The cover page of the recently released progress report on the New Alliance for food security and nutrition, features an African woman driving a tractor made by a US company. At first sight, a win-win situation: the small scale woman farmer gets a US tractor, potentially supporting the US economy; and the woman farmer benefits from modern technology, increasing her yields.
So, why are NGOs and farmers’ organisations so critical of the New Alliance? Are they anti-private sector? Are they anti-trade? Are they ultimately anti-development? No, we aren’t. We work on a daily basis with producers in the field; we support them to get organized in cooperatives to negotiate fair prices and conditions with the buyers and to get increased leverage with their local authorities, we help facilitate farmer-to-farmer exchanges of best practices to develop climate resilient agriculture – a mix of innovative and traditional techniques to make sure crops resist increased salinization, droughts, and other harsh climate events. We make special efforts to help women increase their income from farming, by improving their access to markets.
We call for more public and private investments in agriculture. But we believe that as it stands, the New Alliance is an inappropriate investment framework. Under the guise of supporting small scale farmers in Africa, this initiative actually pushes a corporate-driven agenda. Most of the private investments that have been made so far come from transnational corporations, not local private sector.[i] Most of the legislative reforms carried out in the participating African countries meant to facilitate investments in agriculture actually create an enabling environment for large investors, further entrenching the power imbalance with small scale farmers through tax breaks, seed law reforms, and commitments to make large areas of land available for investments - to quote but a few.[ii]
Now, efforts have been made to produce a comprehensive progress report about the New Alliance achievements so far. However, this report looks at results that are not relevant from a human rights and development perspective, and all the problem is there.
The report looks at how much money has flowed into the 10 African countries. But the fact that money is flowing in those countries does not mean that this money translates into improving the life of people living in poverty.
The report looks at policy reforms, but doesn’t say whether they have been participatory, transparent, democratic, pro-poor or in the interest of landless people, pastoralists and smallscale food producers. Actually those reforms may have a negative impact on people living in poverty and small scale farmers – so the opposite effect to what the New Alliance pretends to be (pro-poor and pro-smallholders).
It reports about how many jobs have been created, ventilated by gender. But this can contribute to poverty eradication and reduction of inequalities only if living wages are paid and trade union rights respected. No attention is being paid to that. The key question from a food security perspective is whether people have maintained control and ownership of their land – if they lost their land in return for a job, they may not necessarily be better off.
The report speaks about number of smallholders “reached” - which means trained, or benefiting from inputs or credit. But again, that does not mean that their situation has improved, nor does it mean that they are not living in poverty anymore (we don’t know either whether those people were living in poverty before, actually).
There have been “validation workshops” in most of the countries. This means a multi-stakeholder meeting has been looking at achievements reported by New Alliance participants (governments, donors and private sector) and checking them. But how can you check the accuracy of those achievements via a workshop? And were farmers and people living in poverty in a position to influence the outcome of those workshops? When one looks at the recommendations from those workshops, none of farmers and social justice organisations’ demands are there: nothing about redistributive land reforms, seed-related rights, collective ownership or use of land, agroecology. This raises serious questions…
To conclude, the progress report reflects the fact that the New Alliance is first and foremost a top down pro-private sector initiative: People are not consulted about what their needs are to improve their income from agriculture, what model they want to develop, what the key challenges they face are. That mapping should be the starting point of any human rights based approach to development. Instead, the report only points to private sector needs – more money, more land, more water, more legal certainty.
[i] Olivier De Schutter, The New Alliance for food security and nutrition in Africa, European Parliament Directorate-General for external policies, 2015, p. 12, http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2015/535010/EXPO_STU(2015)535010_EN.pdf
[ii] ActionAid, New Alliance, New Risk of Land Grabs, 2015, http://www.actionaid.org/publications/new-alliance-new-risk-land-grabs