February 5, 2014 / 11:15 AM / 4 years ago

"Paternal" western firms can't solve Africa's farming problems, says Zambia

* One African in five-strong forum panel addressing agricultural problems

* Zambian minister says Cargill can’t be part of Africa’s solution

By Maha El Dahan

ABU DHABI, Feb 5 (Reuters) - Paternalistic thinking from Western firms will not solve Africa’s agricultural problems, which need to be addressed from African viewpoints, Zambia’s Agriculture Minister told a global forum.

Four out of five panelists who debated the issue at the two-day agricultural forum in Abu Dhabi were non-Africans. South African Johan Steyn, Managing Director of Cargill Inc. Middle East and Africa, was the only one from the continent.

“One of the challenges that Africa has is that the world thinks it can think for us,” Minister Robert Sichinga said when the floor of the forum was opened to questions on Tuesday.

“Please, for goodness sake, move away from this paternalistic attitude of thinking that you can think for us.”

Sichinga said that, while Steyn was from South Africa, he was representing Cargill, and “with all due respect, there is no way Cargill can be part of a solution.”

The minister took issue with the unlisted U.S. firm, one of the world’s biggest agricultural commodities companies, paying farmers in Zambia low prices for their cotton crop.

Steyn later told Reuters that Cargill was working with small-scale farmers in Zambia and helping with seeds, chemicals and fertilisers to help them develop their businesses.

Farmers had grown cotton in hope of receiving high prices for their crop on the back of sharp gains in the 2011-12 season but when world prices dropped by around 46 percent after harvest, farmers received less than they hoped for their cotton.

“But then we started seeing more farmers grow maize and we support all that production whether it is cotton or maize or other crops,” Steyn said.

“It is just a growing phase in which small scale farmers are learning how to be part of the global economy.”

Sichinga also criticized the forum’s focus on high-tech solutions for agriculture that were irrelevant to Africa.

“Who will pay for this technology and equipment and salaries that are needed for researchers not to migrate to other countries,” he said.

The forum included presentations by Mark Post, a professor of physiology at Maastricht University who is the scientist behind laboratory-grown beef, meat grown from stem cells that cost 250,000 euros and five years of research to produce.

“Are you sure that we can be able to use now the new burger made out of stem cell technology? Is that what you expect of someone in a village with less than primary education to undertake?” Sichinga asked.

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