As someone who’s been watching the New Alliance for the last year, I’ve been heartened to see a vigorous reaction to the Guardian global development’s excellent article ‘G8 New Alliance condemned as new wave of colonialism in Africa’. Over 300 comments and as many tweets within 24 hours of publication should help to raise awareness and scrutiny of an initiative that potentially has broad impacts on African agriculture.
The ‘New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition’ was launched by the G8 in May 2012 - driven largely by USAID, though DFID picked up the mantle when the UK assumed the G8 presidency in 2013. According to USAID, the New Alliance is ‘a commitment by G8 nations, African countries and private sector partners to lift 50 million people out of poverty over the next 10 years through inclusive and sustained agricultural growth’.
At the heart of the New Alliance lie Country Cooperation Frameworks setting out G8 (donor) funding commitments, African government policy actions, and statements of investment intent from private companies. Through these frameworks, 10 African countries have signed up to over 200 policy commitments, including changes to laws and regulations around land and natural resources, intellectual property and seeds, and tax and export rules. For a breakdown of policy commitments see the Guardian’s interactive analysis.
Questioning the quality of investment
Based on a scan I did last year, roughly 80 African and multinational companies had also made commitments to invest in these countries, through 'Letters of Intent' – though it was unclear whether these were new investments or a repackaging of plans already in the pipeline. While the letters are not public, summaries included in the Cooperation Frameworks showed pledges totalling $5 bn over 10 years in irrigation, processing, trading, financing and infrastructure. Of this, $2 bn came from two major seed companies, Syngenta and Yara.
Increased investment in agriculture in Africa is to be welcomed. However, there are significant questions around the quality of that investment, which will determine whether any growth derived is ‘inclusive’ and lifts people out of poverty. This appears to be missing from the plans. Colin Poulton of the School of Oriental and African Studies, quoted in the article, hits the nail on the head: that there is no clear theory of change of how the company investment commitments, coupled with government policy changes, will benefit small-scale farmers and drive poverty reduction. The implicit theory of change is that dialogue between CEOs and African Presidents will quickly breakdown barriers to investment, which will drive growth, which leads to poverty reduction.
Beyond the (questionable) assumption that growth is sufficient to drive poverty reduction, the problem is three-fold. First, there is no apparent analysis in the cooperation frameworks of which interventions, of all the investments that might be possible, would deliver development in country-specific circumstances. Given the scale of the challenge and the relative scarcity of resources, there should be a focus on interventions with the greatest development potential. Admittedly, this isn’t a particular failing of the New Alliance – it affects many initiatives in the area of ‘business and development’, and is a gap that IDS’s new Business and Development Centre is tackling.
Second – and related to the above point – recent research by Oxfam and IIED shows how policy changes designed to improve the investment climate for agriculture tend to discriminate against small-scale farmers, particularly women. They favour instead large-scale land acquisitions and the creation of islands of advanced export agriculture, which may link to some more organised smallholders but are generally disconnected from the local economy. This is not an inevitable outcome, however, and the report identifies more inclusive policies, such as measures that strengthen local control over land and natural resources, regulate commercial investment, and promote the equitable inclusion of small-scale producers in value chains. The report also finds a gap around policies that would address gender equality, such as helping overcome women‘s ‘time poverty’ or ensuring their control over key assets.
Policies that tip the balance in favour of smallholders
Source: Oxfam 2012 *
Finally, the general absence of farmers from the elite policy dialogues being fostered as part of the New Alliance mean that the solutions being offered are based on a particular worldview that is linked to the existing political and economic systems underlying the poverty. This is not to say that CEOs and presidents have nothing to bring to the table, but that farmers, including marginalised groups such as women, must be central to defining the challenges and potential solutions. This is true for any initiative that has poverty reduction at its heart, but is especially true where substantial government policy change is part of the mix.
Jodie Thorpe is a Research Fellow with the Globalisation Team at the Institute of Development Studies.
* The material used, from "Figure 2: Examples of adapting policy priorities to the three 'rural worlds' in 'Tipping the balance: Policies to shape agricultural investments and markets in favour of small-scale farmers" http://policy-practice.oxfam.org.uk/publications/tipping-the-balance-to-shape-agricultural-investments-and-markets-in-f-254551 is reproduced with the permission of Oxfam GB, Oxfam House, Johns Smith drive, Cowley, oxford OX4 2JY, UK www.oxfam.org.uk. Oxfam GB does not necessarily endorse any text or activities that accompany the materials.