On leaving the Leadership Council of the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition

Last week, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, a small group of political leaders, private sector companies and technocrats met at the Leadership Council of the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition – a G8 supported initiative to encourage private sector investment in agriculture. 

Since the launch of the New Alliance in 2012, Oxfam America has participated in the Leadership Council (an informal grouping of G8 representatives, Heads of State, and company and some CSO representatives) to provide guidance on the initiative. 

By taking this position on an interim basis, Oxfam hoped to improve the transparency of private sector commitments made under the Alliance and accountability in the Leadership Council by pushing for a Terms of Reference; while lobbying for a change of direction that will allow small-scale producers and women to benefit from these investments, rather than face exclusion, dispossession and marginalization. 

In line with our interim mandate, the recent meeting of the Council held in New York on September 22nd marks the last meeting in which Oxfam America will participate. After two years of engagement with some limited progress in improving the transparency and accountability of the Council, Oxfam has concluded our participation but will continue to press for reforms to influence countries participating in the New Alliance. 

This post outlines some thoughts, reflections and continued concerns from the Oxfam confederation regarding the Alliance some two years after the creation of the initiative. 

The New Alliance remains a flawed political process

Two years after its inception, the New Alliance remains a flawed political process. 

On the country level, so-called cooperation framework agreements have been developed through roundtable discussions with a small group of donors, government representatives, and well-connected national and international companies, rather than through democratic and transparent policy decision-making.

The voices of farmer’s organizations, women’s producer groups and civil society organizations and CSO groups have, on the whole, been ad hoc and inadequately integrated into this policy planning. Oxfam research in Malawi, Burkina Faso and Ghana has illustrated some of these concerns. 

This flaw leads to serious concerns that the priorities of the Alliance reflect the interests of its more powerful members. 

At last week’s meeting, Leadership Council members agreed to establish a sharing platform for implementing the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Land Tenure (VGGT), as well as to develop operational guidelines for companies investing in land. 

However, the New Alliance remains poorly aligned and coordinated with more inclusive global fora such as the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS). This creates an acute risk that the members of the Alliance have created a form of global governance which is exclusive and potentially self-serving. Within countries hosting the Alliance, the Council has made some progress towards aligning monitoring of impact with pre-existing policy architecture by providing guidance to countries reviewing Alliance activities as part of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program. 

However, implementation is weak and there is a huge distance to travel to make the Alliance a country-driven, inclusive and participatory process. This lack of participation and meaningful dialogue has resulted in widespread distrust and opposition from southern and northern CSO groups to both the process and model of agriculture promoted by the Alliance. 

A vision of agriculture for the powerful 

The vision of agricultural development promoted by the New Alliance also raises serious questions and concerns. 

Policy commitments made by African governments under the initiative aim, by and large, to create an ‘enabling environment’ for businesses and larger enterprise, rather than prioritizing the needs of small-scale farmers or smaller enterprise working in the food system.

The recent New Alliance Progress Report has, for example, outlined that African governments have committed to over 200 policy changes as part of the initiative. 

These changes to land legislation, trade policy, taxation and seed laws could ‘tip the balance’ of investment towards larger players, rather than small-scale producers and family farmers, and could harm the environment through the industrial, high-input model of agriculture. 

In particular, any attempts by governments and donors to transfer land to investors places communities at severe risk of dispossession or expropriation from land. In addition, the adoption of strict intellectual property rights such as UPOV 1991 could undermine the rights of small-scale producers to develop, save, re-use or exchange or sell seeds, with negative implications for food security. 

Much more needs to be done by the sponsors of the New Alliance to understand the implications of these policy changes and large-scale models of investment, which have the potential to fundamentally change the landscape of African farming and exacerbate land dispossession for local communities, worsen inequality and damage the environment.  

Some limited progress in transparency and participation in the Leadership Council, although accountability of the Alliance remains weak  

Since the formation of the Alliance, Oxfam has lobbied for greater transparency and accountability in the initiative in terms of both private sector investment plans and around the policy processes attached to the Alliance. 

The governance structure of the Alliance lacks transparency with key decisions taken behind closed doors. The Leadership Council, an advisory body with little decision-making power, has made some limited progress in this regard. For example, Council members signed off a Terms of Reference that outlines the function of the group last week and an accountability framework has been developed – although not yet implemented. 

Inclusion at the Leadership Council has expanded somewhat, for example, at the most recent meeting representatives from the Pan-African Farmers Organization and East African Farmers Federation were invited to the meeting, although they did not attend. The move towards greater inclusion is a positive, but insufficient, move in the right direction in the Leadership Council.  

Further action is required, particularly within countries hosting the Alliance where much of the important decision-making takes place. In particular, private sector investment plans remain opaque; Letters of Intent which outline company plans remain unpublished; while there remains an ‘accountability gap’ in the Alliance in terms of measurement of investments against key social or environmental criteria. 

What next? 

After two years within the Council, Oxfam continues to believe that the New Alliance, in its current form, should be radically reformed or discontinued. 

While there have been good intentions to make discussions in the Leadership Council somewhat more inclusive, there remains a long way to go to make the Alliance a participatory, pro-poor policy and investment initiative. 

Three critical areas for consideration for New Alliance members include: 

1.    Review all New Alliance policy commitments and investments at the country-level.  National governments and donors should set up multi-stakeholder institutional platforms to review the policy changes and company investments under the Alliance as part of the CAADP review process - to ensure alignment with national agriculture and food security policy priorities. Small-scale producer cooperatives, women producer organizations and civil society groups should be an integral part of this process. 

2.    Explore alternative business models and forms of support. G8 donors, in particular, should consider the opportunity-cost of nearly $6 billion in public funding committed to further the aims of the Alliance, and whether these could be better spent on tried and tested approaches towards rural development. This could include investment in agricultural research and development (R&D), extension services, and exploring business models that fairly share the risks and benefits of investment between companies, small-scale farmers and agricultural workers. 

3.    Ensure transparency and accountability. Improved transparency remains an urgent priority for the Alliance. This should include full disclosure of the companies involved in the initiative, their Letters of Intent and any agreements currently in place. In addition, the Leadership Council should fund and put in place an independent third-party monitoring of planned and ongoing investments against a set of human rights, environmental and social criteria. Particular emphasis should be placed on monitoring the impact of policy changes and investments on land rights and food security of local communities. 

Until fundamental reforms are in place, there should be no expansion of the Alliance. Oxfam will continue to work with our partners in the Global North to hold G8 members to account, while collaborating with partners in the Global South to monitor impact and advocate for economic justice, rather than disempowerment for and exclusion of local food producers in developing countries.

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