ALFORD: Africa's Rich Agricultural Assets

Harry C. Alford | 7/30/2014, 3 p.m.
Land, especially arable land, is a source of potential wealth. For some reason our African nations don't seem to understand ...
Harry C. Alford

It reminds me of the classic "Gone with the Wind." A young Scarlet O’Hara was standing in a field with her father. He picks up a handful of dirt and puts it in Scarlet’s hand and replies “Remember, it’s the land Scarlet. It won’t leave you. It can make you rich.” That is so heavy, but so. At the end of the movie, Scarlet is down and out in Atlanta. Then, she remembers that lesson and says to herself “I am going back to Terra (family farm). Yes, that’s what I will do.”

Land, especially arable land, is a source of potential wealth. For some reason our African nations don’t seem to understand this. We went on a trade mission to Kenya in 2004. We were given a tour of a textile facility that was supplying Target, Walmart and JC Penney with children’s clothing. To my shock, I noticed all of the cotton which was piled high to the ceiling marked with “Product of China.”

The day before, we were approached by the Kenya Cotton Growers Association, due to my protesting about the lack of support the Kenya government was giving them. They were going broke because the textile plants, like the one we were visiting, were exclusively buying their cotton from China and India. It became clear to me. China was running its cotton through Kenya to the United States to avoid tariffs and a trade imbalance via AGOA credit. AGOA is the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

We certainly supported this when as it was becoming legislation. But afterwards, the textile lobby pushed for the “Third Country Fabric Provision.” This allows a nation from outside of Africa to participate in AGOA for fabric trade to the United States. It has been devastating to cotton farms throughout Africa. Nigeria once had a thriving fabric industry but now it is all but gone.

AGOA was written by two White congressmen. But for this big trick they used a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. Then for the Central American Free Trade Agreement the same CBC congressman put in an exception for Haiti to be in the deal. Immediately after that, China, puts a massive textile facility in Haiti. So now China is trading much textile fabric to the United States duty free – pimping off programs meant for underserved Black nations.

Besides under the table money, why are these nations allowing this to happen? I think I just found the answer. An editorial by Isaac Sebakijje solved the mystery. “Uganda Presidential Adviser Rose Zimulinda’s comment… pointed out how the 23rd Ordinary Summit of the Heads of State of the African Union was not excited about discussing agriculture.”

“Sub Saharan Africa must stop viewing agriculture as a rudimentary activity. The current harsh reality of poverty can be traced back to the lack of agricultural development. There is a misconception that the engines of growth lie outside of agriculture. Non-agriculture enterprises are supposedly the “more important” sectors. Multinational companies conserve more effort in absorbing the workforce in non-agriculture sectors to stimulate growth. It is simply faulty logic to conclude that promoting agriculture confines the poor in a poverty trap especially in East Africa where 75 percent of the workforce is engaged in agricultural activities. Recent growth in the Asian economic tigers such as Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and parts of China were typically preceded by, and engineered, agricultural growth.”