If you’re curious about the role of big business in Africa’s food future, keep an ear on tomorrow’s all-day meeting of government and business leaders in Washington, featuring speeches by President Barack Obama and top executives from DuPont, Monsanto and other agribusiness giants. Organizers promise news of “significant new business commitments for African agriculture.”

You can stream the proceedings here.

The role of multinational corporations is hotly debated in international development and food justice circles. Some say Africa needs big businesses to boost production and increase efficiency. Others say multinationals undermine small farmers and threaten local food systems and accuse the U.S. government of helping that happen.

One thing is certain: Big business sees big profits in the growing demand for food over the coming decades. And African governments are rolling out the welcome mat, as our recent report from Ethiopia showed. 

The meeting’s sponsor list might provide a hint of what’s coming. The “flagship sponsor” is DuPont, the world’s third-largest chemical company and a leading producer of seeds and pesticides. Other sponsors are Abbott (maker of infant formula and rehydration fluids, among many other things), Elanco (a division of Eli Lilly that specializes in industrial livestock products), Land O’Lakes, Monsanto (the world’s largest producer of conventional and genetically modified seeds) and Walmart (the world’s biggest retailer).

In addition to Obama, the list of speakers includes Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; presidents or prime ministers of Ethiopia, Ghana and Tanzania; heads of national and international development organizations; and executives from Monsanto, Abbott, DuPont, Swiss agrochemical producer Syngenta and several other global agribiz companies. The head of the National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi also will speak.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation (which supports the “Food for 9 Billion” project) also are providing funds for the meeting.

Jon Miller

Jonathan Miller is executive director of Homelands Productions, a journalism cooperative specializing in public radio features and documentaries. As a freelance journalist, he has reported from Asia, Latin America, Africa, Europe and the U.S. for NPR, BBC, CBC, American Public Media's Marketplace, Monitor Radio, VOA, Radio Netherlands and Radio Deutsche Welle. He also has written for The New Yorker, Condé Nast Traveler, Parents, American Way, The Christian Science Monitor and many other publications. For 13 years, he lived and worked in the Philippines and Peru. 

Jon is currently serving as executive producer of "Food for 9 Billion," a collaborative project of Homelands Productions, the Center for Investigative Reporting, American Public Media's Marketplace, PRI's The World, and PBS NewsHour. He was executive producer of Homelands' award-winning "WORKING" project profiling workers in the global economy (2007-09) and the "Worlds of Difference" series about the responses of traditional societies to rapid cultural change (2002-05).