IMG_7607Today’s blog comes from Saoirse Fitzpatrick, former Campaigns Assistant at RESULTS UK. Saoirse has a background in African development politics and has experience of working in Malawi and Mozambique on small scale agricultural and permaculture projects.


What is the New Alliance?

figure-1-1024x588The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition (“New Alliance”) was born out of the Camp David Summit of the G8 in May 2012. It is an initiative that aims to lift 50 million people out of poverty over the next 10 years by using a collective approach of pro-poor policies committed to by African governments, substantial private sector investment in order to increase agriculture productivity and farmer incomes, and donor governments aligning behind country-led plans (i.e. CAADP). Currently, there are over 80 Letters of Intent (LOI) submitted by private companies that represent over $5B of investment. “Cooperation Frameworks” which set out terms for participating countries have been created for nine countries: Ghana, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Cote D’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, and Mozambique.

Why are we talking about it?

We’re talking about it because the New Alliance has been  criticised by some African civil society and some Northern NGOs, and there are debates around it on all sides. Whilst the G8 claim to view this public-private partnership as a way of lifting 50 million people from poverty, civil society contesters view the initiative as a ‘Trojan horse’ allowing foreign big business to extract profit from Africa’s agricultural sector using the language of philanthropy and poverty reduction to soften the blow.

But If this really is the case then why have three new African governments willingly signed up to the New Alliance in the last month, joining the six others who have already? Despite strong opposition and suggested alternatives from pastoral groups, farmers, traders and indigenous peoples, the African governments  taking part are convinced that foreign private sector investment is the missing link in their agricultural development. But will this sweet pill of investment leave a bitter taste in their mouths?

What is the rationale for using foreign big business to eradicate hunger?

figure-4-1024x637In the opinion of the G8 leaders, hunger is a problem that can be tackled in various ways. One way is by increasing aid to Nutrition specific development projects, empowering women and increasing programmes on Water and Sanitation etc. But another way is  “unleashing the power of the private sector” in the agriculture sector. This rationale follows that since there is a gaping shortfall of investment into African agriculture, the private sector represents the best method for resourcing and empowering African farmers which isn’t through the traditional medium of aid or charitable giving. With the involvement of seed conglomerates and large-scale agribusiness, alongside African businesses, the idea is that farmers will be able to scale up production by growing improved seed varieties courtesy of Monsanto; apply Cargill’s fertiliser to boost harvests; and make use of these companies’ connections to gain better access to markets. These measures will help to boost farmers’ incomes, lifting them out of poverty, decrease aid-dependency and produce surplus food which will reduce its real cost, making it more accessible to the poor.

This rationale makes logical sense; better business means increased profit which means more food and more money to buy food. So why has there been a backlash from African civil society and some international NGOs against the New Alliance?

It’s not that these groups reject the involvement of private business models in agriculture, on the contrary there is major support for the scale-up of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) within the sector. Rather it is the particular choice of foreign corporations being used and the concessional changes to trade, land and seed regulations that African governments must implement in order to become partners in the New Alliance, which have provoked this negative response.

A closer look at the New Alliance

Amongst the members of the New Alliance, civil society are most concerned about the involvement of big seed conglomerates Monsanto, Du Pont and Cargill. With a history of lacking corporate social responsibility and environmental piracy it isn’t surprising that there would be an adverse reaction. But aside from their negative reputations, what changes to property, tenure and trade policies has their involvement inspired?

Seeds– If we take a look at the cooperation frameworks for countries taking part we see that one of the conditionalities for Mozambique is to “systematically cease to distribute free and unimproved [non-commercial] seeds to farmers except in emergencies”. Improved seed means either genetically modified or hybrid seed; the latter doesn’t produce offspring and both can be patented since they are created through unique processes. Seeds will therefore become a commodity and this can have serious repercussions for a population in which traditionally 80% of seed is saved from the previous harvest. Poor farmers who cannot afford to keep purchasing the improved seeds will face having to start a harvest cycle without any inputs and with their government unable to help due to their cooperation agreement.

Land- another point of contention has been over the changes to land lease and acquisition policies. In the details of Cote D’Ivoire’s cooperation framework it states that the country must “facilitate access to land for smallholder farmers and private enterprises”. On the surface this seems a diplomatic adjustment but the organisation GRAIN have shown that already 700,000 hectares of arable land has been set aside for French, Algerian, Swiss and Singaporean companies. This will displace tens of thousands of rice farmers according to GRAIN, the very people the New Alliance is supposed to be helping.  Similarly in Ethiopia the government must “Refine land law, if necessary, to encourage long-term land leasing”. These revisions ignore some previous studies that have shown how this type of activity leads to displacement, and  they undermine previous UN and African Union policies regarding access to land, that were developed though years of bottom-up consultation.

Nutrition– The title of the Alliance indicates that the focus has moved on from merely producing enough food and is dedicated to improving nutrition. Yet nutrition is included in only a few per cent of private investment plans. The Institute for Development Studies’ (IDS) recent analysis of the promotion of nutrition-sensitive agriculture within the framework showed that:

  • More than half of the 111 promised private investment projects focus on non-food crops (such as cocoa or cotton) or on activities that aren’t crop specific (such as providing credit or selling fertilizer).
  • The second-largest group of investments target staple crops, such as rice or maize. These crops are good for filling bellies, but don’t on their own provide  all-important micronutrients, unless they are fortified.
  • 12 of the 28 investments targeting foods with high levels of protein or micronutrients (including fruits, vegetables, cashews, pulses, milk and poultry) aim to sell to export markets. This can generate revenues but does not deliver nutritious foods to undernourished people in the exporting countries.
  • When nutritious foods are being produced for the domestic market, the investment plans don’t spell out how producing more crops actually leads to getting healthy foods to the people that need them. Of the 111 investment projects, only 4 mention specific nutrient-dense food products to be sold locally.

The recent progress report on the New Alliance stated that whilst there is strong evidence supporting the links between agricultural development and absolute poverty reduction, they are still struggling to find ways of nurturing the relationship between agriculture and nutrition. Furthermore despite women being identified as the game-changer in improving both food security and nutrition, they are barely mentioned within the cooperation agreements.

Lack of stakeholder engagement- The evidence above suggests that the current model’s focus doesn’t seem to resonate with the needs of the agrarian populations that the New Alliance claims it will benefit. This isn’t surprising considering the fact that there has been almost no consultation with farmers during the design of these policies. In Mozambique for instance, farmers’ organisations only learned about the major changes to seed, land and fertiliser regulations at the launch of the initiative in the country.

This doesn’t seem to be a concern of the nine African leaders who have signed up for the initiative. “For too long we have seen agriculture as a way of managing poverty, but to create wealth, you need the private sector” said Akinwumi Adesina the Nigerian minister for agriculture. Large-scale, export-orientated agriculture is favoured as the best way to ensure prosperity and this isn’t surprising in light of the current state of agriculture in Africa.

What are African farmers saying?

First of all, in a region where 85% of people farm on pieces of land less than 2 hectares, the priority should be in supporting and strengthening their capacity to enter markets. A statement from Mozambican civil society asks its government to:

“…adopt policies for the agricultural sector that focus on support to peasants, whose priorities are based on access to credit for rural people, the extension of agricultural support by the government, micro-irrigation systems, the recovery of indigenous climate-resistant seeds, and infrastructure related to increasing productive capacity.”

That ‘productive capacity’ is crucial here. There is a tendency to reduce the pro-Alliance vs anti-Alliance debate into an ideological battle with profit-driven capitalists on one side and ‘small is beautiful’ romantics on the other. But this is not the case: small-scale doesn’t mean subsistence it means entrepreneurship. The private sector has a crucial role to play in African agriculture but in a way that enhances the existing entrepreneurial agrarian class.

Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are a vehicle for producing agents within agriculture who are able to take part in the design of market mechanisms- regulation, competition and transparency- in a way that benefits their own businesses. And if one takes a look at the history of agricultural development in various regions of the world; the US, Europe, India, Brazil, it is clear that agriculture has always been the product of “sovereign will and of a partnership between the states and the economic actors, that is the producers, the processors, the traders.”

But we have a paradox, small-scale agriculture of this kind isn’t seen as profitable because it has never received adequate investment to prove its profitability and if the advocates of small-scale private enterprises aren’t included in the consultation process, how will this ever change? The New Alliance is going ahead whether civil society likes it or not but these groups can and must fight to be included in the design of their own future. I therefore support the ask included in the Nigerian CSO statement, that the New Alliance urgently needs a participatory review to ensure that the correct structures for consultation and consensus building are in place.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of RESULTS.