Return on Investment: What have we gained from the New Alliance?

At its inception, Oxfam was critical of the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition in Africa. Eric Muñoz of Oxfam America has been on a fact-finding mission to New Alliance countries and explains below that serious concerns remain.

Last year’s G8, hosted by the US, gave birth to the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, an initiative to increase private sector investment in agriculture. As much as anything, the New Alliance signals an emerging trend by donors to promote public-private partnerships to address key global challenges such as hunger.

Fast-forward roughly a year, and tomorrow the New Alliance will celebrate an anniversary of sorts with a half day event in London which promises to take stock of progress and chart a path forward – including launching new country partnerships. It seems an opportune moment to ask how is the New Alliance performing?

First, some background…

When the New Alliance launched, Oxfam and other civil society organizations, cried foul, pointing to major gaps remaining in public finance for agriculture. The New Alliance provided the wrong solution to addressing the needs of small food producers. As the Camp David G8 Accountability Report noted at the time, national agriculture investment plans faced an average 51% funding
gap. These plans – essentially roadmaps for public investments in agriculture – are crucial to building and sustaining agriculture development for poverty reduction.

Instead of doubling-down on L’Aquila commitments to fill this gap, G8 governments chose instead to focus on attracting private investment in African agriculture, and lent the G8’s collective weight to that effort. The New Alliance thus brings together an a array of commitments from various groups: from donors to continue to provide assistance to the agriculture sector, from governments to reform domestic policies and from the private sector to invest in
a handful of African countries – six to date.

For the sake of full disclosure, Oxfam America’s Executive Director, Ray Offenheiser, is currently participating in the Leadership Council of the New Alliance, a body which is supposed to serve as a kind of global accountability mechanism. The LC continues to struggle to meet this responsibility.

A work in progress… but also an initiative in need of repair

To get a better sense of what has been happening in countries that have joined the New Alliance I have been talking to colleagues and partners in these countries, reviewing the evidence and doing a bit of fact-finding myself. On the one hand, what I’ve found is that the New Alliance is very much a work in progress that is still in the early stages of getting organized and gaining momentum. From this perspective, there are few concrete outcomes to date. On the other hand, my early evaluation is that this is an
initiative in need of repair

So, if these companies had plans in place already to invest in agriculture, what did they gain from joining the New Alliance?

In our initial verdict of the New Alliance, we noted that it was, “neither new, nor a true alliance” a point which was brought home to me in talking with some of the companies that signed on to this initiative. Rather than developing new investment initiatives to contribute to the New Alliance, companies reported that existing business plans were the basis for their inclusion. So, if these companies had plans in place already to invest in agriculture, what did they gain from joining the New Alliance?

The answer seems to be in what countries have agreed to: major policy reforms in critical areas that impact private investment in agriculture. But many of the reforms on the table have the potential to tip the balance of national policies in favour of big business over small-scale family farmers. While some reforms, such as incorporating nutrition more centrally into the agriculture investment agenda, are positive, others, such as changes in land policy and seed
sector liberalization, are more controversial and threaten to put at risk farmers’ rights and access to land, seed and water.

I have found a lack of systematic country-level civil society participation in the negotiation of Cooperation Framework Agreements, which means that questions of risk to farmers are not being adequately addressed. In Mozambique, for example, farmers organizations, which are part of Oxfam’s GROW campaign only learned about major changes to seed, land and fertilizer regulations at the launch event for the New Alliance in that country. Needless to say these are issues our allies are intensely concerned about and have been following for months.  

If these policy reforms have been made out of the spotlight of public scrutiny and dialogue, it is because they have not utilized existing transparent, legitimate platforms that set the agenda for agriculture in African countries, specifically CAADP. Despite its general recognition as a key country-owned process across African countries, there are real concerns that the New Alliance is operating as a parallel forum, undermining rather than reinforcing CAADP, and that this initiative is not following the good practice guidelines developed by the
Committee on Food Security (CFS), including on land tenure reform.

Can the New Alliance deliver for small producers?

Even if these shortcomings are addressed, will the New Alliance deliver real results for small producers? This requires designing investments that recognize small producers as partners not just as clients or customers. It also requires putting in place safeguards to reduce the risks borne by small producers. There are good reasons to be wary of how companies engage with small producers, with plenty of examples of how this can go wrong. Though most investments are still only on paper, I don’t think the proper groundwork has been laid to ensure this won’t be the

Our appeals to the New Alliance

With these concerns in mind and so many unanswered questions being raised not just by Oxfam, but by civil society organizations across the USEurope and Africa (see this recent communiqué from Nigerian CSOs) we are calling on the New Alliance to halt further expansion of this experiment, review existing country commitments and undertake reforms to address these shortcomings. Specifically, we are calling on the New Alliance to:

  • Engage with small producers and civil society organizations in all countries where the New Alliance is being planned for or implemented;
  • Increase transparency and accountability of all New Alliance activities, especially company investments commitments;
  • Support better governance of land, in line with international standards including the Voluntary Guidelines on Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Forests and Fisheries and policy guidance developed at the CFS;
  • Ensure existing policy processes especially at the country and regional levels, are not undermined.
  • Plan, together with farmers organisations, how farmers will benefit from investments, and not be harmed by them
  • Put safeguards in place to ensure New Alliance companies do not grab land, undermine food security, do not cause major environmental and social harm or violate human rights.

Without these reforms, the New Alliance might lead to increased investment in agriculture. But it will fail to meet its goal of helping to lift 50 million people out of poverty.

More on this…

Author: Eric Munoz
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.