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Follow the Food: Foreign agribusiness and local food security in Africa

Dr Guus van Westen  |  Human Geography and Planning - Economic Urban Transitions  |  Faculty of Geosciences  |  Utrecht University  | The Netherlands

Abstract: Development cooperation is more and more biased towards the private sector as agent for positive change. This also applies to interventions aimed at enhancing food security. Our research looks at the effects of foreign investment in agribusiness on local food security, with a specific focus on ‘inclusive business models’. From a neoclassical perspective one may argue that this will bring advantages such as improved technologies, create jobs, raise income and link local producers to value chains and markets. Critical perspectives point at the risk of investors from the outside competing with local people for increasingly scarce resources such as arable land and water. Our research on cases in Kenya, Ethiopia and Ghana shows that smallholders directly involved in such schemes usually see some benefits in terms of income, but that this does not easily translate into better food security. Moreover, interventions tend to be narrowly defined, neglecting important externalities in terms of local food prices, changes in land use and ecology, and dependencies linked to monocropping and the temporary nature of aid flows.