Politics of Poverty

Oxfam says course-correction needed on the New Alliance for Food Security

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A new briefing paper says it’s time for the New Alliance to re-focus on the needs of smallholder farmers.

Hamisi Abdalla Rubalati grows maize, cassava and other vegetables on his land in Kisarawe District, Tanzania (2008). Like many other developing nations, Tanzania has seen large-scale foreign investment in agriculture in recent years. Photo: Aubrey Wade / Oxfam.
Hamisi Abdalla Rubalati grows maize, cassava and other vegetables on his land in Kisarawe District, Tanzania (2008). Like many other developing nations, Tanzania has seen large-scale foreign investment in agriculture in recent years. Photo: Aubrey Wade / Oxfam.

Promoting responsible global investments in agriculture took a step forward last week. A working group appointed by the Committee on World Food Security met to discuss the Zero Draft of Principles for Responsible Agriculture Investment in Rome.

However, while this process unfolds, companies aren’t waiting to develop new business plans, nor have governments put on hold their efforts to spur investments. In fact, at the same time the working group was meeting in Rome, the Leadership Council (LC) for the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition convened in New York.

Since the New Alliance’s launch at the US G8 Summit in May 2012, this set of public-private partnerships intended to spur investments in agriculture and food has grown to nine African countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Tanzania and Senegal) and well over 100 companies (both small and medium enterprises and multinationals). I’ve written about Oxfam’s concerns on the New Alliance before, identifying the need for a directional shift and serious reforms to address issues related to transparency and consultation, especially when it comes to the needs of smallholder farmers, particularly women.

As an interim member of the Leadership Council of the New Alliance, Oxfam used the occasion of the New York meeting to launch a briefing paper entitled “The New Alliance: A new direction needed,” which looks at the early performance of the New Alliance in three countries: Tanzania, Mozambique and Ghana. The information we gathered is not comprehensive, nor does it capture community-level or impact, but it does provide insights about how the new Alliance is being organized at the country level.

Our interviews identified serious challenges the initiative currently faces in achieving its objective of lifting 50 million people out of poverty by 2022. In brief, here is what we found:

–          Civil society participation has been ad hoc and inadequate, especially by groups representing the interests of producers, women, the rural poor and consumers. Many of the company investments aim to engage small-scale producers, but they were not at the table during the design phase of this initiative, and links remain tenuous.

–          Policy reforms are designed to benefit business, not small-scale producers.  Land and seed policy changes are common across countries participating in the New Alliance, but as with other proposed policy reforms, there is little or no analysis of how these changes will impact small-scale producers. There is an urgent need to promote reforms that strengthen and do not undermine small-scale producer’s access to and control over land, water and seeds.

–          Accountability mechanisms and standards and safeguards have received limited attention, despite the clear need for guidance to ensure New Alliance activities support and do not harm small producers. While the New Alliance needs to respect the ongoing process of the Committee on World Food Security to develop principles for responsible agriculture investment, there are existing standards, including the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Forests and Fisheries, to which companies and governments should adhere. More must be done to ensure company investments are held to appropriate standards that protect human rights, promote environmental sustainability and provide communities with appropriate redress mechanisms.

–          The quality of investment commitments varies significantly, raising serious concerns about the impact on small producers. Company commitments cluster around input provision (seeds, fertilizer, agro-chemicals, and mechanization) or on contract farming arrangements. However, what is missing from this initiative are strategies to engage small-scale producers and support their efforts to identify and adapt locally-appropriate solutions that help manage risks and conserve environmental resources.

In addition to the serious shortcomings we uncovered, the New Alliance has been criticized by African civil society organizations as a distraction from efforts to prioritize small-scale producers, as well as the public sector investments needed to enable them to build more resilience agriculture livelihoods. It’s time to re-focus on the needs of small-scale producers and Oxfam’s briefing paper offers concrete recommendations to make this happen.

Stronger partnerships at the country level are crucial to increasing the accountability of the New Alliance. At the global level, the Leadership Council needs more structure and a willingness to assist countries in re-examining company commitments and country policy reforms, and to alter them where necessary. At the last meeting of the Leadership Council, members began to grapple with these issues, discussing an Accountability Framework that is expected to be finalized in the coming months, and agreeing to develop a Terms of Reference to clarify roles and responsibilities. This is a good first step on a much-needed course correction.

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