Oxfam's EU Advocacy office in Brussels

Good intentions but poor execution: while small-scale farming is a key model for improving food security and a more sustainable economy in Africa, the implementation of an EU-backed aid initiative is prioritizing the interests of big business in ways that can undermine the livelihoods of local communities. The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition is now in its third year and is finally being scrutinised by the European Parliament. It is high time to fundamentally revise or reject this skewed development scheme which is co-financed by the European Union.

In 2012, G8 leaders announced the launch of the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. This program’s stated aim is to tap the development potential of private-sector led growth in the agricultural sector by encouraging investment to promote inclusive pro-poor growth. The promise of the New Alliance is that this market-based approach could lift 50 million people out of poverty in its ten partner countries in Africa.

The scheme’s rationale is that its incentive for private investment will foster public-private partnerships in agriculture, which are set to increase production and market opportunities, thereby improving food security and reducing poverty. Under the New Alliance, African governments have promised substantial policy changes in the areas of land, trade policy, taxation, and seed laws, among others. A problem arises however, when these policies threaten to radically shift the power balance away from local communities and over to private interests, including multinational companies.

The European Parliament has recently taken action. In an important hearing on 1 December, the Parliament’s Committee on Development (DEVE) focussed on the detrimental effects which the New Alliance has on farming communities. Yet this hearing came only after extensive mobilisation earlier this year, when over 100 farmers’ organisations, social movements, and civil society groups from around the world called on G8 and African governments to withdraw their support for the New Alliance.

During the hearing, findings of a new report commissioned by the DEVE committee were presented. The research, completed by former UN Special Rapporteur on Right to Food Professor Olivier de Schutter, concludes that the G8 and EU-backed aid initiative is “seriously deficient”. Among other aspects, the report criticises the scheme’s disregard of the “need to favour a shift to low input, sustainable agriculture.” The report also underlines the inherent risks which the initiative in its current form bears for small scale food producers in developing countries: policies passed under the scheme seriously risk facilitating land grabbing. If seed policy reforms are enacted seed privatisation will accelerate, marginalizing local seed systems and undermining locally adapted varieties.

The conclusions of this report add onto the findings of an audit by the United Kingdom’s Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) from early 2015. It singled out the New Alliance as being particularly ineffective. The audit suggested that the 600 million pounds which the UK had poured into the scheme were effectively subsidising the PR campaigns of the large firms involved. This raises serious questions about EU development aid as well.

The hearing at the beginning of December formed an excellent starting point for the European Parliament and the European Commission to comprehensively revise the EU’s commitment in the New Alliance. The Parliament is now proceeding to draft a follow-up report in which it will clarify its position on the New Alliance, and its expectations on the European Commission. Further debate on these issues is expected to take place in the Parliament in February 2016.

It is important that the European Union finally scrutinizes the scheme, to which it contributes 1,2 billion euros. Additional funding has also been provided by EU member states: as G8 members, Germany, France, Italy and the UK have all co-funded the scheme, underscoring the need to ensure this EU aid money is well spent.

While private sector-led growth can play a significant role in complementing traditional development programs in the agricultural sector, the shortcomings of the New Alliance show that such schemes must observe the highest standards of transparency along with environmental, social and human rights safeguards.

Family farmers grow the biggest share of agricultural produce across Africa, feeding over a billion people on the continent. The communities which they cater depend on the locally-produced, affordable food, and many families rely on the income they generate through farming. Empowering small-scale farmers and supporting their efficient and environmentally sustainable approaches to agricultural production is the long-term solution to reducing hunger and poverty, and is therefore placed at the heart of EU’s own policy framework for food security.

However, unless the EU successfully works towards realigning the New Alliance with its own sustainable, inclusive approach to food security, it not only contradicts itself but seriously risks pitting small-scale producers against big agriculture corporations. As illustrated by earlier research, policy changes proposed or adopted under the scheme are likely to benefit large companies while side-lining the rights of local communities and threatening their livelihoods. As a consequence, local communities across the initiative’s ten partner countries potentially face deepening inequality and significant environmental degradation.

The New Alliance and other public-private partnerships should promote the development of local small and medium-sized enterprises – not just on paper but in practice. Inclusive agricultural development in Africa fundamentally depends on the equal involvement of small-scale producer cooperatives, women’s organizations and civil society groups in the design of policies which concern their livelihoods. Power imbalances between these local actors and large companies need to be sufficiently considered when shaping public-private partnerships. Only this way such schemes achieve concrete, positive outcomes for smallholders.

In 2014, Oxfam stepped down from the Leadership Council of the New Alliance, after its calls for significant improvement of transparency and accountability of the initiative went largely unheeded. Without proper accountability mechanisms and safeguards protecting small-scale farmers, large-scale private sector investments facilitated through public-private partnerships such as the New Alliance will not work to deliver positive outcomes on rural development and food security. In its current form, the New Alliance needs to be either radically reformed or discontinued. The European Union should take a lead in overhauling the initiative to ensure it contributes to poverty reduction and benefits smallholder farmers who play a central role in both Africa’s agricultural landscape and the global food system.


By Hanna Saarinen, Oxfam EU Policy Advisor for Investment in Agriculture

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