost the election in February, I even gave a concession speech and spoke by phone to congratulate him. He offered me to put an end to the political persecution against progressives that former president Lenín Moreno had started.

However, the Pandora Papers revealed that Lasso had in fact transferred shares in limited liability companies representing 130 Florida properties from Panama to two trusts in the state of South Dakota. Lasso also recognised the existence of 14 entities that had been hidden from the Ecuadorian tax authorities.

Lasso denied having ties to these entities before assuming the presidency, including Banco Banisi in Panama. However, an investigation by the Latindadd organisation revealed that Lasso, a day before signing the affidavit, transferred his shares from Banco Banisi to the Banisi International Foundation, a new private interest foundation where his children are nominal beneficiaries but without any decision-making powers.

After the Pandora Papers were released, a large majority in parliament ordered an investigation. Official institutions cooperated little or nothing, claiming that it is confidential information while Lasso refused to attend the hearings. When the parliamentary commission approved the report linking Lasso to tax havens, his government immediately attacked the commission, and the Prosecutor’s Office launched a criminal investigation against the parliamentarians.

Soon afterwards, I started receiving threats and intimidation, not for having been a presidential candidate, but for insisting in investigating Lasso and speaking in the media about this case as an economic expert in offshore banking. Government supporters then launched coordinated troll attacks on social media, spreading false news about me, death threats, and insults.

A member of parliament linked to Lasso accused me of money laundering based on a false meme widely disseminated on social media. And criminal investigations were launched against me based on false news, also involving my retired parents and all former progressive candidates. Dozens of national and international civil society organisations, including the Financial Transparency Coalition, published a statement of support which I deeply appreciate.

But unfortunately, nothing has changed.

On December 8, the Comptroller General concluded that Lasso had no offshore interests since it did not consider South Dakota a tax haven, despite being widely recognised for this. But the blockade of the investigation against Lasso did not end there. That same day, a majority of the National Assembly of Ecuador decided not to impeach the president, referring their investigation to other state institutions, but asked him to go to parliament and give an explanation, which he refused to do.

Ironically, Lasso – along with the presidents of other countries such as Kenya and Chile, whose leaders were also revealed in the Pandora Papers to have hidden assets in tax havens – was invited to the recent ‘Summit for Democracy’ organised by the United States. During the summit the creation of a beneficial ownership registry was announced, including for South Dakota trusts, as well as anti-fraud measures on real estate which could impact Lasso, but it’s still uncertain whether these commitments by the US and other countries will become reality.

In total, $7 trillion is hidden in secret jurisdictions and tax havens, equivalent to 10% of global revenues, according to the UN High-Level Panel on International Financial Accountability, Transparency and Integrity. Meantime especially developing countries are fighting the resurgent Covid-19 pandemic and its economic impacts, struggling to provide basic social protection to its citizens and purchase vaccines.

So clearly the problem of tax evasion and financial opacity, and money being funneled by powerful individuals to tax havens, is an issue that not only affects my country, but affects everyone. Fighting for financial transparency is a fight for truth and social justice that we cannot afford to give up.

Andrés Arauz is an Ecuadorian economist and candidate for President in the 2021 elections, currently based in Mexico City where he is a Doctoral Fellow at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, UNAM.

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