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China In Africa: It’s a Numbers Game

Over the past two decades, China has grown into the undisputed champion of Africa’s infrastructure financing needs but as the popular adage goes, there is no such thing as a free lunch.

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China In Africa: It’s a Numbers Game
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China’s growing global dominance got a publicity boost this April 2019 with the latest Forum on Belt and Road International ( BRI) Cooperation. The annual event brought world leaders from 37 countries, 5000 delegates from 150 nations and representatives of 90 international organisations to Beijing for the BRI conference that culminated in a resolution to continue strengthening ties and promoting global growth and economy through policy coordination among participating economies, infrastructure connectivity, trade investment and industrial cooperation

To Africa in particular, China has become a significant economic partner. China has catapulted from being a relatively small investor in the continent to becoming Africa’s largest economic partner, providing infrastructure and investment loans that have helped the continent record massive expansion of roads, rail and other utilities. Obviously, the forum is crucial in strengthening existing relationships and opening new opportunities for cooperation.


To date, it is difficult to understand the full extent of China’s blueprint in Africa due to the data knowledge gap that exists. This vacuum has fueled urban legends and sensational stories, everything from charges of neocolonialism, persistent yet unfounded rumor that Chinese firms use convict labor en masse, to even a Chinese settler colony in Africa. However, to dispel or confirm these narratives Africa must take a critical review, audit and examination of its principal relationship with China and what it portends for Chinese influence and footprint in the continent.

Trade

Since the turn of the 21st century, China has catapulted from being a relatively small investor in the continent to becoming Africa’s biggest economic partner. Africa-China trade increased from $13 billion in 2001 to $188 billion in 2015—an average annual growth rate of 21 percent. China has far surpassed Africa’s longstanding trade partners such as France, Germany, India, and the United States. According to a McKinsey and Company report dubbed Lions and Dragons in 2015, total goods trade between China and Africa amounted to $188 billion—more than triple that of India.


Statistics from the General Administration of Customs of China, in 2018, indicate that China’s total import and export volume with Africa was US$204.19 billion, a year-on-year increase of 19.7%, exceeding the overall growth rate of foreign trade in the same period by 7.1 percentage points. Among these, China’s exports to Africa were US$104.91 billion, up 10.8% and China’s imports from Africa were US$99.28 billion, up 30.8%; the surplus was US$5.63 billion, down 70.0% year on year. In December last year, China’s total imports and exports with Africa were US$18.27 billion, up 15.5% year on year and 2.1% month on month. Among these, China’s exports to Africa were US$9.55 billion, up 3.9% year on year and 3.0% month on month; China’s imports from Africa were US$8.72 billion, up 33.7% year on year and 2.2% month on month; the trade surplus was US$840 million, down 68.7% year on year and up 13.5% month on month. In 2018, the growth rate of China’s trade with Africa was the highest in the world.

China and Infrastructure

China has a long history of infrastructure investment in Africa, and this remains the country’s most visible legacy to this day. In the 1970s, China constructed the 1,710 km Tanzania-Zambia railway (Tan-Zam Railway completed in 1976), which linked landlocked, mineral-rich Zambia to the Indian Ocean. China’s aid for the project consisted of a nearly one billion interest-free loan, over one million tons of machinery and materials, and 50 thousand laborers to undertake construction efforts. Zambia’s first president, Kenneth Kaunda, hailed China’s support, and claimed the railway served as “a model for south-south cooperation.”


However, one of the megatrends of our times has been the growing presence of China in Africa’s infrastructure sector. Over the past two decades, China has helped to meet some of Africa’s infrastructure financing needs and is now the single largest financier of African infrastructure,financing one in five projects and constructing one in three mega projects.

Most funded projects are in the Transport, Shipping and Ports sectors (52.7 per cent), followed by Energy and Power (17.6 per cent), Real Estate (15 per cent, including industrial, commercial and residential real estate) and Energy and Power (13.1 per cent)

To date China has participated in over 200 African infrastructure projects. Chinese enterprises have completed and are building projects that are designed to upgrade about 30,000km of highways, 2,000km of railways, 85 million tonnes per year of port output capacity, more than nine million tonnes per day of clean water treatment capacity, about 20,000MW of power generation capacity, and more than 30,000km of transmission and transformation lines.

Foreign Direct Investment

China is poised to become Africa’s largest source of Foreign Direct investment. At the current growth rates, China will be Africa’s largest source of FDI stock within the next decade. China’s financial flows to Africa are around 15 percent larger than previous estimates. This discrepancy is found because official figures, which rely on banking-system data, do not cover informal money-transfer methods often used by smaller businesses. These methods include “mirror transfers,” in which a local payment is made into the Chinese account of an associate or family member, who in turn makes a local equivalent payment in Africa to the beneficiary’s bank account.

Aid

China is the second- or third-largest country donor to Africa Chinese official development assistance (ODA) and other official flows (OOF) to Africa together amounted to $6 billion in 2012. Chinese foreign aid expenditures increased steadily from 2003 to 2015, growing from USD 631 million in 2003 to nearly USD 3 billion in 2015. The United States promised somewhat more—$90 billion in the same period—but Chinese aid is more sought after. Unlike Western assistance, which comes mainly in the form of outright transfers of cash and material, Chinese assistance consists mostly of export credits and loans for infrastructure (often with little or no interest) that are fast, flexible, and largely without conditions. Thanks to such loans, the International Monetary Fund estimates that, as of 2012, China owned about 15 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s total external debt, up from only 2 percent in 2005. And McKinsey & Co. reckons that, as of 2015, Chinese loans accounted for about a third of new debt being taken on by African governments. 

Debt

Most of China’s loans to Africa go into infrastructure projects such as roads, railways and ports. China’s loan issuance to Africa has tripled since 2012. New debt issuance by Chinese institutions to African governments increased dramatically in the past five years, rising to some $5 billion to $6 billion of new loan issuances each year in the 2013–15 period. The McKinsey report suggests that in 2015, these loans accounted for approximately one-third of new sub-Saharan African government debt. Most of these loans are linked to infrastructure projects, such as China EXIM Bank’s $3.6 billion loan to finance the Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway in Kenya. From 2000 to 2017, the Chinese government, banks and contractors extended US $143 billion in loans to African governments and their state-owned enterprises (SOEs).


In 2015, the China-Africa Research Initiative (CARI) at John Hopkins University identified 17 African countries with risky debt exposure to China, potentially unable to repay their loans. It says three of these – Djibouti, Republic of Congo ( Congo-Brazzaville) and Zambia – remain at risk of debt distress derived from these Chinese loans. In 2017, Zambia’s debt amounted to $8.7bn (£6.6bn) – $6.4bn (£4.9bn) of which is owed to China. For Djibouti, 77% of its debt is from Chinese lenders. Figures for the Republic of Congo are unclear, but CARI estimates debts to China to be in the region of $7bn (£5.3bn). Angola is the top recipient of Chinese loans, with $42.8 billion disbursed over 17 years. Yet, Chinese loans are currently not a major contributor to the debt burden in Africa; much of that is still owed to traditional lenders like the World Bank.

Business

According to the McKinsey report , there are about 10,000 Chinese-owned firms operating in Africa today. Around 90 percent of these firms are privately owned. State-owned enterprises (SOEs) tend to be particularly in specific sectors such as energy and infrastructure, the sheer multitude of private Chinese firms working toward their own profit motives make Chinese investment in Africa a more market-driven phenomenon than is commonly understood. Chinese firms operate across many sectors of the African economy. Nearly a third are involved in manufacturing, a quarter in services, and around a fifth in trade and in construction and real estate. In manufacturing, an estimated 12 percent of Africa’s industrial production—valued at some $500 billion a year in total—is already handled by Chinese firms. In infrastructure, Chinese firms’ dominance is even more pronounced, and they claim nearly 50 percent of Africa’s internationally contracted construction market.

One-third of Chinese firms based in Africa reported profit margins of more than 20 percent in 2015. They are also agile and quick to adapt to new opportunities and they are primarily focused on serving the needs of Africa’s fast-growing markets rather than on exports.

Agriculture

According to CARI China has acquired 252,901 hectares of land in Africa. Cameroon alone accounts for 41% of all lands actually acquired: driven by two large purchases of existing rubber plantations (over 40,000 hectares each) in 2008 and 2010.China has also established 14 agricultural centres across Africa.

China has also taken an increasingly hands-on role in its work and investment related to African agriculture, leasing and developing land and in many instances being accused of “grabbing” large swathes of it. But as Deborah Brautigam’s reports the assumptions about China’s role in Africa are often not borne out in reality and the areas of land “grabbed” for investment are small compared to the vast areas identified by some.

Security

Over the past decade China’s role in peace and security has also grown rapidly through arms sales, military cooperation and peacekeeping deployments in Africa. Today, China is making a growing effort to take a systematic, pan-African approach to security on the continent.

China is now the second-largest contributor to the peacekeeping budget. Chinese personnel have served on missions in Africa for decades, but until 2013 they were small contingents in unarmed roles such as medical and engineering support. China now provides more personnel than any other permanent member of the Security Council – they numbered 2,506 as of September. Chinese peacekeepers now serve in infantry, policing and other roles in Africa.

In 2017, China established a 36 hectare Djibouti military facility.with a ten-year lease at $20 million annually. It has been described as a support base for naval anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, peacekeeping in South Sudan and humanitarian and other cooperation in the Horn of Africa, but has also been used to conduct live-fire military exercises.

Labour and Population

The number of Chinese immigrants in Africa has risen sevenfold in under two decades, The Annual Report on Overseas Chinese Study said the African continent was home to more than 1.1 million Chinese immigrants in 2012, compared with less than 160,000 in 1996, adding that 90 percent of the current total arrived after 1970. Initially, most labourers coming to Africa were from retail industry but today with the closer relationships with Africa, Chinese intellectuals and skilled professionals have settled in Africa.

The number of chinese workers by the end of 2017 was 202,689. In 2017, the top 5 countries with Chinese workers are Algeria, Angola, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Zambia. These 5 countries accounted for 57% of all Chinese workers in Africa at the end of 2017; Algeria alone accounts for 30% of the numbers. These figures include Chinese workers sent to work on Chinese companies’ construction contracts in Africa (“workers on contracted projects”) and Chinese workers sent to work for non-Chinese companies in Africa (“workers doing labor services”); they are reported by Chinese contractors and do not include informal migrants such as traders and shopkeepers.

Media

There has been a significant increase of Chinese media on the African continent in recent years. This has taken place across various levels, including infrastructure development, training of journalists, production and distribution of media content, and investing directly in African media houses and platforms. The increased media footprint is widely seen as a way for China to extend its ‘soft power’ on the continent. But this is not the first time that China has established a media presence on the continent. As far back as the 1960s and 1970s, Chinese media was active in Africa.

However, since 2012, state-run media outlets have also pitched up in the continent, among them the Africa bureau of China Global Television Network (CGTN based in Nairobi) and China Daily Africa newspaper. China also takes African journalists to Beijing for training, while state-linked firms have made investments in local media outlets including buying a 20% stake in South Africa’s Independent News and Media firm (INMSA). The Beijing-based StarTimes Group has also become one of Africa’s most important media companies, increasingly influential in the booming pay-TV market. As it spread its foothold in Africa, the company has embarked on a project to provide solar-powered satellite television sets to 10,000 villages across Africa.

*****

China has not “taken over Africa”; she has merely joined with earlier groups of imperialists in grabbing a part of the African bounty. As a newcomer, her presence is more visible, but not yet as substantially deep-rooted as the long-standing European imprint.

She comes with two key differences: first, China does not yet have the military and diplomatic capacity to replace any of those Western powers in physically securing and enforcing the various trade routes and treaties needed to keep the global trade machine, upon which they all depend, running. Second, therefore, this venture cannot be implemented remotely, but by human displacement. Even a settler-overlord project may not work. What could work is one where millions of Chinese people are steadily shipped over to “yellow” Africa as a continuation of the anti-black ethnic cleansing and encroachment the Asians began centuries ago in South Asia.

The Africa of the ordinary people must therefore assert itself and force its concerns on to all public agendas. The struggle now is to hold a public conversation independent of these various imperialists and their allies.

Sources: McKinsey and Company report. Compiled by Mdogo.

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The author is an analyst based in Nairobi, Kenya.

Data Stories

Punitive Government Policies Jeopardise Kenya’s Food Security

The government is criminalising Kenyan farmers and leaving the country’s food security at the mercy of multinational corporations.

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Punitive Government Policies Jeopardise Kenya’s Food Security
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By 2021 your typical Kenyan smallholder farmer was producing 75 per cent of the foods consumed in the country. Yet the draconian laws imposed on the agriculture sector by the government have been facilitating their exploitation by private sector actors including multinational corporations. This is in total contradiction with President Uhuru Kenyatta’s move to include food security in his Big Four Agenda and begs the question of how the country can achieve food security when farmers are discouraged from producing food by these punitive laws.

Recently, there was an uproar on social media regarding the Livestock Bill 2021. The point of contention in the yet to be gazetted Bill is a clause that bars Kenyan farmers from keeping bees for commercial purposes unless they are registered under the Apiary Act. The government, through the Permanent Secretary for Livestock Mr Harry Kimutai, tried to justify this by saying that the aim of registering beekeepers is to commercialise beekeeping instead of it being a traditional practice.

Local pastoralist, agrarian and forest-dwelling communities have practiced beekeeping since time immemorial and it has been part of the subsistence economy of smallholder farmers who pass on this rich knowledge and expertise from generation to generation.

Bee-reaucracy

In its current form, the Livestock Bill 2021 will drive smallholder beekeepers out of honey production and pave the way for multinational corporations under the guise of regulating the sector. It is no different from the Agricultural Sector Transformation and Growth Strategy 2019-2029 that seeks to move farmers out of farming into “more productive jobs”, opening the door for their exploitation and impoverishment by agro-capitalists.

In a recent media interview, Mr Kimutai said that Kenyan honey is contaminated with pesticide residues. But if the government is indeed concerned about improving honey production, it should start by banning the use of toxic pesticides that are detrimental to bees and contaminate the quality of honey. Pesticides such as Deltamethrin have been found to be toxic to bees yet they are still used in Kenya.

Local pastoralist, agrarian and forest-dwelling communities have practiced beekeeping since time immemorial.

Section 93 subsection(1) of the Bill bars the importation, manufacturing, compounding, mixing or selling of any animal foodstuff other than a product that the authority may by order declare to be an approved animal product. This offence attracts a fine of KSh500,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, or both.

Smallholder livestock farmers in Kenya have been growing “napier grass” to feed their cows and for sale to other farmers. Do these new regulations mean that they shall be committing an offence by growing their own feed and selling it within their localities?

Another punitive regulation is the Crops (Irish Potato) Regulations 2019, that requires transporters, traders and dealers to be registered with their counties, failure to which they face up to KSh5 million in fines, three years imprisonment, or both. This regulation also punishes an unregistered farmer with a one-year imprisonment or KSh500,000 or both, for growing a scheduled crop. It is no coincidence that capitalist-funded organisations like Alliance for a Green Revolution (AGRA) applaud the Irish Potato regulations as a new dawn for Kenyan farmers.

Bee-reaucracyThrough the Seed and Plant Varieties Act 2012, the government once again fails to protect farmers from capitalist exploitation. Part 1 of the Act defines selling as including barter, exchange and offering or exposing for a product for sale, taking away a farmer’s right to sell, share and exchange seed, a right that is recognised in the constitution.

Part 2 section 3 of the Act prohibits the sale of uncertified seed. The good old practice of selling and sharing seeds is further criminalised in section 7(5) which requires only seed appearing in the Variety Index or the National Variety List to be sold. This limits farmers from selling their varieties which they have been sharing, exchanging and selling for generations. Moreover, this automatically means that farmers selling their seed varieties are committing an offence if such varieties are not listed in the index.

Further, section 18 part 4 of this act allows for the discovery of a plant variety whether growing in the wild or occurring as a genetic variant, whether artificially induced or not. This section allows for the discovery of farmers’ indigenous seeds by multinational corporations keen to patent them for profit.

It is no coincidence that capitalist-funded organisations like Alliance for a Green Revolution (AGRA) applaud the Irish Potato regulations as a new dawn for Kenyan farmers.

The implication here is that since farmers’ seed varieties are not registered or owned by anyone, anybody can obtain the seeds of any crop variety, apply for their registration and claim their “discovery”. Farmers who have been conserving and reusing the “discovered” seeds will then lose the right to continue doing so and they will be required to pay royalties to the new “owners” of these seeds.

This act contravenes certain provisions of the constitution, in particular Article 11 (3) (b) of the Kenya Constitution 2010 which states that parliament shall enact legislation to recognise and protect the ownership of indigenous seeds and plant varieties, their genetic and diverse characteristics and their use by the communities of Kenya.

Foreign laws

The parliament has forfeited its obligation to enact laws that protect and enhance our intellectual property rights  over the indigenous knowledge of the biodiversity and the genetic resources of Kenyan communities  as mandated by Article 69 (1) (a) of the Kenyan constitution. It has allowed external actors to pirate local resources and trample indigenous rights.

Patenting indigenous seeds, barring farmers from keeping bees, and regulating the growing and selling of animal feed and potatoes is theft of the commons. The government is in cahoots with large corporations determined to kill the smallholder farmers’ sources of livelihood while singing about food security being part of the Big Four Agenda.

Foreign lawWhat sense does it make to frustrate smallholder farmers who grow 75 per cent of our food to serve the interests of imperialist multinational corporations keen on holding our farmers at ransom through abhorrent fines?

Patenting indigenous seeds, barring farmers from keeping bees, and regulating the growing and selling of animal feed and potatoes is theft of the commons.

It is time to reclaim and protect the commons that our communities have for a very long time thrived on. In her book Reclaiming the commons Dr Vandana Shiva points out that indigenous communities, including farmers, co-create and co-evolve biodiversity with nature, practises that have seen them overcome ecological challenges for generations. Our policies, plans and laws need to protect these practices for posterity.

Our parliamentarians should endeavour to defend our biodiversity, indigenous cultures and national systems – reclaiming the commons. We need policies that will allow farmers to produce food using indigenous seeds that are readily available and that they can be share amongst themselves. We need policies that will allow farmers to produce safer and more healthy food in an environmentally safe way, not punitive policies designed to eliminate farmers and have our food system controlled by corporations out to make profits at the expense of our health and our environment.

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Tech Disruption in the Agricultural Sector

The future of farming in Kenya counties, whether in knowledge sharing, collaborations, funding, or market access primarily lies in the farmer’s abilities to harness the respective strengths of the available and emerging Disruptive Agricultural Technologies. As the tech-platforms become cheaper, more available and affordable farmers yield and fortunes will likely inch upwards.

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Tech Disruption in the Agricultural Sector
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Disruptive technologies in agriculture (DATs) have been in Kenya since the early 1900s and can simply be defined as the digital and technical innovations that enable farmers and agri-firms to increase their productivity, efficiency, and competitive edge.

These platforms essentially help local farmers make more precise decisions about resource use through accurate, timely, and location-specific price, weather predictions. The agronomic data and information that they provide in Kenya is becoming increasingly important in the context of climate change. Besides, leveling the playing field, it can make small-scale or local marginalized farmers in Kenya to be more competitive.

Sophisticated off-line digital agri-tech can provide opportunities even in poorly-connected rural contexts, or with marginalized groups who have lower access to information and markets. In short, Disruptive Agricultural Technologies (DATs) are overturning the sector status quo.

Tech Disruption in the Agricultural Sector

Some of the key disruptive technologies in agriculture (DAT’s) include Waterwatch Cooperative in Kenya (Real-time alert system), Tulaa and Farmshine (Digital platform for finding buyers and linking buyers and sellers).

There is also Agri-wallet (platform for input credit/e-wallets/insurance products), dutch-based Agrocares operating in Kenya and Ujuzi Kilimo (portable soil testers, satellite images, remote sensing) as well as SunCulture (solar-powered irrigation pumps)

These platforms have helped to facilitate access to local markets in counties such as Makueni and West Pokot, improve nutritional outcomes, and enhance resilience to climate change. Disruptive agricultural technologies are designed to help stakeholders by reducing the costs of linking various actors of the agri-food system both within and across countries through faster provision, processing, and analyzing of large amounts of data.

The Disruptive Agricultural Technologies Landscape 

Over 75% of Disruptive Agricultural Technologies are digital. The remaining 25% of non-digital are either focused on energy (solar), or producers/suppliers of bio-products for agriculture.

Approximately 32% of the Disruptive Agricultural Technologies aim to enhance agricultural productivity, 26% are working to improve market linkages, 23% are engaged in data analytics, and another 15% are working on financial inclusion.

According to a 2019 World Bank report, Kenya has become a leading agri-tech hub with nearly 60 scalable Disruptive Agricultural Technologies (DATs) operational in the country, followed by South Africa and Nigeria. Kenya is said to have the third largest technology incubation and acceleration hub in the region. Examples of those technologies in Kenya include: Data-connected devices which use ICT to collect, store, and analyze data. This includes GPS, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. The Africa’s Regional Data Cube hosted in Nairobi,Kenya is a tool that helps various countries address issues related to agriculture, water, and sanitation. 

The use of robotics and automation in farming in Kenya has gained widespread acceptance. For instance, drones are used to monitor and improve the efficiency of agricultural operations and its usage is governed by the Civil Aviation Act.

Majority of farmers in Kenya are smallholder farmers and having access to Disruptive agricultural technologies helps even the competition with medium and large scale farmers as tools are created for both low and high connectivity areas.

Over 83 percent of Disruptive agricultural technologies are e-marketplaces that do not require high connectivity. Example is Twiga Foods whose digital platform connects retailers and food manufacturers, delivering a streamlined and efficient supply chain.

Kenya’s financial sector is characterized by a robust mobile money ecosystem (MPESA) with over 70 percent of the population using mobile money regularly which increases its potential for farming for smallholder farmers.

Despite that one of the biggest challenges facing the agriculture sector in Kenya is access to finance. This is largely due to the high risk of loaning to small holder farmers. FinTech apps use alternative data and machine learning to improve the credit scoring of smallholder farmers.

These apps help minimize the gap between the demand for credit and the supply of financing for smallholder farmers. Kenya is a hotspot for agricultural apps. There are numerous organizations working on developing digital solutions that combine precision farming with remote sensing data.

Connectivity and Adoption of DATSs

A significant number of the existing digital tools and technologies can be utilized in areas with low network to improve the productivity of the agriculture sector. Despite the increasing number of mobile phone users in Kenya, the penetration rate among smallholder farmers remains relatively low.

It may be difficult for many of these smallholder farmers to adopt Disruptive agricultural technologies (DATs) due to the high costs, complexity and capabilities required. Meanwhile for large scale farmers, the DATs highly boost their productivity, especially if they have already developed the capabilities in-house to accelerate adoption of these tech platforms. Therefore, from the onset, we need to understand who uses the technology and the implications of this.

Kenya has a well-established start-up ecosystem, made up of mostly young, adaptive and brilliant innovators who are leveraging low-cost digital platforms. This is coupled with funding from international donors and incubation activities address agricultural value-chain issues. There is a mix of actors for Disruptive agricultural technologies depending on the categorization of the technology.

This ranges from DATS that support creation, facilitate adoption and oversee diffusion of innovation.

These actors need strong and cohesive ties, both between, the regulatory bodies, farmers, county leaders, financiers, state agencies, and fellow developers. The nature of the collaborations could be cohesive and cooperative, where all the local actors have shared goals, to fragmented, where not all actors are on board, causing resistance and slowing down the process.

Despite a myriad challenges these radical and innovative (DATs) are revolutionizing and changing the farming landscape in the counties and working with the Ministry of Agriculture using technologies to deliver agricultural services more efficiently and accountable.

The future of farming in Kenya counties whether in knowledge sharing, collaborations, funding, or market access primarily lies in the farmer’s abilities to harness the respective strengths of the available and emerging Disruptive Agricultural Technologies. As the tech-platforms become cheaper, more available and affordable farmers yield and fortunes will likely inch upwards.

This article is part of The Elephant Food Edition Series done in collaboration with Route to Food Initiative (RTFI). Views expressed in the article are not necessarily those of the RTFI.

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Revealed: Majority of US Voters Support Patent Waiver on COVID-19 Vaccines

Shock poll reveals majority support for Joe Biden to suspend TRIPS and support global vaccination.

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A new poll finds that 60% of US voters want President Joe Biden to endorse the motion by more than 100 lower- and middle-income countries to temporarily waive patent protections on Covid-19 vaccines at the World Trade Organization. Only 28% disagreed.

The survey, carried out by Data for Progress and the Progressive International, shows a super majority of 72% registered Democrats want Biden to temporarily waive patent barriers to speed vaccine roll out and reduce costs for developing nations. Even registered Republicans support the action by margin of 50% in favor to 36% opposed.

The new polling shows that “there is a popular mandate from the US American people to put human life and economic recovery ahead of corporate profits and a broken intellectual property system,” said David Adler, the general coordinator of the Progressive International. Burcu Kilic, research director of the access to medicines program at Public Citizen and member of Progressive International’s Council, called on Biden to “listen to Americans who put him in power” and “do the right thing.”

Revealed: Majority of US Voters Support Patent Waiver on COVID-19 VaccinesDue to WTO intellectual property rules, countries are barred from producing the current leading approved vaccines, including US-produced Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson. In October of 2020, South Africa and India presented the WTO with a proposal to temporarily waive these rules for the duration of the pandemic so that vaccines can be manufactured across different countries, increasing their availability, reducing their cost and ensuring that they are delivered to everyone on earth as quickly as possible.

In the absence of the waiver, the current manufacturing and distribution rates are unlikely to stem the pandemic’s momentum, especially as new variants, which are more infectious and seem to evade the acquired immunity from prior infection or from the current vaccines, continue to emerge. The US under President Trump joined other richer nations to block them.

The shock poll reveals a level of public support for intellectual property waivers that will likely add to growing congressional pressure on Biden to join those pushing to save lives through a global vaccination drive. Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky is working on a letter to the president to which Schakowsky says more than 60 lawmakers have added their signature, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Senator Bernie Sanders, Chair of the Senate Budget Committee, responded to the poll saying the US should be “leading the global effort to end the coronavirus pandemic.” According to Sanders, “a temporary WTO waiver, which would enable the transfer of vaccine technologies to poorer countries, is a good way to do that.”

Responding to the new poll, Representative Ilhan Omar called on Biden to “support a waiver to boost the production of vaccines, treatment and tests worldwide,” arguing that it was “not just an issue of basic morality, but of public health.”

Adler argues, “US Americans know rigged rules to prop up big pharma’s profits are not in their interest. The longer the virus has to spread, the more it can mutate and become vaccine-resistant. Covid-19 anywhere is a threat to public health and economic wellbeing everywhere. If intellectual property restrictions are not lifted, the pandemic will go on for longer, killing more people and damaging more livelihoods.”

The threat to the Global South from vaccine apartheid is a “death sentence for millions around the world—and it is because giant pharmaceutical corporations would rather maximize profit than provide vaccines to people who need it,” according to Omar.

Sanders agrees, saying “the bottom line is, the faster we help vaccinate the global population, the safer we will all be. That should be our number one priority, not maximizing the profits of pharmaceutical companies and their shareholders.”

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