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 and very true. 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 potential wealth. For some reason our African nations don’t seem to understand this. We went on a trade mission to Kenya back 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 who were 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 it was going through 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 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% 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."
Yes, this is it. Instead of developing the agriculture sector through the use of AGOA, they are abandoning that opportunity. Get some under the table cash and buy a textile mill and run as much Chinese and Indian cotton as possible. Ship them duty free with "Made in Kenya" tags or whatever nation is perpetrating the scheme. Go to a Joseph Banks store and look at the men’s suits. Some will say "Made in Haiti" but that isn’t the whole story. The success of any nation starts with its agricultural base. There is a reason why the United States is the most powerful nation in the world. We have the most arable land. Our agriculture sector is the champion of the world and it feeds our other sectors.
Africa has so much potential. Zimbabwe was once known as "The Breadbasket of Africa". In a racist act they ran out the white owned farms. Now, Zimbabwe is one of the poorest nations on earth. There is plenty of arable land and if it realized its full potential Africa would have over 660 million acres of arable land. That is without irrigation! With a good infrastructure for irrigation they would double that. As cotton once made the South king, it can do the same for the nations of sub Saharan Africa. Leaders of Africa please get busy. Stop playing the games and develop your agriculture potential
Harry C. Alford is the co-founder, President and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce.