Britain should withdraw funding for a scheme that encourages big businesses to invest in African agriculture, putting profits ahead of poor farmers' interests, activists said.
A woman works in a rice mill in Aliade community in the Gwer
local government area of the central state of Benue in Nigeria
More than 25 UK campaign groups are urging British Prime Minister David Cameron to withhold 395 million pounds pledged to the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition over the next three years.
The scheme – announced in May last year and backed by the G8, the world's eight richest nations – seeks to lift 50 million people out of poverty over the next decade by providing countries with support to secure private sector investment in food production if they showed a “real commitment” to transparency and good governance.
Cameron called the initiative when it was announced “a great combination of promoting good governance and helping Africa to feed its people.”
However, a coalition of African farmers' movements and civil society groups has dismissed the initiative as part of "a new wave of colonialism", which views Africa as "a possible new frontier to make profits, with an eye on land, food and biofuels in particular".
One major concern is a requirement that African nations change their seed laws, trade laws and land ownership at the expense of local farmers and local food needs.
Campaigners also fear it will allow big multinational seed, fertiliser and agrochemical companies such as Yara, Monsanto, Syngenta and Cargill to set the agenda.
"It is unacceptably cynical of the G8 to pretend to be tackling hunger and land grabbing in Africa while backing a scheme that will ruin the lives of hundreds of thousands of small farmers," said Kirtana Chandrasekaran, food sovereignty programme coordinator at Friends of the Earth.
"African civil society groups recognise the New Alliance is a poisoned chalice, and they are right to reject it," she said.
Despite an abundance of fertile land, Africa faces repeated cycles of hunger and food insecurity. Decades of under-investment in the agricultural sector and unfavourable trade policies mean hundreds of thousands of small-scale farmers struggle to make a living from their land, let alone a profit.
Anti-poverty campaigner War on Want is one of the UK groups calling for Cameron to withhold funding for the New Alliance.
"If you think of the aid budget, 395 million pounds is a really significant sum - much bigger than the amounts given out to country programmes by DFID," War on Want's chief executive John Hilary told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"This is big money thrown over to the private sector to try to re-engineer agriculture in Africa for the benefit of private capital, particularly big multinational corporations."
Speaking ahead of a meeting on nutrition and hunger to be hosted by Britain's Cameron on June 8, Hilary said an alternative to the G8 plan was to promote food sovereignty in African countries.
He called for more investment in small-holder farmers, so they would be in a better position to choose which varieties of crops they grow and which fertilisers to use.
Six African countries have already signed up to the alliance, with Benin, Malawi, Nigeria and Senegal expected to join at the 'hunger summit' in London this week, the campaigners said