Flawed ‘New Alliance for Food Security’ initiative needs urgent reform

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

A protest outside the European Parliament in March 2016 by various NGOs against the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. [MattTempest/Flickr]

The European Union and several of its member states are supporting a highly-flawed development initiative. A critical resolution voted on tomorrow (7 June) by the European Parliament should be a call to action to finally engage in a comprehensive reform, write Hanna Saarinen and Isabelle Brachet write.

Hanna Saarinen is Oxfam’s EU policy advisor for investment in agriculture, Isabelle Brachet is Action Aid’s Europe Advocacy Coordinator.

The G8 countries formed the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition back in 2012 with the declared goal of helping African farming communities rise out of poverty and combat hunger. Four years later, the beneficiaries have been large corporations, while local small scale farmers have been side-lined.

The New Alliance aims at helping to lift 50 million people out of poverty and improve food security in ten partner countries in Africa. The idea was to attract investment from the private sector, which would increase production and market opportunities. To bring in these investments, partner countries have promised a series of changes to land, trade, tax, and farming policies. The EU supports the New Alliance with €1.2 billion currently; additional money is flowing from G7 countries of which four are EU members.

From the very beginning, civil society in Europe and Africa have expressed their concerns about a large number of issues. Most importantly, they highlighted the fact that the New Alliance is imposing a corporate-centred model of agriculture instead of supporting the local economy through the empowerment of small-scale producers. The reforms requested from African partner countries bear the risk to worsen economic inequality and threaten the rights of local communities. In a nutshell: the development initiative would end up serving the interests of large corporations, civil society organisations warned.

Sadly, these predictions have come true. Last year, more than 100 farmers’ organisations, social movements, and civil society groups from around the world called on the G7 and African governments to withdraw their support. The European Parliament’s draft resolution, which will be voted on tomorrow, calls on the G7 governments and the European Commission to address the failings of the New Alliance. These include the lack of transparency, disregard of land rights and exclusion of smallholders and civil society.

MEPs single out the risk of so called public-private partnerships, or PPPs, to create “dominant positions for large agricultural companies in African agriculture that crowd out local businesses.” Furthermore, they criticise that “agricultural investment policies mostly focus on large-scale land acquisitions and on export-oriented agriculture that is usually unrelated to local economies”.

The Parliament also rejects the idea that supporting corporate agriculture would automatically lead to better food security and a decrease in poverty. This criticism of corporate agricultural development comes at a time when PPPs, are increasingly lauded by donors and governments across different areas of development.

In fact, the private sector can complement traditional development programs in agriculture, but the failures of the New Alliance are proof that there are plenty of risks. Agricultural PPPs must not only promise high social and environmental protection standards across all their work; their implementation must be guaranteed. And most importantly, these partnerships must carefully consider the voice of small farmers, including women farmers, when designing policies and projects that will affect these communities.

Key criteria for a successful reform:

As stressed also by the European Parliament, for the New Alliance to really benefit the target communities, there is a full set of criteria that needs to be respected:

Governance: Recognise civil society and local farmer organizations as full partners, and include them in all decision-making bodies. Power imbalances between small-scale producers, large companies and other stakeholders need to be sufficiently considered to ensure positive outcomes for people living in poverty, and women farmers in particular.

Accountability: Submit public annual reports on the Alliance’s activities and their impact, create an independent accountability board, and give local communities a forum to appeal any decision that affects their livelihoods.

Transparency: Guarantee that decisions are inclusive and can count on the informed participation and social acceptance of local communities. Any letter of intent from partner companies should be public.

Social Sustainability: Ensure the fair sharing of risks and benefits between all parties. Provide a living wage for farmers. Give communities the right to refuse any project that they deem harmful to their people.

Economic Sustainability: Recognise that “private sector” doesn’t always mean multinationals, and instead focus on small local agricultural enterprises and producers.

Environmental Sustainability: Support communities in the development of an ecologically sustainable agriculture that helps them become more resilient to the effects of climate change.  

Human rights: Follow all internationally-recognized standards, including the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises.

These principles should have been followed since the development of the New Alliance. What is more, numerous studies show that empowering small farmers and supporting efficient and environmentally-sustainable farming is the long-term solution to fighting hunger and poverty. This is also placed at the heart of the European Union’s own policy framework for food security.

If the New Alliance refuses to reflect these values, it will only end up harming the very people it was meant to help.

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