We helplessly witness the tragedy of the shipwrecks in our southern seas, and learn with concern how policy makers intend to react to the emergency with military and repressive instruments, whose only effect will be, if anything, to isolate refugees into territories as dangerous as the waters of their coveted hope of salvation.
The few commentators and politicians who have dared to consider the causes of the exodus from Africa to Europe have focused on indisputable factor, the escape from conflict areas. Conflicts where, let’s not forget, Western forces have played a driving or conniving role, like in Syria and Libya. But no one, even with the approach of the opening of Expo 2015 in Milan, seems to have the courage to face the primary cause of the despair of the African peoples.
Although this is not a new tragedy, one that has killed millions of people already forgotten, in 2011, in the Horn of Africa. Hunger and Malnutrition, in once fertile lands which have been hit in recent years by climate phenomena – bringing drought and man-driven disasters, like the land robbery, the so-called ‘land grabbing’.
The populations of 13 African countries have suffered the violent abduction of more than 20 million hectares of arable land at the instigation of foreign investors, accounting for 55.5% of the whole worldwide robbed land since 2000 (source Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 2015).
The right to food – also mentioned in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 (art. 25), and reaffirmed in subsequent international conventions – has given way to speculations of investors based in countries where agriculture is thriving, like the United States (which is credited for primacy in ‘land grabbing’, with operations on 6.9 million hectares, same source), Malaysia and Indonesia (3.6 hectares the former and 2.9 million the latter).
Among the first African investment ‘targets’ on huge stretches of land ‘as if they were free of people and things’, by contrast, there are South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique, Congo, Liberia and Sierra Leone, Ethiopia. It is not, probably, a coincidence that the vast majority of immigrants that cross the Maghreb comes from the Great Lakes region and the Horn of Africa (source UNHCR). Nor that their unfortunate odysseys often start from the refugee camps in Congo, Sudan, Uganda, Somalia, as well as those in the Ivory Coast, Chad, Kenya, Ethiopia (ibid).
The role of palm oil: our petition
The petition launched in late 2014 by Great Italian Food Trade, to fight against the use of palm oil in food production, comes from the analysis of this phenomenon. Since a significant portion of the robbed land is the subject of deforestation, in favor of mono-intensive cultivations of oil palm – used for food and bio-fuel – we thought necessary to raise awareness among consumers about the true cost of this production, for both humanity and the planet. In the hope that the large industrial and distribution groups could, in turn, share this concern, replacing the tropical oil with others closer to our traditions and agricultural production, and thus escape the vicious circle of a demand – still growing – whose satisfaction postulates barbarism and environmental disasters.
A humanitarian cordon
Going back to the main issue, the idea of curbing the despair now amassed on the North African coast by just isolating the boundaries of the old continent seems totally unrealistic and irresponsible. The cost of the innocent victims can only increase, exacerbating the instability of countries already severely stressed by a number of political and economic issues. Not a military cordon but a humanitarian one, such as that proposed by the Community of Sant’ Egidio and Doctors Without Borders could certainly reduce the pressure and pre-order the ethically dutiful reception of asylum claimants in all European countries, based on of their populations and population densities. New measures will have to be agreed upon as soon as possible, to prevent forthcoming carnages.
But at the same time policy makers will have to face – with equal urgency – the issues of the right to food and land, food sovereignty and the support of local agricultural production on a small scale. We would like to remind everyone about the first of the so-called ‘Millennium Development Goals’, the eradication of hunger and extreme poverty, the 189 Member States of the United Nations (now 193) pledged to reach this exactly in 2015. We would like to also remind everyone about the guidelines for the responsible land , forest and reservoir management adopted by the ‘Committee on World Food Security’ (FAO) in 2012, that none of the signatory countries have so far decided to apply with mandatory regulations, the only possibly useful way to curb the robbery of lands.
The European International cooperation after all has been deprived of public resources, leaving space for private initiatives without checks and sometimes oriented towards experiments with dubious purposes and usefulness (such as the millionaire project of the ‘Bill & Melinda Gates ‘Foundation to introduce GM bananas in Central Africa).
A reality check would require today to consider a new cooperation model, trilateral, conducive to South-South aids – meaning, done by the protagonists of the world new economic order, starting with China, to Developing Countries – to which the useful participatory contribution of European and Italian (in particular) NGOs should be added. The decades of experience of the latter in helping the populations of many African countries can indeed facilitate relations with local communities, who have to share and participate in the programs in order to achieve real autonomy. Let’s not forget the value of the Italian ‘know-how’ in research and application of environmentally sustainable agricultural practices, which the international scientific community has finally recognized as the road to follow.